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Science and Technology Earns "Laboratory of the Year" Honors

April 1, 2008

Photo of the building entryway close up showing conical aluminum turret structure and triangular shaped awning over glass front doors and glass faced lobby.

The south-facing building is perfectly aligned to capture sunlight to illuminate interior offices and laboratories.

The editors of R&D Magazine have picked NREL's newest building as one of the best laboratory facilities built in the U.S. in 2007. In the 42nd Laboratory of the Year competition, the Science and Technology was one of only two laboratories recognized as trendsetters in laboratory design. Visit R&D Magazine for more about the competition.

The NREL Science and Technology received the Laboratory of the Year Special Mention award for its unique sustainable design, which reduces energy consumption by as much as 41 percent compared to similar facilities. R&D Magazine editors recognized the building's environmental design and low cost as key factors in its selection for the award.

"From the outset, we envisioned the Science and Technology as an exemplary laboratory for the 21st century," NREL Director Dan Arvizu said. "NREL is all about conserving our natural energy resources, so we built a state of the art research building that aggressively saves energy with low environmental impact."

The 71,000-square-foot, $22.7-million laboratory, where scientists conduct solar energy research, was the first federal laboratory building to achieve the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating from the U.S. Green Buildings Council. LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

Its cost, at $318 per square foot, was considerably less than the 2006 average of $450-475 per square foot cost of similar laboratory facilities.

Photo of an interior laboratory showing silver laboratory equipment with two researchers in white coats working at equipment.

The Process Development and Integration Laboratory, housed within the Science and Technology Facility, has six flexible research platforms that can be configured to address industry needs.

Energy Efficiency

Making the building energy efficient was significant, since laboratories use about 4 to 6 times more energy than a typical office building. Architectural features such as daylighting, evaporative cooling and efficient motors, fans, windows and lighting reduce the building's energy requirements.

Particularly challenging was achieving energy efficiency while also constructing a safe, state-of-the-art research facility with multiple laboratories that are easily reconfigured to meet changing research requirements.

Environmental Sustainability

The building fits into the gently sloping side of a mesa, where care was taken to minimize disturbing the natural terrain and to conserve and manage water resources.

"The Science and Technology is an example of how an appropriate architectural expression is respectful of its natural surroundings and emphasizes a collaborative and productive indoor environment," said Mike Medici, President of SmithGroup, the building's architect.

Eleven percent of the building materials were from recycled materials and 27 percent of the construction materials were manufactured within 500 miles of the building site, reducing the amount of waste to landfills and vehicle emissions from transporting materials.

Photo of the angles of white interior walls in Science and Technology lobby with sunlight shining through large circular opening at top and through side window slits.  Light shines on red concrete floor in patterns.

The conical lobby inspired by structures of ancient civilizations marks the seasonal march of time with a light show.

Walking the Talk

The building is an architectural expression of the research it houses. Everything about it says "solar energy research is done here."

A conical lobby celebrates the solar calendar as sunlight bounces through slotted windows and a central oculus to create a light show that changes by the hour and season. The building's orientation toward the sun, its innovative briese soleil sun shades and south-facing windows combine to wisely use natural daylighting for offices and laboratory spaces.

Daylighting is a dominate feature of the Science and Technology. The goal was to provide 100 percent daylighting in office spaces between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and for daylighting to meet 50 percent of laboratory lighting needs.

And by all accounts, the building offers a premium working environment.

"The open bay architecture combined with natural lighting makes it feel like you are working outside," Senior Engineer Steve Robbins said.

For additional information about the building, see NREL Science and Technology Facility.