Shepard Hall: Buildings = Energy Exhibition at The Center for Architecture, New York City


Elemental is proud to announce that it’s award-winning historic reconstruction of Shepard Hall at The City College of New York is included in the current exhibition on view at the Center for Architecture in New York City as part of the month-long celebration Archtober.  The exhibition explores how critical choices and consumption patterns of professionals and building occupants can make positive energy changes in our cities.  Shepard Hall was selected as an exemplar of sustainability in historic reconstruction.  his is particularly evident in considering the use of Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) as the primary reconstruction material, in lieu of other materials.
The project’s 72,000 units of replicated terra cotta – the largest terra cotta replacement project in the world – yields an embodied energy savings by using GFRC of approximately 29,880,000,000 Btu or the equivalent of about 207,000 gallons or about 4,900 barrels of #6 oil when compared with cast stone and approximately 57,600,000,000 Btu – the equivalent of about 400,000 gallons or about 9,500 barrels of #6 oil – when compared with terra cotta.
In addition, in considering just the energy savings in transportation of the much lighter GFRC, the 72,000 units of replicated terra cotta, the savings in the weight of material that must be fabricated, transported to the building, lifted and installed is 14,400,000 pounds – or 7,200 tons.
Here is how we arrived at the findings in savings. Information on the embodied energy of various materials is from the Handbook of Energy Use For Building Construction prepared for the US Department of Energy by Elemental’s Carl Stein and the late Richard G. Stein:

The analysis examines two alternative systems for replacing decorative, cast masonry units – thin shell glass fiber reinforced concrete and cast stone.  Cast stone is used for the solid alternative because there is limited embodied energy data available glazed terra cotta, the original material and, at other buildings on the CCNY campus, cast stone has been used to replace deteriorated terra cotta.  Note, however, that structural facing tile – a clay-bodied vitreous-glazed unit masonry product that is similar in composition to glazed terra cotta – has an embodied energy of about 860,000 Btu/ft3 as compared with that for precast concrete which is approximately 318,000 Btu/ ft3
The exterior reconstruction of Shepard Hall was the first large-scale use glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) – thin shell units for historic preservation.  This greatly reduced the quantity and weight of the replacement cladding as well as achieving a number of technical goals such as accommodation of thermal movement
Currently, more than 65,000 damaged terra cotta units have been replaced.  When complete, the total will be approximately 72,000 units. As a frame of reference, GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete), with an average wall thickness of ¾” is compared with cast stone (precast concrete) having and average thickness on 6” including the complex molding and sculpture.

Embodied energy in precast concrete is 318,000 Btu/ ft3.

Average face area per unit is approximately 3 ft2

Volume of GFRC is 0.19 ft3

Embodied energy for GFRC is approximately 60,400 Btu/unit

Volume of cast stone is 1.50 ft3

Embodied energy for cast stone is approximately 477,000 Btu/unit

GFRC saves approximately 415,000 Btu/unit (average) when compared with cast stone.

Note: this does not include the embodied energy in the polymers and matakaolin that would be added to both materials, increasing the embodied energy savings for GFRC; however, it also does not include the Alkali Resistant glass fiber reinforcing (approximately 4½% of the total weight) which would apply only to the GFRC. If the embodied energy in the glass reinforcing is similar to that in conventional glass fiber, it would be about 6,500 Btu/pound or about 9,000 Btu per unit.  In other words, even discounting the fact that there would be significantly more polymer and metakaolin in the cast stone, the addition of about 9,000 Btu of reinforcing results in the saving of about 415,000 Btu of concrete

The 72,000 units of replicated terra cotta for the entire project yield an embodied energy saving for GFRC of approximately 29,880,000,000 Btu (the equivalent of about 207,000 gallons or about 4,900 barrels of #6 oil) when compared with cast stone.

