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Global Ecology Research Center | Theory Into Practice

Posted By G Living Staff Monkies On October 4, 2008 @ 4:33 pm In Architecture / Interior Design | No Comments

There’s nothing an ecological scientist likes better than to walk into her office on a hot day and not turn on the air conditioning. So, when it was time to create a new facility for the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington located at Stanford University in California, their scientists answered the age-old question, “What better way to study the environment than in a revolutionary green building?”

The Department of Global Ecology is the oracle of environmental studies, divining the future of the Earth’s systems based on responses to future changes. It’s not magic; it’s the study of biodiversity and global climate change with a heavy focus on water issues. Because their crystal ball is a little smoggy at the moment, the Global Ecology Center, in collaboration with the San Francisco-based architectural firm EHDD, decided to take matters into its own hands and insist on a four million dollar new sustainable building that exceeds many LEED environmental standards. The Global Ecology Research Center is a pioneering building that employs innovative solutions and sleek architecture to create a healthy and beautiful research facility for their scientists and students, all the while reducing its carbon emissions by 72%. Yes, 72%. Seem like a lot? Here are a few simple guidelines they used to create their super-green building:

Night Sky Cooling. The cooling system for the Global Ecology Research Center is based on a hydronic system, the first to be used in a laboratory setting. The “coolest” aspect is the night sky cooling system. How it works — at night, water is sprayed on the roof and cooled by the night air. This works well with the Bay Area environment because it rarely freezes, but always gets cold at night. The water is then collected and used to cool the building the next day. Throw in a couple of well-placed fans, and air conditioning is rendered obsolete.

The Lot. The Center is located on what was once an uninviting empty lot, chosen specifically as not to disturb the more wooded environment surrounding it. The cool tower now serves as a landmark and a hub, beckoning scientists to the Center as well as helping lost freshmen find their class. The bike racks, showers and paved roadways in front encourage students and employees to bike, walk or dance up to the site.

The Inside. Inside, daylight is king, providing all of the light required for the majority of the day. This was achieved through orientation of the building as well as window placement. It was lit a little too well, in fact, and some employees complained about glare on their computers. One thing the employees were not complaining about, however, was air quality. In fact, some employees prefer to stay late during hay fever season because of the fantastic air filtering system. Maybe next year, they’ll bring their toothbrushes and sleep over!

Duh. A big problem with cooling is that the scientists require several negative 80 degree Celsius freezers for their work. Sure, they’re cold inside, but they throw an amazing amount of heat on the scientist working in the room with them. The solution? Put them in a different room from the scientist. Genius.

Materials. The Global Ecology Research Center was able to reduce their carbon emissions by 72%. How can this be? Fly ash was used instead of cement in the concrete, reducing their embodied carbon emissions by 43%. One of their scientists, Dr. Field, recently published a paper outlining the importance of curbing deforestation, so it makes sense that they used salvaged wood from Sebastiani Vineyards to finish carpentry, trees from a municipal yard for the conference table and workstation tabletops from recovered doors. The use of salvaged wood also makes for a great topic of conversation at any ecology conference.

And of course… Low flow sinks, dual flush toilets and a waterless urinal help to reduce the use of the Center’s favorite area of study. Water! Additionally, bioswales capture rainwater to be used in their heating system. In case you left your engineering degree at home, bioswales are (via Wikipedia) “landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water.” The night sky system also reduces water use by about 50% compared to using a water-cooled chiller.

The Department of Global Ecology couldn’t just sit back and point out the problems with the environment. That would be too easy. Instead, they used their research to help create one of the most progressive green buildings this side of the melting glaciers. In creating the Global Ecology Center, the Department became part of the solution.

Learn more about the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington here.


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