The NASA Sustainability Base, designed by William McDonough + Partners, has been built using a super-efficient nexus of energy saving mechanisms, and is set apart by its insistence on highly adaptable spaces.
It takes dexterous innovation to build a research facility that sets up the right environs to learning, and still manages to sport a definitive character in its look. The NASA Sustainability Base, a new facility at the entrance to Ames Research Center, had to reflect one more key aspect – NASA’s spirit of innovation and precision. Design architects from the firm of William McDonough+Partners decided to base their inspirations in this atmosphere of high-definition thinking and went about building a centre that is suffused with natural light and the spirit of cutting edge research.
The office building is spread across a 50,000 sq ft area, split into two arches of blocks. This research centre is a marvel of environment friendly design, applies as it does a wide range of innovative practices to maximise its use of natural resources and minimise the use of energy.
The buildings were imagined through an exoskeleton encasing that would protect its integrity during seismic events. It also ends up accordingly. The structure is a distinct astuteness of look and form. A great deal of adaptability also comes from the column-free approach.
In the beautiful expanse of the base, the need for natural ventilation was paramount. This was backed up by the facilitation of abundant daylight, a factor which was ensured by the narrow floor plating, and managed by glare control measures, high ceilings, and the right orientation of the building.
The energy saving scheme here also involves the services of high performance lighting fixtures that keep the electricity bills way in check.
The energy utilisation of the base is efficiently managed through a grid of an extensive geothermal system, radiant cooling, intelligent building systems, renewable power generated from on-site photovoltaics, and Bloom’s Energy Server solid oxide fuel cells.
Naturally for this base, a great deal of NASA’s technological know-how has been pooled in to further refine the green credentials of the structure. Forward-osmosis water recycling system (designed for the International Space Station) forms the treatment apparatus for water expelled from sinks, urinals and showers. The idea is to keep the water moving in a loop of use and re-generation, with advanced technology working to maintain the levels of cleanliness and volume.
CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) regulate internal wind patterns and quality, while prognostics keep the building’s systemic performance running on an even keel. The centre is also fitted with an inductive monitoring system that will dispense tips to the occupants on how to maximise the performance of the building. The geothermal wells will be overseen by a hybrid diagnostic engine, keeping a keen eye on malfunctions as well.
The superior design elements of the Sustainability Base are protected and enhanced by a fruitful collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs’ (LBNL) Energy Efficient Building Systems Regional Innovation Cluster. Wall systems, panels, louvers, light shelves and more for the base are all Cradle to Cradle Certified products, which are a result of applying the philosophy outlined by William McDonough + Partners’ founder, William McDonough and German chemist, Michael Braungart, in their 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.
With all the mechanical and engineering wizardry unfolding outside, the interiors are simple spaces focused on making the most of the energy saving tools assigned to them. Integrated exterior shading makes sure that the insides are brilliantly lit by sunshine, but not scorched by the heat or glare. Radiant cooling ceiling panels and hot water radiant wall heating panels not only keep the temperature in control, but also afford the occupants a good flexibility of control.
The NASA Sustainability Base sports the simple confidence of a structure solidly planned and built. Enveloped by a brilliant exoskeleton structure and it being inextricably connected with natural elements, this centre represents the future of modern, fuss-free but strategically efficient green buildings.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Eric James, courtesy NASA Ames Research Center Cesar Rubio,
Courtesy William McDonough + Partners