High Performance Design for Speculative Laboratory Buildings

Steve Williamson, BuroHappold Engineering

The presentation pertains to a developer-lead, high-rise, speculative, laboratory building in the Bay Area. The business model for the project is to provide a highly flexible, cold shell space to accommodate a range of potential tenants and provide ‘best-in-class' facilities. Sustainability and high-performance are also key drivers for the project.

The presentation starts by identifying the broad range of tenant design criteria that could be applicable within speculative laboratory building. We explore the typical ventilation and cooling requirements for chemistry and biology laboratories, vivarium, and chemical storage and how these requirements are evolving as equipment becomes more efficient.

Next, we move on to defining the recipe for low-energy, high-performance lab buildings. Laboratory buildings by their nature are high energy consumers, efficient mechanical equipment is fundamental to reducing the energy footprint (EUI) of the building.

The unique challenges with a speculative laboratory building is that many of the ingredients for low-energy design are deferred to the tenant. The design team is left to focus on what they have direct control over, such as building massing, orientation, and envelope performance. Once all of these passive design measures are optimized, the team can look at how to streamline the distribution strategies for the future MEP systems and how efficient, internal spatial planning can impact the energy performance of future tenant equipment to help achieve the overall project goals and aspirations. A specific example includes minimizing friction losses in ventilation systems through simplified distribution.

Finally, we demonstrate how we were able to leverage Building Integrated Modeling (BIM) to optimize the distribution strategies, minimize energy consumption, and assist with testing for flexibility.

Learning Objectives

  • Understanding the challenges faced in designing high-rise, speculative, laboratory / research facility buildings to serve the evolving needs of the biotech industry.
  • Understanding the recipe for a low energy, flexible, high performance laboratory / research facility.
  • How can a design team apply this recipe to a large, high-rise, speculative, laboratory building and maximize our ability to influence the building performance.
  • Utilizing Building Integrated Modeling (BIM) as a tool to assist with spatial planning and optimization of energy performance.


Steve Williamson is a Partner in BuroHappold Engineering's San Francisco office. He has a wide range of global experience in both buildings and large scale masterplanning, as he was the driving force behind the development of Architect Engineering's sustainability team in the UK. As a partner and principal Mr. Williamson has provided leadership on a number of multi-disciplinary projects including Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco, Marks and Spencer Headquarters - London, Herman Miller European Headquarters - Chippenham, UK, Puorto Nuovo - Milan, Torre Iberdrola - Bilbao, Riyadh Airport - KSA, Tottenham Hotspur Football Stadium - London, Al Maryah Island East Walk - Abu Dhabi, and Eden Project, Cornwall, England. Mr. Williamson is highly regarded as a creative collaborator by many esteemed clients and architects including Hines, Marks and Spencer, Eden Project, Rogers Stirk Harbour, Grimshaw, Pelli Clarke Pelli, Flad Architects and Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF). His work on Eden Project won two national awards in 2006. Steve has given talks on sustainable design at a number of international events including, RIBA - Future High risk, Corenet - Sustainable office, Eco build London - Sustainable Middle East Projects, US Green buildings conference Toronto - Beyond LEED.


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