High Performance Labs in Challenging Climates

Z Smith, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple

Laboratories built in harsh climates face special challenges to achieve high performance. This presentation is built around case studies of renovated and newly constructed biotechnology laboratories in the hot-humid Gulf South, supported by multi-year post-construction performance monitoring & occupant engagement, to illustrate what it takes to achieve high performance without compromising functionality, flexibility, or safety.

Projects profiled will include an in-depth look at two projects, both 60,000 square feet in scale, both having earned LEED Gold certification, both having been brought in substantially under budget, and both with energy consumption at the high-performance end of the I2SL/Labs21 dataset. One is a deep retrofit, where single-purpose windowless labs are merged into open-plan daylight ballroom labs. The other is new construction on an urban brownfield site, winner of the 2015 AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten award for combining design excellence with high performance. Both projects feature extensive sub-metering and a high degree of individual control, allowing the interaction between occupant and operational choices and energy use to be studied.

In particular, one of these projects, a biotechnology ‘incubator' facility, allows individual tenants (in consultation with their safety officer) to set the ventilation policy most appropriate to the kind of work being done where every 600 sf lab cell can have its own air change rate. The other follows NIH guidelines, providing a minimum of 6ACH at all times. The first approach requires occupant engagement to save energy, the second is more of a set it and forget it approach. The presentation will compare results of the two approaches.

Resilience: the ability of systems to survive and thrive in the face of disaster—is an increasingly important component of lab design. This talk will also profile how lab, system, and equipment configuration can be optimized in the face of severe storms and uncertain access to power.

Finally, the presentation draw larger lessons for those designing labs for other harsh climates--be they extreme heat, humidity, or cold.

Learning Objectives

  • Attendees will be able to explain why energy use is often higher for laboratories in harsh climates--particularly hot humid climates.
  • Attendees will be able to calculate the energy savings available through targeted laboratory ventilation.
  • Attendees will be able to describe the benefits and challenges of sub-metering laboratory HVAC and electrical use.
  • Attendees will be able to articulate strategies to increase resilience of laboratories.


Z Smith is principal and director of sustainability and building performance at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, winner of the 2014 AIA Firm Award. His built work includes academic, laboratory, and residential buildings earning LEED Gold and Platinum certification. He brings training and experience in physics (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and engineering (Princeton) to the field of architecture (University of California, Berkeley). He also teaches at The Tulane School of Architecture and serves on USGBC and AIA National committees.


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