King Kong’s Perch Goes Green for $20M as Earth Roasts: Review

Anthony Malkin
Anthony Malkin president of Malkin Holdings. Malkin has been presiding over a $550-million overhaul of the Empire State Building since his company took over the property from Helmsley-Spear, Inc. in 2006. Photographer: Stephen Hilger/Bloomberg

The first stop on my tour of New York’s Empire State Building was not the observatory rising high atop the 102nd floor, but a window factory on the fifth.

Here, a “green-collar” workforce of 40 strips old windows out of their frames, hangs a new heat-reflecting film between two panes of glass, putties sealant along the edges, and pops them back in the cleaned old frames.

Soon all 80 rentable floors will have the new energy efficient windows as part of a $550 million overhaul. Anthony E. Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, has presided over the project since the company took over the building from Helmsley-Spear, Inc. in 2006.

So far Malkin, 48, has restored the marble walls and silver leaf ceiling of the soaring lobby, renewed the observatory, and waterproofed the entire limestone exterior.

He expects a 38 percent energy savings when he’s done in 2013, he yells over the din. The energy retrofit cost $20 million.

Perhaps a few cowardly members of Congress could stop by the Empire State building to see how Malkin has created jobs. His project is proof that reducing energy and carbon emissions is good for the bottom line.

Clinton Initiative

Malkin partnered with the Clinton Climate Initiative, founded by former president Bill Clinton, which puts together teams to tackle global-warming challenges. The Initiative brought in the Rocky Mountain Institute (an environmental think tank based in Aspen, Colorado) and real-estate advisors Jones Lang LaSalle.

Over several months the team considered dozens of ideas, and Malkin has gone ahead with those that best balanced cash-flow, energy savings, and greenhouse-gas reduction. Another partner, Johnson Controls, which makes thermostats and building-management systems, guarantees the energy performance.

Malkin hopes the Empire State project will become a model for other retrofits. “We can make an impact because the Empire State is such a large and iconic presence,” Malkin said. “Only 20 percent of New York City buildings use 64 percent of the city’s energy.”

Infrared scans showed that the windows, though replaced as recently as 1992, leaked heat. After looking at a variety of possibilities, the Rocky Mountain Institute proposed retrofitting the frames, which remained in good condition, while replacing the glass units with highly insulating ones.

$200 Per Window

Malkin found it less expensive to hire a company called Serious Materials to redo all 6,500 windows in-house. “I can make them here for $200 or so each,” he said, compared to high-tech new windows costing thousands each.

The tower’s architecture helped, too. Original architects Shreve Lamb and Harmon calibrated setbacks and recesses to capture daylight and breezes because air conditioning would not become universal for more than two decades.

I toured space rented by the Skanska building-construction firm, and a model prebuilt office. Both restore the glorious, light-filled interiors -- and take advantage of their energy-conserving potential.

The green branding attracts other environment concerned tenants, like the World Monuments Fund, which is moving in.

Daylight Savings

Thanks to high ceilings, daylight alone is ample to light workspace most of the time. People can open windows when weather permits.

(Unfortunately, those facing west may some day be staring at 15 Penn Plaza, a 1,200-foot hulk almost as tall and far bulkier than the Empire State. Last week, the City Council voted to let the project move forward.)

Malkin found he could entirely forgo a planned expansion of the building’s cooling capacity, saving $7 million. He’ll lop $4.4-million annually off his utility bill, he said. And the monument won’t be generating a minimum of 105,000 metric tons of CO2 over the next 15 years. He’ll amortize his investment in just a few years.

Climate-change legislation could have included incentives that would have allowed him to invest more, Malkin said.

Innovative measures are already going mainstream outside the U. S. in countries that take energy conservation seriously. They will own those technologies and create those jobs.

We’ll be buying bigger air conditioners to keep ourselves from frying during our long, hotter summers.

(James S. Russell writes on architecture for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE