Kaid Benfield Archive


Episcopal Sisters are building a green convent in the city

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 3, 2009 at 10:18PM

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"It's a question of stewardship," Sister Faith Margaret told New York Times writer Joseph Huff-Hannon.   "Of responsibility."  Faith Margaret's religious order, the Episcopal sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit, is building a new home in New York City, and they want to build it green.  Huff-Hannon reports that the sisters hired BKSK Architects because the firm's plans included such environmentally advanced features as rooftop gardens, water heated by solar power, rainwater collection, natural light and ventilation and the use of environmentally sensitive materials throughout.

rendering of the new convent (by: BKSK)The sisters are selling their current building, St. Hilda's House on 113th Street, to Columbia University, and they are financing the new building, on 150th Street, from the proceeds of the sale of the old one.  They expect to have money left over to create an endowment for their order.  Columbia, reports Huff-Hannon, has also taken over the task of obtaining construction permits required for the new convent.   

The sisters will grow vegetables on the green roof (see rendering by BKSK), which will also help cool the bedrooms immediately below.  Many of the internal surfaces will be made of recycled concrete and glass.  No doubt they will also continue their current habits (pun unintended) at St. Hilda's of composting food scraps, recycling bottles and cans, using energy-efficient light bulbs and eating organic produce, most of it from an upstate New York farm also managed by the order.  Huff-Hannon's nice article adds a lot of context and richness to the story.

This is not the first story I've been able to report in the last few months about a religious order practicing sustainable development.  Mission Creek senior housing in San Francisco, spearheaded by the Roman Catholic charity Mercy Housing, won a prestigious smart growth award from EPA last year.  I've also had the opportunity to mention BKSK's work; their design for the visitors' center at the Queens Botanical Garden was one of AIA's green design award winners that I actually liked