Critique of Milstein Hall: Sustainability

Jonathan Ochshorn


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Sustainability contents: 1. introduction | 2. sustainable sites | 3. water efficiency | 4. energy & atmosphere | 5. materials & resources | 6. IEQ | 7. innovation | 8. Cornell's vision | 9. conclusions

9. Conclusions

Milstein Hall will get 40 LEED points out of a maximum 69 possible points. It therefore qualifies for a LEED-gold rating, albeit at the bottom of the "gold" range. To understand the significance of this projected LEED certification rating, it is useful to group Milstein Hall's potential LEED points into categories that indicate their actual relationship both to sustainability, and to the specific design of the building (rather than to characteristics of the site that have nothing to do with the building's actual design).

Of the 40 points earned, 10 have nothing to do with the design of the building and 23 are related to the building design but have little or nothing to do with sustainability (see Table 1; my rationale for placing particular credits in these categories can be inferred from the detailed discussion in parts 1-8). This leaves only 7 earned points that might be construed as having some sustainable attributes, beyond what would be associated with conventional construction practices.

Table 1. Distribution of Milstein Hall's earned and unearned LEED points (as of June 2012)1

Points earned having nothing to do with the design of Milstein Hall (10 points) SS 1. site selection
SS 2. development density & community connectivity
SS 4.1 public transportation access
SS 4.4 parking capacity
WE 1.1 water efficient landscaping—reduce water use 50%
WE 1.2 water efficient landscaping—no potable use
ID 1.1 green cleaning
ID 1.2 exemplary performance—open space
ID 1.3 transportation demand management
Points earned that have something to do with the design of Milstein Hall, but have little or nothing to do with sustainability, at least in the context of this building (23 points) SS 4.2 bicycle storage & changing rooms
SS 5.2 maximize open space
SS 7.1 heat island effect, non-roof
SS 7.2 heat island effect, roof
EA 1 optimize energy performance (6 points)
EA 3 enhanced commissioning
EA 4 enhanced refrigerant management
EA 5 measurement and verification
MR 2.1 construction waste management—divert 50%
MR 2.2 construction waste management—divert 75%
MR 4.1 recycled content—10%
MR 4.2 recycled content—20%
MR 5.1 regional materials—10%
IEQ 1 outdoor air delivery monitoring
IEQ 7.1 thermal comfort—design
IEQ 7.2 thermal comfort—verification
IEQ 8.1 daylighting 75% of spaces
ID 1.4 exemplary performance—heat island effect-roof
Points earned that have something to do with the design of Milstein Hall that are also valuable sustainable design features (7 points) WE 3.1 water use reduction—20%
WE 3.2 water use reduction—30%
IEQ 3.1 construction IAQ management plan—during construction
IEQ 4.1 low-emitting materials—adhesives and sealants
IEQ 4.2 low-emitting materials—paints and coatings
IEQ 4.3 low-emitting materials—carpet systems
IEQ 5 indoor chemical & pollution source control
Points not earned that actually correspond to valuable sustainable goals (18 points) SS 6.1 stormwater quality control
SS 6.2 stormwater quantity control
SS 8. light pollution reduction
WE 2 innovative wastewater technologies
EA 1 optimize energy performance (4 points not earned)
EA 2 on-site renewable energy (all 3 points not earned)
EA 6 green power
MR 7 certified wood
IEQ 2 increased ventilation
IEQ 3.2 construction IAQ management plan—before occupancy
IEQ 4.4 low-emitting materials—composite wood and agrifiber
IEQ 6.1 controllability of systems—lighting
IEQ 6.2 controllability of systems—thermal comfort
Points not earned that either could not be earned, are not relevant to this building, or are not particularly valuable sustainable goals (11 points) SS 3 brownfield redevelopment
SS 4.3 low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles
SS 5.1 protect or restore habitat
MR 1.1 building reuse—75% existing walls, floors, roof
MR 1.2 building reuse—95% existing walls, floors, roof
MR 1.3 building reuse—50% interior non-structural elements
MR 3.1 materials reuse—5%
MR 3.2 materials reuse—10%
MR 5.2 regional materials—20%
MR 6 rapidly renewable materials
IEQ 8.2 views—views for 90% of spaces

What is perhaps more telling are the 18 LEED points not earned that might otherwise have contributed to sustainable goals, including such things as stormwater control, innovative wastewater technologies, better energy performance, use of on-site or off-site renewable energy, user control of lighting and thermal comfort systems, and better indoor air quality through increased ventilation. But even achieving all of these credits would not make the world a "greener" place. Creating extravagant and largely unnecessary "green" buildings still adds to, rather than reduces, the use of non-renewable fossil fuels and the release of global warming gases. This is doubly true of the Milstein Hall project, as it not only added an energy-hog to the Cornell campus, but also specifically excluded consideration of desperately needed energy-conserving renovations for Rand and Sibley Halls that could have not only reduced energy use, but also improved indoor environmental quality and reduced global warming gases.

The useful LEED points earned by Milstein Hall—buying water-efficient plumbing fixtures, making IAQ management plans (e.g., specifying better air filters for HVAC equipment), installing dirt-capturing entry mats, and specifying low-VOC interior materials for some but not all categories of interior materials—are all things that have absolutely nothing to do with the architectural (i.e., formal) design of the building, a design which is incomprehensible from an environmental or energy-conserving standpoint. Instead, Milstein Hall exemplifies an attitude of design-as-usual, with LEED validation assigned to the mechanical engineers, construction managers, and specification writers.

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Sustainability contents: 1. introduction | 2. sustainable sites | 3. water efficiency | 4. energy & atmosphere | 5. materials & resources | 6. IEQ | 7. innovation | 8. Cornell's vision | 9. conclusions


1 "LEED for New Construction Application Review," June 14, 2012, Cornell University, Milstein Hall, No. 10097687, online here.