Location Pasadena, CA
Size 34,000 square feet
Completed 2012 (expected)
Program Laboratories, classrooms, meeting rooms, and office space

It’s rare that a structure’s capabilities coincide with its character and intent, but California Institute of Technology’s Jorgensen Lab renovation will transform a 1970s-era computer building into a leading-edge laboratory that houses not one, but two initiatives advancing green technology.

Caltech, in Pasadena, California, has long been home to progressive minds in the fields of science and technology, and applying those disciplines to environmental issues is a priority on campus. “Sustainability is important at Caltech,” says John Onderdonk, Caltech’s director of sustainability programs. “Our core mission is research and education and using [them] to address the fundamental challenges facing humanity.” In addition to Caltech’s attitude towards green technology as an environmentally responsible imperative, the institution also seeks to achieve positive financial benefits through energy savings. This philosophy is best exemplified through its revolving loan fund, which exists to pay for energy-conservation projects in existing buildings. Any monetary amount accumulated through energy savings from efficient renovations is reinvested into Caltech’s endowment. “Every dollar we save is one we can put towards education and research,” Onderdonk says.


Owner California Institute of Technology
Architect John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects
Structural Engineer Saiful/Bouquet
MEP Engineer Buro Happold

For the Jorgensen Lab renovation, Caltech enlisted the services of Los Angles-based John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects (JFAK), in part for its experience in sustainable design and prior work on the campus. “We enjoy working with Caltech because the projects are so interesting—the institute is not only technically proficient, it is an imaginative and creative place,” says JFAK principal (and MIT alumnus) John Friedman.

The first sustainable decision on the project was to renovate—as opposed to tearing down the old building. “The greenest building we can build is the building we already have,” Onderdonk says. Lighting required one of the biggest changes. When the original structure was built, it incorporated large sunshades that blocked virtually all sunlight from entering the building and gave the building its nickname, “The Bunker.” These shades were replaced by high-efficiency glass walls and skylights that fill the building with natural light. Which completely changed the interior’s personality, Friedman says: “These labs are going to be a great place to work in.” The interior alterations succeeded. The project is in the LEED review process and is anticipating Gold certification, having obtained 10 out of the possible 15 points for Indoor Environmental Quality. Other high-priority improvements centered on energy and water consumption, with 12 additional points coming from the Energy and Atmosphere category.


Certification LEED Gold (expected)
Lighting High-efficiency glass walls replace oversized sunshades to provide extensive daylighting
Education A new pavilion displays water and energy usage to students and the public
Pavilion Roof Caltech’s first living roof reduces runoff and provides urban habitat
Tenants Two energy-research initiatives work toward wind-energy optimization and the creation of a chemical fuel from artificial photosynthesis

Outside, a new feature of the building is a pavilion designed to communicate both the building’s research and its energy savings to students and guests through five flat-screen displays. The space also is used as an open area to give talks and lectures. Topping this pavilion is the campus’s first living roof—bound to receive attention given its location adjacent to one of the busier quads—which will serve as a symbol and a visual representation of the changes that have been made.

The most compelling thing about the Jorgensen Lab is that the building itself perpetuates the spirit of the work being done inside—and that of the campus as a whole. “The purpose of the research center is to find alternative energy sources, and we wanted to put forth a message that we are doing similarly innovative things in our own building,” says Mark Trojanowski, Caltech’s project manager for the Jorgensen renovation. The two programs calling Jorgensen home are the Resnick Institute and the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP).

The Resnick Institute focuses on applying science and new technology to the development of sustainable solutions, including research into wind-energy optimization through turbine placement and the development of high-performance thermoelectrics. JCAP is a centralized research initiative dedicated to trying to find the materials that will make artificial photosynthesis possible. Its goal is to find a way to get chemical fuel directly from the sun, the way a plant does, instead of the electricity that standard photovoltaic arrays provide now. Chemical fuels are easier to store and transport and work more seamlessly within our current energy infrastructure. “Caltech has a reputation for being a leader in science technology,” Onderdonk says. “We’re trying to be equally world class in building, operating, and maintaining our physical campus. These buildings are a symbol of that commitment.”

Jorgensen Lab at California Institute of Technology