A television studio is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of sustainable building design. Yet the Walt Disney Company has set an enterprise-wide goal of LEED Silver for all of its facilities since 2005. Now, ESPN, the megalith of sports broadcasting and part of the Disney family of subsidiaries, has taken the torch of green design and is shining it brightly across its 125-acre campus in Bristol, Connecticut. Digital Center 2, the company’s new 194,000-square-foot television production facility, is as high-tech as they come and showcases the clever design maneuvers needed to take the wattage out of the broadcast industry without sacrificing punch.
With four new broadcast studios, six production control rooms, and a kaleidoscopic array of moving, touchscreen, and 3-D displays, Digital Center 2 will take fans into the game in a way that has never been done before. DC-2, as it is known to staff, is the new home of SportsCenter, ESPN’s flagship program. But for John Cistulli, ESPN’s senior director for global construction and facilities engineering, it is the pinnacle of a career spent perfecting the company’s behind-the-scenes mission critical infrastructure and operations, while simultaneously working to bring energy efficiency to the table.
“Sustainability is important to ESPN, and we wanted to show that even a production facility—which, by nature, uses a lot of energy—could be an example of sustainability,” says Cistulli, an ESPN lifer and trained engineer. Cistulli worked his way up from the broadcast engineering crew when ESPN first went on air in 1979 and has championed the “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethic at ESPN, which is now woven into every fold of the organization, right down to the compostable plates in the employee cafeteria. Over the past five years, Cistulli has marshalled DC-2 down the path to LEED certification, from concept to construction—a trek, he says, that has not always been easy.
HLW Charts the Course
“TV studios are typically energy-intensive buildings,” says John Gering, managing partner at HLW International, the New York-based firm that designed DC-2. Joseph Calabrese, HLW’s LEED-accredited director of engineering, adds that such facilities “are even more aggressive in their technical requirements than a hospital.” To create the magic of television, broadcast studios need a high degree of isolation from the outside world, which in the past has translated into immense fortresses designed with only the end product in mind. “The question for architects becomes, ‘How do we design this type of facility and not make it look and feel like a bunker?’” Gering says. “People working in 24/7 facilities need access to sunlight when they exit a technical environment.”
With 20 hours of live sports broadcasting each day, ESPN can’t afford any technical hiccups. DC-2 is fed by two separate utility feeds that enter the ESPN campus from opposite directions and has its own 16-megawatt emergency generator to sustain mission critical systems. HLW also designed an ESPN facility in Los Angeles that has the capacity to back up the Bristol operation in the event of a natural disaster. These thick layers of redundancy are what make live TV possible, but such programming demands can be challenging for architects committed to a sleek, slender, green design aesthetic that pulls them in opposite directions. DC-2 bucks this trend with its efficient use of space and streamlined appearance.
“We couldn’t find any energy savings in the equipment rack rooms,” says Cistulli of the studio’s core technical systems and biggest power hogs. But the team was able to take a few big bites out of DC-2’s energy pie from other places, and lots of little ones, to reach the LEED benchmark.
In the past, ESPN used incandescent bulbs exclusively for studio lighting, guzzling electrons to the tune of 50 watts per square foot of studio space. The team scoured the market for LED lights to find an alternative that met ESPN’s strict requirements for production quality. Their diligence paid off with an LED system that pulls less than 15 watts per square foot—a 70 percent reduction.
The next big chunk was a high reflectivity roof membrane that knocked out another 24 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. Powersmith high-efficiency transformers saved an additional 675,000 kWh, and variable frequency drive controls on HVAC system fans and motors were used throughout the facility to further ratchet down energy use.
In the realm of water conservation, HLW devised a number of innovative strategies, like pumping air-handler condensate back into the cooling towers to reduce reliance on the municipal water supply. They also utilized site-specific features, such as a groundwater-collection system that takes advantage of the high water table in the area to provide non-potable water for the cooling towers, as well as for flushing toilets.
A Milestone for Media
“There is no way that a fan watching SportsCenter will realize any of this,” Cistulli says, “but there are indirect effects.” The energy-efficient design cuts operating costs, funds that ESPN can reroute into programming, “bolstering what we put on the air and adding value to the broadcast,” he says.
There is no doubt that ESPN is the premier sportscast organization in the world, reaching more than 100 million viewers each month in the United States alone, yet it continues to raise its own bar. Cistulli says DC-2 is so high-tech that it is likely the most advanced TV facility in the country. “DC-2 has established a new benchmark in media production,” says Keith Hanadel, HLW’s broadcast design director. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this is one of the most exciting buildings I’ve ever worked on.”
Will DC-2’s example become the norm as the next generation of media consumers grows up expecting the industry to tread lightly on the planet? When Calabrese took his nine-year-old son Michael, who is a huge hockey fan, for a tour of the facility, Michael’s review was succinct: “Dad, this place is incredible.”