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How Hurricane Sandy Wrecked One World Trade Center’s Green Ambitions

The superstorm destroyed the fuel cells needed to meet the building’s ambitious LEED gold certification.

How Hurricane Sandy Wrecked One World Trade Center’s Green Ambitions
[Photo: Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

Here at Fast Company, we’ve kept a pretty close eye on the development of One World Trade Center, which recently opened its doors to its first tenants. And it’s not just because the massive tower is right next to our office, thus leaving us no choice. Rather, the site’s redevelopment is a story that touches on things that matter to us: design, innovation, and sustainability.

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Well, apparently that last part is now in question.

One World Trade Center’s ambitious plan to become one of the greenest buildings on the planet was thwarted by Hurricane Sandy, according to a report from Climate Desk. In what could hardly be a more painfully ironic turn of events, the building’s pricey fuel cells were ruined when the superstorm–widely believed to be attributable to the effects of climate change–dumped more than 200 million gallons of water into the site two years ago. Oof.

The $10.6 million of damage is partially the result of what Mother Jones describes as a “costly flaw” in the tower’s design:

A temporary underground structure serving an existing train station was preventing builders from finishing the tower’s giant underground loading dock—the central piece of infrastructure used to haul masses of equipment up into the tower. Without the loading dock, there was no way for tenants to start moving their equipment into the building. And once a new loading dock went in—budgeted to cost $18.4 million—it would be all but impossible to remove and replace the dead fuel cells.

Under pressure to open its doors–and make good on its $2 billion deal to house the new Conde Nast headquarters–the building’s proprietors removed the damaged fuel cells and went ahead and built that loading dock, severely complicating any future efforts to replace those fuel cells.

It’s unclear what this means for the building’s coveted LEED gold certification, nor is anybody sure exactly where to place the blame.

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About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things. Find me here: Twitter: @johnpaul Instagram: @feralcatcolonist

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