Health Code

The whole is the sum of its parts. And nothing demonstrates this old maxim better than the seamless integration of engineered building systems at the recently completed Center for Health & Healing at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland. “The building has so many different kinds of systems.


The whole is the sum of its parts. And nothing demonstrates this old maxim better than the seamless integration of engineered building systems at the recently completed Center for Health & Healing at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland.

“The building has so many different kinds of systems. It was like designing software, with each line of code carefully sequenced to make it work,” explains Andy Frichtl, P.E., lead mechanical engineer on the project for M/E/P design firm Interface Engineering of Portland, Ore. “We identified a whole lot of strategies and applied each to its proper place in the program.”

Winning the CSE 2006 ARC Awards Project of the Year title is only one of many achievements that this project is looking to claim in the coming year. For one, the facility is on track to achieve a Platinum LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. But what's most significant is that the designers hope to achieve this rating as a result of integrated design features never before used together on a project of this kind. In short, it's definitely an unprecedented effort, with many different types of systems serving different parts of the building, but all carefully integrated into a unified whole.

Many readers will be aware that this isn't the first time we've covered this project in these pages. In our October 2005 issue (CSE 10/05, p. 42, and at the archives), we provided a detailed look at the unprecedented combination of M/E/P systems. At the time, the facility was referred to as “River Campus One” but has since been official named the Center for Health and Healing. The name may have changed, but all the systems described a year ago are still here—and then some.

“We challenged Interface Engineering to design a very high-performance building on less than a conventional construction budget, one that would deliver significant resource savings over time,” says Kyle Andersen with Portland-based GBD Architects, who designed the Center for Health & Healing. “This is the first institutional or commercial building in Oregon to use several of these groundbreaking energy technologies.”

The engineering team not only met the targets that developers and architects challenged them with; they did much more (see “Pushing the M/E/P Envelope,” p. 24). Probably nothing attests to their accomplishments more than the fact that expectations for LEED accreditation were pushed from silver to platinum. That achievement remains to be seen, but even if the status is not attained, there are already many other project accomplishments to celebrate—not the least of these is the cost reduction on M/E/P systems.

Originally, Interface engineers were challenged to reduce the M/E/P budget by 25%. “We came up with about 17% hard savings,” explains Frichtl. “It fell short of the target, but then, this figure doesn't take into account many indirect savings, such as the savings in building area [by creating systems with small footprints].”

At the same time, it's very impressive that in a facility with so many interrelated mechanical and electrical systems, the M/E/P costs as a percent of total construction budget are the same as conventional projects for similar facilities: “One usually figures about 35% of the project budget for the M/E/P systems,” says Frichtl. OHSU's Center for Health & Healing came in well below the initial $30 million M/E/P budget on the project. But the savings in initial cost aren't the only cost efficiencies to be considered.

“The building takes advantage of as much free power as possible from the sun, wind and natural water collection,” says Frichtl. “And what's not obtained from the elements is generated mostly from the on-site central utility plant, reducing reliance on the grid.”

Eventually, power from the on-site plant will be shared with surrounding OHSU buildings, as well as an adjacent residential tower. The output of an on-site bioreactor, stored rainwater and recaptured wastewater for non-potable uses means the building can reuse much of the water that enters it from municipal sources and falls upon it from the clouds. The water that is expelled into the nearby Willamette River is actually cleaner than what flows in the busy waterway.

In millions of gallons per year, integrated design reduced estimated water use by 68%, through both demand-side and supply-side measures. In percent of energy reduction, compared with a conventional building of the same size and similar activities, the Center for Health & Healing expects to use 61% less energy every year.

Integrated to the max

In a very real sense, the interesting story in this project is as much or more about the people than the systems. It's a story about A/E designers bringing together all the right technologies and maximizing efficiencies by making architectural and engineering features serve multiple functions—and about how to work with prospective occupants to guarantee user satisfaction.

“Building users include physicians, patients, students, exercise facility users and employees doing a variety of jobs,” says Andersen. “We had to get occupants to buy into everything. Many of the actual owners are the doctors, who were involved from day one in the design process.”

Frichtl explains that energy modeling and CFD software were an important part of the process for educating prospective tenants. “Not only did we use the CFD modeling to show them design concepts, but we also built actual mock-ups of exam rooms and simulated loads. We analyzed different scenarios for them, and asked them questions, such as, Can we relax comfort standards? They were always amenable. It was a matter of telling them what the engineers wanted to do, and getting everyone involved.”

Energy modeling was also used as a design tool to prompt new strategies, system choices and material selections, not just to win users over to decisions that were already made. And this leads us to an important example of how the design team worked together to produce integrated, multi-tasking systems. Of all the engineered systems that went into the facility, nothing exemplifies this approach better than the solar energy systems.

The building, with its near-perfect east-west orientation, is ideal for passive solar heating during the fall, winter and spring months, when heating is needed in Portland. The sunscreens, integrated with photovoltaic panels, were designed to allow sun into the buildings during these times of year. As important, the sunscreens reduced building heat gain from summer sun. The whole system, with its year-round efficiency design, reduced the required size of the HVAC system by more than 30%.

