The limestone and glass walls of MIT's Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex (BCSC) glint white and silver in the sun. But the complex, also known as Building 46, is really quite green.
The world's largest center for neuroscience research, BCSC opened in 2005. Its high-performance building envelope, gray water reuse, exhaust-fan heat recovery, and daylight-balanced lighting have earned it a coveted ranking by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), making it one of the greenest buildings so far on the MIT campus. And newer buildings under construction could do even better.
Environmental imperatives such as global warming are spurring a renewed interest in sustainable architecture, and MIT is increasingly applying its own architectural and engineering expertise, such as virtual building design and energy-saving technologies, to its own infrastructure, making the Institute an emerging leader in green campus buildings.
"Sustainable buildings pay for themselves. Sustainable buildings please their occupants," says Leon R. Glicksman, professor of building technology and mechanical engineering and co-chair of the Campus Energy Task Force of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). "We are working hard to make them more widespread at MIT and use this as an example to other organizations."
Through use of targeted technology and a system called integrated design, MIT's newest buildings could end up using a third less energy than their conventional counterparts do. And because buildings are responsible for more than a third of our national energy consumption, says Glicksman, that is a significant number.
In 2001, MIT's Green Building Task Force set Institute-wide goals and standards aimed at conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "MIT was an early adopter of a green building policy and goals, and our expertise has evolved and strengthened over time," says Steven M. Lanou, deputy director for environmental sustainability and a member of the Campus Energy Task Force. "Our newest buildings — the MIT Sloan School of Management, NW35 [the new Ashdown House], and the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research — are expected to be the greenest to date."
For the new Koch building, Walter E. Henry, director of Facilities' Systems Engineering Group, and others modeled and tested airflow in laboratory fume hoods, which suck out noxious chemical fumes, to determine whether a drop in the velocity of the air entering the hoods would maintain their effectiveness. They found that a 20 percent reduction would keep the fume hoods safe while drastically reducing energy use.
Another significant marker of change is MIT's commitment to hold all its new construction and renovation up to scrutiny by the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System. LEED certifications of platinum, gold, and silver aim to encourage and accelerate global adoption of sustainable green building. All new construction and major renovations undertaken by MIT since 2001 have or are expected to meet or exceed the LEED silver standard, Lanou says.
The MIT Sloan project is unlike any building project MIT has undertaken. From the start, a high level of green design was set as a goal; and in order to achieve that goal, the team adopted a version of the integrated design process, according to Henry. In the typical design process, work is linear, so that the different disciplines work one after the other. The integrated process includes all of the architects and engineers from the beginning so they can more effectively work as a team. From this new process, the designers for the MIT Sloan project were able to develop what is probably the greenest building at MIT.
The design team of the Koch Institute, under construction on Main Street, also incorporated aspects of integrated design. In addition to the low-flow fume hoods, the building will filter its stormwater en route to the Charles River, use reflective roof material, recover heat in the HVAC system, and recycle or salvage at least 75 percent of construction waste.
Among the features of NW35, the new graduate student housing at Pacific and Albany streets, are a stormwater management system, use of recycled materials, a reflective roof with provisions for future solar panels, and low-VOC paints and adhesives. MIT Sloan, the Koch Institute and the graduate dorm are expected to receive gold or silver LEED designations.
"As an institute built around innovation," says Lanou, "MIT has an obligation to demand and uphold the highest standards in environmentally friendly infrastructure."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 25, 2009 (download PDF).