Getting From Sustainable Design to Responsible Design: The Transformation of Old Buildings into Resilient Laboratories

Victoria David, Iron Horse Architects
Linda Morrison, Ambient Energy

The existing stock of Federal and University Laboratories is aged and decrepit and poorly supportive of 21st century scientific endeavors. The difficulties in renovating these older buildings become evident once one begins redesigning for new space using current energy codes, Federal mandates that require adherence to LEED certification, Federal Guiding Principles AND Labs21's EPC. The budget dilemmas in renovating these older buildings becomes evident once one evaluates building systems and assesses which components need code compliance, replacement or reconfiguration versus refurbishment.

Regardless of whether or not renovation projects are packaged as smaller, discreet task orders or large scale gut and renovation projects, many renovation projects don't pursue LEED certification and try to stay under that Radar. Several factors appear to be responsible for this, some are more complex than others. Budgets are determined and submitted for project approval years in advance of the actual project start. There is also poor historical documentation available for field investigations and limited access to occupied lab spaces for field surveys. We will highlight issues that affect sustainability and introduce tools that can enhance a more positive outcome.

While there is a growing awareness that a checklist approach can be confusing, unnecessarily complicated and have conflicting requirements, we have prepared a checklist that might prove helpful to project managers that describes constraints to look out for and possibly make efforts to avoid these pitfalls. How does can the LEED certification process affect the desire and commitment to revamp, revive and rejuvenate these important structures? A major challenge is reconciling a pre-established budget with current users' design requirements.

We will look at some recent renovation budgets, how they evolved to support the actual field conditions of the project, and provide some recommendations for future projects.

NIST Boulder has completed 3 phases of a major gut and renovation of Building 1. This is an excellent example of challenges faced and lessons learned for a major renovation attempting to pursue LEED certification.

  • As designed and bid, creative design opportunities were often difficult to achieve due to unknown site conditions; materials originally selected had to be changed out
  • While originally registered as LEED for New Construction, Project pursued LEED-CI with due to phased nature of project.
  • Tenant info/costs for furniture was difficult to obtain and document
  • Implemented enhanced Cx but because CxA was part of design team
  • Difficulties finding material replacement for specified materials that didn't meet credit criteria

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss how the sustainability approach to renovation projects needs to differ from greenfield, ground up projects
  • Discuss how the differing requirements create confusion, cost money and frustrate an otherwise noble process; Provide a checklist to provide opportunities to avoid pitfalls
  • Present Lessons Learned and opportunities to meet budget challenges
  • Explain how a more integrative, inclusive, approach can provide Responsibly Designed project outcomes


With over 35 years experience, Ms. David has planned and designed research, development and manufacturing facilities for a variety of clients nationally and internationally, including advanced technology,health care, corporate and non-profit research and development, academic, analytical and medical device scientific fields. She has participated on national committees - including LEEDS for Labs -dedicated to disseminating information on industry best practices for laboratory planning and design

Linda Morrison, PE is Building Performance Engineer Team Leader and Principal at Ambient Energy with twenty-two years of experience in sustainable design, analysis of energy, renewables, and carbon for energy and operational efficiency. She is a Board Member of the Colorado Chapter of the International Institute of Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL). She has assisted over a dozen clients to design net zero energy facilities.


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