Manhattan Transfer: Geothermal Technology in the City

Tapping into the constant temperature 1,200 feet underground, a Tribeca architect pioneers the use of geothermal technology to heat and cool his rock solid, energy efficient family home.

| January/February 2003

Yes, it’s big—especially by Manhattan standards, where closets often pose as bedrooms and bathtubs can be found in kitchens. And yes, it’s grand—although its owner, architect John Petrarca, has some sage advice about scoring designer finishes at bargain-basement prices.

But before you dismiss this five-story, 6,000-square-foot home and office space (4,000 square feet are for John and his family; 2,000 are for his five-person office) in New York’s historic Tribeca neighborhood as too big and too grand to be green, consider the innovation and imagination that went into lessening this urban infill project’s impact.

In the early 1980s, when Tribeca (short for ­Triangle Below Canal Street) was still an urban wasteland full of derelict, vacant buildings, John and his wife, Sarah Bartlett, bought a 1,600-square-foot, four-story house on Reade Street, which they renovated themselves. “We did all of the plumbing, heating, and carpentry ourselves,” John remembers. “And Sarah mixed about 100 bags of cement.”

The couple also bought the industrial loft building next door and, a few years later, the former butter factory next door to that. Eventually, he and Sarah sold the home they had renovated and went to work on a new home as well as four speculative townhouses. And in the process of developing his Reade Street empire, he’s also created what he calls “the greenest house in Manhattan”—a castle of sorts—for his family.

They chose limestone and oiled wood floors, low-toxic paints, natural linoleum, and natural wood finishes that wouldn’t outgas harmful chemicals.

Steel, foam and concrete

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