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Simmons Hall, MIT: Lungs

Simmons is permeated by five atria, or “lungs”: amorphous, multi-story tears in the building fabric designed to pull natural light into the building hollows while providing a vertical channel for warm air to escape. Per Arup, the atria are treated with the same mechanical approach as student rooms.


The architect's rendering


Mixed mode supply outlets at the base of the atria supplement natural ventilation in the summer while heated air is supplied into the top of the atria during winter months. Air from mixed mode supply is drawn through the corridors by extract systems located in the bathrooms. As before, the system changes automatically in the spring and fall: air at outdoor temperature is filtered into the atria and corridor and combined with natural ventilation as needed.


Interior view of Simmons’ “Lungs”:



Simmons Hall, MIT: Mixed Mode

Mixed Mode Engineers implemented a “mixed mode” system inspired by known European technology. Mixed mode is “a hybrid arrangement that combines the mechanical cooling ef- fects of a low-volume ducted air-conditioning system with natural ventilation effects of opening windows.” This is similar to the benefits one experiences when walking past the doors of an air-conditioned store- front on a hot day). Further, Arup argues that the mixed mode system offers inherent maintenance advan- tages: “Three AHUs require considerably less mainte- nance than the 250 fan coil units in a traditional air-conditioning scheme.” Simmons Hall was and still is one of the first buildings in the US to use this system.

Tripartite Division Simmons’ climate system is designed to respond to con- ditions in each of the structure’s three sections, or “towers.” Horizontal distribution is limited by the ar- chitectural requirement for high-ceilinged corridors, so distribution occurs primarily through vertical ris- ers. Each of the three tower roofs is fitted with an individual air-handling unit, or AHU.


Tripartite Division


Simmons Hall, MIT: Ventilation

With the help of engineers from Arup, Holl aimed to leverage the benefits of natural ventilation via the building’s more than 5,500 windows. Cli- mate engineers at Arup tested a natural ventila- tion scheme for one side of the building, with windows open but doors to the corridor closed. With a design air temperature of 90°F and humidity at 50% RH, natural ventilation did not sufficient- ly cool the space [footnote]. Cross ventilation – despite bringing temperatures and humidity lev- els within acceptable ranges – was not compliant with fire codes, but was able to be implemented in a limited portion of the building. Holl and Arup hope that “such research may lead to code-accept- able strategies for cross-ventilating high-rise residences.” These rooms are currently being moni- tored and documented by MIT’s Building Engineering Department.

Simmons Hall, MIT: Construction Animation Sequence

Simmons Hall, MIT


[Click animation images for high-resolution]


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Rice Hall Site Visit, Part. 2

Green Design Elements

There’s a fire-suppression system in the server room that’s a special agent system that’s supposed to put out a fire and not damage the sensitive computer equipment. A similar product at the ITC data center that’s “like a gas, a bunch of micro-water droplets. The alternatives are products that have CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) in them that can stay in the environment for decades, but this system apparently only stays in the system for hours and dissipates almost immediately. It’s a much greener product.”

Server Room, Lower Level

Chilled Beams
Energy perspective: chilled beams in the whole building. Instead of pushing conditioned air out like a typical building does, it’s a lot cheaper to push water or liquid through pipes than it is to move air through ducts from an energy perspective so they’re using chilled beams to “fine tune” the conditioning or the cooling. This building is anticipated to use little heat, almost all cooling. Chilled beams will be in the offices and the labs. In order for them not to condense, they are basically a big cooling coil exposed in the ceiling. Runs at a much warmer temperature than the university’s chilled water loop so that the moisture in the air doesn’t condense in the space (i.e., it doesn’t “rain”). “Complicated terminal device.”

The water temperature going back to the chillers will be much warmer than in most university buildings, which allows the chiller to run more efficiently. All the chilled water that goes up to the penthouse to make cool air get warmed up a little bit, and instead of going back to the chiller plant it goes back into the chilled beam loop and gets recirculated back through the building. “Pull as much cooling energy as we can out of the water before we send it back to the chillers.” This will contribute to the buildings LEED energy points. Right now the building is “tracking LEED Silver.”

Heat Capturing?
New unit is going to capture the heat from the air before exhausting it out of the building. In the basement there is also a channel connecting Rice to Olson, such that the two buildings’ basements will be connected. Several two-hour fire separations (code requirements).

Lower Level Connection to Olson Hall

Energy Metering
They’ve picked three labs or offices to install different terminal devices (i.e. a “fan-cooled unit,” or a “simulated geothermal heat pump,” or a “BAB unit”) so they can study these terminal devices and compare  them “apples to apples,” because they will be right next to each other. There is enhanced metering installed so they know how much water is going to each terminal device, how much power is going to each one. Their vision is to put this on a large display in the lobby so you can see the performance of the building. 

