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A study in green building on campus

New Sloan School of Management building benefits from an integrated design process
E62, the MIT Sloan School of Management's new building.
E62, the MIT Sloan School of Management's new building.

Like any ambitious construction project, the new MIT Sloan School of Management building has a story to tell — one that does not primarily revolve around architecture or technology, in spite of a striking façade and state-of-the-art classrooms. Instead, the story of E62, featuring the Joan and William A. Porter 1967 Center for Management Education, involves a decade-plus effort to design a building with the highest energy performance standards possible. While the larger campus celebrates the dedication of Sloan's new home, members of the team behind MIT’s “greenest” building discussed their accomplishment.

Integrated, not decorated

“We tried hard and I think succeeded, to get a building where the sustainability is baked in,” says Walt Henry, director of the Systems Engineering Group in the Department of Facilities. “It isn’t the frosting, but a fundamental part of how we designed the building.” John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management, recalls an old Sloan building where rusted windows admitted frigid gusts in winter and keenly appreciates “a very pleasant new place to work and teach.” He proudly notes E62’s tight building envelope with its triple insulated windows; carbon-dioxide sensors triggering fresh air flow; and secure underground bike parking to encourage cycling to school. Cindy Hill, MIT Sloan School Director of Sloan Capital Projects, particularly likes the first-floor gallery of the Porter Center, which contains a large, sunny dining space she always envisioned as the social “heart of the school.” She hopes students take in the terrazzo floor, which uses green and brown crushed glass from recycled beer bottles — a “beautiful reminder that sustainable is the way to go.” 

The new building does not sport conspicuous "whiz-bang" technology that some MIT visitors seem to expect — although a photovoltaic array is in the works. Sterman notes, “Our first priority was the highest building insulation you can achieve.” Henry adds that E62 was not intended “to show off the prowess of MIT research labs,” and that the building’s sustainable elements were designed “to be more felt than seen.” That does not mean innovation was lacking. In fact, in 1997, when MIT Sloan first took up the idea of creating a central home for its far-flung faculty, recalls Sterman, “we pushed to make the building as green as it could possibly be,” with the most advanced systems feasible. These green advocates were able to demonstrate that sustainable features were both best for the building and its occupants, and a sound investment.

Passion, persuasion and process

Meeting this challenge required years of collaboration, persistence and “passion,” according to Hill, an effort sustained through tough fiscal times that hindered fundraising, and through two MIT administrations. There were countless meetings, and not surprisingly, continual reviews of facts and numbers. “MIT is a data-driven place,” Sterman says. “You have to make the argument with data before people will act.”  

One strategic decision early in the evolution of the new building proved critical to this long and successful effort: the adoption of an integrated design process (IDP). In this approach to construction, all the stakeholders must coordinate their ideas from the very beginning, agreeing on a set of goals, and establishing a production scheme for achieving them. The IDP means a slower start-up for a building project, but because the give-and-take among players occurs at the earliest stages, costly mistakes can be avoided later in construction. Guided by Marc Rosenbaum of Energysmiths, an MIT group including Sterman, Hill and Henry, and the architects, lighting designers and engineers began meeting to map out aggressive energy performance goals for E62, and work them into the very fiber of the building.

Rosenbaum says that together they “looked at what was possible” for E62, and figured out ways to achieve what were for MIT unprecedented efficiency targets in cooling, heating, lighting and ventilation — always utilizing the most precise performance metrics. MIT had selected architecture firms (Moore Ruble Yudell and Bruner/Cott), and engineers (van Zelm Engineers) with a demonstrated interest and experience in energy performance, so there was an unusual degree of cooperation during the IDP, according to Henry. It was “really unique, because everyone was pulling in the same direction from the start.” Says Rosenbaum, “The success of these projects comes down to individuals — a competent team that really applies themselves to the task.” 

Hill, who admits “I didn’t know much about green then,” shuttled back and forth between the IDP team and school officials, describing such innovative technology as chilled beams for heating and cooling, a heat wheel for energy recovery, and automated window shades, and found “some people nervous and uneasy about being on the leading edge.” She had to “research, get information, make presentations,” and even then, sometimes, “everybody made a leap of faith.” Says Sterman, “We had to persuade people that building green was something important, that it would benefit people working in the building and Institute, not just save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

But does it cost more?

From the outset, there was concern that integrating green performance into Sloan's new home might add substantially to the project expense. “Are we getting the right thing for this kind of money?” Hill recalls sensing from administrators. Sterman gives former Dean Richard Schmalensee “credit for stepping up, and saying, ‘We’re going to do it anyway.’” In the end, in large part because of the thorough design process, the team found that high energy performance features would not amount to an additional expense and might in fact, save MIT money. When you do the detailed analysis and thinking up front, says Rosenbaum, “there will be fewer mistakes and costly changes later in the process.” The IDP actually “let us find better and cheaper solutions,” Sterman says. “A lot of people were skeptical,” he says, but “our building came in on time and on budget.” 

“They’re my heroes,” says MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa Stone. “These things take a long time, and we’re the beneficiaries of the fact that they were out there, working together to identify ways to have the highest energy performing building.” Although Stone arrived after the planning process, she has firmly grasped the “level of focus, conviction and insistence of all the interested parties — the people executing and those who would be consumers. It was an impressive collaborative process.”

Green dividends

After a partial year of occupancy, ongoing studies are validating predictions that going green also makes good business sense. “The numbers so far show great energy savings,” says Henry, something on the order of 43 percent less energy than another building meeting current construction code. E62 has exceeded its lighting goal of .85 watts of electrical energy per square foot of building; in heating, achieved the objective of 10 BTU per hour (measured on a frigid February day); and with cooling, surpassed the target of 1,000 square feet of building per ton of cooling. “Our models suggested we would use half the energy per square foot of floor space for lighting compared to a standard building, and a third the energy for heating and cooling … and so far, E62 is looking better than the benchmarks,” Sterman says. It “embodies all the things MIT wants in a building,” sums up Stone. It demonstrates “the kind of thinking and research MIT stands for” around energy issues, and that it is possible to design “beautiful and functional” facilities that save on energy costs and contribute to the long-term financial stability of the institution. The building is expected to be recognized with a strong Gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Although in its infancy, Sloan's new building has already begun to make its mark on current and upcoming campus construction. A sister Sloan building is under renovation, applying some of the same energy efficiency measures used in E62, and the recently completed Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research — with its emphasis on laboratory space — incorporates key energy conservation ideas. But beyond specific building techniques, E62 has important lessons for MIT. The Institute is now committed to using the integrated design process in its new projects, and emphasizing energy performance. Stone says, “this building demonstrates that it is not a good idea to design a beautiful building and then think about energy features, but that the thinking has to be integral from the outset.” Sterman adds even more forcefully, “There is no reason to build a building in a traditional way. It’s a sign of haste or laziness.” Concludes Henry, “If we can show that the building works well and that the incremental cost was small or none then we will have more support to follow the process for future buildings … We will never do better and make advances if we do what everyone has done before.”

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