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LEEDing the way

Building co-designed by MIT becomes first university research data center nationwide to earn LEED Platinum certification
The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC), the flagship building project of a five-university regional consortium that includes MIT, was formally presented a LEED Platinum certification for sustainable design on Oct. 29.

This makes the facility the first university research data center in the country to achieve LEED platinum rating.

LEED Platinum is currently the highest sustainability rating the U.S. Green Building Council awards to buildings or projects. To be certified LEED Platinum, a facility has to be assigned a certain number of sustainability credits in areas ranging from minimizing impacts on ecosystems to innovation in building energy systems.

Michael Kearns, MIT’s director of project management, who directed much of the MGHPCC construction spoke at a presentation ceremony for the LEED certification held at the MGHPCC. “This was truly a team effort and it is a great pleasure that we achieved Platinum certification,” he said. “The project brought a lot of smart, dedicated people together from five major universities to think about how to tackle a tricky problem in an innovative way. The result is a trend-setting project that MIT can be justifiably proud of.”

The award for this facility highlights a trend in MIT facilities development toward reducing the Institute’s environmental footprint, while increasing support for research and education activities.

The MGHPCC, located in Holyoke, Mass., was built to house growing needs at MIT and partner regional universities — Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University and UMass-Boston — for computing and big-data resources in many key research areas, ranging from economics to fundamental physics.

Research facilities today consume sizable amounts of electricity and generate corresponding heat that must be managed efficiently. Housing these facilities on university campuses presents construction and design challenges that can easily double a facility’s overall energy and emissions impact.

In recent years, two major off-campus, specialized research computing facilities have been developed for MIT use ( (The MGHPCC is the most recent of the two MIT off-campus facilities.) These provide a way for researchers to grow their big-data work, whilst managing energy use and exhaust heat impacts more effectively. Other universities, nationally and internationally, have been following a similar path.

Constructing the MGHPCC, which opened in November 2012, required significant environmental remediation (removal of pollution and contaminants) of a brownfield (former industrial) site; inclusion of an end-to-end power distribution and exhaust heat management system that reduces energy overhead by 50 percent or more over other systems; and investment in educational and outreach space that serves broader needs for the Holyoke community.

“Overall the MGHPCC epitomizes the spirit of MIT as a place where theory and practice work hand-in-hand to meet challenges,” says Chris Hill, director of Research Computing at MIT and a principal research engineer in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “The multi-university team that designed the facility and oversaw construction simultaneously improved capabilities to conduct high-end research involving big-computing and big-data at the same time as helping better manage environmental impacts."

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