Total Design for Sustainability

    Using advanced computer modeling to integrate the design of the building systems and façade, Arup significantly reduced operational costs and improved energy efficiency. Photo: © Warren Jagger

    Arup recently celebrated the opening of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC) at Northeastern University in Boston. Architecture firm Payette selected Arup to provide mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering, as well as energy modeling, façade consulting, sustainability, and lighting design services for the 234,000-square-foot project. The integrated design process resulted in a high-performance laboratory facility for Northeastern.

    “We are extremely pleased to be a partner in such an extraordinary project at Northeastern University.” said Julian Astbury, Arup project manager. “Sharing Arup’s resources and expertise in sustainability and technology with the team made the experience a true collaborative process — a work of total design.”

    A light-filled atrium separates the laboratory space from the main office areas. Photo: © Warren Jagger

    Ambitious energy goals

    “The facilities department at Northeastern wanted the most energy-efficient building possible,” said Mark Walsh-Cooke, Arup principal in charge. By using advanced energy modeling software and building information modeling (BIM) early in the design process and holding biweekly workshop meetings with the architects and university representatives, Arup empowered the client to make better, more informed decisions about the design, enabling them to reach their sustainability goals.

    The Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code calls for new buildings to perform 20 percent better than required by base code. The ISEC surpasses this requirement, achieving 33 percent energy-cost savings over code and 75 percent energy savings compared with typical laboratory performance. To accomplish this, Arup engineered several major energy conservation measures.

    The cascade air system is the biggest contributor to energy savings at the ISEC. “This technology was new to the client and contractor, so our advanced energy modeling software studies were critical,” said Astbury.

    In a typical scenario, laboratories have a dedicated HVAC system, an expensive feature to construct and operate. At the ISEC, the cascade system recovers conditioned air from the offices and atrium of the building, then transfers it to the lab, saving energy and reducing costs.

    Arup used performance and life-cycle analysis to optimize the façade design, ensuring both occupant comfort and energy efficiency. The northern part of the ISEC complex, which houses the energy-intensive labs, is the focus of thermal improvements; at the southern exposure (where low-energy functions such as offices are located), triple-glazed windows and a shading system work to maximize daylight while minimizing energy consumption.

    Using active chilled beam technology significantly reduces the energy consumption compared with conventional air conditioning. In this system, supply air to the space is directed through nozzles on either side of a heat exchanger coil, creating a pressure difference. This pressure difference pulls air from the space over the coil, cooling or heating it, and then mixes with the supply air to be delivered to the space. Arup’s comfort-modeling software balanced the downdraft and the ambient temperature to ensure a pleasant environment.

    Arup designed a hydronic run-around coil system to recover energy from the lab exhaust air to precondition the outdoor air, targeting the heating as needed to either the offices or labs, and optimizing the efficiency of the system. The coils are designed to minimize the size of the fan motor and extract as much energy as practical before the exhaust is discharged.

    To optimize the efficiency of the chiller and heating system, Arup installed a heat-recovery chiller, which simultaneously generates heating hot water and chilled water. This reduces the run-time of the boilers for laboratory re-heat in the summer and shoulder seasons and for pre-heat of the domestic and laboratory hot water systems.

    The winter outdoor air heating demand to the atrium is reduced by using a passive solar collector to preheat the outdoor air using radiant energy from the sun.

    The ISEC will be open to outside researchers in the interrelated fields of computer science, basic sciences, health sciences, and engineering. Attracting talent from beyond the campus raises the university’s profile and diversifies the academic leadership and curriculum.

    The project benefits the surrounding community as well. A pedestrian bridge (currently in design by Arup’s structural engineers in collaboration with Payette) spans the commuter-rail tracks to allow residents, workers, and students to easily and safely navigate their way through the site.

    Watch a video about design of the Northeastern University Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex at

    Information provided by Arup (