Three thousand fifty-eight buildings of all shapes, sizes, designs, and purposes have have met the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for environmentally sustainable construction since 1994. But the country's first live music venue – and bowling alley! – got the nod earlier this month when Brooklyn Bowl was LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The 600-person club, sixteen-lane bowling alley, and restaurant (serving food by Blue Ribbon) joins the Concord Hospital in New Hampshire, the Unity Village Hotel & Conference Center In Kansas City, Starbucks Center in Seattle, and the Montessori School of Maui in meeting this nationally accepted standard for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. To qualify, a project must earn a minimum number of points from among these categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation in design, and regional priority (i.e., localism). Brooklyn Bowl partners Peter Shapiro and Charley Ryan snagged their certification after three years' of planning and construction with the help of Pete Atkin, a senior associate at GreenOrder, the sustainability-strategy and managing consulting firm co-founded by HeadCount board member Peter Shapiro and his brother, Andrew.
The Brooklyn Bowl project was even an anomaly for GreenOrder, which in general works with corporate clients. Likewise, Marie Coleman of the USGBC hasn't quite seen its likes before. "I am aware of a nightclub in New York called Greenhouse that is going for certification," she says. "But it hasn't been certified, and it’s not really the same as Brooklyn Bowl."
A finely tuned, way Uptown version of New Orleans' legendary Rock n' Bowl, Brooklyn Bowl is in a category unto itself when it comes to music venues. Galactic, the Disco Biscuits, Chromeo, the Roots, Bob Weir's Scare the Children, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, Toots and the Maytals, and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe have all played the club since its July opening. To everyone's surprise and delight, you cannot hear the proverbial pin drop from the bowling lanes – although bowlers often use the lanes as $50/hour luxury boxes for eight during shows.
Shapiro and Ryan's business relationship goes back to 1990s Manhattan and Wetlands – the dank, pulsing epicenter of the East Coast's jamcentric "granola circuit" – which Shapiro owned and Ryan operated. The Brooklyn Bowl concept came about during a couple of Wetlands-staff Christmas parties. "We took them to some bowling alleys that will go nameless," Ryan says, "and honestly, we just had this feeling that we could do everything about it better."
Wetlands closed in late 2001. After a long search, the pair discovered their fantasy building near Williamsburg, Brooklyn's waterfront in September 2006 and immediately started finessing the design, although they didn't sign a lease until June 2007. "I remember meeting with them at the space in the early days," recalls Atkin, who's worked at Green Order for four years. "It was literally an empty shell of this old abandoned foundry building. It was hard to imagine what it was going to look like at that point, but they had a pretty clear vision."
Shapiro and Ryan wanted Brooklyn Bowl to be green from the get-go. LEED certification, however, is a far more rigorous process than merely supplying biodegradeable toilet paper and recycling beer bottles. "It was a major consideration," Ryan says, "because by its very nature there a lot of bureaucracy, it's time consuming, you need consultants to help you through the entire project, and it costs a lot in every way – in energy, in hassle, and in money." LEED certification is all about documentation. So while the Brooklyn Bowl used reclaimed wood throughout the structure, they didn't score points due to the difficulty of documenting its original provenance.
"The biggest benefit of LEED certification," Atkin says, "is that it holds your project team accountable."
Some LEED points were easier to score than others. Being in New York, the venue automatically makes a smaller footprint by serving a high-density community with access to a mass-transit system (and provides bike racks). They went 40% beyond the standard baseline by installing highly efficient sinks, toilets, urinals, and showers. Shapiro and Ryan ended up rejecting many of their architects suggestions and instead struck out on their own in search of the latest and environmentally friendliest equipment.
"Our architect came up with a big HVAC [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] design and we said, 'No, we don’t want to put up this huge thing on the roof.' So we, especially I, went back to 'school' to learn about CO2 sensors, variable-frequency drive motors, airside economizers, nonvillainous gases, and all that kind of stuff. We came up with a system less than half the size of his system that uses a lot less energy. It's augmented by four ten-foot Big Ass fans (the company's actual name) that circulate air throughout the place. I’m really happy we went through the trouble to figure that out."
The team also put a lot of effort into areas so unique to the venue they fall outside of LEED's system, such as LED stage lights that use 90% less energy than traditional versions. Likewise, the bowling alley's pin machines draw 75% less energy than most others. "It’s fundamentally different equipment," says Ryan. "It's made by QubicaAMF, one of the big manufacturers, but they hardly sell any of them because they're not what everybody expects. They're nearly maintenance free and don't take up as much space as usual. It's bowling's wave of the future." You could say the same about the big-ass video screens at the end of each lane that display Monday-night football to the accompaniment of DJ Logic each week.
A new business with a vintage vibe, Brooklyn Bowl is in large part a product of the past. Antique glass panels serve as dividers, bars are faced with centuries-old reclaimed wood, the stage floor was constructed entirely from recycled truck tires, and the bowlers lounge consists of reclaimed cork flooring. Most of the new wood, meanwhile, was sourced (and certifed) by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Basically," Ryan says, "almost everything in this place was bought from or crafted by local people." The Bowl has already gotten a lot of press from the fact that it uses only Brooklyn beers, but Ryan concedes that may not always be the case. "It's simply not necessary to truck beer across the country or float it across the ocean."
Ryan's a realist; no commercial facility can erase its footprint entirely. But Brooklyn Bowl probably comes closer than any other music venue of its size. It's also an educational experience. Musicians will receive information on how they can reduce their environmental impact as they travel around the country spreading the word, one hopes, about this environmentally friendly pleasure palace. The old-fashioned future of entertainment has certifiably arrived.