LEED Case Study: Grounded In Green

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the October 2006 issue of Facility Executive

Entering the main lobby of the new Hearst Tower in New York City, a visitor might experience a sense of unity within the building. Looking up from the ground floor lobby, building occupants see design elements that work together to create a welcoming and tranquil atmosphere in Hearst Corporation’s revamped headquarters building. The owner of numerous publications and broadcast stations—including the Houston Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspapers, and magazine titles Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and Good Housekeeping—the media company has marked a homecoming of sorts with the new building; the 46-story tower has been built atop the company’s original New York City headquarters.

Soft color hues and interesting configurations characterize the entryway to the building. The floor and walls of the main lobby feature cream colored stone that reflects light, so it almost appears to glow. Within this space, a 27′ high waterfall feature, “Icefall,” adds a visual element that captures visitors’ attention. Directly above the fall is “Riverlines,” a nearly 70′ high art installation gracing a vertical wall in the space. Created with mud from the nearby Hudson River, this work by artist Richard Long draws the eye up toward the six story atrium above the lobby.

A short elevator ride transports occupants up to the atrium. The plethora of windows along the walls, along with curtainwall glazing above, allow natural daylight to flood into this space. Aside from the LEED plaque from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) at the main entrance, the atrium is the first obvious indicator that Hearst Tower is a green building.

Green Throughout

The bright and airy atrium is only one—though perhaps the most impressive—sustainable aspect of this building. There are many more to be found.


Energy efficient equipment and strategies promise to make Hearst Tower 26% more efficient than a comparable building built conventionally. Water conservation strategies are expected to reduce consumption in the building by about 25%. And carefully chosen construction materials and interior furnishings feature recycled content and the absence of harmful chemicals.

In 2000, the company hired London-based architectural firm Foster and Partners, led by renowned British architect Lord Norman Foster, to design Hearst Tower. Hearst executives and Foster’s team shared a bold vision for the building as the project marked the company’s commitment to its roots at the location in midtown Manhattan.

This vision led to the discussion of developing a green building through the use of sustainable design and operation strategies. Recalling the planning process, Brian Schwagerl, vice president of real estate and facilities planning with Hearst for the past 17 years, says, “We decided if we were going to construct a new building, why not build the best? And that meant incorporating green practices extensively.”

While LEED certification was not a goal initially, Hearst used the rating system as a resource and realized that it would be feasible to pursue certification for the building.

Bringing People And Places Together

As early as 1990, Hearst had been evaluating its real estate portfolio, taking into account the fact that its employees were working in disparate facilities throughout New York City. The staff of Good Housekeeping and its companion Good Housekeeping Research Institute worked in the original Hearst building located on Eighth Avenue, and the remainder of the 2,000 member workforce occupied 12 other sites throughout the city. Hearst owned some of these spaces, but the majority of the locations were leased.


Schwagerl headed up the assessment process. “We evaluated various options in terms of leasing or buying a property that would accommodate our needs,” he explains. “In the end, we decided to build over the original Hearst headquarters building. This decision gave the project the sense that we were creating a new home for the company.”

The original Hearst building was completed in 1928 under the direction of the company’s founder William Randolph Hearst. Designed by the architectural firms of Joseph Urban and George P. Post & Sons, the structure—known as the International Magazine Building—was six stories high and occupied 40,000 square feet. Featuring a pre-cast limestone facade, the exterior perimeter is adorned with columns and allegorical figures representing music, arts, commerce, and industry. In 1988, the building was designated as a Landmark Site by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The decision to build Hearst Tower on the original site meant that William Randolph Hearst’s vision of a tower atop the six story building would become reality nearly 80 years later. During its construction in the 1920s, the building had been structurally reinforced to support an office tower in the future, but the plan had never come to fruition.

From Going Green To Pursuing LEED

Once Hearst decided to pursue a green building in 2000, Schwagerl began to research this burgeoning market by visiting organizations throughout the United States and Europe that had incorporated environmentally friendly practices in their real estate assets. “At the time, the movement was just beginning to gain mainstream attention in New York,” he says. “I knew that if companies were doing this type of thing out west and in Europe, we could too.” Hearst achieved its goal in September 2006 when it was awarded LEED Gold for New Construction from the USGBC for the 856,000 square foot office tower.


Rising from its base, the new building imposes a striking figure. The diagrid steel structure creates architectural distinction as well as functional support for the 46-story tower.

Construction began in June 2003 with the demolition and excavation of the existing building. In order to keep the facade intact, the demolition required extra care. Additionally, with LEED guidelines in mind, the project team created a system in which building materials would be separated during the process and recycled for other projects. In all, approximately 85% of the structure was recovered for future use.

After the extensive preparation of the original facade, which included structural reinforcement throughout, construction on the new tower began in September 2004.

Foster and Partners addressed material conservation in the design of the new building as well. Using the diagrid design required roughly 20% less steel than would be used in a conventional perimeter frame; this reduced the amount of required steel by about 2,000 tons. Additionally, 90% of the structural steel contains recycled material.

The diagrid approach also served a functional need. With the open atrium slated to occupy most of the building’s footprint, the building could not be designed around a central core. Instead, the core was positioned toward one side of the building, which presented a structural challenge. Due to this technique, the diagrid system would be able to support the building with its off center core.

