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UCSD Health Sciences Biomedical Research Facility II stands out for sustainability

The new Health Sciences Biomedical Research Facility II at University of California, San Diego won this year’s Grand Orchid award for its sustainable and innovative architecture and design. Photo courtesy of Nick Merrick and McCarthy Building Cos.

One of the fascinating aspects of the new Health Sciences Biomedical Research Facility II at the University of California, San Diego is that it was designed and constructed to achieve LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

This is a hefty feat for any building, let alone a 196,000-square-foot research facility. But UCSD is on track to receive this acknowledgement in the next several weeks.

The $116 million project opened in March and since then has been operating on all cylinders with a vast amount of sustainable amenities.

Arguably the most notable sustainable feature of the building is the computer-controlled exterior solar shading system on the east, west and south facades. It represents the most extensive use of this type of shading by any building in the University of California system.

The shading reduces visual glare, cooling load and energy use, while the radius ceiling shape helps redirect sunlight to provide optimum daylight.

“This is the feature that I hear gets researchers and staff the most excited about the building,” Joseph Collins, partner at ZGF Architects, said. “They want to feel the daylight and want to open their windows so it doesn’t seem like they are closed off from the world. You would be amazed what sunlight and fresh air can do for your morale.”

Service umbilical systems are at the wall-side of each row of lab desks, which lends to the clean, light, open feel of the lab space. UCSD will study how capturing natural light in this manner lends itself to enhancing employee performance and workplace satisfaction.

Other sustainable design features include a water reclamation system that will collect approximately 890,000 gallons per year from air handler condensate, primarily during the dry summer season in conditions of coastal fog and humidity. This will in turn eliminate the potable water use for landscape irrigation and for toilets most of the year. Bioswales will capture and filter storm water runoff.

To further save energy, laboratory exhaust fans have been designed to reduce speed in calm wind conditions. All building materials were selected for low-VOC emissions, recycled content and local sourcing. A majority of the project’s wood is Forest Stewardship Council certified.

“For a project like this to be designed and built to meet LEED Platinum is rare because of the amount of energy it needs to operate,” Collins said. “So for UCSD to want to achieve this is quite remarkable.”

Craig Swenson, project director for McCarthy Building Cos., said one of the main things learned from this project was the use of prefabricating exteriors to speed up the construction process. The facility incorporated a combination of architectural concrete, curtain wall, painted aluminum metal panels and terra cotta cladding.

“We hired a sub from Benson Industries who was an expert in unitizing and panelizing systems,” Swenson said. “It sped up the installation process because we were just installing panels, and we were able to get better quality of work.”

Swenson said the project is the result of successful collaboration between each team involved in its design and construction.

The Design-Build team of ZGF Achitects, McCarthy Building Cos., IBE KPFF Consulting Engineers, IBE Consulting Engineers, Integrated Engineering Consultants, laboratory-planning consultant RFD (Research Facilities Design) and Spurlock Poirier implemented a process called high-performance teaming.

Swenson said this process established a protocol for improved communication and decision-making at each level of the project team.

“Each quarter, executives would evaluate the teams and assign a score based on the progress of the project,” Swenson said. “It really paid off because not only did it keep teams on track but we were also able to set goals for the project and not individuals. Contractors really cared about what was best for the project and not necessarily themselves.”

The Biomedical Research Facility II was designed to foster teamwork between scientists on campus and around the world. Researchers from genomics, regenerative medicine, bioinformatics and pediatrics will work together to produce new medical therapies. UCSD also hopes to bring in the best and brightest researchers from around the globe with this new research facility.

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