National Audubon Society

Audubon House . . .
Building for an environmental future . . .

With over 500,000 members and more than 500 chapters throughout the Americas, the National Audubon Society is a leading grassroots organization working to protect and conserve the environment -- from natural ecosystems to the urban landscape. Audubon House, headquarters of the society, is a restored and remodeled century-old Romanesque Revival loft building in Manhattan. It reflects our national role by serving as a model for the energy-efficient, environmentally responsible workplace. Achieved at market rates with readily available technology, the renovation of Audubon House proves that environmentally conscious design can be both practical and affordable.

Creating the Model Workplace

Audubon House

Welcome to Audubon House, headquarters of the National Audubon Society. At our headquarters, Audubon is working to protect and restore vital ecosystems, and to ensure a healthy environment for people, wildlife, and the earth's natural resources. We are fortunate -- and honored -- to have our workplace function as a true model of our environmental mission. The story of Audubon House is a remarkable one: a marriage of idealism and realism; a partnership of dozens who shared a vision; a pact between the present and the future for urban architecture.

In 1988, the need to relocate the headquarters of the National Audubon Society presented a singular opportunity to bring to life the organization's mission. In the wake of skyrocketing rents in midtown Manhattan, (we had been leasing office space for upwards of $1 million annually), unhealthy working conditions, and a rapidly expanding organization, Audubon's President Peter A.A. Berle made a decision that profoundly affected the national Audubon Society -- and the future of our working environment.

The 1989 purchase of an abandoned building made sense for many reasons. The building had been vacant for a decade; its $10 million purchase price reflected little more than the cost of the lot itself. We were also saving a remarkable piece of the New York City landscape in preserving a century-old architectural treasure.

During the next two years, the interior was renovated and designed to be a model of the energy-efficient, environmentally responsible workplace; the exterior of Audubon House was completely restored to celebrate its original turn-of-the-century grandeur.


The History. Formerly the Schermerhorn Building, 700 Broadway is located on the corner of east 4th Street and Broadway in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan, an area becoming known as "NOHO". The eight-story loft building was erected in 1891, a classic example of Romanesque Revival architecture. It was designed by the renowned architect George B. Post, whose other works included the Williamsburg Bank Building in Brooklyn, and the New York Stock Exchange, a Neoclassical masterpiece. The building served as home to a department store as well as other retail and office establishments over its long history.

The Cost. The Schermerhorn Building was purchased by the National Audubon Society in 1989 for $10 million. The restoration began in 1990, was completed in 1992 at a cost of $14 million, and was dedicated in a ceremony on December 3rd, 1992. The Herculean effort was made possible with the generous support of more than 15,000 Audubon donors.

The Exterior. Eight stories high (a penthouse was later added), graced with grand attenuated arched windows, Audubon House has a beautiful exterior of sandstone (brownstone) masonry and terra cotta. Just under the cornice is a surprising row of gargoyle faces -- rumored to be caricatures of political figures of the time -- a feature that is both humorous and distinctive.

The Interior. Throughout nine floors are 98,000 square feet of office space. The cast-iron construction is supported by basement-level masonry piers.

The Principals. The renovation and restoration of Audubon House were the result of an unprecedented collaboration between talented and dedicated professionals:

Architecture &
Interior Design:
Croxton Collaborative, Architects
Engineering: Flack+Kurtz, Consulting Engineers
Contractor: AJ Contracting
Environmental Science: Dr. Jan Beyea, Chief Scientist, National Audubon Society (now with CIPI)

Key Statistics

  • Audubon House was designed to use 62% less energy than a "conventional" New York City code-compliant office building. Its energy-efficient features -- from the thermal shell to the lighting reductions -- were designed to save the Society an estimated $100,00 each year, thus reducing Audubon's energy costs by 64%.
  • Green architecture is affordable. The basic renovation and design costs of Audubon House were completed at a cost of $122 per square foot -- well within the market rate for projects of comparable location, size, and time (which average $120-128 per square foot).
  • Where conventional office buildings use 2.4 watts of electricity per square foot of lighting, Audubon House was designed to reduce that figure to 0.6-0.7.
  • Audubon House uses no CFC's, chlorofluorocarbons, which contribute to ozone loss -- in its cooling or insulation.
  • Audubon's gas-fired chiller-heater emits no sulfur dioxide and 60% less nitrogen oxides than would result from the use of a conventional unit. (Both gases contribute to acid rain.)
  • Audubon's in-house recycling system is designed to capture up to 80% of our office refuse (mostly paper).
  • Natural and recycled materials were used widely in renovating and furnishing Audubon House. Rugs and padding, wood and fabric, tiles and countertops were all selected to minimize off-gassing and combined with a high efficiency ventilation system, make Audubon House an exceptionally healthy indoor environment.
  • By recycling an existing structure, the national Audubon Society saved not only the existing resources of the Schermerhorn Building part of New York City's historic urban fabric.

Energy Efficiency

Enhanced Natural Light and Advanced Lighting Systems:

Large windows on Southern and Western exposures and a central reception area skylight permit large quantities of natural daylight to flood workspaces.

Pale furnishings and interior surfaces enhance "reflectance" of natural light.

Clerestory windows in perimeter offices ensure that walls or corridors do not block daylight, so even the most interior workstations are illuminated by natural light.

