Laboratory Design Newsletter 2011 Selected Abstract


Fostering the Interconnection of Education and Research in a High-Performance Environmental Sciences Laboratory

Lehigh University's Science and Technology Environment Policy Society Building

Thomas Kirk, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Joseph DelPozzo, WSP Flack + Kurtz

Providing new laboratory space for research and teaching scientists can be a daunting planning and programming challenge due to unique areas of focus and high technical standards. When the laboratory space in question is also meant to stand as the first green building on a bucolic mountainside campus, this challenge is further intensified. This was the task placed before the design team for Lehigh University's new Science Technology Environment Policy and Society (STEPS) laboratory building, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

When adequately addressing sustainability goals, there are no better experts to collaborate with than the environmental scientists who are on front lines of climate change and who also happen to be the intended occupants for this new research and teaching facility. Add to this mix a venerable university simultaneously discovering the benefits of integrating green principles into every facet of its operations and these challenges are quickly transformed into exciting opportunities to conserve resources, eliminate historical boundaries between classrooms and laboratories, and educate the community beyond the confines of the new building.

Image of the interior

One of the missions of this new research and teaching facility is to bridge the renowned fieldwork of Lehigh University's environmental scientists with more accessible pursuits, such as anthropology, political science, and history. This type of cross-discipline effort will yield graduates who are well versed in the methods and formulas of research. It will also produce articulate advocates who can go forth in a variety of public arenas, expanding the knowledge of this increasingly important topic.

The design team utilized an interconnected design process to achieve a successful building project that celebrates its surrounding community, while also providing a strong identity for this vital group of interdisciplinary scientists. The interconnected process brought together the owner, user group, and full design team for a series of ongoing charrettes held throughout the schematic design and design development phases. This process ensured that decisions were properly weighed and acted upon in a manner that maximized the benefit to the university with respect to both operating and life cycle costs. Even though STEPS is a LEED® Gold project, the owner was keenly interested in a building that would go beyond the checklists of a typical green building framework and communicate the intentions of the building's mission, while also making a statement about people, their importance, and their ability to affect change.

Image of a laboratory

The design team worked closely with the principal investigators within Lehigh University's Earth and Environmental Science and Civil and Environmental Engineering departments, who proved instrumental in collaborating with the design team for specific technical attributes of the new facility, including the selection of the enthalpy wheels, methods for monitoring the building systems for future internal research projects centered on energy and resource consumption, and future operational needs. Through the use of the enthalpy wheels, variable speed drive equipment, highly insulated walls and roofs including a thermally enhancing vegetative roof, horizontal and vertical sun shades, fritted and tinted glazing, daylight harvesting systems, radiant floors, and high velocity low speed fans, the STEPS building achieved a 23 percent reduction in energy use over the baseline case. By installing dual-flush and low-flush fixtures and finding areas to reduce process water usage, Lehigh will see a 40 percent reduction in water use for the project.

A spirit of stewardship, collaboration, and advocacy guided the design team throughout the project and created a place conducive to both serious scholarship as well as impromptu social interactions that enrich the everyday experience.


Thomas Kirk is an associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), where he focuses on projects for academic institutions that embrace sustainable design issues. While at BCJ, Mr. Kirk has contributed to large projects for regional educational institutions, including Lehigh University and Princeton University, as well as award-winning projects such as the Field House for Germantown Friends School and Haverford College's Gardner Integrated Athletic Center. Mr. Kirk recently completed Lehigh University's new environmental science laboratory building, known as STEPS, which is pursuing LEED Gold status. Mr. Kirk has presented the firms' work at regional and national conferences, such as the Ball State Greening of Campus and Society of College and University Planners, as well as at U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and ASHRAE events. Mr. Kirk is a member of the American Institute of Architects, USGBC, and the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.

Joseph DelPozzo is a senior vice president with WSP Flack + Kurtz, responsible for the design of building engineering systems. Mr. DelPozzo brings a value-based approach to systems engineering and implements a collaborative style that embraces the entire design team in order to develop creative concepts that respond to the owner's goals and architectural goals of the project. Mr. DelPozzo's knowledge of complex mechanical systems allows him to speak to all engineering disciplines and therefore foster integrated design and maintain sustainable project aspirations. Mr. DelPozzo has led project teams on the firms' most significant science facilities, including the STEPS building at Lehigh University, the Van Andel Institute II, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and the award-winning Michael F. Price Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Mr. DelPozzo is certified by the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions and is a member of the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, American Society for Healthcare Engineering, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.