The Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Global Ecology Center achieves sustainability while meeting the requirements of a laboratory.

Designed to last more than 100 years with little maintenance, the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Global Ecology Center, Stanford, Calif., sets a new standard for “green” buildings. Through its use of recycled material, waste minimization, and energy efficiency systems, this facility shows that an ecologically sound laboratory complex can be economical, safe, and efficient. Their waste reduction strategy “successfully captures the spirit of its occupants,” says David Barista, Lab of the Year judge. This spirit is manifested in the building’s sustainable features, which garnered R&D Magazine’s 2005 Special Mention award.

Three glass doors in the lobby can be opened to accommodate indoor/outdoor events. (Photo: Chris Field)

The demand for responsible actions by the center’s residents is evident in the flexibility of the layout and furnishings, which were designed to undergo future modifications with minimum demolition and waste. On the second floor, for instance, an open lab’s movable workbenches and suspended shelving allow effortless short- and long-term reconfigurations.

The light shelves also serve to balance daylight throughout the laboratory, sending direct and reflected light deep into the workspaces. These interior spaces are fully sunlit thanks to the orientation of the building, whose north and south windows transmit a high degree of daylight. When that transmission is adequate, occupancy sensors and photosensors dim the lights, reducing energy loads.

Energy loads are minimized by the second floor’s natural ventilation as well. The combination of this ventilation with the radiant heating and cooling tubing installed in the floors allows for the elimination of ducts and fans. Radiant cooling ceiling panels are also placed in a conference room to provide further climate control when occupancy increases.

Additional cooling is supplied by a tower that generates a cascade of cool air in the lobby. When the lobby’s retractable doors are open, a mister at the top of the tower produces a cloud of water droplets. As these droplets evaporate, the air cools and flows down to the lobby, pulling replacement air into the top of the tower.

Comfort is likewise increased by a “night sky,” which consists of a roof spray system that uses small sprinklers to create a thin film of water on the roof at night. This film of water is cooled through radiation to the cold night sky before being collected and stored in an insulated storage tank. The 12.8 to 15.6 °C water is then pumped through the building during the day to supply chilled water.

Vital Stats

Project: Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Global Ecology Center
Size: 977 m2
Budget: $4.1 million
Architect/Engineer: EHDD Architecture (lead architectural firm), San Francisco, Calif.; Rutherford & Chekene (lead structural engineering firm) and Rumsey Engineers (lead mechanical engineering firm), both of Oakland, Calif.
Completion date: April 2004

As an energy-conscious building, even the embodied carbon emissions associated with materials became a concern. And since these emissions are dominated by concrete, 50% of all cement used in construction was replaced by fly ash.

The center’s wish to avoid negative ecological impacts is also reflected in the selection of woods. Solid wood doors were transformed into desks and worktables for the lobby and offices. Fallen urban trees were milled and shaped into conference tables and lobby furniture. Moreover, redwood from 100-yr old wine tanks from the Sebastiani vineyards, Sonoma, Calif., was re-milled to form the exterior siding of the second story.

All these sustainable features make “this building a noble and worthy experiment,” says Stanley Stark, competition judge and managing partner at HLW International LLP, New York, N.Y. “It shines a bright light on potentially useful sustainable directions. Feedback on how these initiatives are performing over the next few years will be valuable.”

—Danielle Sidawi