Lofty Ambitions

Sustainable living, though universally recognized as a worthy
goal, has often been characterized as the stuff of wealthy hermits
and communal farm dwellers. But two New Yorkers have built a haven
of green living within the urban landscape, proving that creativity
and determination are the only two qualifications for taking the
sustainability leap. Sculptor Benton Brown and his wife Susan Boyle
converted a 14,000 square-foot building in the Crown Heights
neighborhood of Brooklyn into an environmentally friendly apartment
building. The project, financed largely through private investments
by friends and family, took two-and-a-half years of hard work and
involved a team of seven unskilled workers trained by the couple.
Though Brown and Boyle are both novices in the fields of
construction and engineering, they have become pioneers, inspiring
academics, politicians, and fellow eco-urbanites.

While Boyle is an experienced advocate for urban
environmentalism, having worked for years at Transportation
Alternatives lobbying for a better urban infrastructure for
cyclists, Brown became interested in the project because of the
engineering challenges it presented. Both Brown and Boyle rose to
the challenge, crafting the building’s eco-friendly infrastructure
using high-tech gadgetry and clever construction. Much of the
building is made from neighborhood salvage, and its utilities are
provided through radiant heating, natural ventilation, a rainwater
collection system, a high-efficiency condensing boiler, and a solar
energy system that creates nearly half of the building’s
electricity. ‘It was just amazing to find out how much better
sustainable building functions than conventional building, how
logical it is,’ Brown glows. ‘I think of it more as
‘high-performance’ than eco-friendly.’

By proving that city life and green life are not mutually
exclusive, Brown and Boyle are helping dispel the image of New York
City as an asthma-inducing concrete wasteland. Boyle asserts, ‘New
York City, to me, is the greenest city in the world, for the energy
efficiency of its compact living and ease of public
transportation.’ With a long waiting list of potential tenants for
her pet project, Boyle’s vision of a green Brooklyn is becoming a
reality.
Brendan Themes

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