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DBOX for Foster + Partners

JP Morgan’s New Headquarters is Raising the Sustainability Bar

If you haven’t heard, an all-electric skyscraper with net-zero operational emissions is reaching the halfway mark of construction in New York City. Welding sparks are flying, and the cacophony of clanging tools reverberates throughout the block. Depending on the rate of construction, the new 270 Park Avenue, the headquarters for JP Morgan Chase, could reach its peak in late 2023 or early 2024, with final completion most likely taking place in 2025. At 1388 feet and 60 stories high, the entire construction will be one of the tallest buildings to grace the Manhattan skyline. But it’s not the building’s size that makes it an impressive feat, it’s the fact that the project has recycled, reused, or upcycled a whopping 97 percent of materials from the demolition of the old building it’s meant to replace. 

You might be surprised to find that depending on the local regulations, there’s a world’s worth of untapped potential in the number of building components that can be upcycled to make a commercial building. Rubble, asphalt, and concrete are frequently recycled to create aggregate or brand-new asphalt and concrete products. Recycled wood yields mulch and compost for landscaping, but also the mass timber marvel that is engineered wood. Fun fact, steel is the darling of the recycled metals group (which also includes copper and brass) because it doesn’t emit volatile organic compounds. There’s more, but I’ll stop before we fall too deep into the rabbit hole. The important thing to know is that with all of the material opportunities for upcycling–and, let’s face it, the growing international concerns about climate change–the trend towards sustainable building practices has increased in recent years. Alas, the prevalence of recycled materials in commercial construction is still relatively low compared to traditional building materials.

Still, the ambitious sustainability undertaking behind the JP Morgan headquarters has the real estate world ogling. While the real estate industry’s momentum on environmental stewardship has been picking up in recent years, a phoenix-from-the-ashes transformation of an office building set to house between 12,000-14,000 people is setting a new sustainability benchmark on a global scale. 270 Park Avenue is set to upend Sydney’s Quarter Quay Tower, the world’s first “upcycled” skyscraper, with its composition of recycled materials. The Quarter Quay Tower swept headlines for reducing carbon emissions and preventing a significant quantity of construction waste from ending up in landfills by reusing as many building materials as possible from the demolished building that it replaced. Sixty-eight percent of Quarter Quay’s 49 stories are made up of recycled materials, whereas 270 Park Avenue’s recycled composition is almost double that.

Official rendering of 270 Park Avenue. (Source: © DBOX for Foster + Partners)

Building in the name of

Though 270 Park Avenue is mostly made up of recycled materials, it’s still considered new ground-up construction, with the old building being the largest purposely-demolished building in world history. The original building had opened in the late 1950s, and since commercial buildings have a useful shelf life of 40 years, time had withered the tower to a point of obsolescence, with decaying systems that were in need of a total overhaul. Ultimately, the company determined that it would be cost-effective to build a new, state-of-the-art headquarters rather than load the existing structure with one retrofit after another. 

Rendering of the new building shows a diagrid design reminiscent of the characteristic Art Deco architecture of Manhattan’s iconic buildings, which is frankly an aesthetic breath of fresh air compared to the rectangular glass box of the old building. The new building will boast a health and wellness facility featuring exercise spaces, yoga and cycling studios, physical therapy, medical services, mother’s rooms, and prayer and meditation spaces will be located in the tower. On the lower floors, there will also be a sizable food hall, while the top floor will have a meeting center with panoramic city views.

While the style and amenities are already impressive, the pièce de résistance of the building revolves around the fact that it will be one of the most sustainable skyscrapers in the world. Since the building is mostly made up of recycled materials, it far exceeds the 75 percent requirement of the leading green building standard. The tower will have net-zero operational emissions as well by incorporating a range of other green features, including triple-glazed pane windows, solar shading, an extensive IoT setup that uses AI and machine learning systems to respond and adapt to energy needs, and a rainwater harvesting system that can store and reuse water.

Office of the (green) future

Coverage on the skyscraper has often zeroed in on how the new construction represents the company’s commitment to Manhattan, even as JP Morgan has begrudgingly shrunk its overall office footprint with the rise of hybrid work. CEO Jamie Dimon is notoriously fed-up with remote work, saying that it “doesn’t work for people who want to hustle, doesn’t work for culture, doesn’t work for idea generation.” Throughout the pandemic-induced tug-of-war with a labor market that overwhelmingly wants to continue working from home, Dimon has repeatedly insisted that his employees come back. With the multibillion-dollar construction of 270 Park Avenue taking place in the background (the project has been ongoing since 2018), a lot of Dimon’s bearish back-to-the-office attitude had been written off as less of an admonishment of remote work and more of a reminder that JP Morgan has a vested interest in getting their office occupancy rates back up. JP Morgan is a major investor in New York City real estate, and lower occupancy rates drive down the assets they have as a bank, which snowballs into a negative effect on the shareholder price. But even with that caveat, the physical office space is still seen as the lifeblood of an organization, and high-quality workspaces that emphasize occupants by using clean energy not only yield a happier workforce with more effective employee onboarding, it leads to better real estate investment returns. 

Whether it stems from corporate idealism or a pressing need to justify their real estate interests, JP Morgan really, really wants their employees back at the office. So expect to be hearing a lot more about this tower as it gets closer to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. This may not be the best news for a JP Morgan employee who really wants to keep working in their pajamas, but for the growing need to mitigate climate change, 270 Park Avenue casts a spotlight on the value of upcycled construction.

Green building materials can help business owners financially in addition to making them feel good about preserving the environment. Some choices that can be recycled, such as sustainable insulation, can be less expensive than their non-recycled counterparts and can save utility costs by reducing waste on-site. The business may potentially qualify for tax credits that further lower development costs, depending on where it is located. Additionally, a building composed of green materials provides a positive message to customers and staff. Employees may feel more at ease working at a commercial location if they are aware that the company cares about the environment. Customers with a like-minded perspective who wish to support ecologically friendly businesses may be drawn to it as well.

The construction of the new 270 Park Avenue is touted as symbolic of JP Morgan’s commitment to NYC and the company’s wholehearted belief that offices have not crumbled into obsolescence. But more importantly, 270 Park Avenue represents a watershed moment for upcycled construction. The use of recycled building materials has been used periodically in commercial construction, but the sheer scale of the 270 Park Avenue project is indicative that the use of recycled building materials is about to, thankfully, become all the more common.

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