NASA and William McDonough + Partners have teamed up to create Earth’s first high-performance space station. William McDonough stated, “Design is the first signal of human intention.” With that in mind, the team set out to design a building that that embodies NASA’s spirit, fosters collaboration, supports health and well-being, and goes beyond LEED® Platinum in its pursuit of Cradle to Cradle® solutions.
The innovative, 50,000 square-foot office building is located at the entrance to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The most iconic feature of the building is its structure. Inspired by the wind tunnels of NASA Ames Campus and the images of NASA satellites, the exoskeleton approach gives the building increased structural performance during seismic events, provides a framework for daylighting and shading strategies, and creates a column-free interior space that facilitates workplace flexibility.
The building site is designed to be net energy positive. Through the two strategies of optimizing energy demand and providing the needed supply through renewable sources, the Sustainably Base’s overall goal is to rely only on renewable forms of energy as they become cost effective. Although natural daylighting and ventilation is maximized, the building still has an active heating and cooling system to maintain comfort throughout the year. The highlighted energy systems used include the following:
Ground Source Heat Pump:
106 well bores, 58º F ground temperature year round
4 heat pumps
Radiant cooling ceiling panels, 40% less energy use than typical VAV systems
Hot water radiant wall heating panels
Natural ventilation with automated windows to allow flushing during evening hours
Intelligent, High-Performance Lighting Systems:
LED fixtures in many areas of the building
Sophisticated lighting control system automatically dims lights to adjust for ambient conditions and time of day
Solar Photovoltaic and Thermal Panels:
432 panels in 24 strings of 9 modules on each building (north and south)
Photovoltaic panels are designed to generate up to 30% of building electricity requirements
Solar thermal panels provide domestic hot water
Bloom’s Energy ServerTM Solid Oxide Fuel Cells:
Solid oxide fuel cell currently utilizes natural gas as fuel; future plan for methane capture
Expected electric conversion efficiency 55% (almost twice conventional power generating plant and grid system efficiency)
The overall water goal is to create a closed loop system that will allow water that falls on the site to leave at the same rate, volume and cleanliness of predevelopment conditions. Water fixtures used throughout the building optimize performance, including quality and quantity of flow and automated control systems.
Groundwater reduces the demand for potable water. An existing facility to pump and cleanse contaminated MEW groundwater is located near the building site. Sustainability Base uses this cleansed water to irrigate the landscape.
A forward osmosis water recycling system, developed by NASA for use on the International Space Station, purifies water to drinking quality. Due to regulations in California limiting use of treated wastewater, it is currently used to treat gray water from sinks and showers for reuse in toilet and urinal flushing. The technology will be monitored and tested on Earth to perfect its performance in space.
Intelligent landscape design includes native and drought-tolerant species selection, drip irrigation systems and the design of water cleansing systems. These further reduce water demand and cleanse water that runs through the site.
The interior of the Sustainability Base actively supports the health and well-being of all occupants. Large floor to floor windows and narrow building floor plates provide excellent natural lighting deep into the interior of the building. Modeling suggests users will only need to use the building’s electrical lighting 42 days out of the year. Second floor skylights provide additional natural light, while exterior horizontal and vertical aluminum shades reduce heat gain and mitigate glare.
Super insulated exterior metal panel system with high performance glazing provides a tight, warm envelope for cool Bay Area mornings. When the interior gets too warm, operable windows controlled by users and building management systems create gentle cross-ventilation. Localized heating or cooling is provided by radiant panels, allowing for longer periods of natural ventilation.
A raised access floor throughout the open area allows for user and system flexibility, and is connected to a dedicated outdoor air system to provide fresh air distribution when the building’s windows are closed.
The open office floor plan is divided into neighborhoods of 25-30 people, linked by common services and aligned along an interior street to provide team-building and collaboration. Materials were selected using rigorous criteria for ecological and human health.
On the exterior, an intelligent landscape, designed using drought tolerant and California native plants, incorporates bioretention swales provide storm water storage and filtration. All of drip irrigation system is provided with cleansed groundwater. And, outdoor workspaces and meeting areas with wireless data communications offers a range of environments for employees.
A rigorous materials selection protocol for Sustainability Base was implemented through two approaches. First, Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM products were used when available, cost effective, and achievable through a competitive tender process. When certified products could not be implemented, other products were internally evaluated with MBDC for their Cradle to Cradle® potential, using publicly accessible manufacturer information (such as Material Safety Data Sheets). Products in a similar material class were compared on a relative scale of human and ecological performance. Strategies included:
Material use considerations included utilizing an external braced frame to reduce the amount of steel (by weight) in the building. The lightweight insulated metal panel cladding also reduced the amount of material required for construction.
Material health concerns resulted in a specification process that favored materials that were beneficial to human health, ecological health, and were designed for technical and/or biological cycles. When these materials were not available due to performance requirements, remaining materials were evaluated for obvious risks to the biosphere.
Material content considerations included recyclable/recycled materials, salvaged materials, locally available and/or rapidly renewable materials and certified wood. The main components of the design (concrete, steel, glass, aluminum) had high recycled content and were regionally available, thereby reducing transportation energy.
Design for disassembly was facilitated by choosing a steel structure (rather than concrete) that can be easily dismantled as well as repaired after a seismic event. Exterior cladding was provided in pre-fabricated unitized components
To assist with the achievement of a high-performance building, Sustainability Base incorporates software developed by NA SA for projects such as the Mars Rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. NA SA software has been adapted to monitor the building through a wireless sensor network which will provide real time data to the building controls system.