LBNL Attains Excellence In Design
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was established in Berkeley, Calif., in 1931 by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize for his physics work. Lawrence believed the best outcomes in research are gained by grouping individuals with varying expertise into teams. His belief remains an important part of the way LBNL conducts research today. In fact, his legacy was echoed during the design and construction of the Molecular Foundry, a research center devoted to studying nanotechnology, on LBNL’s campus.
SmithGroup, San Francisco, led the architectural design of the Molecular Foundry with a team of experts who provided insight through every step of the process. Gayner Engineering and Peter Walker and Partners Landscape Architecture, both of San Francisco, were key consultants with regard to the building’s energy- and waterconservation efforts. Although it is typical for clients to rely solely on the design team, LBNL engaged a team of its own staff engineers to ensure a superior laboratory.
EXTREME ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Nestled deep into the hillside, the sleek cantilevered Molecular Foundry building grasps the awe of the landscape and offers brilliant views of San Francisco for the scientists and students who use the facility. In addition to providing scientific excellence, the 96,000-square-foot (8918-m²) Molecular Foundry is part of Labs21, a joint research program of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington-based U.S. Department of Energy. The program offers partnerships, education and training, and a tool kit to improve the energy efficiency and environmental performance of labs. “Affiliating with Labs21 is a good way to improve energy efficiency in laboratory buildings,” says Steve Greenberg, an energy-management engineer with LBNL. “Labs21 is widely recognized as doing cutting-edge research in this arena.” The Molecular Foundry also is the first laboratory in California to achieve LEED Gold certification from the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council. According to a case study published by the Labs21 Program, “The building’s energy performance was modeled to be 25 percent below the California Title 24 standard and 28 percent below Title 24 when including only LEED-regulated loads. According to USGBC guidelines, this is equivalent to 35 percent less energy than buildings that are compliant with ASHRAE 90.1 (1999).” The laboratory has been monitored to ensure these efficiencies since its opening in 2006. “The building is being monitored—at the roughest level with monthly whole-building meter readings,” Greenberg remarks. “But there are a number of meters that also are continuously monitored by the installed facility’s control system.” LBNL took primary responsibility for the energy consumption of the Molecular Foundry. “With in-house engineers focused on energy savings, they monitored three other campus labs’ energy usage by tracking their lab-usage meters.
Then they averaged this usage to reasonable loads that the new building design should be targeted to meet,” explains Suzanne Napier, AIA, LEED AP, an architect with SmithGroup.
Laboratories consume significantly more energy than typical office buildings because they need fresh air circulated much more frequently, as well as require more energy and water to support intensive ventilation and health and safety requirements. In particular, cleanrooms, lab spaces that have a controlled level of pollutants, can be 100 times as energy-intensive as conventional office-building spaces. They can require filtered, conditioned and recirculated air at rates up to 600 air changes per hour, according to LBNL’s Web site for High-Performance Buildings for High-Tech Industries, hightech.lbl.gov. Oversizing mechanical and electrical systems often is a reaction by engineers making conservative design decisions, regardless of building type. As a result, oversizing accounts for wasted energy consumption, less economic advantages during a building’s life cycle, and perhaps reduced human comfort from over-heating and -cooling. The Molecular Foundry’s HVAC system was reduced by one-third of the original engineering calculations for the laboratory. “LBNL engineers and management made the decision to reduce the building’s load in conjunction with the entire professional team. We used manual calculations, rather than particular software programs, to reach our conclusion,” Greenberg says.
In addition, the laboratory’s electrical distribution system, including transformers, switchgears, panel boards, cable and conduit, was reduced by 38 percent from the initial, conservative mechanical/electrical design. “The building still includes a backup generator for outages. Even the downsized electrical system has plenty of excess capacity—by at least a factor of two—for the foreseeable future,” Greenberg says. HVAC and electrical combined systems’ reductions total $2.5 million in initial building-systems savings. According to the concept of right sizing, the LBNL engineering team determined only 15 Watts per square foot realistically were needed for the building, instead of the initial 25W, which is typical of standard laboratory design. By comparison, an average office building requires 0.5 to 3W per square foot. To save energy in the main server room of the building, the design team opted for a hot/cold aisle configuration. “As cold air goes through the rack, it is warmed by the servers and in turn keeps the servers cool,” Napier says. Essentially, the server racks are ordered with the hot sides facing each other so cool air only is needed along every other aisle to sufficiently keep the servers ventilated. Material choices, such as UV-blocking windows, an energy-efficient elevator and light fixtures, as well as an airtight and highly insulated envelope play important roles in the lab’s energy bottom line. Overall, the Molecular Foundry saves up to 8,500 billion Btus per year, which translates into $55,000 of electrical savings annually. Water conservation was another consideration of the design. The landscape architects specified native, drought-resistant plantings that need minimal irrigation. SmithGroup chose lavatory faucets that have flow restrictors and waterless urinals for the men’s restrooms. Sink drain plugs, raised lips at cup sinks, and acid and solvent waste collection in cleanrooms reduce contaminated water exchanges. Moreover, an electromagnetic water-treatment system is installed on the cooling tower to reduce water consumption and chemical use. SmithGroup was influenced by the holistic approach the team took for this project’s design. “We not only look at [LEED] points and create a to-do list, but we now look at how each of these points will further affect each building system,” Napier notes. “For example, the western façade on the foundry absorbs the afternoon heat and sunlight that should have necessitated a stronger screen system to better control heat gain. We now are designing a second building for LBNL for which we added specialty consultants to our team who specifically address increasing daylighting and controlling heat gain. This has allowed us to look holistically at how these issues can drastically reduce mechanical and electrical systems in first costs, size of systems and operating costs to run the systems over time.”
AN EYE FOR DESIGN
The design of the building itself contributes to many of the Molecular Foundry’s efficiencies and echoes the spirit of the forward-thinking research occurring inside. The dramatic 45-foot (14-m) cantilever houses office spaces while two underground floors provide secure laboratory spaces for research activities that cause strong vibrations. Five large concrete piers anchor the building into the hillside to protect it from seismic currents.
According to the Labs21 Program, a 21st century laboratory “embodies, in program and technology, the spirit and culture of our age and attracts some of the greatest intellectual and economic resources of our society.” SmithGroup is proud of the way the team came together to meet these goals. “Achieving this level of recognition was particularly challenging because of the stringent programmatic and technological aspects of laboratory design,” says Design Principal Bill Diefenbach, FAIA, LEED AP, SmithGroup’s senior vice president and head of its science and technology studio. “SmithGroup is pleased that the Molecular Foundry delivers not only sustainability and utility but beautiful design.”
STEPHANIE AURORA LEWIS writes about architecture and sustainability from Columbus, Ohio.
MATERIALS AND SOURCES
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