GreenSource features NASA Sustainability Base

Houston, We Have a Solution: NASA’s new base harnesses space-age technology to take building performance to the next level. It’s one giant leap for green design.

By Lamar Anderson
January 2013

Here’s an excerpt–

In the fall of 2008, Steve Zornetzer, the associate center director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, found himself in Houston with a problem. Ames was three months in on its plans for a new office building, and Zornetzer had just scrapped the entire design. “It was a building that could have been built in 1990,” he says. “There was nothing interesting architecturally or conservationally—it was a very boring project.”

Zornetzer was at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to hear a talk by the San Francisco–based architect and Cradle to Cradle pioneer William McDonough, FAIA, principal of William McDonough + Partners. The leadership at NASA had been interested in McDonough’s knowledge of healthy building materials for possible use in a Mars mission, but McDonough had other ideas. “I asked NASA, ‘Would you mind if we work on coming back to Earth first, before we go to Mars? What if I design a space station on Earth?’ ” McDonough recalls.

Three and a half years later, in April 2012, that space station—dubbed the NASA Sustainability Base—opened its doors. The two-story, 50,000-square-foot glass-and-steel office building includes open-plan workstations, private offices, conference rooms, kitchens, and an outdoor plaza. Between rooftop solar arrays and a solid-oxide fuel cell, the building supplies more energy than it needs and sends the surplus back into the Ames grid. (Though the fuel cell currently runs on natural gas, it can convert to landfill gas if a local source becomes available.)

From an efficiency perspective, space travel turns out to be a terrific idea lab for building performance on Earth. Technologies that ensure astronauts’ survival at the International Space Station—from urine-recycling water filtration to computer controls that protect the indoor environment and anticipate energy needs—also happen to excel at less glamorous, workaday tasks like managing daylight and regulating energy use. “What we want to do is take that aerospace technology and demonstrate its effectiveness in a building on planet Earth,” says Zornetzer.

Read the full article here.

Learn more about Sustainability Base here.