When he calls 150 Second Street a “smart” building, John Martin isn’t referring to the usual sophisticated elements that might be associated with a building awarded LEED Platinum certification. Martin, a principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects, achieved the coveted rating without them. “I call it a smart building not in the sense that it has, for example, solar shades that track the sun. We don’t have that. We don’t even have a green roof,” Martin says of the three-story laboratory building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We tried to make the most of reducing energy consumption, reducing material use, reducing construction time by just being as smart as we could about how we put the building together.” To share the brainpower behind the building, Martin takes us on a tour.


Located on what Martin calls “a pretty clean brownfield site, if there is such a thing,” 150 Second Street is within walking distance of Cambridge’s life-science-research epicenter Kendall Square. With a robust number of new tenants moving into the area—while the likes of Google, Amazon, and Microsoft feed the area’s reputation as an IT hub—it wasn’t long after 150 Second Street became available that its lead tenant, biosciences company Foundation Medicine, leased two thirds of the building. Another life-science research company, Bluebird Bio, leases approximately half of the third floor. Along with walkability, the site has also earned recognition for its public transit accessibility with two subway lines within a half mile.

Smart Systems

The building boasts a total energy cost savings of more than 30 percent, the result of a variety of energy-reduction strategies to handle its power-intensive program. Designing the building to be flexible for various tenant uses, the architects incorporated a high-performance HVAC system and an air-handler that uses multiunit FANWALL technology, electrically enhanced filtration technology, and a glycol runaround-energy-recovery system, in which associated controls activate or deactivate pumps and vary their speeds in order to minimize energy use while maximizing energy transfer.

Selective Daylight

The high-performance envelope is designed to take advantage of different solar orientations. Along with south-facing windows featuring aluminum sunshades, another factor that increased the building’s R-values was the building’s use of less glass. “We maximized the glass for daylight penetration, but minimized the quantity to avoid putting glass where we didn’t need it,” Martin says. Upper transom panels bring light deep into the space, and translucent vertical panels at each module scatter the light, diffusing it around the space.

Web Structure

Martin credits the engineers for devising an innovative steel structural system, which helped to save on material costs. Rather than your standard-rolled steel I-beam, they devised an open web-beam steel truss, which allows for piping and ducts to be pushed into the same zone as the steel, reducing the overall floor-to-floor height. Typically, a lab building might have a floor-to-floor height of about 15 feet; 150 Second Street is about 14 feet.

Subtle Design

As Kendall Square grows toward Cambridge’s residential areas, addressing noise concerns is key. So, additional acoustical treatments were added to the rooftop penthouse, which also was pushed further back than originally planned—not only to dampen mechanical equipment noise, but also to remedy massing concerns. To ensure that the building’s massing and materials were neighborhood appropriate, the architects designed the L-shaped building to read as three distinct volumes through varying material choices, most notably, a fiber-cement planking, which “created a wonderful new materiality for the building,” Martin says.