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South Jamaica Library Went Green (NYC)

Credits: ©2010 Elemental Architecture

The South Jamaica Branch Library in Queens, NY, was the first building designed and constructed under the New York City High Performance Building Guidelines. The two-story, 13,800 square-foot facility employs both passive and active features to reduce its energy requirements. The building is an integrated design in which the shell and each of its systems cooperate to achieve enhanced conditions for users, while minimizing the demands made on the natural environment for energy and other resources. The saw-tooth shape of its roof not only introduces sunlight into the main reading room, but also promotes hot air stratification, concentrating at the peaks. The building has two return/exhaust air systems; one collecting air at the peaks and one collecting air near the floor. In the winter, the hot air from the peaks is recirculated throughout the building, its heat being stored in the slabs and masonry walls. Exhaust air is taken from the cooler air near the floor. In the summer, the hot air from the peaks is exhausted and the cooler air is recirculated. The deep roof profile required by the solar collection strategy suggested the use of efficient, light long-span trusses, reducing the amount of material in the roof and columns. It also produced a column-free main floor that can be easily adapted to changing program needs. The building established goals to consume significantly less energy than that allowed by the NYS Energy Code: actual meter readings after two years of operation demonstrated that the building had out-performed those goals - by 30 percent for heating and 50 percent for electrical (lighting & cooling). The building was chosen as one of the AIA’s Top Ten Green Projects for the year 2000.


South Jamaica Library NYC Light Shelves

The South Jamaica Branch Library in Queens, New York, is an integrated design in which its shell and each of its systems operate together to achieve enhanced conditions for the users. It includes features such as light shelves to bring natural daylight into the interior spaces. ©2010 Elemental Architecture

Jamaica Library goes 'green'
by Carl Stein
, August 22, 2001, Real Estate Weekly -

After a spring of brownouts in California, the recent heat wave across the country once again underscores the value of sustainable architecture. One of the most illustrative examples of this architectural approach is the new South Jamaica Library in Queens, NY, a treasure trove of knowledge that is actively demonstrating the wisdom of using green building design methods. Completed in December of 1999, this is the first NYC public building to be built under the NYC Department of Design and Construction's Sustainable Design Program. The library has already garnered significant recognition, winning the Year 2000 Earth Day Top Ten Award from the American Institute of Architects.

By incorporating sustainable design elements, the library has slashed its energy consumption by more than a third, saving the city between $6,250 and $7,800 per year in energy costs. According to the Queens Public Library System, a borough public library's average energy costs come to $20,423/year, compared to the new library's expected energy costs of $12,531. South Jamaica Library, with its impressive numbers, holds lessons for buildings of every stripe.

In our experience, solar capture is the single most effective element of sustainable design. However, this is very often underutilized in design because it is frequently associated with heat gain which, in turn, requires additional cooling loads.

For years now, we've been fighting an engineering theory that says "an opaque wall with insulation controls the flow of energy better." As a result, many buildings have been designed as a "closed box," outfitted with the most energy-efficient equipment. "Green" design offers a better way.

Solar capture is at the heart of the sustainable design for the South Jamaica Library. Optimizing solar energy is accomplished through both day lighting and direct solar heat gain during the heating season. Using solar energy for day lighting insures savings by lowering or eliminating electric lighting when daylight is adequate.

The design of the library roof boosts lighting efficiency too. With its south-facing monitors, the roof maximizes daylight potential. Proof of this design's efficacy can be found in the library's Main Room which enjoys relatively uniform light levels of 300-foot candles at midday with all lights off.

The design also supplies indirect sunlight in occupied areas and direct sunlight for working surfaces with a system of light shelves and diffusing reflectors. An ingenious automatic control system limits the light levels to about 70 foot candles when the building is in a cooling mode, and controls the lights so they are only used when daylight is insufficient.

Solar energy also provides passive heating, while minimizing cooling requirements during the summer associated with over-lighting from sunlight (over-lighting provides light levels above minimum standards, and should be avoided during the cooling season). Solar energy entering the building, usually as light, becomes heat and subsequently decreases the demands on the climate control system. Here's how the process works: A series of clerestories designed into the building creates high pockets in the roof/ceiling. In the heating season, a return air system picks up heated air at these high points and redistributes it throughout the building. Not only does this provide instant heat, it also warms up most of the building mass so the library can coast into late afternoon and evening with its heating needs fulfilled -- despite the fact that there's virtually no solar energy available at this point!

On the surface, it looks like a different story for the cooling season. But closer inspection reveals a satisfactory ending for this story as well. As long as this solar energy is supplying the necessary light, the resultant load on the cooling system is approximately the same as that which would be created by an efficient electrical lighting system.

Most of the library's exhaust requirements are taken from the high pockets in the building, hot air is rejected directly outside, and the return air for the system comes from the low points, reducing mechanical cooling needs while maintaining a good air exchange rate.

Reducing energy use for heating/cooling and lighting is highly reliant on several basic sustainable design principles. In addition to high insulation levels and high-performance glass, "green" architecture uses passive gain coupled with a high building thermal mass for storage. The roof must be configured to separate hotter and cooler air within the building. Another key element is a two-part "duct for all seasons" which allows: hot air to be re-circulated and cool air to be exhausted during the heating season; cool air to be re-circulated and hot air to be exhausted during the cooling season; and 100% exhaust of hot air with outside air makeup during the swing seasons.

The sustainable design philosophy of reducing energy operating requirements works in tandem with this architecture's other two goals -- improving indoor air quality, and reducing the negative environmental impact associated with construction.

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  Implementing High Performance Building Guidelines NYC 2002 (331 kb)


South Jamaica Branch Library (Queens, New York, USA)

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