Energy-generating algae to power 1960s-era GSA Office Building in Los Angeles
Architects and engineers from HOK / Vanderweil showcased their creativity and sustainable design expertise with a winning net zero building retrofit design in Metropolis magazine’s Next Generation® Design Competition 2011. Young designers were challenged to develop net zero energy solutions for a 46-year-old federal office building in downtown Los Angeles. In alignment with President Barack Obama’s mandate that federal agencies lower their greenhouse gas emissions, the building’s owner, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), has a goal of reducing building emissions 30% by 2020.
HOK / Vanderweil’s ‘Process Zero: Retrofit Resolution’, a retrofit design process, reduces the building’s overall energy demand by 84% while generating the remaining 16% on-site. The design uses proven energy conservation and renewal strategies, including atria and light wells that bring daylight into workspaces, integrated louvers for natural ventilation, a new facade with 35,000 sq ft of photovoltaic film, 30,000 sq ft of rooftop solar collectors that circulate water through floors to help with climate control, and office equipment operated by a cloud computing system.
The design team’s breakthrough idea, believed to be an architectural first, uses energy-producing microalgae to help power the building. The biomimetic-inspired design proposes a 25,000 sq ft microalgae bioreactor system that generates 9% of the renovated federal building’s power supply. A modular system of algae tubes wraps the building and absorbs the sun’s radiation to produce lipids for fuel production on-site, simultaneously shading interior office spaces. This photobioreactor transforms the building into a living entity.
“What is particularly remarkable about this solution was how a large, interdisciplinary team collaborated on a comprehensive plan that not only achieves net zero, but also deploys its design and technical solutions in a humanistic and contextually integrated way,” said Metropolis Editor-in-Chief Susan S. Szenasy. The HOK / Vanderweil team will reinvest its $10,000 prize as seed money for further research and development of its proposed renewable energy technologies.