Buildings do not always perform as expected, says Stephen E. Selkowitz, senior adviser for building science at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Weak performance can be caused by a lack of building systems integration during design, construction and operation, he adds.

Selkowitz hopes the Berkeley lab's $15.7-million Facility for Low-Energy Experiments in Buildings will improve the situation. FLEXLAB is the world's first outside-user research "sandbox" for full-scale tests on office building systems.

"One of the groups we hope to serve at FLEXLAB is the contracting community," says Selkowitz. The lab offers builders a place for trial runs, he adds.

That's about to happen, thanks to Phillip Williams, vice president of sustainability for Webcor Builders. FLEXLAB's first private-sector project will be Webcor's mock-up and precommissioning of office space for a 250,000-sq-ft building, currently under construction for Genentech in South San Francisco.

Subcontractors were at first leery but then warmed to the novel project, says Williams. Next week, workers will start to turn FLEXLAB's rotatable test bed into a miniature Genentech office floor. Three months of precommissioning begin on May 1, instead of only one month at the end of the fast-tracked job.

Webcor is not charging Genentech for its services on the $300,000 dress rehearsal, which includes $250,000 for lab services and $50,000 for the mock-up. "We're going to make money because we're going to finish more quickly, reduce our risk, have a better product and get paid sooner," says Williams.

"It's a four-way win," he adds. The owner gets better quality, comfort and energy performance; the contractor gets reduced closeout costs and possible repeat work; the public gets shared FLEXLAB data to replicate lessons; and DOE, which owns FLEXLAB, gets a validation of its investment.