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Sustainability Spotlight: Empire State Building Goes Green - and Many Other Colors

May 10, 2012

New York City's iconic Empire State Building, which has just undergone a green retrofit that earned itself LEED Gold certification, continues to receive additional energy-saving updates. The latest project for the 102-story skyscraper will change the way it lights up the nighttime skyline. Approximately 1,200 newly designed fixtures housing 68,000 LED lights will replace the 400 regular bulbs that currently provide the exterior tower lighting. LED lights are more energy efficient and will illuminate the building with millions of deep, rich colors and subtle pastels, compared with the limited palette of 10 colors from the existing lamps.

The computer-controlled Philips Color Kinetics system will allow the colors of each LED fixture to be manipulated independently and instantaneously, creating lighting effects such as rainbows, ripples, cross-fades and bursts. "When the Yankees win the pennant, we can put pinstripes on one side of the building and solid blue on the other," said Jeff Campbell, director of architectural products for Philips Color Kinetics.

The new lighting system will also enable the Empire State Building to minimize light spill, ensuring that light is focused on the facade and mast, while providing enough light to allow the building to be seen from anywhere in New York City.

Installation of the LED fixtures is set to begin in a few weeks and should be completed by September. Anthony Malkin, president of the company that owns the Empire State Building, stated that the light installation will cost several million dollars but a 75 percent annual energy savings will help defray the costs. It is estimated that the system should pay for itself in about six years.

This retrofit is part of a broader $550 million renovation of the 2.85 million-square-foot building. Among the many projects were the on-site refurbishment of 6,514 windows, in which 95 percent of the glass was re-used, and the installation of reflective insulation behind radiators that redirects heat inward. A retrofit of the chiller plant resulted in efficiency gains, and the building management system was upgraded to reduce both cooling and heating requirements.

"The building was state of the art when it was built, and when we're done with our retrofit, there will be no more technically advanced building," Malkin said.