June 22, 2012

Frontier Physics Lab Achieves LEED Gold

This image shows the building mass split into two parallel bars, a key decision that helped the building achieve LEED Gold.
© Peter Aaron/OTTO

Thanks to the integrated efforts of Rice University's Facilities, Engineering and Planning Department, the design team, and construction contractor Gilbane Building Company, the Brockman Hall for Physics has been awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.  
A Gold rating is an extraordinary achievement for a physics lab because of the energy needed to conduct experiments within a highly controlled environment. The 110,000 gross square-foot building requires sophisticated systems to keep noise, vibration, humidity, and particulates from interfering with experiments. Combined with Houston's high humidity and significant solar radiation, the project faced a daunting path to environmental performance.

Our design team made fundamental decisions about how the building is oriented and how its facades would mitigate the negative effects of the sun. The building mass was split into two parallel bars with an open passage between them that admits day light and outdoor breezes, and a series of layered facades—complete with bird-safe measures—moderate solar gain and maintain precise light and temperature levels inside. A large portion of the building is located underground to isolate labs from vibration, with the benefit of a continuous greenscape above and pre-treatment of stormwater via a vegetated roof. 
Highly efficient HVAC equipment, including an enthalpy recovery wheel (the largest in a single air unit in Texas), will save as much as 30 percent of the energy needed to cool the building in the summer. A dehumidification system returns about 100,000 gallons of clean water per year for use elsewhere on campus. Construction materials were sourced locally and cleverly detailed to limit constituent processes, including off-site fabricated, modular facade panels, which dramatically reduced transportation emissions and construction costs. 
Open networks of services in the building provide the flexibility and capacity for future change in research programs along with alterations to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems—ensuring the building has a long, useful, and sustainable life. 
Brockman Hall has been recognized with design awards from the Society for College and University Planning, Texas Society of Architects, and American Institute of Architects Houston, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Chapters, and was featured in Architect and Icon magazines. 
Visit the School of Physics and Engineering for information on physics research happening at Rice.