BSA Lifestructures

The Value of Early Sustainability Planning in Research Laboratory Design

David Miller and Noble LilliestiernaJune 4, 2021

Programming and planning efforts are typical exercises to get everyone on the same page concerning programmatic priorities and budget limitations. Yet this phase should also be approached through a lens of sustainability.

If done correctly, the process will allow the focus to be on the benefits of avoiding overbuilding (program efficiency), creating functional adjacencies (shared spaces), planning for efficient systems (sustainable and green), and return on investment, as well as setting standards for materials, equipment, and the environment.

Case Study: McCourtney Hall

McCourtney Hall at the University of Notre Dame exemplifies how early planning helped establish a high-profile, flexible, collaborative lab space. The building houses combined labs for science and engineering colleges and supports analytical sciences and engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and drug discovery. This particular building is meant as a high-profile home for advanced research. It encourages collaboration between different fields and inspires novel research while providing a foundation for original research that might not have occurred in a more traditional, siloed setting.

McCourtney Hall is approximately 200,000 square feet, one-half of which consists of open lab and team spaces. It has a collaborative core for offices and informal interaction. Forty percent of the building was initially reserved as shell space but is now nearly entirely built out. The project cost $61 million to build, or about $280 per gross square foot. The building occupies four floors with a basement level and a mechanical penthouse on top.

Interdisciplinary design made this project possible. From its beginning, there were four major goals: architectural impact, LEED certification, systems flexibility, and energy conservation. For architectural impact, the idea was to make a statement on campus while establishing a modern laboratory presence. The project initially had a minimal target of LEED Silver. The systems needed to support a broad range of cutting-edge research and adapt to research needs over the next 50 to 100 years. This building needed to have a long life. Conserving energy was essential for this high-energy usage building type. This was achieved via a focus on responsive controls that deliver energy and services when and where they’re needed. BSA LifeStructures provided in-house architecture, MEP engineering, and landscape design to provide a holistic, cohesive design that met these four goals.

Shape Collaboration

Early on in the design, the team created a concept of neighborhoods to support collaboration between engineers and scientists from Notre Dame’s various schools. This plan was partially inspired by the L shape of the building and its presence as the new R&D quad. These neighborhoods consist of shared space, shared core labs, and dedicated spaces. The neighborhood concept also incorporates labs as modules that can be easily slotted into any shell space and reconfigured as needed, allowing researchers to plug and play.

The MEP systems in McCourtney Hall were designed to optimize flexibility and efficiency while supporting the neighborhood design theme. Early collaboration between engineers, architects, and planners made this possible. Ductwork, for example, is manifolded in size to allow supply and exhaust flexibility anywhere in the building. The flexible approach led to a fume hood plan with a maximum number of connected fume hoods for the entire building, regardless of their specific location. The plumbing infrastructure uses centralized systems to allow easier maintenance and enable easier relocation of services as lab needs change. One of the central design features that allow this laboratory flexibility is the ceiling interface panels. The services are provided at easy connection points in the ceiling for quick connection and relocation. On the electrical side, the design of McCourtney Hall allows moving and relocating pieces of equipment to accommodate changes in laboratory equipment needs. Additionally, it enables plug and play functionality, improves maintainability through a main-tie-main service, and draws out switchgear and use of raceway ceiling interface panels and busway within labs.

The building’s lighting system is entirely LED, 40 percent better than code at the time the project was built. Daylight and occupancy sensors carefully control energy usage, while allowing users to override the controls as needed.

LEED with Pre-Planning

How did early planning affect LEED? The project achieved LEED Gold versus its initial target of LEED Silver. The project achieved resource savings of 26 percent for energy and 30 percent for water. Given this project’s focus on control and verification, there are a number of credits that were important to achieve, including the lighting and thermal comfort credits and outdoor air delivery monitoring. Enhanced commissioning, measurement, and verification to make sure those systems are functioning well after constructed, and as designed, was critical.

Early planning that brings designers, engineers, contractors, and owners to the same table results in energy and material savings that translate into upgraded lab spaces equipped to serve researchers today and in the future. Stay tuned for the July issue of Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine to read more about the benefits of avoiding overbuilding, creating functional adjacencies, planning for efficient systems, and setting standards for materials, equipment, and the environment.