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Nanoscience Sustainability - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's New Molecular Foundry

William L. Diefenbach, AIA, Suzanne Napier, AIA, and Irene Monis, AIA, LEED® AP, SmithGroup
Steve Greenberg, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory focuses on research into sustainable building and energy technologies. Their new Molecular Foundry has been designed and constructed to further their mission and provide a model for sustainable design within the difficult constraints of state-of-the-art Nanoscience laboratory design. This presentation uses a case study of this facility to explore opportunities for increasing both environmental responsibility and workplace quality consistent with institutional mission and commitment.

The Molecular Foundry is one of five new nanoscale science research centers to be built by the Department of Energy's Office of Science to provide researchers with world-class facilities for nanotechnology, the interdisciplinary study of matter at the atomic level. It will be the only lab of its type on the west coast. The Molecular Foundry, which opened in March of 2006, is a six-story, 94,500 sq. ft. structure. It will have a 4,000 sq. ft. Class 1000 and a 725 sq. ft. Class 100 cleanroom for nanfabrication/lithography, and a 5,500 sq. ft. low vibration, low electromagnetic field laboratory housing state-of-the-art imaging and manipulation tools. The Molecular Foundry is a landmark building that juts forth from a steep slope in the Berkeley hills overlooking San Francisco Bay.

The structure has been designed with special seismic and vibration mitigations because of its close proximity to the active Hayward earthquake fault and the unusually high building performance standards needed for nanoscience research. The Foundry's spectacular site drops 70 feet vertically per 200 linear feet, a 35 percent grade. Our design team used the steep slope to the client's advantage. By burying the bulk of the building's two first floors, the team used the earth to shield extraordinarily sensitive nanotech equipment from vibration, and separate it from other laboratory areas that lacked the same sensitivity. Vibration sensitive equipment is stacked on multiple levels giving higher quality of life to researchers in other, more commonly used work spaces.

Labs21 Connection:

LBNL has made the Molecular Foundry a model for sustainable, energy efficient design and is expected to earn a LEED Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council incorporating the following benefits:

  • The Molecular Foundry is projected to consume 30 percent less energy than the already-stringent California Title 24 requirement for laboratory buildings.
  • In order to identify which products were sufficiently durable for a laboratory environment, LBNL researchers worked with SmithGroup to test finishes and materials used in lab areas as part of the design process.
  • Recycled content was specified whenever possible, and over 80 percent of all building construction waste will be recycled.
  • All wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This is 50 percent more than required for the LEED Silver certification.
  • Low emission carpet, paint, sealants and adhesives, along with renewable materials, such as bamboo flooring and cabinetry in the interaction spaces, create a healthier indoor environment.
  • Exterior shading and advanced envelope design to increase energy effectiveness and improve workplace quality.
  • Variable volume fume hood exhaust and limited combination sash position fume hood operation
  • Use of electronically commutated brushless DC hi-efficiency motors and lower airflows/face velocities a the clean room fan-filter units.
  • Use of lower than conventional duct air flow velocities (approximately 0.06" per 100' friction loss but not more than 1,500 fpm vs 0.1" per 100' friction loss and 2,000 fpm).
  • Use of high efficiency chillers (0.35-0.40 NPLV Vs 0.45-0.50 NPLV - units of kw/ton).


William L. Diefenbach, AIA, graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1972. As SmithGroup Senior Vice President, Board Member, and Science and Technology Studio Leader, Mr. Diefenbach is responsible for all stages of work on research laboratory and academic projects. Mr. Diefenbach's strength lies in his ability to take great architectural design concepts through to a viable project that is completed on time and within budget. His previous work experience includes three projects with Laboratory of the Year awards—CalTech's Broad Center, UCSF Genentech Hall and Chevron Ortho Research Center. Other recent research laboratories include UC Davis Genome and Biological Sciences Facility, UCSF Mt. Zion Cancer Research Laboratory, University of Alaska - Fairbanks Biological & Computational Sciences Facility, UC Berkeley College of Chemistry Unit III, UC Berkeley CITRIS Headquarters and San Jose State University - Moss Landing Marine Laboratory. Currently, Mr. Diefenbach is designing the new Cardiovascular Research Institute for UCSF. For the LBNL Molecular Foundry, he was responsible as the Design Principal for all efforts.

Suzanne Napier, AIA, has a diverse background in the profession from the design process through implementation of projects. Ms. Napier is very facile at understanding the programmatic/functional and aesthetic requirements of each client and lucidly translating them into sound architectural projects. Her previous work includes UCSF's Genentech Hall, 2003 Special Mention for Laboratory of the Year. As Project Manager for the Molecular Foundry, she was entirely responsible for all team organization and coordination from concept/programming stage through construction administration.

Irene Monis, AIA, LEED, has a portfolio that includes wide range of projects, including institutional, commercial, and residential work. Her recent laboratory experience includes the design of UCSF's Genentech Hall in San Francisco. Ms. Monis has been certified as a LEED accredited professional by the Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and has become the green building expert of SmithGroup's San Francisco office. For the Molecular Foundry, Ms. Monis as Project Architect was responsible for all technical documentation and coordination with building systems engineering throughout the 18 month design effort. She then continued with the project as Construction Administrator on the job site for two years of construction. She is now completing the LEED documentation for submission.

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