New Orleans Gets First LEED Skyscraper in Katrina Renovation

NEW ORLEANS — After bringing New Orleans its first Super Bowl, Tom Benson, owner of the city’s football and basketball teams, the Saints and Hornets, recently brought the city its first LEED-certified skyscraper, when he renovated Benson Tower, a 26-story office building that shares the same complex as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Saints play. The structure earned LEED Core and Shell Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as a result of the renovation. Benson purchased the building in 2009, as part of an agreement with the city to lock up the Superdome as the home stadium for the Saints over the long term. The reaffirmation of the relationship between the city and team got off to a good start when the Saints won their first Super Bowl at the end of that season.

Woodward Design+Build led the $33 million project, renovating the 602,678-square-foot structure, which was damaged during Hurricane Katrina, with many of the signature windows on its front face shattered. The building remained in disrepair and was mostly vacant for years afterwards. The renovation project involved a new roof and HVAC systems, repairs to the building envelope, and renovations of interior spaces. Woodward acted as general contractor on the project with its Woodward Design Group subsidiary handling the architectural work on the core and shell, while Holly & Smith Architects designed the internal build-out for offices occupied by the State of Louisiana, which agreed to move many of its New Orleans offices into the building as part of the incentive package in the Superdome deal.

“Buildings are a prime example of how human systems integrate with natural systems,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair, USGBC. “Benson Tower efficiently uses our natural resources and makes an immediate, positive impact on our planet, which will tremendously benefit future generations to come.”

The project features vegetative roofs, which cut down on storm drain water runoff and provide increased insulation, which leads to energy savings. The plants act as a buffer between the outside environment and the building’s internal insulation. Basically the plants negate some of the temperature effects of the outside environment. If the plants weren’t there, the insulation would be absorbing most of the ambient effects of temperature change outside the building. Green roofs, as they are called, also combat the heat island effect, where dense urban environments with large roofs warm up the surrounding area because concrete heats up more than dirt or grass. The vegetation also stops ultraviolet rays from the sun from directly hitting the roof of the building, which extends the life of the roof.

The project also achieved 100-percent reuse of the building’s existing structure, meaning none of the pieces removed during renovation went to a landfill. The renovation also resulted in a 24-percent reduction in energy consumption and a 33-percent reduction in water use.

Building Manager Maureen Clary was pleased with the impact on the utility bills, telling New Orleans magazine, “The utility costs of operating this building are about half what they would be for another non-LEED building downtown here.”

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