: Magazine : Back
Issues : Sep/Oct 2005
Advancing the Art of Sustainable Design
by Bryan Croeni, AIA, LEED AP
prototype biotech lab design cuts operating costs and improves
An architectural firm hoping to advance the state of sustainable
design can’t just sit around waiting for the perfect client and the
perfect green project.
We have noticed a trend in the healthcare sector toward green building
design, especially in building laboratories,” says Taryn Holowka of
the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C. Holowka notes that studies
have linked green buildings with improved human environments, resulting in
such things as increased healing rates and decreased hospital stays.
Bearing this in mind, Perkins+Will joined with a handful of other
companies to undertake a self-funded research effort to create a prototype
biotechnology research laboratory based on sustainable concepts and systems.
In the process, the design team found that the focus on sustainability resulted
in both cost savings and non-quantifiable benefits that exceeded even their
original research goals.
Team members from Perkins+Will developed four hypotheses that they
hoped to prove with their new biotechnology research and development prototype,
which they named “GreenLab”:
That an environmentally responsible and highly functional research
building can be designed to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent compared
to a baseline building conforming to current energy-conservation codes.
That the careful evaluation and application of environmentally responsible
planning and design strategies will result in a research and development building
that will be qualitatively superior to current baseline buildings in creating
a vibrant and scientist- friendly research and development environment.
That “green” science buildings are inherently better neighbors
in the mixed-use future envisioned for the South Lake Union area of Seattle
(where the team hoped the laboratory would be built).
That all of this would be done at minimal or no additional construction
cost, and with significantly reduced operating costs.
Perkins+Will approached Vulcan Inc., a leading developer in the Seattle
area. The majority of Vulcan’s real-estate holdings are immediately
north of downtown Seattle in the South Lake Union neighborhood—an area
whose economy is changing from being predominantly based on light-industrial
enterprises into a center for life sciences in Washington state. A number
of biotech companies and biomedical research organizations are already based
in South Lake Union; in fact, Seattle is home to the fifth-largest biotech
cluster in the country.
Vulcan has a sustainability mandate as part of its triple-bottom-line
approach to real estate. After learning about Perkins+Will’s project,
Vulcan signed up to work collaboratively to develop the concept for GreenLab,
and to determine how to overcome inherent challenges with a green lab, including
how to integrate features such as natural ventilation into the building without
compromising pressurization in research labs.
The two companies launched into a 12-week effort to design GreenLab,
with Vulcan as the owner/developer, and Perkins+Will as lead designer. The
companies brought in a panel of consultants—structural, civil, electrical
and mechanical engineers, landscape architects and construction cost estimators.
To tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience in the greater
construction industry, the project team sought participation and underwriting
from leading companies typically involved in lab building design and construction.
Companies such as Johnson Controls and Steelcase actively participated in
the design process and made key contributions along the way. In addition to
the private sector, the team secured Seattle City Light to pay for the energy
modeling because of the utility’s interest in reducing power demand.
A baseline building was developed to represent a typical laboratory
in the Seattle area with no significant sustainability qualities, and was
used to compare construction and operation costs.
The final GreenLab model incorporated a number of sustainability
concepts and systems. More than half of the building is daylighted and provides
operable windows, rather than being a sealed, fully mechanically ventilated
structure like the baseline building.
The Perkins+Will team presented to Vulcan its findings, which—with energy
and cost modeling complete—showed that in terms of energy consumption,
the GreenLab model would save 50 percent on energy costs, translating to more
than $600,000 in annual savings. A 50-percent reduction in energy consumption
in a laboratory building is remarkable and dramatically exceeded the design
firm’s goal of 20-percent savings.
The team also concluded that GreenLab is a qualitatively superior
work environment, as studies show that a building incorporating fresh air
and daylight increases productivity and reduces absenteeism. In fact, studies
by Carnegie Mellon University have shown productivity increases in green buildings
ranging anywhere from 0.4 percent to 18 percent.
Another goal of the design was to build a laboratory that would be
a better neighbor than the typical laboratory. The GreenLab blends maximum
visibility and pleasant views from both inside looking out and outside looking
in. The 194,000-square-foot building—105 feet tall, 290 feet long and
120 feet wide—features a large, linear atrium, and attractive landscaping
that saves water at the street, atrium and roof levels.
Finally, Perkins+Will and Vulcan hoped to create GreenLab, with all
of its cost savings and qualitative improvements, at little or no additional
construction cost above the baseline building. The cost models showed that
building GreenLab would cost about eight percent more than the baseline building
which, given the annual energy savings, would pay for itself in about eight
The real proof will be when the facility is built and scientists
begin to use the space. In anticipation of that time, Perkins+Will
is working to refine the design further—reducing the construction
cost to a four- or five-year payback, after which point the building’s
owner would realize a yearly $600,000 cost savings. The building
conserves resources and energy; cuts down on the use of power plants
and fossil fuels; and, if the project were to proceed in the South
Lake Union area in combination with mixed-use housing, would reduce
the number of cars on the freeways.
Vulcan has begun its marketing, and when the developer secures a
tenant, the team will move into Phase Two: refining and developing
GreenLab as an actual project for construction. In the meantime,
Perkins+Will’s research abstract has been accepted for presentation
at the Labs21 2005 Conference in Portland, Oct. 18-20. Labs21 is
a voluntary program dedicated to improving the environmental performance
of U.S. laboratories, sponsored by the Environmental
and the Department of Energy
Perkins+Will hopes the design will be a model for other companies
to follow. Architects can’t always wait for clients with projects
to advance the state of the art. In some cases, they need to put
some of their own money—in the form of hours and time—into
research, and go the extra mile to attract the necessary partners;
to advance green design, proactivity is better than reactivity.
Bryan Croeni, science and technology principal with Perkins+Will,
has more than 25 years of experience in the planning, design and
management of a broad range of large-scale technology projects. Croeni’s
expertise in the area of high-technology facilities has earned him
national recognition. He can be reached at (206) 441-4980 or at