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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sep/Oct 2005 : Eco-Intelligence


Advancing the Art of Sustainable Design
A prototype biotech lab design cuts operating costs and improves work environment.

by Bryan Croeni, AIA, LEED AP

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.

The Vision
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 Model
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 Result
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 years.

The Future
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 Protection Agency 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

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