Simple Strategies

Aug. 1, 2005
Responsible, practical sustainable design is integral to the success of any science facility.

Sustainable design is integral to the success of any new science building. Lessons learned from the United States Green Building Council's LEED program, the Environmental Protection Agency's Labs 21 program and other regional, national and global sustainable-design initiatives will affect the design of almost every science building. According to a study by Davis Langdon, a cost-planning consultant firm, projects at each end of the cost spectrum have been LEED-certified. It is not unusual to design a building that is 30 percent more efficient than required by energy codes, without negatively affecting the budget. A 100,000-square-foot lab building can reduce yearly energy costs by $100,000 to $200,000 or more by following simple sustainable-design strategies.

Culture and science

Students are drawn to physical destinations where remarkable science is practiced and accessible. Buildings that promote discovery must live up to their promise by offering technology more compelling than the best home, market or work environments that students experience. Pervasive, ubiquitous computing is becoming the norm. Personal computing and electronic devices connect with networks embedded in buildings or furniture to create a seamless net of information access and sharing. Donors, prospective students and faculty should be able to tour a building and learn what it holds using the personal devices they bring with them.

Large-scale science building technology systems will be required to provide more robust and adaptable audiovisual, power, data and cooling systems. Often, 25 percent spare capacity is designed into electrical, plumbing, and supply and exhaust systems so they can offer flexibility across a long building life. As disciplinary barriers dissolve, labs and support spaces must be able to support short- and long-term scientific efforts that cannot be imagined today.

With added system flexibility, buildings respond to changing curricular and research needs more quickly, more cheaply and with less negative impact on the environment.

Healthier learning communities

Schools can improve indoor air quality by using building materials that do not emit volatile organic compounds into the air. Human comfort is improved by more frequent lighting, heating and cooling zones, and more personal control of each work environment.

In chemistry labs, high-performance, low-flow fume hoods can deliver the safety of more traditional hoods with a reduction in initial costs for mechanical systems, and a reduction in utility costs and energy use. “Green” chemistry curriculum soon may eliminate the use of fume hoods in some labs. Carbon-dioxide sensors can monitor and change the delivery of fresh air to densely populated spaces to make sure that the indoor air is replenished with fresh air.

Energy-efficient indirect light fixtures produce better light using less energy, with more adaptable controls that are integrated into the audiovisual systems. These light fixtures continuously and seamlessly monitor available daylight and adjust to their environment full-on to full-off, without a perceptible change. In all spaces, the control of the lighting is adjustable to serve the varied presentation technologies and changes in scientific events that occur in each space.

Acoustic control and the design of the HVAC systems must be more sophisticated and flexible in every room to allow the varied technologies to perform at their best. The sound level in teaching laboratories (including those with fume hoods) must be as low as a well-designed classroom to allow normal conversations and collaboration. Image capture, sound collection, distribution and storage are pervasive in most rooms where people share information.

Labs and classrooms are being designed to use glare-free natural light as the primary light source during the day. Zones in which individuals or smaller groups have control over their own thermal environment are more common, and operable windows are the norm in portions of buildings where chemical or biological control is not a factor.

Responsible, practical sustainable design is integral to the success of any science building. LEED certification often is the best way to begin learning about effective strategies. Many institutions require LEED certification as a minimum design response. Design professionals with sustainable-design experience can help lead the process of creating a healthy, efficient and thoughtful building.

Celebration science

Few things are more compelling than a public display of learning. Large- and small-scale indoor and outdoor events build community memory and show evidence of a school's vitality. Entrances and public greeting spaces should surprise and delight to make a first impression unforgettable. Interactive flat-panel and projected-image screens should explain the building and promote scientific discovery.

Equipment cafes — rooms filled with the latest technologies and without disciplinary borders or layers of permissions — can be wonderful destinations between classes and after hours. The February 2004 issue of Popular Science highlighted the nation's “Top Nerd Bars.” The Miracle of Science in Cambridge, Mass., one such “nerd bar,” has slate tables scattered with microscopes and other lab paraphernalia. Science stars can interact with neophytes in free-for-all exploration.

Science building corridors should be elevated to the concept of “paths to discovery” and outfitted appropriately. Impromptu public events must be encouraged by the layout and technology in varying scales and densities. These spaces are integral to creating powerful first impressions for visitors, prospective faculty, students, parents and funding partners. The corridors should be designed as critical organs promoting the life and health of the scientific body, bridging disciplines and creating excitement for all users.

Dynamic, interactive expressions of sustainable design elevate science education and research. Expression of active stormwater and bio-filtration systems, wastewater-management systems, alternative energy systems, recycling activities and energy-systems monitoring have been integrated successfully into the fabric of many projects as tools for teaching and research.

Collaboration technologies

Teaching labs must support a wide range of digitally intensive lectures and hands-on, team-based inquiry; they all should have the tools and technology necessary to enable any teaching and learning model.

The desired properties of traditional, fixed-lab furniture (stability and vibration resistance) are merging with properties sought in rolling or adjustable computer furniture (infinite mobility, plug-and-play capability, changeability) to create a new type of furniture for most scientific pursuits. This new breed blends the need for computer connections to everything with the ability to change the individual and team work environment immediately, or move it to another space.

Smartboard and capture-cam technologies allow immediate capture of a projected image and anything written on the board surface while surfing the web. In the hands of a skillful user, these interactive tools create impressive and engaging presentations.

Many science, technology, engineering and mathematics students are using wireless tablet PCs as a replacement for laptops or paper. Students and faculty can collaborate, sharing computer models, research instrument readouts, math calculations, engineering problems and scientific experiments in all their forms with these tools. CADD, handwriting, drawings and lecture notes can be shared and edited in real-time for unlimited collaboration.

Projector screens and large interactive writing surfaces often set physical priorities for the arrangement of space in many teaching labs. Projector screens usually are adjacent to the presentation writing surfaces to allow simultaneous viewing of images and the board — marker, chalk or electronic display. Beyond the need for such fixed audiovisual stations, the internal layout for the labs is limited only by the imagination.

Teachers no longer have to be anchored to the podium or fixed technology platform. With wireless computing and media controls, drawing and notation on the projected image (or multiple images) from any computer source in the room is possible.

Research labs must support research efforts seamlessly in a physical setting that can be reconfigured easily to meet the moment-to-moment needs of faculty and partners in industry and government. Student/faculty research labs must include a robust technological infrastructure accessible on-demand for an unpredictable range of unique opportunities.

McNay, AIA, LEED AP, is an associate principal with Perkins+Will's Atlanta office.

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