Using the embodied energy for structural facing tile to represent that of glazed terra cotta gives the following analysis:

Difference in volume of concrete between GFRC and terra cotta is approximately 1.0 ft3/unit.  (The cellular construction of the terra cotta body allows it to made with somewhat less volume of material than with cast stone

Volume of GFRC is 0.19 ft3/unit

Embodied energy for GFRC is approximately 60,400 Btu/unit

Volume of terra cotta is 1.00 ft ft3/unit

Embodied energy for terra cotta is approximately 860,000 Btu/unit

GFRC saves approximately 800,000 Btu/unit (average) when compared with terra cotta

The 72,000 units of replicated terra cotta for the entire project yield an embodied energy saving for GFRC of approximately 57,600,000,000 Btu (the equivalent of about 400,000 gallons or about 9,500 barrels of #6 oil) when compared with terra cotta

Weight of Materials:

Although not directly convertible to energy quantities, it is also instructive to consider the weight of materials that must be handled in the reconstruction process. At 1.5 ft3/unit, the average cast stone unit weighs 225 pounds. At  0.19 ft3/unit, the average GFRC unit weighs 28 pounds. The weight saving for GFRC when compared with cast stone is +/- 200 lbs/unit.

For the 72,000 units of replicated terra cotta, the savings in the weight of material that must be fabricated, transported to the building, lifted and installed is 14,400,000 pounds – or 7,200 tons.

Carl Stein to Deliver Keynote Address at GRCA International Congress - Istanbul


Elemental Architecture, a firm recognized for its pioneering work in sustainable architecture, design and advocacy is pleased to announce that founding principal Carl Stein, FAIA will be delivering a keynote address at the 16th International Congress on GRC in Istanbul, Turkey on September 6, 2011.

The four-day conference brings representatives from twenty nations to share knowledge and advancements in glass fiber concrete technology. Keynote presentations by Elemental Architecture, New York and Foster and Partners, London.

The Restoration of Shepard Hall - an Interview with Carl Stein


Elemental Architecture’s award winning process for restoring City College’s Shepard Hall, discussed in an in-depth interview with Carl Stein on PROSOCO’s blog, “Green Journey” Shepard Hall Restoration

New York Times – The Gas is Greener: A Response


Robert Bryce’s June 7, 2011 Op-ed in the New York Times “The Gas is Greener” zeros in on a fundamental fault in the logic of depending on solar, wind and other renewables as primary sources of energy.  As Bryce correctly points out, generating large quantities of electricity from renewable sources requires vast amounts of natural resources — most notably, land, not to mention the energy and resources expended to collect and distribute that power that could be generated.
These realizations aren’t new. Interestingly, in 1993 Carl Stein notes in “Energy Conscious Architecture” for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) that a report from the Energy Policy Project determined:

“From 1965 to 1973, U.S. energy consumption grew at the annual rate of 4.5 percent. This is doubling roughly every 15 years. If we could, miraculously, switch to total solar power in 1995, and if this switch created a return to the “cheap energy” attitudes of the 1960s with the associated exponential growth, by 2010, we would have to devote one percent of our land area to solar collection; by 2025, 2 percent; by 2070…10 percent of the United States would be taken up by collection systems; and before 2110…solar collectors would completely cover the United States.”

Clearly, there is no “silver bullet” to meet our demand for energy consumption and when considering the environmental impact of creating such systems the attitude that renewable energy is the answer is, in fact, directly contradictory to an environmentally responsible point of view. As Carl further points out, “…we must never fall in the trap of thinking of [renewable energy] as easy, cheap or environmentally neutral.” Simply put, there is no free lunch.

The best and most immediate solutions to address the demand for energy are by decreasing the rate of consumption through conservation, resourceful planning and energy conscious design.

