Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2007 Annual Conference

Scaling Sustainability: Comparing the Planning Processes for Two University Science Facilities

Jeff Salocks and Arlen Li, Payette


The concurrent planning efforts of two different universities, one public and one private, for new science facilities provide some interesting insights on sustainable design approaches. The process, structure, and finances of these two institutions are widely divergent, yet each will achieve a sustainable project.


The public university established a Sustainable Communities Initiative in 2000 following up on the efforts of an informal working group and campus-wide workshop. They set up goals to become a green campus, to incorporate sustainability into all possible curricula, and to foster the development of tools that can be utilized for decisions on sustainable issues. The initiative encompasses over 296 buildings and more than 17,000 faculty, staff, and students across three campuses.

The private university established a green campus initiative in the year 2000 with the focus on making the university a living laboratory and learning organization for the pursuit of campus sustainability. They promote six campus-wide principles that include demonstrating institutional practices that promote sustainability; promoting the health, productivity, and safety of the university community through design and maintenance of the built environment; enhancing the health of the campus ecosystems; developing planning tools to enable comparative analysis of sustainability implications; encouraging environmental inquiry; and establishing indicators for sustainability. The initiative impacts over 600 buildings and almost 40,000 faculty, staff, and students across four campus locations.

One major difference between the institutions is that the organizational infrastructure for promoting and implementing the sustainable agenda at the private university includes almost 20 professional staff and 40 part-time staff/student assistants. In contrast, the public university has no designated coordinator for sustainable design and only a minimal project management staff.

Motives and Factors

The initial planning for the new science facilities at these two universities has revealed some differences in their motives for being sustainable. The public university wants to be pragmatic while also establishing a new core value of sustainability. In addition, a state mandate has required sustainability in order to meet political approvals. The private university has different reasons for their interest in green design, including the desire to be famous for an innovative, state-of-the-art, sustainable project. They don't have the same political considerations as the public institution, although they have established sustainability as a core value at their institution and must answer to their board of directors.

Similarly, the matters which bear upon the sustainable planning for a new building vary for each institution. The public university relies mostly on public funding and therefore has less money per square foot than the private university. The sustainable agenda is relatively untested and first costs are the determinants in the success of the project. On the other hand, the private university has long-term private funding resources which can accommodate a higher cost per square foot than the public university. A longer term payback is a major consideration, so the private institution isn't deterred by first costs.

Outdoor Environmental Performance Considerations

The public university is incorporating a green roof system which will be partially vegetated with stormwater collected in a “rain garden.”  The private university is planning for outdoor climate optimization with a multi-building/courtyard approach that will provide shelter from the prevailing winter winds while limiting the building height to take advantage of the low winter sun.

Indoor Environmental Performance Considerations

Through comparable efforts to improve the performance and quality of the indoor environment, both institutions executed studies to delineate functional zones and thereby minimize the total imposed load. The significant part of this for the public university involved performing multiple cooling load calculation scenarios which considered the extent of air conditioning across the building's use zones relative to the variables of an enhanced building envelope, supplemental fan coil units and chilled beams, enhanced lighting design, and number of air changes. The private university performed annual primary energy consumption modeling for electricity, cooling, and heating relative to building zones and total air changes. The critical analysis, which preceded this step, however, was to disregard preconceptions of where “science” is being done and literally follow the technicians and scientists around their facilities in order to map their time and use of the laboratory space/functions.

Enhanced lighting design in a laboratory setting

Enhanced lighting design in a laboratory setting

The performance expectation for both projects is that the cooling load will be 50 percent of a traditional base building laboratory, and the overall annual energy savings will be 14 percent for the public university and 33 percent for the private university.

View this entire presentation in PDF format (3.3 MB, 43 pp)


Arlen Li joined Payette in 1983, became an associate in 1989, a senior associate in 1992, and an associate principal in 2001. In over 20 years with the firm, he has focused on university and corporate laboratory research and education buildings. The range of projects includes medical, dental, engineering, chemical, and biological facilities. Arlen was the founder of the in-house sustainable design group and is the firm's liaison to the U.S. Green Building Council. He has also served as an instructor at the Boston Architectural Center and as a member of his town's Design Review Board.

Jeff Salocks has over 20 years of experience as an architect and designer specializing in the programming, planning, and design of laboratory and research facilities for university, institutional, healthcare, and corporate clients. At present he is a senior laboratory planner with Payette Planning in Boston, Massachusetts. He is currently working on projects for Georgetown University, Utah State University, and Shire Pharmaceuticals. His past clients include the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Brown University, Case Western Reserve, Dartmouth College, and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, among others. Jeff is a past presenter on the subject of laboratory design for many organizations including: Labs21, R&D Laboratory Design, the Society for College and University Planning, Project Kaleidoscope, National Council of Research Administrators, and the Society of Research Administrators.