Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center
Basalt, Colo.
Best Project

Owner Rocky Mountain Institute
Lead Design Firm ZGF Architects LLP
Civil Engineer Sopris Engineering
Structural Engineer KPFF Consulting Engineers
MEP Engineer MTech Mechanical Technologies Group
Electrical Engineering PAE Consulting Engineers Inc.
Owners Representative True North Management Group
General Contractor JE Dunn Construction Group

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center is the most energy-efficient building in one of the coldest climate zones in North America. The center was developed as a “living lab” to demonstrate how green buildings are contracted, designed, constructed, occupied and, most importantly, replicated.

The two-story, 15,610-sq-ft, net-zero-energy office and convening center is comparable in size to 90% of U.S. commercial offices. Located in the challenging climate of Basalt, Colo., the Innovation Center redefines how its occupants experience and control individual comfort. The building focuses on heating and cooling people, not the air around them. By using a passive design strategy to address the key factors that affect thermal comfort, the team eliminated the need for a central air-conditioning system and reduced heating to a small, distributed system—roughly the equivalent of 16 hair dryers—used only on the coldest days. The project meets the Architecture 2030 goal of 70% energy reduction and earned all 19 LEED energy points. The building is powered by an 83-kW solar-electric system that is expected to exceed its power needs.

After intensive research, the design team developed a number of solutions that enabled the building to attain net-zero status. First, a low-profile, ducting, integrated cross-laminated timber system saved inches of valuable headroom, which in turn allowed for more daylight penetration. Second, phase-change materials were installed in the walls, ceilings, cabinets and light shelves. Third, a strict construction protocol made the building extraordinarily tight. And finally, a shading system covers the entire south face of the building where most of the windows are located.

The key to contractor JE Dunn’s safety culture is “everyone, everywhere, all the time.” Program highlights included a site-specific orientation conducted for every worker before working on site and a management approach to safety based on a philosophy of active caring rather than reactive enforcement.

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