Mass Timber Stands Out in NYC Net-Zero Climate Exchange

It will be the first project of its type to achieve the Living Building Challenge in NYC

Thu 27 Apr 23


Chicago-based architectural firm SOM has revealed their ground breaking design for the New York Climate Exchange, a mass-timber structure situated on Governors Island. As reported in ArchDaily, the net-zero campus is envisioned as a cornerstone institution for promoting innovative climate solutions. “The Climate Exchange” is also set to become a regional hub for the green economy.

Nestled in New York Harbour between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the Climate Exchange aims to facilitate discussions and training focused on sustainability. Collaborating with Stony Brook University in New York, SOM has crafted a design featuring a series of mass-timber structures beneath a sloping canopy of varying height. The design embodies “a compelling new public realm for all New Yorkers” and a glimpse into a post-carbon world.

Footage courtesy of @CBSNewYork
The first NYC building to achieve Living Building Challenge standards

Spanning 120,000 square metres (or 400,000 square feet), the New York Climate Exchange will accommodate eco-friendly spaces, such as research labs, classrooms, exhibits, greenhouses, mitigation technologies, and housing facilities. All newly constructed and renovated buildings will comply with Living Building Challenge standards, making them the first buildings in New York City to attain this certification.

Photo credit: © Miysis, courtesy SOM

The Living Building Challenge is widely regarded as one of the most stringent green building certification schemes globally, surpassing traditional sustainability criteria and promoting structures with a positive environmental and human health impact. The programme advocates for building projects that function as efficiently, cleanly, and beautifully as nature’s designs. To achieve certification, buildings must fulfil performance requirements across six “petal” areas over a 12-month period.

A ‘living laboratory on Governors Island’

At its highest point, the canopy connects with the mass-timber structure, creating covered outdoor spaces at ground level as it descends. The building’s height varies from eight storeys at its tallest to four at its lowest. Its façade showcases timber beam grids framing the glass, while the section closest to the water features timber walls with smaller windows and garden planters between floors.

The entire roof will be covered with solar panels, generating all the electricity needed for the facility’s operations.

SOM design partner Colin Koop expressed that the design “embodies the stewardship essential to solving the climate crisis by interweaving sinuous mass timber pavilions throughout the park’s rolling landscape and reusing the historic building fabric of Governors Island.”

As mentioned in designboom, Koop also highlighted the potential for advancements in climate research and the development of new technologies that could be implemented across the city and worldwide.

Photo credit: © Miysis, courtesy SOM

The Exchange will host a Research and Technology Accelerator, focusing on sourcing and nurturing ideas, projects, and new ventures committed to tackling the climate crisis. The campus will offer workforce development opportunities for communities disproportionately affected by climate change, training over 6,000 green job trainees annually once fully operational.

The building will include an outdoor-facing auditorium, serving as a space for lectures and meetings with global leaders and climate experts. Furthermore, SOM’s design will incorporate spaces for ‘green job training and skills-building programmes’, in collaboration with local educational institutions and businesses.


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