Functional Design | The Hawaii Gateway Energy Center

hawaii solar center01 Functional Design | The Hawaii Gateway Energy Center

Ahh, Hawaii. The sand. The surf. The sustainable buildings. The Hawaii Gateway Energy Center is aptly named. It’s quite literally a gateway – the first building created in an anticipated complex for renewable energy and high tech research. It’s also the Visitor’s Center – the gateway for tourists into the complex. And since Hawaii is one of America’s leaders in renewable energy research and use, the state itself serves as America’s gateway into a more renewable and sustainable world.

Not Only Are They Useful, They Look Cool

Because it is a tourist attraction (located close to the airport), the architects at Honolulu-based Ferraro Choi wanted the building to be visually exciting as well as environmentally beneficial. Architect Bill Brooks notes that “visitors come up the stairs with their eyes wide open” and that the structure is often noticed from the air. This is probably due to the enormous (and enormously cool) steel truss supporting the photovoltaic panels on top. The panels provide shade and energy – 10% more, in fact, that the building actually uses. Located in a beautiful area of Kona overlooking the water, the Center houses the auditorium, the welcome center and, of course, the bathrooms.

The indoor environment is lit entirely with daylight and was positioned in an east-west axis to best control that element. Additionally, the indoor atmosphere was designed with the health of the employees and visitors in mind. The windows are fixed to reduce wind, dust and noise and are glazed – not shaded – in order to allow the most amount of light in.

hawaii solar center02 Functional Design | The Hawaii Gateway Energy Center

The Hawaii Gateway Energy Center also employs two innovative passive energy systems to heat and cool the building – systems that completely eliminate the need for air conditioning. The first is the passive thermal chimneys. The Center has a copper roof, which collects heat. The heat warms air in a plenum, which rises and escapes through the chimney. There is another plenum at the bottom of the building filled with cooled air, which is pulled through by the escaping warmer air and cooled by the second passive system. Seawater, which is about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, is run through coils, cooling the air around it, which is then sent to the lower, cooler plenum. One thing Hawaii has in abundance is seawater, and it is the pump for this that utilizes the only energy in the entire system.

When these two systems are combined with the photovoltaic panels, the Center consumes only about 20% of the energy that would be required by a comparable building.

A main goal of the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center was to achieve LEED Platinum status, the highest rating in the LEED system. Unfortunately, the passive cooling system, one of their main innovations, could not be accounted for in the rating. The LEED board had to judge the building as if it had no ventilation system at all, which put their LEED Platinum status in jeopardy, even though the passive system is able to conserve a substantial amount of energy. Another drawback of the Center is that it’s impossible to get to by public transportation or walking.

Fortunately, the HGEC scored so high in the other categories – Innovation and Design (5 of 5), Energy and Atmosphere (17 of 17) and Water Efficiency (5 of 5) – that they were able to obtain the elusive LEED Platinum status.

For more information, check out Ferarro Choi’s case study here.

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