Carnegie Mellon University has a building in its School of Architecture that is a lab. No, the building does not house experiments, it is the experiment. It is called the Intelligent Workplace Energy Supply System and it provides the Energy Supply System (EES) for Carnegie Mellon’s Intelligent Workplace, which is part of the School of Architecture’s Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics. It is a physical construction from 1997 that consists of offices, meeting rooms, and work spaces for faculty and students, all located atop the Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall.
What’s the goal? To study the viability of providing power, cooling, heating and ventilation to a building using thermal energy and renewable, bioDiesel fuel. The specific investigations range from design and installation to evaluation of both individual components as well as their ability to work efficiently in concert with one another. Ideally, once all this information is compiled, more comprehensive design strategies can then be identified and used by architects everywhere.
There are five major components to this living lab. Be patient, because it does get a little technical. First, there is the solar thermal system collected through parabolic reflectors, which is then channeled through pipes that drives both heating and cooling. Using a BioDiesel-fueled generator with heat recovery provides the electricity for the entire building, as well as a steam absorption chiller. The steam absorption chiller provides further cooling, heating, as well as generates power. The heating and cooling system relies on thermal energy as well as heat recovery equipment. That means it is far more efficient than convective or radiant space cooling/heating units that rely on conventional vapor compression systems. Fan coils installed in offices and meeting rooms to circulate air, combined with radiant systems that utilize piped water heated and cooled using solar and biodiesel systems comprise the fourth component of this building lab. Strategic design of the ventilation system comprises the last component, using a solid dessicant based ventilation system. Tests surrounding the use of this device include assessing the benefits of separating a building’s ventilation system from its cooling/heating system, as well as to investigate other issues including the advantages of water-based cooling over radiant and convective cooling.
What does this all mean? Well, graduate students and faculty in the Architecture school are gathering data on all these components: how well do they work (i.e. what are their advantages and disadvantages) both together and alone, how cost effective are they. Not least important is the role of design in implementing these components. In fact, one of the more successful aspects of this living lab is how light and airy it looks from the outside, as well as how clean and open it feels from the inside. Indeed, one of the design emphases was on a flexible interior that allowed not only for easy rearrangement, but also flow. And it certainly shows. Hopefully, the team will begin making their findings known so that architects all around the world can begin implementing these strategies more widely.