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Harvard’s First LEED Platinum Building

Yesterday I went on a tour of Harvard’s 46 Blackstone Street. The college’s first LEED Platinum building (now one of 39 LEED-certified projects at the college), it houses the college’s Office for Sustainability, Operations Center, and other administrative offices.

Green Building Services Coordinator Ben Myers discusses the building's history.

The site is made up of three buildings that surrounded the old Cambridge Electric Light steam plant. The architect combined the buildings (with glassed-in spaces connecting them) and transformed the space into offices. It was a $10 million renovation of 40,000 square feet, or about $250 per square foot, which is apparently pretty cheap for such a result.

The character of the exterior walls—including windows—is kept intact.

Runoff from the power plant had turned the site into a brownfield, and the college had to rip up the pavement from the parking lot and extract 18 inches of contaminated soil underneath. It was replaced with new fill and permeable paving, with microorganisms in the soil that digest any oil and sand at the bottom of a pond to filter any runoff before it reaches the Charles River. Native plants require no irrigation. Other features:

  • Geothermal cooling with ground source pumps provides cool water that runs through the building. Valance units on the ceiling allow convection cooling without the need for fans.
  • Demand-control ventilation with CO2 monitors saves energy and provides up to 100% outside air, with operable windows for summer use.
  • 5 inches of spray-applied Icynene foam insulation (7 inches at the roof) helps reduce the size of the heating system.
  • Double-paned, argon-infused windows with low-e glazing reduce heat loss.
  • 90% of workspaces receive natural light, thanks to skylights, low cubicles, and glass interior walls.
  • Occupancy/daylight sensors cut down on light usage, and IP addresses for individual fixtures help monitor electricity use, as well as any maintenance issues.
  • Gearless motor elevator uses 60% less energy, with no need for an elevator room. (Unfortunately, Massachusetts code requires one, anyway.)
  • Low-VOC paints, carpets, fabrics, etc. improve indoor air quality.
  • Sub-metering allows monitoring of the energy use of many different parts of the building, with raw data collected by Siemens. The college is looking into using Lucid Design Group’s Building Dashboard to translate that data into more a user-friendly format and installing more green screens college-wide to pass that information on to buildings’ occupants.

The building initially performed much worse than the predicted energy model (30% worse in the first year), mostly because the architects didn’t take into account the need for the Operations Center to be running 24 hours a day, with heat-emitting servers requiring the use of the geothermal cooling pumps even throughout the winter. Once an air conditioner was installed on the roof for that room in particular, the pumps could be turned off from mid-October to April. Also, more equipment than anticipated was plugged in and left on overnight, which required some education and behavioral changes for the occupants. Now the building is performing 16% better than the model, and 43% better than code, in the summer—in both electricity and water use.

A skylight above the open stairwell infuses light into the building.

The building is part of Harvard’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan—with a goal of 30% from 2006 levels by 2016. The initiative is supported by an impressive Office for Sustainaibility, made up of teams including green building services, energy auditing, occupant engagement, and the core group tracking emissions. The office offers a lot of educational information online, including a really comprehensive Green Building Resource.

Most of the people on the tour were architects trying to figure out how to get every credit possible from the LEED system. I may not be an architect, but this is all very interesting to me in light of Berklee’s new building project, a 16-story building at 168 Mass. Ave. I haven’t seen any sustainability plans for it yet, but the architect is the same one who designed the LEED platinum Cambridge Public Library main branch, which seems promising.

One year ago: Fun with a Kill-a-Watt


Comment from Ben Myers
Time January 14, 2011 at 10:20 am

Great recap of the tour! I have profound respect your note taking pace.

Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time January 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm

[…] felt kind of bad that I told you all about the 46 Blackstone Street tour and the residential energy use lecture after the fact, rather than giving you the opportunity to go […]

Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time May 22, 2011 at 11:02 am

[…] for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education highlights the work of Harvard’s Sustainability Office. Berklee could really take a page from their […]

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