Exhibition: Drawings by Costantino Nivola & Online Gallery of Collaborations



I follow the thin black line.
Drawings by Costantino Nivola

Although Costantino Nivola was an extraordinary draftsman, and for almost ten years had worked as a graphic designer and a professional illustrator, he regarded himself above all as a sculptor, or more precisely a sculptor-builder, heir to the ancient nuraghi builders, faithful to the vocation passed on to him by his mason father. This is why his graphic work has gained little recognition. Yet, it is a body of work of great interest and quality, a cross-section of which is exhibited for the first time: over a hundred works, almost all unpublished.
The drawings and illustrations on display, made between 1941 and 1980, document the central and most productive phases of the artist’s career: his first period in New York, shortly after his flight from Fascist Italy, divided between commercial graphics and exploratory works (1940-1945); his approach to sculpture in 1950 and a return to his home-town, Orani, in 1958; the preparatory drawings for major public commissions; the so-far ignored episode of tapestry design (1960 – 1966); the private series of the Beds and Male Figures; the biting drawings of political and social criticism he had begun working on since 1968.

A Nivola emerges who is in many ways different from the well-known creator of large public monuments and solemn sculptures (the Mothers and the Widows of the final phase), but a an artist who is by no means less fascinating. (Excerpted from the exhibition catalog)


During his time in New York, Nivola collaborated with numerous architects on the installation and integration of his artworks into architectural projects.  Over the coming weeks, Elemental will be showcasing images of some of these important collaborations with Carl Stein, FAIA and the late Richard G. Stein, FAIA on Facebook


Visit our online galleries on Facebook for the following projects:

Learn more about Nivola at the Museo Nivola website and in an extensive article on his architectural collaborations in Metropolis Magazine.

John Barboni Featured in NY Times Style Magazine


John Barboni, co-founder of elemental, is featured in the New York Times T Magazine’s article “Dinner at 8” by Stephanie LaCava.NYTimes-Tmagazine-style

Does Saving Historic Buildings Really Save Energy? - A Response


In a recent posting on, “Does Saving Historic Buildings Really Save Energy?” Tristan Roberts pointed out a number of benefits that may be realized by the adaptive reuse of older buildings; however, he dismissed the notion that there is value in the energy embodied in these structures.  While he is correct in his assertions about the cultural and urban value of historic buildings, he misses the point, or at least part of the point of the value of the energy embodied in those buildings.  Despite the fact that there is no way to “recover” the embodied energy in old buildings, if their reuse offsets the need to build replacements, the energy that would have been embodied in those new buildings is saved – avoided cost.
Of course, there will almost certainly be some construction, and therefore some energy commitment, required to extend the useful life of older buildings including implementation of measures to significantly improve performance.  The net avoided energy cost will be less than the total energy cost on the new building.  Nonetheless, the new energy that must be “embodied” into the existing building will typically be 1/3 to 2/3 that of starting from scratch.  Additionally, there is that much less debris sent to landfill and that much more “embodied” culture carried forward.

This is not to say that saving older buildings will always be the best choice for the environment, nor is it saying that one should only consider saving important historical buildings if their continued existence can be justified through energy savings or other environmental benefits.  The considerations will be based on a sliding scale.  At one end, there are the truly significant historical and cultural artifacts that must be preserved at all costs.  At the other end, there are the purely utilitarian structures whose continuance will be determined by quantifiable, pragmatic concerns.  In the middle is that vast majority of buildings that make some contribution to the understanding of history and sense of place, and whose reuse will offset some portion of the embodied energy that would otherwise by required for new construction.  These are buildings that are neither historically and culturally indispensable, nor clearly justified by environmental imperatives.  In some cases, the positive attributes embedded in these structures will be outweighed by benefits that can only be achieved through new construction.

Decisions regarding adapting and reusing instead of demolishing and replacing should be informed by multiple factors; some environmental, and some, as Roberts noted, cultural.  What is critical, however, is that all significant considerations be included.  This is particularly true for those middle ground buildings for which no single criterion is likely to prove decisive.  While it’s true that embodied energy itself is not a recoverable resource, it is a valuable asset that can offset the need to expend new energy resources.  And, while it’s unlikely that the energy offsets inherent in building reuse will be the sole determining factor in deciding whether or not to save a building, it is a real consideration that may push the eventual decision in one way rather than another.  To exclude this asset from the equation is to neglect a readily exploitable and relatively benign resource.  To knowingly neglect such a resource at this point in history would be irresponsible.

