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Credit: Roland Halbe

As a biotechnology company, Genzyme Corp. knows about experimentation, which involves challenging assumptions, trial and error, and ultimately demonstrating better results. In 2005, the 350,000-square-foot Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Mass., earned LEED Platinum certification and established a new green building benchmark for the corporation’s buildings across the globe.

During design of the facility, which was completed in 2003, the market for U.S. sustainable building technology was lacking. At the time, project designers Behnisch Architekten brought some systems, including a daylighting system, mirror system, skylights, chandeliers, and perimeter blinds, from the firm’s home country, Germany. However, Behnisch partner Christof Jantzen maintains that the building’s success lies not in the technology itself, but in its design approach. “The project was about ecology, design synergies, and collaboration,” he says. “It’s less about technology than how you put the building together and make the best use of it that counts.”

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Behnisch paired technology with natural light to offer a luminous workplace. A substantial sky-lit atrium in the 12-story building allows deep daylight infiltration. A descending dance of light begins on the rooftop with exterior heliostatssun-tracking parabolic mirror systemsthat bundle the daylight and disperse it down into the atrium. Polished aluminum vertical louvers diffuse the light and an artistic chandelier of 768 animated prismatic tiles radiates iridescence throughout the atrium and into the office floor plates. Light also enters the building through a perimeter glass curtain wall, 32 percent of which is a ventilated double façade that blocks solar gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter. In addition, motorized polished-aluminum horizontal louvers automatically adjust their positions in response to the sun’s movement and bounce daylight to reflective ceiling tiles, which ricochet it deep into the interior spaces.

In addition to lowering energy costs, the constant play of natural light combines with water features, such as a reflecting pool, and 13 indoor gardens to blur the line between the office and outdoor environments. The gardens improve air quality and operable windows bring in fresh air.

Utility-supplied steam provides heat and powers the building’s steam absorption chillers to produce chilled water for building cooling. However, the team discovered that the original design anticipated a much higher steam demand for heating and cooling than actual operations require. By shutting down the chiller on a weekend and noticing that the meter still recorded steam use, the facility operators realized that the steam meter could not accurately measure the building’s lower flow rate. Genzyme and its local utility company calculated the amount of steam condensate and a profile of steam consumption to select a new meter in the mid-range of actual usage.

Genzyme also has monitored its 40,000-point building automation system all along, but, early this year, paired with an independent company to provide continuous commissioning. Facility staff now receive monthly reports on 9,000 points in the operations sequence. One major alteration since completion was a change in temperature set points. Currently, the staff allows a daytime floating temperature from 73 F to 75 F in the summer, significantly lower set points over the weekends, nighttime setbacks down to 65 F, and a setup of up to 80 F in the summer.

“We gauge our success on employee feedback as well as the data,” explains Genzyme operations manager Steve Moran. “We have made changes, discovered they didn’t help, and gone back to our original settings. But now, we have no complaints.”

- KJ Fields writes about sustainable architecture from Portland, Ore.