Visiting a lawyer we had once met at a conference, I asked to meet his partner, Lawrence Lenzner, who is one of New York's leading real estate lawyers.
I wanted to find out how green leasing was handled in New York and see what ideas could be used in the rebuilding of Christchurch.
Lawrence had spent time in New Zealand and knew a fair bit about Christchurch. He was keen to help - so helpful that he organised a tour of a remarkable new green building he had recently done the legal work on, One Bryant Park.
One Bryant Park is a US$1 billion (NZ$1.3b) Manhattan office building developed by his clients, the Durst family, of New York.
Also known as the Bank of America Tower, it is 366 metres high and the second-tallest building in New York after the Empire State Building. The tower was designed by Bob Fox and Richard Cook of Cook & Fox Architects, a leading United States architect. When completed in 2009, it was hailed as the greenest skyscraper in the world and achieved a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. This is similar to New Zealand's Green Star rating system.
Durst representative Jordan Barowitz, and chief building engineer Dan Monahan showed us through the building. They explained how the architecture was inspired by the Crystal Palace, which once sat in nearby Bryant Park and was based on the one in London.
The 300-metre high building is enveloped in floor-to-ceiling insulating glass, angled to give it the appearance of a tall crystal.
One of the architect's aims was to connect it with nature, so the lobby had an indoor-outdoor feeling, linking it to Bryant Park. Natural elements, such as leather-panelled walls and wooden handles add to this atmosphere.
The architects wanted to create a high-quality environment inside. This very important in New York. Blue-chip tenants are service businesses with high wage costs, who have realised the importance of high-quality work environments for their staff because they are happier, more productive and take less time off work. Having recognised this trend, landlords are now looking to provide what tenants want.
Jordan and Dan showed us the loading dock area of the building. There were only 20 cycle racks - not many for a green building - but they explained that although 8000 people worked in the building, hardly anyone cycled to work in New York. So while cycle racks would have gained the building more points under the LEED rating system, they would have been wasted.
We then looked at the main plant floor. Here the building's air-conditioning system has lots of filters to provide good air. In fact, the building acts like a giant filter, because the air coming out is much cleaner than that coming in. However, this type of air-conditioning system is energy hungry, so the building is designed to be run as cheaply as possible.
The developers have achieved this in several ways. The building has a 4.6-megawatt natural gas and electricity co-generation plant to meet some of its energy needs. Power is generated on site to reduce transmission loss and allows heat from the generators, which would otherwise be lost, to be used to generate more power. The result is electricity generation which is almost three times more efficient.
Electricity is also bought at night on the New York spot market to reduce costs. The electricity is used to produce and store ice in large tanks called ice batteries. These are then used in the air-conditioning system to cool the building at peak times.
The building also uses a low-pressure underfloor air-conditioning system. This means air does not need to be chilled to the same extent as conventional systems, again saving running costs. The building uses its glass exterior to contain and reflect heat and help maintain a constant internal temperature. These floor-to-ceiling windows also maximise natural light.
Not only have these energy-saving features reduced occupancy costs for tenants while improving the atmosphere, but they play a part in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. In the US, more than 40 per cent of carbon-dioxide emissions come from energy used in buildings.
The construction of this unique building was not without its problems. For example, months were spent trying to work out how to glue the leather panels to the lobby walls, because a low-emission glue had to be found which would not cause panel shrinkage.
There are some valuable lessons that can be learnt from what is happening in cities such as New York. It is becoming more important for developers to create buildings with high-quality environments to attract good tenants, and tenants want to keep occupancy costs down, so energy efficiency is important. These are key requirements, but developers need to take a pragmatic approach in deciding which other features to include.
How is this relevant to Christchurch? The Christchurch City Plan already encourages green building and it makes good business sense for property developers and construction companies to make use of these codes. Not only do they offer a much better environment for tenants to be in, but also cut costs with their energy-saving features.