Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP) is a non-profit that fosters and promotes startup tech companies in Pennsylvania. So as an organization that promotes technology businesses, BFTP knew they had to embrace cutting edge building practices when they decided to construct an addition to their office space.
“We are in the tech business, so therefore it made sense that any structure that we built was going to embrace the latest and greatest technology,” says Chad Paul, BFTP’s president and CEO.
These days, that means an environmentally conscious building design that minimizes energy consumption and meets standards set forth by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a sustainability directive operated by the U.S. Green Building Council.
BFTP did that, and then some.
The end result was TechVentures2, a 47,500 square-foot facility on Lehigh University‘s Mountaintop Campus (BFTP is a wholly owned subsidiary of the university) that was dedicated in October, 2011. The $18.8 million structure employs the latest in energy-efficient technologies that make the gleaming structure an estimated 20 percent more efficient than its low-tech counterparts with a carbon footprint that is reduced by 51 percent. It has won numerous awards and has become a regional standard for sustainable design. It features environmentally friendly features like solar panels on its roof and waterless urinals and low-water sinks in its bathrooms, but the key to its efficiency lies in its use of daylight harvesting technologies.
Daylight harvesting has grown in popularity in recent years as companies look to reduce their energy consumption and spending by using automated lighting control systems that dim electric lights based on the amount of sunlight penetrating through exterior windows.
Inside and out, TechVentures2 encapsulates those principals. Designed by Bethlehem, Pa.-based Spillman Farmer Architects, the new facility incorporates external daylighting features like large windows with high reflective and insulation values and a roof-top glass atrium maximize the amount of sunlight entering the facility, while slatted sunshade overhangs above the exterior windows prevent glare and heat gain within the interior spaces.
Physical features inside also maximize the reach of natural light. Each window on the south-facing wall has a horizontal shelf 18 inches below the ceiling that protrudes 24 inches out into the room; the top of this horizontal shelf is mirrored glass that reflects sunlight coming through the small window above it back onto the ceiling and toward the interior of the office space. On especially sunny days, that amount of light can be enough that the office along the exterior wall and the hallway beyond it (which are separated by a glass wall) do not need any electric. And those interior glass walls are important as well, says Paul, “so if you’re in an inner office in the addition, you’ve got a view to the outside.” Little things like that go a long way with LEED standards, as one of the LEED measurements is the amount of square footage a facility has with views to the outside.
The glass atrium on the building’s roof illuminates its top floor meeting and conference center, which Paul describes as a solarium with a glass pyramid for a roof. The benefit of that bountiful sunlight reaches the third floor too: a glass block embedded in the floor of the fourth floor functions as a skylight to the third floor. Paul says one of the goals with the TechVentures2 building design was to match function with interesting architectural aesthetics.
“The pyramid did that job for me,” he says.
Yet while the physical features of TechVentures2 are impressive, perhaps the real magic of the facility is in the facility’s lighting control, where Lutron‘s Quantum Total Light Management system automates and centralizes control of the lights and shades throughout the facility. Lutron’s digitally addressable EcoSystem dimming ballasts communicate with daylight sensors and automatically adjust the interior electric lights in accordance with current levels of daylight penetrating the interior. Nearly every window in the building has Lutron’s Sivoia QS automated shades with Hyperion solar-adaptive software, which help to reduce HVAC demand anywhere from 10 to 30 percent, according to Lutron. Occupancy sensors throughout the building turn lights off when spaces are vacant, but all lights in the facility have manual controls so that BFTP employees can override them if they so desire—something that rarely has to be done.
“Because of the occupancy sensors… people almost forget about the fact that there’s a switch on the wall,” Paul says.
BFTP selected Lutron’s Quantum control system because it brought shades, ballasts and lights under one centrally controlled umbrella while other vendors offered lighting control systems that connected disparate operations with various connective servers.
“But by definition when you have all those other links in the chain you have that much more that you need to worry about,” he says.
The intelligence of the system also impressed Paul.
“The algorithm that is used by the Quantum system is much more than just ‘how much light?’ [is available],” he says. It also knows the sun’s position in the sky every hour of every day of the year and uses that knowledge to adjust shade levels based on cloud cover and the resulting amount of glare. The Quantum system is connected on the network backbone to an AMX control system that handles the A/V facility’s A/V systems, and the lighting levels that are set by the Quantum system incorporate informational settings from the AMX devices in each room.
A common oversite that often occurs in designing new facilities with daylight harvesting technologies is the oversizing of HVAC systems, says Brennen Matthews, the North American specifications sales manager for Lutron. HVAC specialists calculate the size of a system based on the amount of window area in a facility and assume the worst-case scenario that window shades will never be used. Doing that in a facility with automated shades and lights is overkill and creates an excessive expenditure, but BFTP planners sidestepped that pitfall.
“Our lead architects working with our consulting engineers did all of those calculations… and that helped us to decide where it was worthwhile to spend what money,” Paul says. He estimates that the HVAC unit they settled on is roughly 20 percent smaller than it would have been otherwise.
To top it all off, a touchscreen display (designed by California-based Lucid Design Group) in the building’s lobby runs Lutron’s GreenGlance software providing detailed analytics on the building’s efficiency (it can also be accessed online). These include, but aren’t limited to, custom energy reports that log and compare energy use of historical periods from the last three hours to the last year; it can also be broken down to analyze energy use by floor, a feature that Paul hopes to use for energy saving competitions among the various departments in his building.
The fine detail of the GreenGlance system particularly impresses Aaron Balch, the chief technology officer for BFTP.
“In effect we can look right down to the ballast in a light fixture to know if it’s failed, etcetera,” he says.
That any employee can view that information whenever they want will help TechVentures accrue points for education towards LEED certification. TechVentures was designed for Gold or Silver certification.
The end result is an energy efficient and environmentally friendly building that has taken home taken home some big awards for its design.
“We are ecstatic to be in this building,” says Paul. “The team that came together to make this happen has just done a phenomenal job and people that visit us are blown away by this facility.”