Cornell University’s Gold Standard:
When Richard Meier & Partners began designing Weill Hall at
Cornell University in Ithaca, N. Y., there was no question that the
structure itself would have a modern look. The question was, Could
the building achieve the architectural look that Meier imagined while
also earning LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design) green building certification – and without sacrificing the
critical scientific activities that were to take place within its walls?
The answer was an emphatic “yes”! Not only did the 250,000-
sq-ft building achieve a LEED Gold rating with room to spare, it also
provided Cornell researchers with the most modern, energy-efficient
laboratory space on campus. One of the nation’s premier life sciences
facilities, Weill Hall houses the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Institute for
Cell and Molecular Biology and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. The $162 million building was dedicated in October 2008.
Weill Hall is the first Cornell facility to achieve the LEED Gold
rating. The building’s connection to campus district energy systems
contributed significantly to this prestigious accomplishment.
Weill Hall’s connection to campus district
energy systems contributed significantly to
its LEED Gold rating.
With its façade of more than 15,000 gleaming white panels,
Weill Hall epitomizes what Cornell calls “invisible green”: the
reduction of environmental impacts in ways that aren’t readily
apparent to researchers or visitors. For example, the building includes
an oversized subgrade level – twice the footprint of the building
above – filled with laboratory space and specialized plant growth
chambers that demand exacting light and temperature control.
Above ground, daylight fills the work and lab spaces, which have
been carefully separated to allow the lab space to have a different
ventilation rate, needed for lab safety.
The building controls are impressive. Occupancy sensors cut
air flows in half and relax temperatures when researchers leave
spaces. Heat recovery on all exhaust air, district chilled-water and
hot water custom growth chambers, and variable-air and water
systems cut heating, ventilating and air-conditioning energy use.
Creative solutions were developed for process loads, which are not
generally part of the energy model. Growth chambers were purchased
with chilled-water and hot water coils rather than refrigerant systems
to maintain chamber temperatures. This allowed process equipment
to benefit from lake source cooling efficiencies. Efficient lighting is
well-controlled throughout. Main building and submetered energy
data will allow operators to identify changes in energy use over
time and ensure preventive maintenance is adequate.
Cornell’s efficient central power systems extend the success of
Weill Hall’s low energy use. The building is cooled with lake source
Weill Hall was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard
Meier, who graduated from Cornell in 1956.
cooling, an innovative system that exchanges heat gain from the
building with 39 degree F cold water from the depths of Lake Cayuga.
Completed in 2000, Cornell’s lake source cooling system avoids the
need for refrigerants and reduces the energy used in cooling by more
than 85 percent below that of conventional systems. It also saves
more than 880,000 gal of water that would be lost using a traditional
cooling system each year. Weill Hall’s use of lake source cooling
added the equivalent of one point for energy and one point for water
efficiency to the building’s LEED evaluation.
The campus creates 15 percent of its own power from an onsite
hydropower station in scenic Fall Creek and a pair of steam turbine
generators at its central heating plant. Starting in winter 2009-2010,
Weill Hall and other buildings will be supplied with electricity and
heat from a campus combined heat and power station powered by
a pair of 15 MW natural gas turbines. The new CHP project will
allow Cornell to produce around 85 percent of its own electricity
and lower the greenhouse gas emissions associated with Weill
Hall’s energy use an additional 20 percent below the building’s
already reduced emission levels ( 40 percent lower) achieved through
With energy systems and other sustainable features that have
earned it LEED Gold certification, Weill Hall is certainly a model of
green building design and practices. It is more than just a static
example, however. Thanks to an educational program for students,
faculty and staff that will be integrated into the building’s operations,
Weill Hall will also serve as a source of green leadership and inspiration at Cornell for many years to come.
For more information, please contact Jim Adams at jra4@
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