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Research Support Facility (RSF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) - RNL Architects Print E-mail
Monday, 27 June 2011 09:40

2011 COTE Top Ten Green Projects by the American Institute of Architects2011 COTE Top Ten Green Projects by the American Institute of Architects
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) have selected the top ten examples of sustainable architecture and green design solutions that protect and enhance...
The RSF is a large-scale office building housing more than 800 people who support and conduct research work. The building also houses a data center that serves the entire NREL campus. NREL and DOE's goal is to transform innovative research in renewable energy and energy efficiency into market-viable technologies and practices. This building was conceived to serve as an example of these ideas and a living laboratory for the staff of the RSF to learn from and work by, providing a high-performance workplace and aiming at operating at net-zero energy on an annual basis.NREL-RSF_Frank-Ooms-1The building's narrow, H-shaped footprint Photo by Frank Ooms

The project is recipient of the 2011 AIA COTE Awards, and the article is an abbreviated version of the one posted on AIA’s web site.

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Edited by Lynda Waggoner


As the client at NREL explained to the design team: "every design decision has an energy impact." The net-zero energy goal for this project amplified every design decision and explicitly shaped the building and resulted in a positive impact on the program and functionality of the building.

NREL-Research-Support-Facility_RNL-10Rendering by VStudios, courtesy of RNL The building is a simple architectural response to the climate, site, and ecology that envelop it and the desire for a flexible, high-performance workplace within. Many of the integrated passive design strategies, such as daylighting and natural ventilation, strongly support both energy performance and human performance. The form of the building is driven by energy, with its long and narrow office wings connected by a central spine, forming an "H" shape. In fact, the building section was the first drawing sketched to understand how to harness passive energy.

The energy-driven form also facilitated significant building program and functional benefits. The open office plan resulted in a higher-density workplace, reducing the building footprint per person. The "H" shape provided secure separation between staff work areas in the office wings and collaborative public meeting spaces in the central collector. This shape also provided two exterior courtyards, which have become popular amenities.

NREL-RSF_Frank-Ooms-3The south wing features a transpired solar collector Image courtesy of NREL

The design began with the development of a simple energy model to begin testing design strategies and helped to quickly move toward a solution that was deeply passive, with a form and exterior envelope that was responsive to the climate, used water-based radiant heating and cooling systems, and decoupled the ventilation air from space conditioning.

Various systems and passive strategies were refined and developed the into a highly integrated singular solution. The design process was streamlined by the use of BIM across the design and construction team. Energy modeling in addition to simulations for daylighting, natural ventilation, thermal mass and the transpired solar collector continued to develop in detail, staying true to the design and serving as a continued performance evaluation tool for both the delivery team and the owner.

Land Use & Community

NREL-Research-Support-Facility_RNL-11Courtesy of RNL 

NREL-Research-Support-Facility_RNL-05Gabion walls like the one seen in this photo are made from rocks found on the site. Credit: Photo by Frank Ooms Integrated into an existing campus, the Research Support Facility enables previously separated staff to come together in one location. It creates outdoor pedestrian spaces designed to entice employees to utilize courtyards. Shuttles, city buses, bike parking, and minimized on-site parking opportunities encourage employees to use alternate methods of transportation. In fact, the bike parking is regularly full and in high demand.

Responsible to neighbors, the campus is careful to protect the existing wildlife and the community life surrounding this new facility. The community and local residents were represented, and their concerns were addressed, throughout the design process. The building height is kept lower than zoning codes allow to respond to the local community’s desire to maintain view corridors. Part of the project included the dedication of land area on the campus’s south table mountain mesa as permanent open space to extend an existing conservation easement.

NREL-Research-Support-Facility_RNL-07Staff members can be seen enjoying lunch in this photo of the west courtyard. Credit: Photo by Frank Ooms

Site Description

The building and site are part of the overall ecosystem and are rooted with a strong sense of place. The building is formed around the forces and natural resources of the climate and the site. The building responds not only to sun and wind but also to the natural lay of the land and the context of the existing campus. The landscape design paid particular attention to natural stormwater management techniques, open space preservation, permeable paving systems, native landscape integration, use of high-albedo pavements, and the innovative use of onsite excavated rock for gabion walls.

The integration of the landscaping has already proven to be a successful creation of habitat, with frequent visits from a local herd of deer and other wildlife. The site creates a natural, beautiful and comfortable exterior space to enjoy while strongly contributing to the overall campus master plan.

Water Conservation and Use

Although rainwater cannot be captured, per Colorado water laws, the project still used the roof area of the project to determine a water use budget. In an average year, a little more than 797,000 gallons of water falls on the roof of the building. The building and site water uses are modeled at just over 791,000 gallons per year.

A combination of highly efficient plumbing fixtures, native and adaptive landscaping, and drip irrigation with a satellite-based smart irrigation controller were used to reduce building water use by 55% and irrigation water use by 84% compared to LEED baselines.
NREL-Research-Support-Facility_RNL-01Aerial site plan and a variety of stormwater management strategies, including bioswales, porous paving, and roof drainage collection.
Courtesy of RNL

The site design for the project works in tune with the existing natural hydrology. The strategies include a series of rain gardens for roof drainage collection, porous paving within the courtyards, and bioswales to connect water collection points to the existing natural arroyo system of the campus. This allows precipitation to infiltrate the soil and take on patterns of drainage consistent with its pre-developed hydrology.

Last Updated on Monday, 27 June 2011 12:01
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