All along the brick there is going to be 2” spray foam, “really the only insulation.”

Motorized Blinds
Motorized blinds working that cooperates with the building’s control system. “At certain times of day, they’ll close on one side of the building. Users can override them so it will be interesting to see how often the users will allow them to move on their own.”

Qiufan and Aaron explore the penthouse

Building also has daylight harvesting. “On a sunny day, the interior lights will dim automatically.” All the offices have dimmable light fixtures and dimmers on the controls.

Site visits make everyone happy!

Rice Hall Site Visit, Pt. 1

Ground Floor

“Showcase Lab”
The engineering school has a first year lab with everything from circuit board to robotics. They asked for access to the outdoors so they can take projects into the courtyard between Rice and Olson. They’re going to have panel or accordion doors that open to the side. They discussed the possibility of “roll-up doors” but there were issues with sprinklers when the doors rolled up. 

The researchers “didn’t want carpet in the labs” and the architects were concerned about acoustics with a hard floor and a hard metal-deck ceiling, so they settled on a particular, non-PVC masonry in conjunction with five-square foot unistruct drop-down panels. There is still “some concern” about the PVC-free concrete since it’s a newer material.

Showcase Lab, Ground Floor

Freight elevator
Re: Fire-rated partitions: shafts are all two hour enclosures (as are the mechanical shafts) because they extend all the way up the building. One hour partitions around the electrical closets.

Freight Elevator

Requested a 150 seat auditorium. Standard composite deck. Lay the rebar and pour the concrete. Standard overlap with rebar that’s tied together. Room outfitted with two flat-screen panels, perhaps one smartboard.

Ground Level Auditorium

Mixture of labs and building services space. Room called for server space. This is going to be a server room with a three foot raised floor. Lots of chilled water going to computer room air-conditioning, lever units, there will be at least four along one wall. Wet-sprinklers, but they’re high temperature so the last things to go off.

Lower Lever Corridor

Concern about anything getting wet?
Always concern about drywall getting wet, but most of the “purple drywall” is water resistant anyway. Also measures taken to prevent water from flowing down the elevator shaft. Roof is weather tight already. Some of the fireproofing is fairly resistant to water, but most areas have gypsum based fireproofing that’s not made to be exposed to water. 

University decided to construct the building on a fast schedule. It went from planning to construction in about 18 months which is “unprecedented’ at the university. Target completion date is fall 2011, which would have the final building delivered in 40 months.

Why the fast pace?
President Casteen felt there wasn’t enough research space in the school and believed that in order to attract researchers from a global rather than domestic market facilities needed to be improved.

Re: the generator in the basement, which “may not be very pleasant when it’s running.”
Performed an “air entrainment” study of the entire precinct before beginning construction, to perceive what would be the best spot for the generator, and “there isn’t one.” As a result, there is a high-powered fan attached to the generator exhaust to shoot the air up 60 feet so it gets above the top of the building and drifts off.

How tall?

Approximately 76 feet. Floor to floor height is 18 feet slab on the ground, rest is 14 feet. “That all has to do with trying to stay under the high-rise height.”

SSB November 18, 2010

Thomson Optronics Factory


Renzo Piano


Section becomes something that takes care of many issus at once, the fundamental module. One reversed section: where the company cafeteria resides. Everything else faces a north light that’s reflected against the roofs.

Extremely light structure. Combination of bent members and tension members.

The diagram below shows how light is being diffused and reflected into the buildings. The rightward drawing shows the effect of artificial light over a larger area.

Genzyme Building, Cambridge

Architect: Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner


The project team and the client balanced aesthetics, cost, constructability, and reliability to create an environmentally responsible corporate headquarters. A number of environmental design strategies contribute to the LEED Platinum rating the building is expected to achieve and establish an open spatial atmosphere for the building occupants.

The building envelope is a high-performance curtainwall glazing system with operable windows on all 12 floors. More than 32% of the exterior envelope is a ventilated double-facade that blocks solar gains in summer and captures solar gains in the winter. Steam from a nearby power plant is used for central heating and cooling.

The building’s central atrium acts as a huge return air duct and light shaft. Fresh air moves into the atrium and up and out exhaust fans near the skylight. Natural light from the fully glazed facade and from the atrium (brought in by solar-tracking mirrors above the skylight) is reflected deep into the building.

The building uses 32% less water than a comparable office building by using waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets, automatic faucets, and low-flow fixtures. Stormwater supplement the evaporative cooling towers and irrigates the landscaped roof.

Building materials were chosen for their low emissions, recycled content, or local manufacturing. Nearly 90% of the wood was FSC certified.”