Innovative modular electrical design in new workspaces

BlackRock and Syska Hennessy implemented a range of electrical strategies, including a high-efficiency lighting system, standby generators and modular underfloor power distribution.

By Robert Ioanna and Barry Novick May 29, 2024
Courtesy: Syska Hennessy


Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the first mass application of Lutron’s Athena 2.4 GHz system.
  • Understand the modular power distribution from the floor box to the furniture system.
  • Understand the deployment of an ARC flash mitigation strategy.

Lighting system insights

  • The high-efficiency LED lighting system at BlackRock’s headquarters includes tunable-white lighting, integrated sensors, and wireless IoT controls to optimize energy use and flexibility.
  • The electrical systems feature modern computer efficiencies, modular underfloor power distribution, and innovative safety measures like ARC flash mitigation for enhanced operator safety.
  • Initial performance data shows that BlackRock’s energy-efficient strategies are exceeding targets, achieving less than 3.8W/SF consumption while maintaining a visually striking and flexible office environment.

Part one of this article covered several mechanical strategies that supported BlackRock’s goal of an energy-efficient, modular and resilient headquarters at 50 Hudson Yards in New York City. In this part, there is a focus on the electrical strategies that further supported this goal.

High efficiency lighting system

The lighting system used in the building is 100% high-efficiency LED lighting with a high color rendition index. The team made use of direct-indirect lighting to reduce glare. Most of this lighting is “tunable-white” adjustable from color temperatures of 2700K to 5700K.

The design goal was overall lighting energy use of under 0.5 watts per square foot (W/SF). To achieve this goal, the team employed “batwing” optics on the indirect side of the pendant fixtures, allowing for a 30% reduction in fixture counts over initial design. Another feature is a lighting control scheme loosely based on circadian rhythm. This system enables color adjustment of lighting based on outside lighting hue.

Every fixture is equipped with an integral sensor and control module, supported by wireless internet of things (IoT) controls and sensors for fixture-by-fixture control. The electricians needed to bring power to the fixtures. Zoning of fixtures to switches is established through a smart phone app.

Another milestone was the first mass application of Lutron’s Athena 2.4 GHz system. This system, which utilizes D4i digital drivers, provides maximum control and informatics at each fixture. Automated shading reduces glare, solar gain and night sky losses. Wireless wall switches can be placed on any surface and can be relocated at will, and switches to fixture assignments can be made through the smartphone app.

The team prioritized flexibility. The wireless lighting controls allow for future changes in the demising walls without the need for control wiring changes. The demountable partitions in most office spaces can easily be reconfigured.

Electrical systems

BlackRock recognized that modern computer systems are more efficient than older systems, and therefore changed the basis of design to 4W/SF (as opposed to the typical 6W/SF). Standby generators provide full backup power and UPS power supports all technology (desktops, AV systems and networks).

Modular underfloor power distribution contributes to flexibility. The underfloor “snake bus” provides for rapid relocations of power to floor boxes distributed under the furniture system. Separate buses are provided for UPS and for house power.

The modular power distribution from the floor box to the furniture system was the first installation of its kind and required special approval from NYC called CCD1. The approval allows for true plug-and-play rapid reconfiguration of furniture. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4: The modular power distribution from the floor box to the furniture system. Courtesy: Syska Hennessy

Figure 4: The modular power distribution from the floor box to the furniture system. Courtesy: Syska Hennessy

The team deployed an innovative ARC flash mitigation strategy in the switchgear sections. By deploying relays from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory, incident energy was reduced to acceptable levels, providing optimal safety for the operators. Furthermore, ultraviolet arc-sensing relays can trip fast-acting upstream circuit breakers, which limits incident energy to below 10/cal/cm at 95% of all boards.

An additional safety measure included fast-acting high-pressure switches for the main service switchgear, with remote operators extending them into the utility service area. Notably, this safety measure did not require manual reduced let-through settings and it does not pose any risks to selective coordination.

Results to date

Initial data indicates that the energy system’s performance is exceeding targets. The team measured consumption of less than 3.8W/SF — including all MEP and technology output — on a day when the headquarters was fully occupied, ventilated and lit.

Visitors of BlackRock’s offices at 50 Hudson Yards see a beautiful, tech-centric, state-of-the art headquarters. The vision is striking, yet so are the unusual methods employed to blend the aesthetics with high levels of energy-efficiency, flexibility and resiliency. As workers around the world return to their workplaces, it’s more important than ever to house them in attractive, healthy, safe and sustainable environments. Employers who struggle with perceived trade-offs should look toward 50 Hudson Yards as a model for what is possible. As BlackRock and Syska have found, creative strategies and application of new technologies can turn offices into destinations for productivity and enjoyment.

Author Bio: Robert Ioanna, PE, LEED AP, is the chief technical officer at Syska Hennessy. Barry Novick is responsible for technology strategy at BlackRock.