This week, architecture news sites around the world were abuzz about the completion of Manhattan’s newest skyscraper, called The Spiral. Designed by Bjark Ingles Group (known as BIG) and located in the Hudson Yards district, the building has a lot of cool features to talk about. It gets its namesake from the plant-covered balconies that spiral around the building, giving each floor access to some outdoor greenspace. It also has state-of-the-art building management systems, a water runoff collection facility, and a special coating on the inside of the windows that helps bring in more natural light.
All of these things are groundbreaking and important, but they are not what caught my eye. What I found most interesting about the construction of this building was its claim that it procured all of the materials and fixtures from sustainable and ethical suppliers. Now, I have no way of vetting this claim, but if it is true, this is a huge accomplishment. Our global supply chain system has become incredibly complicated, so even knowing who exactly is responsible for every part of every type of material and equipment used in a project this big is an incredible undertaking.
I am reminded of an article that we published during the pandemic about the disruptions that would be caused by the tangled supply chain. In it, the author was trying to find out exactly where the components of an important set of light fixtures were coming from:
“While understanding the specifics of the global lighting supply chain became less important once our projects shut down, it got me thinking a lot about how difficult it is to track accurate information on the origin of the products we install. This keeps many in the chain unaccountable for their actions and leaves a lot of space for problems. I kept asking myself: what we can do as an industry to increase visibility into the sourcing practices of all manufactured materials, not just lighting?”
Saying that something is “sustainable” or “ethical” is easy. Actually, tracking down where a part was manufactured, warehoused, shipped, and assembled is really difficult. Props to BIG and the building’s developer, Tishman Speyer, for going through this effort. It might seem like a lot of steps for a historical developer and famous architect to do for a groundbreaking new project, but this might become more common.
There is a growing skepticism to companies’ ESG claims so it is no longer possible for a real estate company to claim they are sustainable without assuring that all of their suppliers are taking the same approach. This is especially important for the office industry since companies now understand the association between ethics and employee attraction and retention. A recent PwC survey found that 86 percent of the workers they asked “preferred to support or work for companies that care about the same issues that they do.” If this trend continues, it will not be enough for an office to just have sustainable practices; they will have to certify that all of their vendors, partners, and suppliers do too.