Location Mountain View, CA
Size 50,000 ft²
Program Office space
Select Awards White House GreenGov Award 2011, Lean Clean and Green; ENR California, Best Projects of 2011 Award of Merit
No other name is as synonymous with the modern day sustainability movement as William McDonough. The architect, author, designer, and founding principal of William McDonough + Partners is world-renowned for his creation of cradle-to-cradle design, an economic, industrial, and social framework developed with chemist Michael Braungart that helps create systems that are both energy efficient and waste free. So, when planning began on the new NASA Sustainability Base—the agency’s new facility at the entrance of the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California—no one seemed a better fit than McDonough + Partners. NASA wanted the facility to showcase its culture of innovation and exceed LEED Platinum standards. The result is unlike any government building ever created.
The 50,000-square-foot, crescent-shaped structure was inspired by the wind tunnels of the NASA Ames Campus and images of NASA satellites, McDonough says. Aesthetically, the building responds to a half-century of NASA innovation, but its systems also were the result of a close collaboration between the architect and client, with the structure featuring NASA innovations originally engineered for space travel. For example, the base’s intelligent control technology was developed as part of NASA’s Aviation Safety Program to provide guidance control for aircrafts. In the Sustainability Base, the technology will be used to achieve building zone control with sensors providing real-time data about the airflow through the building.
Designed for Disassembly
A majority of the materials within the building are recyclable or recycled, salvaged, or rapidly renewable, but the structure also was designed for disassembly, so it could easily be dismantled or repaired in the case of a large seismic event. An external braced frame made of lightweight insulated metal was chosen to reduce the amount of steel in the building, and it also reduced the amount of material needed for construction. McDonough + Partners used a rigorous materials selection process for the Sustainability Base with Cradle to Cradle-certified products being chosen when it was cost effective. Materials designed for technical and biological cycles and materials that are beneficial to human health and ecological health were also chosen in every instance.
Architect William McDonough + Partners
Architect of Record / Landscape Architect of Record / Engineer AECOM
Daylighting/Lighting/Energy Consultant Loisos + Ubbelohde
General Contractor Swinerton
Design Landscape Architect Siteworks Studio
Materials Assessment McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry
Certification LEED Platinum
Materials Cradle to Cradle-certified when possible; recyclable or recycled, salvaged, and rapidly renewable
Water Forward-osmosis water recycling system
Energy Ground-source heat pumps, radiant heating and cooling, intelligent controls, high-performance lighting, solar photovoltaic/thermal panels
Landscape Native, drought-resistant plants, flowers, and trees
Native to Place
The cradle-to-cradle philosophy goes beyond avoiding environmental destruction; it advocates for design that is beneficial and regenerative for nature and humans. The Sustainability Base is no different. Generating 100 percent of its power and consuming 90 percent less water than a building of similar size, the structure and its surrounding landscape is designed ‘native to place,’ meaning it is making the most of the natural resources in its location while also blending into the surrounding environment and culture. The building’s orientation means that for 325 days out of the year, no artificial lighting is needed during working hours. The landscape surrounding the base also features native plants, flowers, and trees, a majority of which are drought resistant
Renewable Energy Sources
The central energy goal for the facility was to create a system that solely used renewable forms of energy. Although natural ventilation and daylighting were relied upon heavily, the Sustainability Base is equipped with active heating and cooling systems, including four ground-source heat pumps and radiant heating and cooling, the latter of which results in 40 percent less energy use than a typical system. The structure also features intelligent, high-performing lighting systems, including LED fixtures and a sophisticated lighting control system that automatically dims lights to adjust according to the time of day. The building’s 432 solar photovoltaic/thermal panels generate up to 30 percent of the building’s energy.
The building has a forward-osmosis water recycling system that was designed specifically for the International Space Station—and is now being used in California. Essentially, the system uses water in continuous loops, with greywater from sinks and showers being treated for reuse in toilets and urinals. The system is capable of purifying water to drinking-water quality, but the Sustainability Base will only be using cleansed water to irrigate surrounding landscape due to California regulations that limit the use of treated wastewater. NASA is, however, monitoring the technology and testing it in hopes of using it in space.