Aligning Laboratory Performance and Programming Ė Building Science Tools In the Design Process

Don Kranbuehl, Clark Nexsen
Brian Turner, Clark Nexsen

High-performing systems are a critical goal for laboratory facilities, but the true success of a building project is ultimately the way it enables learning, innovation, productivity, and the work itself. Successful sustainability initiatives need to adaptably align with programmatic needs and be integral Ė not additive - to facility goals.

This relationship is established at the beginning of design. Sustainability initiatives are not decided for their own sake, but because they complement the lab work, increase adaptability, and reinforce the values of a program. To that end, it is the responsibility of the design to integrate sustainable decisions at strategic moments and throughout the design process.

Each lab project and program is unique, and building performance goals require project teams to respond to changing sustainability drivers. Creating a set of priorities, communicating a schedule for critical decisions, and using Building Science tools are all proven strategies to integrate program and performance goals. This presentation will include proven examples from an array of laboratory programs:

  • Plant Science Buildings: Greenhouses are major energy consumers, and the demand from even a small greenhouse form can often outsize the research facility it supports. Decisions about temperature, humidity, envelope, and shading systems impact energy usage and systems sizing. By modeling implications for even small changes in temperature or R-values, Owners can make informed decisions to balance energy and research needs.
  • Laboratory core and shell: Planning for unknown programs, whether in a core and shell facility or a highly-flexible workspace, makes it difficult to confidently right-size system capacity. In this case, the design team can use building science tools to help balance internal and exterior loads, as well to establish a realistic maximum future energy demand. Providing visual and calculated energy projections for multiple planning scenarios enables Owners to make informed decisions.
  • Higher education: Creating sustainable 50- or 100-year facilities for changing program needs can be challenging for Owners with very specific budgets and schedules. As part of the program process, we recommend including both the intensities and types of energy demand associated with specific functions. This information enables energy usage to be at the forefront of decision making and planning decisions, and not simply of a result of other priorities.

The intent of this presentation is to demonstrate how building science tools can help Owners make impactful performance-informed decisions at critical moments, and how design teams can better enable confident Owner decisions.

Learning Objectives

  • understand how and when sustainability decisions are best presented as part of the programming and decision-making process;
  • have a better understanding of the tools and processes most helpful in determining high-priority sustainability decisions;
  • recognize unique strategies for addressing energy demand from a diverse array of laboratory and greenhouse programs; and
  • appreciate the relationship between design team members, and how architects and engineers can best enable confident performance decisions by the Owner.


Don is an award-winning architect with over 20 years of experience in the design of academic, science and technology, and civic project types. He has led the design of a variety of projects that have won over 25 AIA awards including two national AIA CAE awards and three Chicago Athenaeum national design awards. Don is passionate about the relationship between architecture and its site and creating design solutions that respond to the climate, natural and built context, and public realm. Don leads the firmís commitment to the 2030 Challenge and the firmís Integrated Design group. Since 2007, Don has served as a Professor of Practice at the NCSU College of Design teaching architecture studios which focus on the relationship of the environment and site to building form and tectonics. Don is a graduate of Duke University and received a Masters in Architecture and Masters in Structural Engineering from Virginia Tech.

Brian Turner is an Associate Principal and Mechanical Department Head at Clark Nexsen. For over 18 years, Brian has applied his engineering expertise to design high performance buildings which are healthy to live and work in, save their owners money, and minimize environmental impacts. His designs include laboratories, academic buildings, high rise commercial office buildings, and government facilities. Brian leads Clark Nexsen’s building science initiative to leverage modeling and simulation of building physics to achieve better performance outcomes. He holds a BSE in Mechanical & Biomedical Engineering from Duke University and a MEng in Sustainable Energy Engineering from the University of Maryland.


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