The interior facade of the original Hearst Building, coupled with stainless steel supports, creates a dramatic atmosphere in the atrium space. PHOTO: MICHAEL FICETO/THE HEARST CORP.

Energy efficiency was a primary consideration in the design of Hearst Tower, and the glass exterior of the building contributed to this goal by allowing natural light far into the interior spaces. As a result, the need for artificial lighting in many common and office areas was significantly less than would be required with more traditional office construction.

Still, artificial lighting was a necessity. To conserve the energy consumed for this purpose, the specified lighting system included occupancy sensors so energy would not be wasted when spaces were vacant.

Another factor that contributes to energy savings is the use of automatic dimming of lights in perimeter spaces. Taking its cue from preselected parameters, the lamps automatically dim if a room is illuminated from the outside to the chosen light levels.

Schwagerl also worked with the design team to specify state-of-the-art HVAC equipment. A heat recovery system uses the expelled warm air for space heating needs in the atrium.

Additionally, the expansive atrium floor is equipped with radiant heating underneath. Warming the wide open space could be quite energy intensive in cold weather; however, the radiant floor, working with the heat recovery system, reduces consumption.

In addition, appliances with the ENERGY STAR designation were used throughout the entire building.

Even the elevators in Hearst Tower are geared toward energy efficiency. With 15 elevator cabs serving the thousands of people who move through the building each day, the design team specified elevators made to shorten wait and ride times while also reducing energy use.

“Cafe 57” in Hearst Tower offers a wide variety of cuisines for employees and visitors to enjoy. An organic salad bar, sushi bar, and brick oven pizza station are among the menu choices. PHOTO: MICHAEL FICETO/THE HEARST CORP.

A freestanding kiosk located near the elevator bank features a touch screen onto which a user presses the desired floor. The system then directs the rider to a specific elevator based on the information the rider has entered. As a result, people who need to travel to the same or nearby floors are directed to the same elevator. This maximizes efficiency, since without this system, three people going to the same floor might get on three separate elevators.

Modeling performed in the design phase indicate the building is expected to consume about 25% less energy than a comparable building without these efficiency strategies.

Water conservation is another area where sustainable strides were achieved. The building is equipped with a rainwater harvesting system that collects precipitation for a variety of uses in the building. The water travels from the roof down to a 14,000 gallon reclamation tank located in the basement.

This harvesting strategy is expected to reduce by 25% the amount of stormwater Hearst Tower discharges into the city sewer system. One of the main uses for the captured rainwater is to replace the water lost to evaporation in the air conditioning system.

Additionally, this water is used in a pumping system for the irrigation of trees and other plants located inside and around the building. This approach is expected to meet about half of the facility’s irrigation needs.

“Icefall,” the water feature in the main lobby, is supplied by the captured rainwater as well. However, the waterfall also serves a purpose beyond aesthetics in that it can humidify and chill the lobby area as needed.

Says Schwagerl, “The green features we incorporated were practical, not over the top. Even ‘Icefall,’ which came into the plan later on, was incorporated with some practicality. We worked with a great team that allowed us to make the correct and practical choices.”

World-Class Environment For Employees

In early 2006, employees gradually began moving into the new building. As with most sustainable building ventures, occupant satisfaction is a major focus at Hearst Tower. The transparent construction of the tower was part of this strategy in that it affords occupants in most spaces views of the outside.


And to furnish these spaces, the design team chose materials with little or no harmful chemicals. For instance, low vapor paints were specified, and formaldehyde-free furniture was chosen. Additionally, carpet and ceiling tiles were selected for their inclusion of recycled content.

Sustainably harvested wood was used to furnish the executive offices. These materials were also used to furnish the top floor of the tower; this is where the company’s boardroom and a function space, which can accommodate up to 200 people, are located. Expansive views of the city’s nearby Central Park bring more “green” into the building.

Sustainability was also addressed in the food court located in the atrium. A wide variety of organic food is offered at a subsidized price in “Cafe 57.” Cuisine choices include a sushi bar, brick oven pizza, and freshly prepared entrees.

Schwagerl points out that the atrium has become a town center of sorts, with employees taking time to eat meals and socialize there. “We wanted to achieve more than a corporate cafeteria with this space,” he explains. The atrium’s interior facade, formed by the original building structure, helps to create a welcoming atmosphere.

The atrium also contains an art gallery for exhibits, which are changed every three months. At the atrium level, there is a 168-seat theater where the company showcases its latest media ventures. Additionally, the entire atrium space can be used for various corporate events.

As might be expected in a state-of-the-art building, Hearst Tower contains a fitness center for its employees to use. Spa services and organized fitness classes are offered as part of this amenity.

From Past To Present

Reflecting on the role of the original headquarters building within the new tower structure, Schwagerl notes that it has given the company a renewed sense of its history. “In deciding to do this project on the site chosen nearly a century ago by William Randolph Hearst,” says Schwagerl, “we’ve committed to this facility and to the city for another 100 years. Earning LEED Gold certification was one of the ways we strived to be responsible for our surroundings.”


It would be fair to say that Hearst would be proud to see his vision of an office tower on the site he chose back in 1895. Perhaps with his pioneering spirit, he would be all the more pleased that his company was contributing to making green building a mainstream practice.

This article was based on an interview with Schwagerl and from project literature. To learn more, visit www.hearst.com/tower/.