Green Science in Salt Lake City
Most rooms get daylight from two sides, with a fenestrated exterior wall on one side, and on another side either a glazed interior wall onto the bright skylit atrium, or another exterior wall (for corner spaces).
Lighting energy use is managed with a building automation system that uses photocell sensors to dim or turn off light fixtures when sufficient daylight is provided. Any fixtures not required for emergency lighting are automatically turned off at 10 p.m.
In addition, three percent of the building's energy needs are offset by a 21-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic array.
Heating and Cooling
Given the dry climate of Utah, where cooling is typically required for three-quarters of the year, the design team worked out a super-efficient three-stage evaporative cooling system.
The first stage of the system uses an external tower that chills water based on the ambient external air temperature. When this measure is insufficient, an evaporative cooler activates, introducing moisture to cool the incoming air. Supplementing these two passive systems is a third: a high-efficiency mechanical chiller, which only operates four weeks per year, according to VCBO.
An efficient natural-gas boiler system is the primary source of heating for the science center. During the winter, waste heat from the building's air exhaust is recovered to preheat cold outside air before it is introduced to the building. This heat recovery includes laboratory fume hoods (which are low-volume, high-efficiency models). Exhaust-heat recovery is used to temper both air and water prior to heating.
A high-performance building envelope and a reflective white roof help maintain stable internal temperatures efficiently.
Each of the building's 14 integrated lab-classroom spaces, its five dedicated research labs, the conference room, and most offices have individual thermostats.
Site and Transportation
The Meldrum Science Center was built on a previously developed campus site, replacing a basketball court facility. There are two bus stops nearby, and the building provides extensive bicycle parking and supporting shower rooms. The project added no parking for cars.
The use of native plants in landscaping helps minimize irrigation needs. And light-colored concrete paving was selected over asphalt to minimize heat gain from hard surfaces.
Rainwater, along with waste water from the evaporative cooling system, is stored in an underground cistern with overflow connection to the city stormwater system. This cistern provides all of the water needed for landscape irrigation at the science center. In addition, water-conserving plumbing fixtures reduce water use by over 40 percent.
Indoor Air Quality
A commitment to air quality standards began well before the Meldrum Science Center was occupied. In addition the design team's selection of low-emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, flooring systems, and composite wood systems, the construction team adhered to an indoor air quality plan that included cleaning and sealing all ductwork when it was installed. A pre-occupancy building flush was also undertaken to exhaust any lingering volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Independent venting is provided to each laboratory, prep area, and chemical storage area. Carbon dioxide sensors have also been installed in the densely occupied spaces to ensure adequate ventilation without excessive energy use.
Building as Teaching Tool
Westminster College also uses the sustainable systems of the Meldrum Science Center for educational purposes. The building automation system doubles as an information portal, allowing students (and building visitors) to study and monitor the building's performance. Five touchscreen monitors throughout the center offer ready access to the building's "dashboard," where visitors can learn about performance and design features.
With all its spatial and functional animation, the interiors of the building are really a pleasure. Outside, the visual resolution of the building's structural base in relation to the overall building-block seems somewhat less than graceful, while the small gable hats that top off the front and rear facade center sections appear — even if appropriate in theory as contextual gestures to the adjacent residential neighborhood and traditional campus buildings — to be more symbolic than functional, and rather unconvincing.
Designed to the theme of "science on display," the building displays sustainability and livability in a mutually supportive harmony. The Westminster campus community will take great pleasure and justifiable pride in this new architectural citizen.
Meeting the standards of LEED Platinum with flair (and 54 LEED points), the Meldrum Science Center is built the way most buildings should be today.
In this sense of the craft of design and building — meeting sound criteria that define a reasonable track toward environmental sustainability — the building is quite extraordinary. The hundred-plus new LEED Platinum buildings certified annually in recent years together represent perhaps a tenth of a percent of the roughly 150,000 total U.S. commercial buildings built in the same timeframe.
Ten years after the first LEED Platinum certification, each new LEED Platinum building is still a 'one in a thousand' exemplar. Standing in those ranks, the Meldrum Science Center is an instructive addition to its elite class.
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David Owen provided the research for this article. Kevin Matthews is Editor in Chief of ArchitectureWeek. More by Kevin Matthews