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Twin Creeks Science and Education Center—Sustainable Laboratory Design for the National Park Service

Jim Nicolow, Lord, Aeck & Sargent


Lord, Aeck & Sargent is designing the new Twin Creeks Science and Education Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM). This unique facility will dramatically improve the Park's facilities for research, inventory and educational activities. The Science Center will house offices for researchers, research and laboratory space, curatorial space for specimens collected for the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, and educational/classroom space. Emphasis was placed on developing a flexible research space that will accommodate changing research activities and foster inter-project collaboration among researchers. The project's mission statement:

"To improve protection and understanding of Park resources by enhancing science based management. This will be accomplished by creating a site sensitive, sustainable facility which fosters cross-discipline intellectual exchange, facilitates cross-organizational partnerships, enhances both basic and applied research, and encourages educational opportunities, resulting in a model for other resource based science facilities.
This poster will present a detailed technical example of high-performance, sustainable laboratory design through illustration of the approach employed and results achieved for the design of the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center."


The facility's daylighting strategies and environmentally responsible design features, coupled with parametric thermal modeling and building envelope optimization resulted in a building design that will consume 30% less energy than a code compliant building, while providing a healthy, productive research environment.

These results were achieved as a result of an intensive design analysis, which found that certain design features would yield a higher level of environmental sensitivity and energy efficiency to the building than others. The findings of this analysis will be presented with particular focus given to the daylighting analysis as it was found to have the highest impact on the facility's overall form. Details of the daylight harvesting design process will be presented with an in-depth analysis of how these processes will optimize the center's use of natural daylight and reduce the requirements of artificial lighting.

In addition to the daylighting findings, results related to low-flow fume hoods, storm water management, Carbon Dioxide monitors, geothermal heating and cooling, photovoltaic power generation and high-efficiency plumbing will be presented.

Labs21 Connection:

  • Minimize environmental impact: In order to reduce the project's environmental impact, the LEED™ Rating System was adopted as a design guideline for the analysis and selection of sustainable design strategies.
  • Optimize whole building efficiency on a life-cycle cost basis: Whole building efficiency was optimized through the use of parametric thermal analysis of the building's performance, extensive daylighting and solar angle studies. The National Park Service's Value Analysis and Design Advisory Board review processes were employed as tools for evaluating design options on a life-cycle basis.
  • Range of energy and water efficiency strategies: A range of energy and water efficiency strategies will be employed including ground-source heat pumps, ultra-low flow plumbing fixtures and waterless urinals, extensive daylight harvesting, high-efficiency lighting, a low-flow fume hood, and natural ventilation.
  • Evaluate on-site power generation: A roof-mounted photovoltaic array is being designed with technical assistance from Sandia Labs provided through FEMP grant.
  • Build with green construction materials: For building materials selection, emphasis was placed on FSC certified wood products, materials with high recycled content, and local/regional materials.


Jim Nicolow, AIA, LEED, is the Sustainable Design Specialist for Lord, Aeck & Sargent Architecture in Atlanta, Georgia. As head of our LEED™ accredited team of architects, Jim leads the sustainable design initiative for all of the firm's projects and also serves as the firm's environmental advocate. Jim is an expert in sustainable design strategy and has worked on a wide range of projects including research facilities for Oak Ridge National Labs, the University of Michigan, the National Park Service and the Georgia Institute of Technology. His hard work and dedication has led to an ever-increasing number of projects at Lord, Aeck & Sargent for which sustainable design is a primary goal. This includes our most recently won project, the Southface Energy and Environmental Center, which is projected to be certified at the LEED™ Platinum Level.

Jim is a sought after lecturer and contributor to environmental publications and conferences, most recently serving as moderator for the Greenprints 2003 Conference: Sustainable Communities by Design. Within the last year, he also conducted LEED™ Rating system discussions for the annual conference of Georgia State Facilities Administrators, and was a co-presenter at the Labs21 2002 Annual Conference.

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