Energy Hog to Sustainable Hub: Technological, Programmatic, and Spatial Innovations That Moved the Needle

Marvin Kemp, Design Collective Architects
Casey Ross, Burdette, Koehler, Murphy & Associates

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A 140,000-square-foot building in Wilmington, Delaware, had a relatively sordid history. Home to an R&D arm of a large chemical manufacturer, the building was left empty when its tenant shifted focus, leaving its intended use no longer pertinent and rendering the structure useless. It would be several years before fresh eyes would see the potential of this building, reawakening its capabilities with new technologies and a sustainable approach. For owners, architects, and facility mangers who struggle with the practicality of incorporating environmentally-beneficial technology into outdated facilities, this presentation is for you.

Built in the 1980s, this building was constructed to perform optimally, regardless of how much energy it might use. When rediscovered by a group of partners hoping to create a multi-dimensional, resource-rich accelerator space, they knew a transformation of space should only be achieved through an energy-saving approach. This presentation will show and tell the story of the Delaware Innovation Space, a sustainable and energy-efficient lab space that proves environmental awareness does not need to be sacrificed in the creation of customized work spaces.

While many accelerator spaces use open lab environments to attract potential users, this space needed to create more private workspaces, as chemistry-based users need to protect their intellectual property. The project architects bolstered environmental sustainability to the site through occupancy-based lighting controls, reduction in exhaust and outside airflow, the integration of hoods and sensors, and protecting the structure from heat loss. In addition, the team incorporated programmatic shifts into the space itself, creating smart collaborative spaces. These changes updated the building spatially, as well as sustainably, with cutting edge technologies such as HVAC equipment focused on heat-generating hot-spots, occupancy-based presence sensors, and perimeter heating with sensory-based activation.

Through the cutting-edge interpretation of what an accelerator space could look like, an old environmentally taxing structure became a creative hub with 100,000 square feet of multi-use lab space. This presentation will specify programmatic and spatial integrations that moved the needle from energy hog to sustainability hotbed. It will outline what to look for in a project partner, how to break out of the "innovation space" default and re-frame thinking to ensure the end user matches the spatial design and incorporated amenities, and present up-to-date metrics used to measure success on multi-year users and innovation space applications.

Learning Objectives

  • Realize older buildings can become more environmentally sustainable than they might appear, and making them sustainable doesn't have to break the bank;
  • Learn that customizing workstations in both spatial design and energy incorporation can be achieved practically and within a reasonable budget;
  • Walk away with a list of "quick hits" of implementable changes they can make to current structures, or renovation projects, allowing projects to become more energy efficient; and
  • Learn how sustainable design can be accomplished in a way that does not intrude or infringe on work process product and can mesh seamlessly with projected design.


Marvin focuses on new construction and complex renovations principally for the higher education and STEM markets and the design and construction of life sciences, research, and student housing facilities. Since 2005, Marvin has given over 45 talks, including six presentations at CONSTRUCT, eight at CSI National, and presentations for the National Association of Women in Construction and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories.

Casey specializes in buildings and building systems. He has extensive experience designing science and technology, healthcare, commercial, government, and educational facilities. His responsibilities include designing heating and chilled water infrastructure systems, including district steam and chilled water systems, and secondary (airside) HVAC systems and plumbing systems. Casey brings a cross-discipline understanding on how building systems operate and interact.


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