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Sustainable Architecture and Engineering of Core and Shell Laboratories

Asif Syed, AFK Engineers
Paul Drago, Nk Architects

The Digital Century Building is located in Newark, New Jersey, in close proximity to the Rutgers, New Jersey, Institute of Technology, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). It is a 110,000 square foot building designed for housing high-tech companies with laboratories and offices. The building is designed as core and shell only with potential multi-tenant occupancies with either wet laboratories or dry laboratories.

The design approach and goals for this building were:

  • LEED® Gold Certification
  • Energy: Optimize, measure, and verify
  • Simulation of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems
  • Onsite generation
  • Life cycle cost analysis
  • Minimize air change rate
  • Provide pathways/flexibility for dry and wet laboratories
  • Water use reduction
  • Tenant fit out guidelines

The technologies adopted for this building were:

Central Plant

  • Right-sizing strategy with real loads, variable frequency drive chiller, and variable frequency drive pumps. Lessons learned include saving and cost of variable frequency drive on chillers.

Energy Recovery

  • Investigated four options to recover energy: 1) heat wheel, 2) flat plate device, 3) heat pipe, and 4) run around loop. Lessons learned include the appropriateness and applicability of each device. Run around loop was selected. Reduction in loads for each recovery method was calculated.

Air Distribution

  • 1) Reduce air change rate, 2) use low flow hoods or lower sash stops, 3) reduce or lower air flow during unoccupied hours, 4) reduce process heat generation burden on central air, 5) energy recovery, and 6) demand control ventilation.

Onsite Generation

  • Perimeter photovoltaic façade array is mounted on the sun-tracking shades that generate electricity and also provide shade, reducing the solar heat gain and air conditioning load.
  • Solar collector hot water system on the roof preheats water used for heating and reheating air in laboratories.

Lighting Design

  • Density less than code mandated criteria of 1.3 width per square foot. Active daylighting controls at perimeter.

Water Use Reduction

  • Rain water from the roof is collected in underground tank and is used to serve landscape irrigation.

Optimized Façade

  • Energy analysis was used to analyze the glazing.
  • Tenant fit out guidelines were provided to carry through the sustainable technologies incorporated in the base building design.


Asif Syed has 20 years of experience in the HVAC industry. His experience includes working on institutional and commercial projects. Asif was senior vice president at Flack+Kurtz until 2003, where he pioneered new technologies of radiant cooling in New York City for the Hearst Building, designed by Norman Foster, under-floor air distribution for the Biltmore Broadway Theater and Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Asif’s experience includes working in Asia, Europe, Middle East, and South America. Asif's current projects include Pfizer Building 115 designed by Hillier Group, educational teaching laboratories at St. John’s University and Stony Brook, and a LEED® Gold-rated laboratory project for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority in Newark, New Jersey.

Paul Drago is the managing principal of NK's New York City office and has 26 years experience in the architectural profession. His responsibilities range from office operations and oversight of individual projects to his role as project manager for specific assignments. Mr. Drago has successfully managed many award-winning projects for the firm’s educational and corporate clients.

In his tenure at NK, Mr. Drago has developed an expertise in higher education with a specific emphasis on high technology research laboratories and has been instrumental in forwarding sustainable design initiatives at NK. Mr. Drago’s project portfolio includes numerous projects for Rutgers University, University of Medicine and Dentistry, Raritan Valley Community College, and Barnard College. Recent additions to his portfolio include a blood distribution center for the New York Blood Center, a training and showroom for the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, and the 68,000-sqaure-foot Life Sciences Center for Rutgers University.

Mr. Drago has served as a panelist at seminars sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Concrete and Aggregate Forum and has been a speaker at the U.S. Green Building Council and the AIA Sustainability Conference. Mr. Drago is a member of the AIA and The Society of College and University Planning. He obtained his Bachelor of Architecture at the City College of New York.

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