Drexel University URBN Center Westphal College of Media Arts and Design

Project Profile: Drexel University URBN Center Westphal College of Media Arts and Design

Firm name: Bala Consulting Engineers Inc. 

Project building name and location: Project Profile: Drexel University URBN Center Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, Philadelphia, PA

Type of building and type of project: School, Retrofit

Project completion date: Fall 2011

Engineering challenges and solutions:


The Westphal College of Media Arts and Design (CoMAD) will soon move to a renovated office building to be known as the URBN Center. Designed in the 1970s by Robert Venturi, the project site is an iconic four-story office building in Philadelphia with limited floor-to-floor heights. In order to meet the program requirements of the College, the core of the building is being removed and four stories will be replaced by six levels surrounding a full height atrium (this is illustrated on slides 6 and 7 of the power point). In addition, the spaces within this core area will house high density areas including classrooms, conference spaces and computer labs. These core spaces cannot be served by more conventional HVAC systems because of the limited floor-to-floor height of 9’- 4”. The design also needed to incorporate best green practices in accordance with the Green Globes rating system.

Engineering Solutions

An active chilled beam system coupled with dedicated energy recovery ventilation systems, high efficiency chillers, and high efficiency condensing boilers was designed to serve the building retrofit. This combination allowed for a 25 to 30% reduction in energy usage compared to conventional systems, while providing a system that fit within the tight clearances of the core. Ventilation systems were located near the core area at each of the four corners and horizontal duct distribution was minimized. Multiple penetrations of the steel framing the core allowed the use of smaller ventilation ducts penetrating into each structural bay. The chilled beams were located to utilize the height between the structural members while still maintaining appropriate flow patterns. DDC controllers will constantly survey the temperature conditions within all spaces served by each ventilation system and dynamically adjust either the ventilation air temperature or the control valve position to provide the most cost effective operation. Outside air delivered through the ventilation units can also be used as smoke exhaust makeup at the lowest level via a series of smoke dampers controlled through the fire alarm / smoke control system.

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