The sunshades were a beginning, but the design team thought further. Why not use those same shades to mount PV cells to capture all that plentiful sunlight? “This was a logical result of the brainstorming to identify all the natural resources available and to figure out how to harness them,” says Andersen. “It's the perfect example of total team integration. PV on shades spanned six different disciplines: architectural, structural, electrical, mechanical, energy analysis and commissioning.”

“People love to hear this story,” says Andersen. “The sunshades reduced the cooling cost by 30 tons, and the savings paid for the sunshade support brackets to mount the PV units. This is what integrated design is all about. When integrated features do multiple things, that's where the savings are.”

Another example of creative thinking that can't go without mention is the large solar heating system using low-iron glass in front of the south-facing wall on the 15th and 16th floors.

“Daylight modeling studies for the top stories were looking at daylight and solar income,” says Frichtl. “But once we started looking at it, we realized it was being hit by sun all day long. We came up with the idea of creating a passive solar heater with a three-pass architectural heat exchanger.”

In addition to HVAC and electrical, many other building systems do double duty—and more. The fire protection and plumbing systems offer the following examples. The rainwater/groundwater reclaim system performs seven different functions:

  • Irrigation

  • Water reuse at plumbing fixtures

  • Cooling tower makeup water

  • Cooling water for the inlet to the microturbine

  • Cooling the radiant slabs in the building

  • Supplying water to the green roof

  • Absorbing a two-year peak rain intensity.

Far-reach impact

The center's impact on the surrounding community goes far beyond the building itself. The center is spearheading the complete renaissance of what was once an industrial brownfield site. With most of OHSU's facilities perched on top of picturesque Marquam Hill about a mile away, the center not only serves as OHSU's new “front door,” but also as the anchor of a renewed urban neighborhood with housing, green spaces and retail known as South Waterfront. An aerial tram connects the building to the main campus.

“In addition to the center, two condo buildings have already been completed in the district, and a few more are currently under construction,” says Frichtl. “OSHU will eventually have seven buildings here, and the aerial tram just opened up.”

For the developers and designers, the center is proof that green buildings need not cost more than conventional ones. In fact, the overall cost of the Center for Health & Healing will end up equal to or less than a conventionally designed building of the same type.

“This project proves that an integrated design process, in which goal setting starts early in the process, during programming and conceptual design, and involves the entire design team, allowed the most innovated strategies to develop,” says Frichtl.

In fact, lessons learned and the systems used to create this building are at the heart of a publication that Interface Engineering produced as a result of the project: “Engineering a Sustainable World.” Firm officials report that the building has developed interest worldwide, as is evident by over 6,000 requests for the book.

“People are truly amazed. They're telling us that they are trying to replicate the project, but they can't figure out how we did it,” says Andersen. “The success of this project comes down to a combination of three things: the owners' vision, the designers' collaboration and the successful integration of architectural design and engineered systems.”

The Center for Health and Healing is fully occupied now, and has been taking patients for several weeks. “We're about 50% done on the commissioning and functional testing,” says Frichtl. “Stuff is still getting tweaked—probably another month or two before everything is dialed in. And we will have some seasonal tests in the summer. But the initial word is that all occupants really like everything.”

Pushing the M/E/P Envelope

Interface Engineer, Portland, Ore., was challenged by GBD Architects to meet the following goals in the M/E/P design for OHSU's Center for Health & Healing:

• Achieve a 60% energy savings below both Oregon's energy code and the ASHRAE 90.1-1999 standard for LEED prevailing at the time of building design.

• Reduce the project's initial M/E/P budget by 25%.

• Achieve at least a Silver LEED rating.

During the design process, the team pushed well beyond these already ambitious goals with additional targets that included the following:

• 100% capture and re-use of rainwater falling on the building.

• 50% or more reduction in total use of potable water in the building.

•Provide a significant amount of power and chilled water on-site from a central utility plant.

• Treat all sewage on site and re-use that water for non-potable uses.

• Aim for LEED platinum rating rather than silver.

The New—and the Unusual

While the M/E/P technology at OHSU's Center for Health & Healing isn't new, the integration of all these systems into one facility is. State-of-the-art technology in the facility includes the following:

• 60 kW of building-integrated photovoltaics, using the south-facing sunshades for support.

• A site-built solar thermal collector, using warm air to help heat hot water for the building—possibly the first such application of its kind on a building in the United States.

• 300-kW Capstone microturbine power plant—the largest for a medical building on the West Coast—that provides on-site hot water and electricity to the facility.

• Chilled beams for radiant cooling of the north side of the building, the first application on this scale in the Northwest.

• Radiant heating and cooling system, integrated with the microturbines.

• Displacement ventilation for medical exam rooms, to eliminate the “re-heat” systems that waste energy.

Steps to Sustainability

The engineers at Interface Engineering have developed a set of clearly defined design steps in designing for sustainability. The process includes the following:

Step 1 . Analyze daily, seasonal and annual use patterns for lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, plug loads, pumps and motors.

Step 2 . Analyze opportunities to reduce demand through more efficient building envelopes, chillers,boilers and lighting. When possible, try to harvest natural resources, including wind and water. Energy storage systems are another means to utilize cheaper off-peak electricity.

Step 3 . Take the “right-sizing” approach. In other words, specify mechanical systems after detailed analysis, as opposed to oversizing systems to meet peak loads.

Step 4 . Analyze codes, and challenge restrictive codes that add cost without benefit

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