Sustainable Design at Fox Studios-Take One

While their parents spend the day shooting the latest episode of a prime-time sitcom or building the set for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, more than one hundred infants, toddlers and preschoolers are busy playing with toy trucks and blocks at a new, cleverly engineered day-care/child-development center located right on the studio lot.


While their parents spend the day shooting the latest episode of a prime-time sitcom or building the set for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, more than one hundred infants, toddlers and preschoolers are busy playing with toy trucks and blocks at a new, cleverly engineered day-care/child-development center located right on the studio lot.

In recognition of the 10,000-square-foot facility's impressive design, which utilizes daylighting, high-performance glazing, large roll-up doors and thermal-mass passive heating, engineers from Syska & Hennessy's Los Angeles office have earned one of Consulting-Specifying Engineer 's 2000 Integrator Awards in the commercial buildings category.

Sustainable success

Stepping inside this modern, color-rich facility, the large glass-plane roll-up doors are a unique sight. Not only do they enable lots of natural daylighting to pour into the room, but when the weather is pleasant, as is often the case in Southern California, the doors roll up, the air-conditioning system shuts off and the room is naturally conditioned.

Consequently, the use of passive lighting and air-conditioning makes quite a dent in the facility's energy use, not to mention the outdoor feeling that it creates.

"Inside becomes outside and outside becomes inside," explains Rob Bolin, P.E., a mechanical engineer with Syska & Hennessy. "The breeze that you get going through there is absolutely fabulous. The kids just love it."

The magic of thermal mass

Another energy-efficient feature is exposed concrete masonry on the side of the building, which acts as thermal mass to passively modulate the indoor-air temperature. "The thermal mass absorbs solar energy during the day and re-radiates it at night," says Bolin.

More of the sustainable design can be observed at the facility's southern entrance, where the building owner requested that there be as much glass as possible, despite the hot sunrays shining in. The designers responded by architecturally optimizing the depth of an external overhang and the performance of the windows. In effect, the team was able to avoid having to install a major piece of air-conditioning equipment in this area, according to Bolin.

Photocells and lighting controls further complement the facility's sustainable benefits package. Sam Barakat, P.E., the group's project manager, explains that the photocells sense daylight levels, and dimming controls adjust the artificial lights to maintain a uniform lighting level in the space. Consequently, with the roll-up doors letting in so much light, the use of artificial light is kept to a minimum.

In addition, the ceilings are painted the color of white to enable the space to function as a reflector, and the actual ballasts are installed in dual uplight/downlight fixtures to create a unique effect.

"The light is very uniform and blends into the room," explains Dan Martin, Syska & Hennessy's electrical engineer on the project. "Also, the light fixtures and the ducts are color-coordinated to create a more integrated look."

Protecting the kids

While parents aren't too far away from their young ones at the Fox development center, the facility is located at the end of the studio's 52.9-acre lot. Consequently, security was a major consideration in the design.

According to Barakat, "It's a double-edged sword because you want to make it as open and friendly for the kids as possible, but security says that it needs to be as closed as possible. We went back and forth with the architect during various design team meetings to determine how we could locate those security devices so that they were essentially invisible."

In the end, the approach was to execute an architecturally strategic design that included elements such as limiting the exits and doors. Afterwards, the engineers added layers of security incorporating card-access readers and alarms, says Barakat.

The fire protection was also tricky because the classroom ceilings were designed with exposed ducts and piping for aesthetic effect. Consequently, the engineers had to do some clever maneuvering to meet code requirements for sprinkler coverage and maintain aesthetic integrity. However, because the lighting and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment was less substantial than usual-a direct result of the sustainable design reducing the facility's energy loads-this made it easier for the engineers to strategically locate the sprinkler heads.

Also part of the mechanical design were special considerations for the plumbing system. Because children are much more sensitive to hot water, the system had to accommodate restrictions on water temperature, according to Barakat. As a result, the decision was made to specify a recirculating water-heater system, which mixes cold and hot water to achieve lower temperatures.

For the sake of water conservation, the sinks were installed with on/off sensors, which come in handy with little kids who tend to be on the careless side when it comes to turning off the faucet.

One other safety measure was the decision to locate the main electrical equipment outside of the building, while only keeping the low-voltage distribution equipment inside. According to Martin, this option was more expensive but crucial for the safety of the kids.

Keeping options open

Even though the decision was made to isolate the center's system from the studios' central HVAC control system, the engineers still designed the facility's system to include compatible direct-digital controls to give building operators the option to tie into the central system in the future. Currently, the fire alarm, phone lines, water, utilities and gas are tied into the main studio systems which enables greater efficiency.

Another environmentally friendly decision was choosing a gas/electric packaged unit which produces less No x , So x and CO 2 emissions than an all-electric HVAC unit. The unit was also specified with ultraviolet-C light in order to improve indoor-air quality.

"Often, condensate pans [in these units] aren't properly sloped and don't drain very well," Bolin explains. "This then becomes a breeding ground for fungus and mold."

By locating the UVC light downstream of the cooling coil, the mechanism effectively kills these microorganisms. Also, for the sake of indoor-air quality, the HVAC system was zoned for each classroom in order to prevent the spread of germs.

Resting easy

After executing an impressive design and construction schedule from the original blueprints to the ribbon-cutting ceremony in exactly 12 months, the Fox Child Development Center opened its doors this past January.

Whether a parent spends their day maintaining Fox's 500,000-gallon tank used for film shoots, designing drapery for a ballroom scene or even putting make-up on Hollywood actresses, all Fox employees with young children have been eligible to put their kids in the program.

Initially, the center had quite a waiting list of people eager to have their children in such a contemporary facility located so close to their work site. Fortunately, the center was eventually able to accommodate all the kids within its seven classrooms.

"Our primary goal was to provide a comfortable, safe and energy-efficient environment for both children and the staff working in the center," notes Bill Murphy, with Fox Studios operations. "Glass pane roll-up doors in our classrooms allow for external air flow, glazed windows reduce energy loss and a combination of indirect and direct lighting create an aesthetically pleasing environment."

Fox parents also enjoy the option of being able to pop in on their kids who are right there within the Fox community.

"The center is a great place for the next generation of Fox employees," Murphy adds.

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