The National Renewable Energy Laboratory Sustainable Campus of the Future

John Priebe, The Abo Group, Inc.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Sustainable Campus Mission is to create a campus that expresses and advances the art and science of sustainable energy for the nation and make that vision tangible and experienced by staff and visitors. As the NREL living campus grows the campus design should incorporate the following principles: safety, security, and sustainability; carbon neutrality; net zero energy use; and LEED® Platinum and Gold building certifications. The NREL South Table Mountain (STM) campus is located along the foothills in Golden, Colorado, 10 miles west of Denver. The campus currently has 300,000 square feet of office and laboratory space and in the next 10 years, it is expected to grow by an additional 1.5 million square feet. The STM site is on the south face of a plateau that slopes steeply to the south. There is sparse vegetation in this semi-arid climate. There are several drainage "arroyos" that bisect the campus. Because of security concerns, the site has limited access. Currently, there is one public access and one limited delivery access.

1. Reinforce the unique natural characteristics of the site.
2. Orient buildings for solar access and daylighting.
3. Integrate open space and landscape with stormwater drainage and detention.
4. Preserve existing arroyos.
5. Provide a secure perimeter with multiple entrances.
6. Cluster buildings by research.
7. Promote a pedestrian-oriented environment.
8. Visually connect building entries and pedestrian network, street system, and open spaces.
9. Provide campus shuttle throughout the campus.

1. Vehicular circulation

  • Pedestrian and bicycle priority
  • Vehicles kept to the edges
  • Seven right-of-way types accommodate different transport modes

2. Congregated parking

  • Internal shuttle
  • Parking structures
  • 0.6 parking ratio

3. Open space framework

  • Three levels of restoration
  • Focus on arroyos and open spaces

4. Main east-west pedestrian/bike spine

  • Roads and streets will accommodate pedestrians and bikes

5. Onsite maintenance and service

  • Central shipping and receiving

6. Controlled site access

  • No perimeter fencing

7. Grading and stormwater management

  • Protect and maintain existing topography and natural features
  • Incorporate stormwater management in landscape and in arroyos

8. Utilities

  • Off-peak chilled water generation
  • Variable flow chillers
  • "Free" cooling by evaporation
  • Renewable fuel boilers
  • Solar thermal hot water generators

9. Infrastructure development

  • Incremental build out of infrastructure

10. Design guidelines

  • Sustainable design
  • Development zones
  • Solar access and shading
  • Building design
  • Parking structures
  • Building-parking relationships
  • Exterior lighting
  • Security
  • Landscape


John Priebe, principal of The Abo Group, Inc. is an Architect with more than 40 years of experience practicing in the Rocky Mountain Region and internationally. He has design, planning, urban design, and project management experience for public and private clients. He has been the principal in charge of many complex projects, and has led the firm in laboratory design for research, pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, and educational laboratories. One of those clients is NREL in Golden, Colorado. The Abo Group has served NREL as a consultant for more than 20 years. A core value of The Abo Group is sustainable design and the integration of those principles into its projects, one such project is the recently completed NREL Site Campus Master Plan.