Datum International – Disaster Mitigation Site


We highly recommend visiting friend and colleague, James Lewis' Datum International . While relevant in regards to current events, the site also offers valuable insight and is closely connected to Elemental Architecture's goals.

Publish or Perish: A Response


Residential Architect Magazine editor, S. Claire Conroy, writes in the November/December 2010 issue on architects and social media.  We offer a response:
Ms. Conroy;
Your observations in your piece “Publish or Perish” are well taken and I believe true, however, I would offer that rather than cast online forums such as Facebook and LinkedIn as tools for self-promotion, architects should be using them to assert thought leadership.
Our responsibility, as architects, extends not only to the places we create but also to communicating & educating on issues that we observe and are engaged in. Social media, be it through Facebook, Twitter, blogging or other forms, allows architects to do so for both the general public, as well as internally to the industry, in ways never before seen. Whereas previously in order to have an audience for publishing original content or critique one was forced to survive editorial review, now anyone is given the opportunity to express thought. Within the formats of each online medium, the profession is offered opportunities to share content and by doing so, has the ability to educate and promote change.

Take sustainability as an example; while the general public is becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of resource depletion and the need for energy conservation, there seems to be a lack of holistic understanding of the role architectural, planning and construction decisions play. Architects and their clients are increasingly considering how decisions affect the allocation of resources and contribute to the creation of infrastructure. Many architects are researching sustainability concepts and technologies through their projects and documenting their revelations. With all of the content that is being generated within the profession and externally on this issue, social media provides forums to disseminate knowledge and collective experience; work can be shared to promote progress, not just itself.

Beyond attempting to merely ascend Google rankings for greater online presence, our disciplines must use its collective knowledge to promote ideas that move society forward; by doing so, the use of social media will be perceived as less self-serving and more as elevating discussion. By not doing so, however, our non-building contributions may be drowned out by the ever increasing online noise.

Tom Abraham, AIA

Tom Abraham Named to Inaugural ENR New York “Top 20 Under 40”


New York (02.09.2011) – Elemental Architecture, a firm recognized for its pioneering work in sustainable architecture, design and advocacy, is pleased to announce that Tom Abraham, Principal & Co-founder has been named to ENR New York | McGraw-Hill Construction’s inaugural “Top 20 Under 40.” The list showcases exceptional A/E/C industry leaders within the region. Abraham’s selection highlights a belief in social entrepreneurship, a commitment to sustainability and progressive uses of social media for education and awareness.
“Everyone has an inherent responsibility toward society,’ Abraham says. ‘We, as architects, have a profound impact on society. It’s not something to be taken lightly.’”  He elaborates, “the global economic collapse has forced a reevaluation of models based on pure consumption and requires a rapid shift to those that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable…I personally believe in a ‘Social Contract.’ Our responsibility, as architects, extends not only to the places we create but also to communicating & educating on issues that we observe and are engaged in…The immediacy and effectiveness of social media allows our discipline, in ways never before seen, to educate and assert leadership with respect to these issues in order to accelerate positive change.” Tom is currently acting as Administrative Principal for the Historic Reconstruction of Shepard Hall at the City College of New York as well as Design Principal for several commercial and residential projects in New York City.

A graduate of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Mr. Abraham is licensed to practice architecture in New York State, holds NCARB Certification and is a LEED Accredited Professional by the US Green Building Council. Prior to his education in architecture Mr. Abraham was a first-responder and certified Emergency Medical Technician in Bergen County.

See the full list of ENR honorees here.

About elemental

elemental is an award-winning New York City based collaborative consisting of Elemental Architecture LLC & Sine Elemental LLC joined by an inherent commitment to environmental and social responsibility. Founded on over 40-years of research and experience in energy-conscious design, current elemental projects include the $150 million Historic Reconstruction of Shepard Hall for the City College of New York; Interior design and identity & media for Greenhouse 26, projected to be New York City’s first ‘green’ boutique hotel as well as numerous private residential & commercial interiors throughout New York. elemental is located at 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 212.616.4110


Jesse Lee deNeeve
Director of Marketing
(212) 616-4110