Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2007 Annual Conference

Case Study - A LEED Silver Life Sciences Technology Building at Cornell University

D. Randall Lacey, P.E., Cornell University and Mario J. Loiacono, Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers


Weill Hall is the cornerstone of Cornell University's Genomics Initiative, a campus-wide research, development, and educational program to maintain a leading role in the study of life sciences. This multi-discipline building designed by Richard Meier and Partners (architects) working with Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers (engineers) and GPR (laboratory planners) will merge biological, physical, engineering, and computational sciences. The majority of the 260,000-gross-square-foot building will be devoted to flexible laboratories and offices for biological researchers. Large areas of the building are also dedicated to ancillary functions and will house a vivarium, plant growth facility, a teaching center, and a technical business incubator.

Building Design Goals

  • Create a Life Science Hub
    This building will draw together experts from various departments and colleges at the University. Its central location on campus, connections to several existing buildings and extremely capable functional spaces will result in a key resource. Weill Hall is connected by tunnels to three adjacent buildings that house programs in biotechnology, biological sciences, and plant sciences. This connectivity is critical to the flow of people, research materials, and, most importantly, ideas. Specialty facilities in the building will allow advanced research with animals and plants. An imaging suite has been specifically design for low levels of vibration and electromagnetic frequency interference.
  • Create a World-Class Building
    The architecture of Weill Hall is as impressive as its functional capability. Image of the building as a campus landmark will have a positive impact on recruitment of faculty and credibility among peer institutions.
  • Flexible Laboratories
    Research, by definition, does not repeat itself and the laboratory is a research tool that must change to meet evolving needs. At the start of design very few of the faculty who would work in Weill Hall had been identified and most had not yet joined the University. Laboratory modules were created to be repetitive where appropriate yet flexible in use. Each laboratory unit consists of a laboratory (520 square feet), a laboratory support space (400 square feet), and a linear equipment room (230 square feet). Each of these spaces has varying degrees of utility services, ventilation, and cooling capacity.


Life Sciences Technology Building at Cornell University

Life Sciences Technology Building at Cornell University

Sustainable Design Elements

The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating process was used to guide the design of this facility. At the start of design in 2002 very few large science facilities had achieved a LEED certification and it was ambitious to target a LEED Silver rating. As the Labs21 Environmental Performance Criteria (EPC) had recently been developed for evaluating sustainable laboratory design, this system was used in parallel with the LEED rating system. A charrette conducted during the design development phase indicated only 8 points in the LEED system were certain although an additional 28 points were felt to be easy or likely. The project team used this information to guide the design and incorporate sustainable features. Life cycle analysis was used to evaluate options and nearly all the sustainable measures included in this project were justified by life cycle cost analaysis.

At the mid-point of construction it appears that a LEED Gold rating is probable. Through diligence of the project team, sustainable elements have continued to move into the project rather than be lost. The greatest area of achievement is the earth and atmosphere category. Energy use of the facility is currently modeled to be 30 percent below an ASHRAE 90.1 base. The mechanical system features occupancy controlled ventilation in labs and lecture halls and exhaust system heat recovery.

Labs21 EPC criteria were used to evaluate measures that are not part of the LEED rating system. Creative solutions were developed for process loads which are not generally part of the energy model. Growth chambers were purchased with chilled water and hot water coils rather than refrigerant systems to maintain chamber temperatures. Laboratory power requirements were right-sized by measurement of plug loads in similar laboratories and extensive energy monitoring was included to document subsystems in the building. Thermal energy is provided to the building from a central combined heat and power system while chilled water is derived from a deep lake source cooling system.

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Randy Lacey is the university engineer at Cornell University where he manages a staff of 50 engineers and project managers. He has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Engineering from Cornell University and more than 25 years of experience designing laboratories, managing laboratory projects, and operating facilities. This experience includes design and operation of biohazard laboratories, animal facilities, good manufacturing practice drug production facilities, and many other unusual laboratories. He has authored many papers on efficient laboratory design and has been a presenter at ASHRAE, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, Labs21, and other professional conferences.

Mario Loiacono, LEED AP, has over 30 years of experience in the design of industrial and academic research and laboratory facilities. As a LEED Accredited Professional, he brings his national experience and knowledge of sustainability issues to major projects. Mr. Loiacono is a regular contributor to professional symposia, including Labs21 and Tradeline Forums on Industry. Furthermore, he is considered a clean room specialist in the industry and is a regular presenter on nanoscience and nanofabrication design.