NASA Sustainability Base featured on Forbes.com

Forbes.com calls it NASA’s New Sensor-Driven, Ultra Green Building. NASA calls it Sustainability Base, and our visioinary client and the design team, which we led, like to call it “NASA’s first Space Station on Earth.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Kerry Dolan’s article–

A sleek new building at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. is one any rocket scientist would love. When it warms up outside, humans won’t have to be the ones to open the windows or lower the shades to block the sun. That will happen automatically, thanks to some of the 5,000 sensors in the 2-story, 50,000 square foot building.

The wireless sensors, which measure carbon dioxide levels, temperature, lighting and air flow, will also indicate when to pump cool air into the copper pipes in the ceiling from 106 geothermal wells dug deep below a lawn nearby (there is no traditional air conditioning) –as well as when to turn the heat on if it gets cold. In addition, the building’s energy systems–which include solar panels and a solid oxide fuel cell made by Bloom Energy in additional to the geothermal wells—will produce more electricity than the structure needs, making it a net positive energy building. The building also uses 90% less potable water than a traditional building would.

“It will prove to be one of the highest performing federal buildings ever,” boasts Steven Zornetzer, the associate center director at NASA Ames Research Center. As part of an effort to replace aging buildings, various NASA sites submitted plans to create more efficient new buildings. The new NASA Ames building, called the “Sustainability Lab” is in line to receive LEED Platinum status, a certification from the U.S. Green Building Council that indicates that a structure was designed and built to achieve energy efficiency, water savings and good indoor environmental quality.

Surprisingly, constructing this forward-looking building cost –at slightly less $25 million – just 6% more than a traditional building would, says Zornetzer. That 6% premium will be recouped over 7 to 9 years thanks to lower utility and maintenance costs, he predicts.

How could a building with such advanced bells and whistles be built for such a low premium to traditional structures? A lot of the energy saving features were baked into the design: It’s a narrow building with lots of daylight exposure and a raised floor that enables cool and warm air to flow through underneath. An exoskeleton with jutting sheaths of metal provides both shade from the hot Silicon Valley sun and structural support.

Some of the 210 employees began moving into the Sustainability Lab just last month. A dedication ceremony will take place in the first quarter this year.

In addition to the renewable energy sources, Zornetzer says the building will test out new technologies and measure the energy performance in real time. An LCD display will show how much energy the building is using and where it’s coming from. Each employee will have a personal energy dashboard, showing how much energy he or she is using. Each work station has its own vent so the temperature/energy use can be adjusted.

“I called it Mission to Planet Earth,” says William McDonough, one of the building’s architects and a pioneer in green building. One of his other projects is a building for The Gap in San Bruno, Calif. (now home to YouTube) with a grassy roof, raised floors and windows that open to let the cool air in at night. McDonough has been designing green buildings for decades. When McDonough gives talks, he often asks, “What if we could create a building like a tree?” This building has some of those living, breathing tree-like qualities.

You can read the full article here.

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