Major focus of sustainability in the construction of the Neurosciences Research Building – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

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The facility is on track for LEED Gold certification


The Neurosciences Research Building under construction on the University of Washington Medical Campus promises great discoveries in an environmentally friendly building that meets sustainability goals. The completed structure will house energy-efficient, low-energy research freezers in the laboratories; electric charging stations in the parking garage; And many other elements that focus on sustainability.

The 11-story, 609,000-square-foot building at 4370 Duncan Ave. The medical campus is on track to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. LEED is a green building rating program that provides a framework for healthy, high-efficiency, and lower-cost buildings. LEED Gold certification is the next highest rating.

“The design of the building was important to ensuring efficient use of space and minimizing energy and impact on the carbon footprint,” said Melissa Rockwell Hopkins, associate vice chancellor for operations and facilities management at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “We recognized early on the importance of reducing a building’s impact on the environment. In designing this building, we worked hard to reduce the use of materials, water and electricity while maintaining energy efficiency and without compromising anything needed to support the valuable research that will take place in the Neurosciences Research Building.”

Researchers use ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers to store chemicals, enzymes, bacteria and other samples. About a third of the labs at the facility will have the most energy efficient ULT freezer on the market, which uses only half the electricity of standard ULT freezers. A standard ULT freezer uses as much energy as a single-family home.

Computer-controlled airflow systems will create a safe and healthy workspace and reduce energy use in the building, said Rockwell Hopkins, associate dean for operations and facilities. In addition, for the first time on a medical campus, the research building will include all LED (light-emitting diode) lighting fixtures, which are known for their energy efficiency. Also, limiting the facility’s water use will be low-flow bathrooms on the first floor for employees who ride their bikes to work; low flush toilets and taps throughout the premises; and settings on high-performance lab equipment that reduce water use.

Employees tend to work best in a quiet environment, so sustainability efforts will also focus on reducing building noise. For example, new specifications regarding door seals and wall construction will limit sound bouncing back from mechanical equipment in a building. In addition, noise-reducing materials for interior walls and doors will reduce the transmission of sounds from neighboring spaces.

Shanna Schipper, construction performance consultant at Affiliated Engineers Inc. And LEED Building Expert: “Audio-related complaints are the #1 complaint of building occupants.” She consulted on issues to improve the building’s LEED rating. “In a concert hall, you want to feel the sound. That’s not the case in a research lab. So we want to limit the transmission of sound in a building like this — people want to be able to have private conversations.”

The café on the third floor will connect to a large rooftop terrace that can be used as a staff gathering and event space. Umbrellas and trees, such as elms, junipers, and magnolias, will generate shade to help reduce heat produced by buildings in urban areas during the hotter months. This heat contributes to higher daytime temperatures, lower nighttime cooling, and increased air pollution.

Matt Miller

Ironworkers Curtis Williams and Jason Johnson, both of Local 396, installed bar windows in the northeast corner of the Neurosciences Research Building. Ribbon windows—windows that form a horizontal band across the building—break up the facade and discourage bird strikes.

Millions of birds die in the United States each year after crashing into buildings, especially structures with extensive glass roofs. Buildings in St. Louis, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, pose a greater problem for birds because the area is one of the most active flight paths in America for annual migration to the north and south.

While designing the Neurosciences Research Building, Rockwell-Hopkins and other members of the building’s project team were pleased to learn through meetings with Anne Tieber, curator of birds at the Saint Louis Zoo, that elements incorporated into the building’s design would help reduce the risk of bird mortality. For example, sheet metal and strip windows—windows that form a horizontal band across a building, breaking up its facade—are expected to help discourage bird strikes.

Preventive strategies are also used with regard to chemicals inside the building. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a national effort promoting the elimination of chemicals, antimicrobials, and flame retardants in health care, has guided the selection of furniture and interior finishes. The goal of this initiative is to avoid harmful chemicals that can exacerbate health problems and to identify alternatives that manufacturers can choose instead.

Furthermore, the 1,850-car garage is on track for Parksmart certification based on a rating system designed to promote low-emission transportation through innovative parking design and operation. In addition to 36 electric vehicle charging stations, the parking garage will have 100 covered bike racks and a bike repair station.

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