3-Minute Interview: Designer of 50 U.N. Plaza talks about renovation of historic building

Mark Donahue of HKS Architects is the lead designer for a five-story federal building at 50 United Nations Plaza, which is being renovated for use by the General Services Administration and will accommodate up to 700 people. It’s expected to open in January 2014.

This building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What makes it so significant? This is a building that was built in the Depression. It was at that time also a government project. It created jobs, and it got the local economy moving. It’s been in continual occupation since 1936. The original architect, Arthur Brown Jr., also designed City Hall.

The $122 million project is seeking to be the first GSA site with LEED platinum certification. What does that involve? The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. With that funding came some policy decisions that really affected the sustainable goals of the project. What’s amazing about this project is that it was able to meet or exceed those goals, and it did so mainly with the technologies that were available in 1936. The most difficult part was having to improve energy efficiency by about 30 percent.

What will this building do for the area? The first thing that it does is it puts people on the plaza. … It just brings energy back to the street.


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