That low-hanging fruit sure entices. It is, after all, the easy stuff that gets picked off when folks must scramble to come up with innovative ways to keep moving forward. But when the low-hanging fruit gets grabbed, designers must find new ways to meet innovation demands. The latest case-in-point is the University of Oregon’s effort, with HDR Architecture and THA Architecture, to create one of the most sustainable science buildings in North America.

Currently under construction and slated for a fall opening, the $65 million Lewis Integrative Science Building takes the tricky world of science—with all its air-quality standards and power-sucking machinery—and gives it a chance to showcase sustainable construction.

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The five-story building will include over 30,000 square feet of laboratory space for life and materials sciences, part of over 100,000 square feet that also holds offices and collaboration spaces. While scientists learn about the human brain, molecular biology, nanotechnology and solar energy, they will do so without the usual energy depletion rate of a science building.

The Lewis building’s biggest highlight will be its ability to extract heat from multiple sources to satisfy that costly requirement. Not only will the building grab heat created by refrigeration from within the building and from a zebra fish waste water stream from an adjacent building (which is pretty cool in its own right), the University of Oregon will tap into an adjacent utility tunnel with coils to draw even more heat. This move, if it works as expected, could turn into common practice on the Eugene, Ore., campus.

Interior spaces will utilize natural ventilation, passive heating and cooling, daylight harvesting, lighting controls (on sensors), a chilled beam system and night flush, all critical components in keeping energy use to a minimum, when the space allows as per health regulations. By getting non-lab space as economical as possible on its energy use and getting the best systems in place for the health requirements of the lab space, designers can still realize a hefty reduction in energy use. On the exterior, expect to see solar shading.

Even with all this sustainability, designers weren’t thinking about LEED Platinum until they realized that their design penciled out with energy performances nearly 60 percent lower than code regulations.

But, as with most things sustainable, this isn’t all coming in at an off-the-shelf price tag. The $65 million ($35 million coming from grants and private sources) sticker price puts the Lewis Integrative Science Building well ahead of its class in more ways than one.

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