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Raising the roof for green energy

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Two green-thinking Brooklyn architects have encountered an unexpected hiccup in their plan to make a Clinton Hill rooftop more environmentally sound: the mighty preservationist.

John Bruce and business partner Kian Goh, who run an architectural firm called Super-Interesting, had concocted a plan to green-ify the rooftop of Bruce’s Clinton Hill building by replacing the tar and shingles, covering the bare roof with wooden decks and modular, planting units, and, most controversially, affixing a solar-panel canopy.

But the plan came undone when the Landmarks Preservation Commission visited the rooftop and determined that the canopy would be visible from a public street — a big no-no in the preservation world.

“We kind of ran into the landmarks law,” said Goh. “They said you could see the ‘shade structure’ [the solar-panel-covered pergola] from the street.”

The 16-unit, four-story coop is at the corner of Greene and Clinton avenues — within the Clinton Hill Historic District. The disallowed solar panels have the capacity to pump out about 2.5 kilowatts of energy a year, enough to offset up to one apartment’s annual electrical usage.

Despite its rejection of the pergola, Landmarks, which oversees alterations to buildings within historic districts, urged the architectural duo to move ahead with the rooftop’s other “green” elements.

“The panels are not, in and of themselves, a problem,” explained Lisi de Bourbon, the Commission’s spokeswoman. “But they can’t be visible from a public thoroughfa­re.”

The photovoltaic shade structure may remain a green dream, but Goh and Bruce are moving along with other aspects of the plan: they’ve already re-roofed the house, and by winter, they plan to have installed the hardwood decks and modular green space.

“We’re creating usable space, protecting the existing flat roof from the elements, reducing the heat island effect, and we’re providing a better vista for our neighbors,” said Bruce.

Goh said she and Bruce will keep up the fight.

“We think this is something worth fighting for,” she added. “It might not be historical, but it could be more important.”

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Reader Feedback

Samuel says:
We support historic district and some considerations in historic district. Condition of home and matence should be considered. Visit our historic district in upstate NY at www.historicnearwestside.com
Oct. 12, 2007, 8:19 am

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