Tour of the Net Zero Facility at NREL

In early October, it was my pleasure to take a tour of the new research building on the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) campus in Golden, Colorado.  The tour was put together by the architecture and engineering company, EVstudio, where I provide landscape architecture services as an affiliate landscape architect.  The Sustainable Fort Carson team was also present for the tour to gain ideas for the FY20 Net Zero requirements of the Installation.

Signage inside the foyer of the Net Zero Research Building.

The interior walls of foyer inside NREL were constructed from beetle-kill pine wood from the adjacent Rocky Mountains.  A tremendous reuse of materials that works toward Net Zero Waste goals as well as Regional Materials to assist in meeting the LEED Platinum designation of the facility.

Plant material was carefully selected to decrease irrigation needs.

The landscape materials were selected carefully at the Net Zero NREL facility to decrease irrigation needs.  The turfgrass areas shown in the image above are composed of a mixture including blue grama and buffalograss.  The turfgrass appears pretty patchy today, but it is doing well for only one year of growth. The drainage corridors were accented very well, as shown above with the arching line through the middle of the lawn.

NREL utilizes gabion walls in many places for retention walls as well as LID strategies for rainwater infiltration.

An element that I thoroughly enjoyed at the NREL facility was the use of gabion walls.  Gabion walls are constructed with initially empty metal cages that are then filled with typically a native stone to the area. I have also seen gabion walls that utilize crushed concrete, also from the site, however the rich color of native rocks is usually a better option for aesthetic purposes. The use of gabion walls in the courtyard area for seat walls was a potential downfall for the project in terms of wasted costs, however they do a tremendous job at framing individual seating spaces.

The welcoming plaza entrance to the facility has a great sense of order while utilizing context-sensitive materials.
Solar Canopies were used for on-site renewable energy at the Research Building.

To accomplish a Net Zero facility at NREL, renewable energy resources were critical, however land was not plentiful. NREL utilized the parking areas to provide triple purpose Solar Canopies.  The solar canopies occupy the air space above the parking lots for photovoltaic panels, providing covered parking for vehicles below and decreasing the heat island effect of a parking lot.  During the tour, it was noted that the building decreases its energy needs through building envelope design by 50%.  The additional 50% plus required renewable resources, such as solar and wind.

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