Rising fast above Times Square, the new Bank of America Tower will soon be the second-tallest skyscraper in New York, just a few feet short of the Empire State Building.
It also has a shot at being the greenest skyscraper in the world. That's the hope of co-owner Douglas Durst and chief architect, Robert Fox, for their pride and joy.
Almost everything the workers are bolting, soldering, fitting, brushing, laying and pouring into place has been modified in ways the builders hope will earn the coveted "Platinum" rating (best possible) from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The various components include giant windows and glass inner walls that save on lighting bills, rooftop rainwater collectors (yes, even in Manhattan) that will cut down water bills, and even bike racks at entrances to encourage occupants not to drive to work.
"We get one point from the Green Building Council for bike racks," Fox said, adding almost proudly that the tower also has no parking garage.
"If you don't build green, you're building obsolete," Durst said during a tour up through the noise and bustle of construction -- the tower now shoots up past its 28th floor.
Durst estimates that all the environmental factors they're including account for 2 percent to 3 percent of the total $1.2 billion cost of building the tower. He believes the green additions will pay for themselves within two years to four years through saved energy expenses.
Durst says his family company, the Durst Organization, which has been in the Manhattan real estate business since 1915, will have a far superior property to pass on to his descendents.
Co-owner Bank of America will be the building's principal tenant, but The Durst Organization will manage a large percentage of the building's commercial real estate. In addition to saving money through more efficient utilities, the building is being built to environmental codes Durst believes will be in place in future years, eliminating the need for costly modifications.
"It all makes complete financial sense," he said as he explained how concentrating on efficiency saved on utility bills while also being good for the planet.
The tower has special plumbing designed to combine roof-captured rainwater with the "greywater" from the building's washroom sinks, and then with the condensation from the tower's air conditioning and from the steam purchased from the utility company ConEdison.
The resulting effluent will be used to flush the toilets and run evaporation panels that help cool the building, greatly cutting the building's water intake.
"The tower sits on a footprint of two square acres," said Fox, the architect, "and New York gets about four feet of rain a year. Imagine two square acres covered with four feet of water. We'll collect all of that."
The Durst family hopes the tower's supergreen design will serve as a role model for builders everywhere.
"We're learning what 'a green building' means," he said, adding that they'd spent more time and money than usual on the design phase, but insisting it would soon pay off.
Bank of America is also hopeful about the tower's environmental efficiency.
"'I want a building that will attract and retain the best associates!' That's what Bank of America Chairman Ken Lewis told us when he asked us to design the tower," Fox said. "And we worked hard to design a building like that."