By placing ducts, pipes, and interior wiring toward the interior of the office space, it was possible to raise the ceiling near windows, allowing for still more light penetration.

A "Task/Ambient" lighting system bathes offices in soft background light while task lighting can provide focused light where needed.

Window blinds are stippled with pin-sized perforations, resulting in diffuse, soft lighting in exterior office spaces.

T-8 Triphosphor fluorescent lamps provide high-efficiency, natural-tone light without emitting heat.

Pendant ceiling fixtures give light near 360-degree dispersion and reflect 88% of light.

Daylight dimming sensors (southern exposure only) dim light levels in inverse proportion to incoming daylight.

Occupancy sensors throughout working spaces automatically turn off lights in unoccupied zones.

Thermal Shell (Insulation):

Air-Krete tm wall insulation -- made of non-toxic salt water derived magnesium and dolomite compounds -- contains no CFCs. Sufficient thickness of Air-Krete was used to insulate walls to R-12 rating, which is three times that required by the City's Building Code.

Heat-Mirror windows feature a polymer sheet between two layers of glass, which retains heat in winter while deflecting it in summer. The windows insulate to R-4 rating, equivalent to a brick wall.

A great deal of heat in buildings is lost through the roof. The roof of Audubon House insulates to R-33 value, again, three times that required by City code.

Reduced Pollution, Environmental Impacts

Our gas-fired absorption heater-chiller uses no CFCs, emits no sulfur dioxide, and 60% less nitrogen oxides than do conventional units.

"Economizer" cycle can replace the use of the chiller-heater during moderate seasonal temperatures, further reducing energy consumption and resulting pollution.

Use of an on-site energy source, gas, for cooling reduces electricity needs during peak summer demand, thereby diminishing pressure on the local utility to seek new sources of hydro-energy in wilderness areas in Canada.

Resource Conservation and Recycling

Simply by "recycling" an existing building, Audubon saved 360 tons of steel, 9,000 tons of masonry, and 560 tons of concrete -- not to mention a building of great character and historical significance.

Demolished materials from renovation, including scrap metal, wood, and masonry, were sent out for recycling.

The recycled materials we used include:

  • Homasote subflooring, which is made from 50% recycled newsprint.
  • Tiles made from 60% post-industrial recycled light bulbs, in the elevator foyers.
  • Bathroom countertops made from recycled plastic containers.
  • Drywall of partially recycled gypsum and recycled newsprint.

At every workstation, employees are provided with special bins or folders for recycling. This feature is part of Audubon's in-house recycling system, which includes four recycling chutes (currently used for white paper, mixed paper, and redeemable aluminum and plastic containers) that run throughout the building and lead to a subbasement recycling room.

Healthy Indoor Environment

Low-toxic and natural materials

Interior paints contain no VOCs (volatile organic compounds)

Wherever possible, furnishings avoid plywood, glues, PVC plastics, and other substances that emit formaldehyde and other VOCs.

Carpeting is all natural, undyed, 100%wool; three breeds of sheep provided the three colors. The carpet underlayer consists of jute, a plant fiber. Carpets were tacked down, avoiding the use of glue except on the stairs.

Custom-made conference tables were made from certified, sustainably managed rainforest woods.

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling)

The heater-chiller is located on the roof rather than the basement. Thus, fresh air intake is located at the rooftop level, away from street fumes and exhaust vents.

High-efficiency filter (ASHRAE 85%) immediately eliminates most particulates and dirt from the incoming air. Conventional filters remove approximately 35%.

The fresh air ratio of 26CFM (cubic feet per minute) per person greatly exceeds standards and guidelines, which range between 10 and 20 CFM. This high rate of indoor air exchange (6 times/hour compared to 1-2 times/hour in conventional buildings) prevents build up of stale "air pockets".

Air-handling units are located on each floor with additional filtering capacity. In many buildings, only one air-handling unit is installed for the entire structure.

Thermafuser ceiling air outlets allow a high degree of targeted temperature control.

The HVAC system cooling capacity is 180 tons; it uses lithium bromide instead of CFCs, and its heating capacity is 1.7 million Btu/hour.

The Path to Greener Architecture

We hope that you will take with you the message of Audubon House: that an urban office building can function with reduced impact on the environment. Our goal is to see Audubon House replicated around the world -- and advanced upon.

Since the renovation was completed in 1992, new developments along these environmentally responsible, energy efficient lines are being planned and built. The Durst Organization is currently erecting a major office building in Manhattan employing many of the principles found at Audubon House. In addition, we recommend consulting the US Green Building Council, and you can visit their web site at

Tours of Audubon House are arranged by appointment only. Please contact Kenneth T. Hamilton, Director of Facilities and Services at (212) 979-3178, or via e-mail at

A videotape of the documentary: "Building Green, the Story of Audubon House", can be ordered through the National Audubon Society's Education Department. The 28-minute version and a 16-minute version are available.

Education Department
Audubon House Video
National Audubon Society
700 Broadway, New York, NY 10003

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. has published a book about this project: Audubon House, Building the Environmentally Responsible, Energy Efficient Office. It is available from your local bookstore or you may order it directly from the publisher by calling 800-879-4539.

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