Cornell Tech – The World’s Tallest Passive House

Cornell Tech had an ambitious vision for its state-of-the-art 12-acre sustainable campus on Roosevelt Island, the crown jewel of what is now considered the tallest Passive House in the world—a 26-story, 352-unit residential high rise that can house about 530 graduate students, faculty, and staff. According to Passive House advocates, such buildings not only result in superior energy efficiency, they are quieter than traditional spaces, thanks to the heavily insulated and airtight facade, and also have better indoor air quality due to the filtered fresh air delivered to all habitable spaces.

Developed by The Hudson Companies and The Related Companies, Steven Winter Associates (SWA) was selected to join the project team to provide an array of green building, energy efficiency, and accessibility services. Some of the energy saving methods the team used to reach Passive House levels include the use of triple pane high efficiency windows, VRF heat pumps for heating and cooling, energy recovery ventilation, and prefabricated highly insulated metal wall panels.

Specifying a building envelope that would meet Passive House criteria and withstand very high wind loads was a challenge. The solution involved galvanized steel framing and custom prefabricated wall panels with built-in windows. A great deal of coordination and oversight was needed to ensure continuity of the insulation and air barrier. Using prefabricated wall panels provided a number of benefits including increased quality control, a decrease in panel joints thereby reducing potential air leaks and thermal bridges, and increased speed of construction.

In October of 2017, The House at Cornell Tech was officially certified to Passive House standards, in addition to receiving many other green building certifications including LEED® for Homes Multifamily High-Rise™ Platinum, ENERGY STAR®, and compliance with NYSERDA’s Multifamily Performance Program. Working to achieve these standards was made possible through careful collaboration and consistent teamwork by all project teams. Students are now occupying the building and energy use is being monitored.

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