Liftoff to LEED

With the recent completion of its Flight Projects Center in Pasadena, NASA opens the doors to its greenest facility to date—pushing the boundaries of space within a building that is grounded on (and respects) Planet Earth.

12/01/2010 By Robert Nieminen | Photography Courtesy LPA Inc./Costea Photography

Planning and executing a space flight mission requires countless hours of preparation and exacting attention to detail, as the margin for error is measured in fractions. Given its impressive history of space flight, it comes as no surprise then that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) latest project performed better than expected and came in under budget. But we're not talking about another space mission; we're referring to the agency's newest facility—the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) new Flight Projects Center in Pasadena, CA.

Since 2000, the General Services Administration (GSA) has mandated that all new federal construction and major modernization projects attain, at minimum, a LEED Certified rating while striving for LEED Silver. Thanks to the architects at California-based LPA Inc., however, JPL's Flight Projects Center surpassed this mandate, achieving Gold certification on a Silver budget—making it the greenest facility in the NASA family.

From high efficiency chillers to fan wall technology, energy efficiency was a key driver at JPL. The Flight Projects Center is a Savings by Design participant and Energy Star Challenge for Architects award recipient. According to LPA president Dan Heinfeld, these types of acknowledgments are needed because we cannot afford the luxury of buildings that don't make real reductions in water and energy use.

Sustainable features of the new JPL facility include:

  • Low-flow faucets and toilets that will reduce water use by more than 44 percent compared with typical fixtures.
  • Improved wall insulation, efficient chillers and boilers, window shading devices and the green roof will greatly reduce energy needs.
  • Daylighting and lighting controls help the facility perform 25 percent more efficiently than the typical California office building.
  • Displacement ventilation delivers cool air at the floor level of the auditorium, which provides better interior air quality and a quieter acoustic environment while also saving energy.
  • More than 93 percent of the waste generated during construction was diverted from a landfill to a local recycling facility. Wood was acquired from Forest Stewardship Council-certified suppliers, ensuring sustainable harvesting of trees.
  • The paints and other surface materials have low levels of undesirable, toxic fumes.
  • Smart heating and cooling systems know whether or not rooms are occupied, and adjust temperatures and ventilation accordingly.
  • The janitorial staff will use green cleaning products and practices.
  • Showers and bike racks encourage people to leave their cars at home, and bike or walk to work.

"The Flight Projects Center honors the leadership NASA exhibits in space with a thoughtful and sustainable building that practices efficiency and treads lightly on the Earth," notes LPA architect Keith Hempel. "It's our first project for the federal government, and we're honored to be part of the JPL legacy."

The six-story center will house missions in the busy design and development phases, when engineers and scientists from around the world must work closely together. The 190,000-square-foot building also includes a 400-seat auditorium, conference rooms, and private, yet flexible work stations.

The building is designed to exceed California's stringent Title 24 requirements by 25 percent.

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