Is the Complexity Worth it?

Jim Wermes, HDR Architecture
Mike McLeod, Arizona State University

Abstract: Many of today's laboratories are becoming more complex and complicated to provide better energy performance and flexibility. The integration of daylighting controls, occupancy controls, temperature controls, air quality management and energy management systems provides a vast data set that can be used to squeeze power usage out of laboratory facilities, while still maintaining parameters for safety and occupant comfort.

This presentation will compare and contrast two buildings that followed different paths to achieve similar goals, resulting in different levels of complexity in their operation. The engineers for Arizona State University's (ASU) Biodesign A & B, took a simplified approach to the air management concepts controls and energy performance. The engineers for ASU's ISTB 4, across the street, applied a more complicated approach to similar challenges, in an effort to achieve the university's goal of even greater flexibility in laboratory usage and further reductions in energy use. In this presentation we will look at the two buildings side by side and see if the added complexity provides a higher level of performance and at what cost. Concepts to be reviewed include:
-Total Construction cost (by GSF, by lab, net sf, by fume hood)
-Mechanical and controls cost (by GSF, by lab, net sf, by fume hood)
-Energy usage/cost (by GSF, by lab, net sf, by fume hood)
-Complexity indicated by the number of Control Systems.
-Complexity indicated by the number of Control Points (by GSF, by lab, net sf, by fume hood)
-Complexity indicated by the number of Controllers (by GSF, by lab net sf, by fume hood)
-Commissioning & troubleshooting effort or duration (by GSF, by lab net sf, by fume hood)
-Flexibility (Ease of conversion of air system from wet lab to dry lab [negative pressure to positive pressure] and vice a versa).
-Maintenance requirements FTEs (by GSF, by lab net sf, by fume hood)
-Other metrics, as appropriate.

The exact number of metrics considered may be limited by the metrics and time available.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the design intent for systems at the ASU Biodesign Institute.
  • Understand the design intent for systems at the ASU ISTB4 facility.
  • Recognize the impacts of systems complexity on operations and the benefits on sustainability.
  • Appreciate the impact that systems complexity has on the operations and maintenance of a facility.


Jim Wermes is a Principal Mechanical Engineer at HDR whose 40 years of experience has focused on sustainable design. He is considered an expert in the design and construction of sustainable laboratory systems with experience including several LEED Gold institutional facilities for Arizona State University, University of Arkansas, University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, University of South Florida, Washington University at Saint Louis, University of Waterloo and Utah State University.

Michael McLeod brings over 30 years of facilities administration experience to the post of Director of Research Infrastructure for the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. The Biodesign Institute is the state's largest bioscience facility and its first LEED Platinum Certified building. Mr. McLeod oversees all projects, maintenance, space management, security, reception, shipping & receiving, core resources, environmental health & safety and building sustainability programs.


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