Mountain View Voice

News - April 27, 2012

'Houston, we have a solution'

Local NASA building receives platinum rating for green design

by Daniel DeBolt

It's safe to say that no other federal building has inspired the sort of language heard at a dedication last week for "Sustainability Base," NASA Ames Research Center's first new building in 25 years.

Officials were not shy in praising two new crescent shaped office buildings near the NASA Ames security gate, named after the 1969 moon landing site "Tranquility Base."

"This is a historic day," said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. "This is one of the highest performing buildings in the world. It stands as a model for the world."

Ames director Pete Worden called it "the first moon building on the planet Earth" because of all the NASA technology that's been incorporated, including a water recycling system similar to what is used on the space station, cutting water use by 90 percent.

"I want to do something I don't do often," Worden said. "That is to thank NASA headquarters for their enthusiastic support,"

"This is the leading edge of what buildings in the future can be," said Steve Zornetzer, Ames deputy director. "It brings NASA technology back to people on the planet Earth."

The building received the highest award for green building, the LEED platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council last week. Officials noted it was a major feat, made possible by using geothermal wells to take advantage of the earth's temperature for heating and cooling, and solar panels and fuel cells to power itself and other buildings at Ames. Its computer system constantly optimizes the building's efficiency, opening and closing windows to let in natural winds, or cooling off a conference room before a scheduled meeting.

The building combines "high technology and ancient wisdom," said architect Kevin Burke, noting how the building was positioned to make the best use of winds flowing south from the Bay.

"Imagine if every building, from this day on, generated more energy than it consumed?" Zornetzer said. "What would that mean for our carbon footprint? It's possible, it can be done."

"If you could replicate this building across the U.S., we would no longer have an energy crisis," said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

Sustainability Base architect Bill McDonough ended the ceremony with a thought-provoking speech. His work and influence has earned him the title "hero of the planet" from Time Magazine, and he's joined actor Brad Pit in a project called Make It Right, which builds affordable green homes in hurricane-wrecked New Orleans.

He urged the audience to aspire to Mother Nature's designs when thinking about architecture.

"The problem is a material one," McDonough said. "We have carbon, a beautiful thing — the basis of living systems, in the wrong place."

Mother Nature said, "Let's give ourselves a nuclear power plant, 93 million miles away, and its wireless," he said of the sun. The design "takes carbon from the atmosphere and absorbs it in biota" or plants and trees.

"How do you design a building like a tree? That's a question I've been asking since 1989," McDonough said. "What if you could design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, creates habitat, changes color with the seasons, produces food and fuel, creates micro-climates and self replicates? How about building like a tree? How about building more of them? Let's think about that."

McDonough said the Sustainability Base was designed to allow it to be taken apart relatively easily so its materials to be recycled.

"We don't have income, like we do with solar energy, with materials," McDonough said. "We need to handle these materials with great care and enjoyment and make sure they can continue to be used by future generations. That's what we see here. This building is full of cradle-to-cradle certified products, which are designed to go back to the industries from which they came."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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