Hotel Marcel: this resurrected architectural monument could be the first net-zero hotel in the United States


(CNN) – Bruce Becker has spent most of his adult life designing buildings – 33 years to be exact.

For the 62-year-old architect and developer, one building in particular has taken its time in recent years. In 2019, Becker’s company, Becker + Becker, purchased a local monument and registered Historic Place in New Haven, Connecticut, for $ 1.2 million to fulfill its vision of a net-zero hotel, considered the first of its kind in the United States. .

“You have to reuse, recycle and reinvent existing buildings to be truly sustainable,” says Becker. “The culture that we have of tearing down and building new ones is really inefficient, and especially when you have a building like (this) that has such a beautiful structure and is built to last another century, don’t reuse would have been a real shame. “

The building will become a 165-room Hilton brand property called Hotel Marcel. According to Becker, the entire premises will operate independently of fossil fuels and will be powered by energy generated on site, mainly from solar panels that cover both the hotel roof and the parking lot.

Solar panels powering the hotel cover its parking lot and roof.

Courtesy of Zach Pontz

These panels are estimated to generate 700,000 kilowatt-hours over the course of a year, the equivalent of powering nearly 70 American homes – which, according to Becker, covers all of the hotel’s energy needs.

Look up to the sky

Originally designed in the 1960s and completed in 1970 by renowned Brutalist architect Marcel Breuer (the inspiration behind the hotel’s name), the nine-story concrete tower has maintained a remarkable presence along a large highway on the east coast, in large part because of the yawning void that cuts through the two middle floors of the building.

Breuer’s design was intentional; the original use housed the offices and R&D department of tire manufacturer Armstrong Rubber. With the administrative offices on the upper floors, the space was designed to dampen noise from the research laboratories on the lower levels. It has since changed hands several times with Swedish furniture giant IKEA which took over in 2003, but the company never moved in, leaving the building vacant.

Portrait of Marcel Breuer, architect and town planner, born in Pecs, Hungary, 1902.

Portrait of Marcel Breuer, architect and town planner, born in Pecs, Hungary, 1902.

Bettmann / Getty Images

Nearly two decades later, Becker’s plan to turn it into a net-zero hotel means approaching the project from two angles: reducing overall energy use and finding the most efficient ways to source alternative energy.

“We have spent months and months figuring out how to insulate the building so that there is no seepage,” he says, adding that “the amount of energy we have to spend on heating and air conditioning would be a quarter of what it would be for a new building code compliant. ”

The building itself is conducive to reduced energy use – its precast concrete facade houses deep windows that provide natural shade when the sun is at its peak. Becker and his team also implemented triple-glazed windows intended to maintain more stable temperatures in the building and added fully electric kitchen and laundry systems. All lighting will use an energy efficient power and control system known as Power over Ethernet, or POE, which has traditionally been used in buildings for computer and telephone systems.

When complete, Becker says these specific design choices will make this the first American hotel to be Passive house certified, a designation given to buildings that meet stringent net zero energy requirements.

Slow to sustainability

As green buildings have become more and more widespread around the world, the Hotel Marcel stands out for its ambitious goals in an industry renowned for its energy consumption.

“Some types of buildings are more energy intensive than others,” says Jason McLennan, founder of the International Living Future Challenge, a program focused on the certification of regenerative construction projects. “An office building generally uses less energy than a hotel. Hotels use a lot of energy per square foot.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, hotels and other accommodation are responsible for up to 5% of global carbon dioxide emitted by the tourism sector. Research from the International Tourism Partnership indicates that to stay within the parameters set by the Paris Climate Agreement, the hospitality industry will need to reduce its overall emissions by 90% over the next 30 years.
Over the past decade, hoteliers, large and small, have implemented sustainable development practices such as grow honey on-site or by reducing single-use plastics and laundry loads – but the movement to convert the properties of these vast portfolios to be more energy efficient has yet to gain momentum.
A model standard room at the Hotel Marcel, scheduled to open in early 2022.

A model standard room at the Hotel Marcel, scheduled to open in early 2022.

Courtesy of John Muggenborg Architectural Photography

“A guest experience in a hotel is different because it incorporates many different uses of buildings,” notes Corinne Hanson, director of sustainability and impact for SH Hotels and Resorts, a luxury hotel brand with properties in North America. North, Asia and Europe. “Having to combine all of these operational challenges makes sustainable hospitality unique.

Becker acknowledges that industry adoption of net zero buildings has been slow due to both a lack of economic incentives and the unique challenge of renovating properties that, by default, are supposed to be occupied at all times. But for Becker, driving the industry to change requires demonstrating how economic incentives are directly linked to energy use.

Becker admits overhead may be higher at the start of net zero building development, but says costs today are only a fraction of what they were in the past – and are being paid off in savings. energy within three to four years.

“Good design requires a holistic approach,” says Becker, and that includes how the design “serves its purpose and function,” he adds. “How does this impact the world as a whole, the environment? Beauty, function, durability: you can’t have a beautiful building without addressing all three. “

Setting the standard

According to Hanson of SH Hotel and Resort, this impact is inevitable: “We know that as brands embrace these changes there will be a continued ripple effect across the industry,” she said.

For Kristin Campbell, Director of Environment, Social Affairs and Governance at Hilton, the addition of the Marcel Hotel to the group’s Tapestry collection represents the company’s intention to increase its portfolio of net properties. zero, as consumer interest continues to grow in sustainable travel options. Campbell says the majority of his UK-based properties have started running entirely on renewables in 2020.

The real test of Becker’s vision and subsequent influence will take place in early 2022, when the hotel is expected to open to the public.

“We realize that a lot of people are watching what we’re doing and whether we’re successful,” Becker says. “I hope this will have a much bigger impact than a single project can have.”

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