Designing for LEED Gold: CU-ICAR’s Center for Emerging Technologies
Working on the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) campus has been an exciting experience, and one which has challenged me as an architect to explore and implement next-level strategies for sustainable design. Clemson University is deeply committed to building sustainable campus facilities, as evidenced by the recent LEED Gold certification of its Center for Emerging Technologies (CET). The design team had a mandate to achieve at least LEED Silver certification, and by using a holistic, integrated approach to sustainable design from the earliest project stages, we were able to exceed expectations and ultimately achieve LEED Gold status. Our design approach included:
Located in the heart of the research campus, the building is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate start-up companies performing applied research. The building’s program provides 60,000 SF of flexible office and research space to serve as a business incubator. 35,000 SF of the program is dedicated to office space, and 25,000 SF houses research labs. In addition to accommodating its own complex program, the CET needed to work in concert with existing facilities to develop and define outdoor terraces and walkways to create an inviting pedestrian experience. The east face of the building, with its projecting sunscreen and balconies, allows the building to open up and reach out to the ‘main street’ of the campus, where pedestrian activity sets the stage for the informal collaboration that marks the life of this research campus.
The building design anticipates frequent changes in users in the office and lab spaces. The designers balanced the program’s requirement for adaptable spaces with strategies to minimize energy usage. Because high-bay lab spaces have very different requirements than office spaces, the team coordinated closely with the owner and engineers at every stage of the design. Floor heights and mechanical systems are sized appropriately for each function, and a life cycle cost analysis of each system facilitated the decision-making process for product selection. The interior core and bays are sized strategically for maximum flexibility, with coordinated furniture systems and glazing to allow optimal natural light and views. The efficient steel frame and composite concrete slab supported the strategic, adaptable layout with minimal column obstructions, and the office areas feature raised accessible flooring to accommodate quick changes in the HVAC, power distribution and data infrastructure.
A high-performance building envelope led to a substantial reduction in energy use. The integrated window system provided a high R-value of and eliminated thermal bridging. The envelope system also reduced embodied energy through recycled content and local sourcing. The integrated system required just one supplier and installer, which not only saved time in construction but also reduced installation errors and lowered the cost.
The site orientation allows the building to take advantage of shaded day-lighting on the north, east and south, while protecting the hot western exposure with solid walls. The high-bay research space resides on the west side of the building and acts as an insulating buffer. Strategic solar shading further reduces the cooling load, helping to optimize energy performance. Screening takes the form of horizontal solar louvers, vertical perforated panels, and large exterior perforated panel screens, which reduced the cooling load by 10-35%. The cost of the screens was less than the cost of upsizing the HVAC system, and cause minimal view disturbance while serving as an appealing human-scale design element. Wide porches and deep overhangs provide an additional 5-8 degrees of cooling.
To optimize energy performance, the team designed a raised-floor ducted HVAC system with a pressurized supply floor plenum, rooftop DX forced air system, and custom VAV controls. This system cools the space at human level, from floor to 7’, providing more targeted comfort without over-conditioning high-bay spaces. The complex system required an investment in design and engineering, but is worth the cost and effort for efficiency and long-term return on investment.
Aesthetically, the building needed to express its own identity as a state-of-the-art research facility while integrating into the fabric of the campus. The architecture expresses the technology focus of the research campus with an exterior that complements its context through its understated geometries and material expression of metal, glass and concrete. The intentional understatement acts as a foil to the highly expressive geometry of the ‘signature building’ that resides diagonally across the street. The shifting planes of the building’s exterior reflect the ever-changing nature of the activities within the building. Underscoring that sustainable design can (and should!) be beautiful, the CET won an AIA South Carolina Honor Award.
LEED Gold certification requires a substantial commitment on the part of the owner, architects, and consultants. However, with a holistic approach to design and integrated strategies at every stage of the process, this target is both achievable and well worth the effort.