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University laboratory hits BREEAM milestone thanks to intensive planning

A new laboratory at the University of St Andrews has been declared BREEAM Outstanding after project manager Turner & Townsend planned every low-carbon aspect and bespoke adjustment down to the very last detail.

Client University of St Andrews

Project manager Turner & Townsend

Contractor Sir Robert McAlpine

Cost £10.2m

Architect Boswell Mitchell Johnson

Consulting engineers RSP Consulting Engineers

Clients are increasingly specifying that their buildings achieve the higher levels of BREEAM, meaning contractors and design teams need to understand how to hit a whole range of environmental and sustainability measures in order to reach those top targets.

This commitment needs to start not on site, or even after the initial design stage, but right at the beginning of the process, according to Turner & Townsend project director John Tavendale.

The company recently completed work on the University of St Andrews’ Biomedical Sciences Research Complex (BSRC), the first building in Scotland to reach BREEAM Outstanding.

Sustainability focus early in design

“A large part of our remit was achieving BREEAM Excellent for the building, but we actually managed to achieve BREEAM Outstanding and at no extra cost; the building came in under budget,” says Mr Tavendale.

“We actually managed to achieve BREEAM Outstanding at no extra cost; it came in under budget”

John Tavendale, Turner & Townsend

Turner & Townsend project managed the programme from the design, through to construction and the BREEAM certification.

“We managed to achieve the highest level by getting people on board early with experience and knowledge of sustainable design, so they could introduce the fundamental sustainability features and also add ingenuity in terms of design,” he says.

“It wasn’t something we considered later in the day, it was considered at every stage.”

They also involved a BREEAM assessor from the outset when designing and building the £10.2 million, 35,000 sq m research facility, which was completed at the start of 2012.

Positioning crucial to efficient light and air

“The design team came at it from the viewpoint of creating a sustainable building, so they ensured it was a narrow building plan that maximises the use of natural light and ventilation,” says Mr Tavendale. “The offices are separated from the laboratory areas to allow them to receive light and natural ventilation simply by opening the windows.”

The team also considered the building’s orientation and where different activities in the building are based to maximise natural light and ventilation.

“The main research laboratories are open plan along the left elevation, so they get good natural daylight but they get evening sunshine when the building is hardly in use,” explains Mr Tavendale. “As the laboratories are not exposed to high levels of sunshine, they also don’t need high levels of cooling.”

Where sunshine was potentially a problem, the team introduced solar shading that was carefully targeted to specific areas. The building fabric uses enhanced insulation and high-performance glazing, giving it a better U-Value than it required for compliance, while the building’s materials were all selected from the Green Guide with a focus on using A+ products.

Active measures build on passive efforts

Considering the orientation of the building and designing in passive sustainability features is vital to creating a highly sustainable building, but passive measures can only go so far.

“The robust approach to design ensured that BREEAM was a key element in the selection of materials and that we were using as much passive sustainability as possible,” says Mr Tavendale. “Then the team applied technical solutions to further increase the building’s sustainability, although they come at a higher cost and are ultimately less sustainable.”

The active technology used in the building includes a combined heat and power unit, high-efficiency condensing boilers, a building management system, light presence detectors, variable air and volume systems, and variable speed pumps.

Maximising the layout of an energy-intensive building

One of the challenges to sustainability for this building in particular is the nature of the work that will be carried out once the building is in use, so the team worked to mitigate any negative effects from the outset.

“They [laboratories] are energy-intensive buildings and the adjacency between activities often means you end up with rooms that could function with natural daylight and ventilation but can’t because of their location,” says Mr Tavendale. “So the architects had to maximise the layout accordingly.

“Our building is costing less to heat, light and power than predicted, and has beaten every environmental target we set”

Prof James Naismith, BSRC

“We also used variable air and volume systems within the laboratories to ensure they run as efficiently as possible. Often lab fume cupboards run at excess speeds or use a greater volume than they need, so a variable system adapts to suit specific needs and gives the client more control.”

The building’s CHP unit works on a 24-hour basis and any excess heat it produces is used to heat one of the existing buildings the lab is attached to. The percentage reduction of the building’s carbon emissions has been assessed at 54.2 per cent compared with a traditional laboratory building.

“Due to the nature of the work carried out in them, laboratory buildings are often energy-intensive in construction and operation,” says BSRC director Professor James Naismith. “In the first nine months of operation, however, our building is costing less to heat, light and power than predicted, and has beaten every environmental target we set for it.”

Tight site and active campus add to complexity

While the sustainable technologies provide challenges in themselves, the practical elements of the site also needed careful consideration from the construction team.

“Working on a live university campus requires careful management and co-ordination; there is always the worry you’ll accidentally stop services to expensive scientific equipment, so that’s always a challenge,” says Mr Tavendale. “It’s also a very tight site, which is a challenge for the contractor.”

Aside from the design and construction challenges, Mr Tavendale also highlights the economic difficulties facing clients at present. “The current market conditions put a lot of pressure on the project and building team to ensure the level of quality is achieved within budget,” he says.

“In this case we have a very high-quality building. Everyone worked very hard to ensure we stayed within the budget – to such an extent that we’re under budget.”

Post-occupancy checks aim to boost performance

Sustainable construction is not just about how a building is designed and built, but how it functions once in use.

Post-occupancy studies are extremely valuable for everyone on the project team to see how sustainable technologies and designs work in practice, and also for them to tweak and adjust any systems to make sure they are working to their full capacity – and the lab at St Andrews is no exception.

“The building is subject to seasonal commissioning: there are four commissioning visits a year to do fine adjustments to the management systems and the controls so the building can operate as efficiently as it can,” explains Mr Tavendale.

“This has proven an extremely worthwhile exercise and I think the university is planning to roll it out on future projects.

“It goes beyond the university’s estate manager looking at the building; it involves the specialist contractors and consultants coming back to see how the building is performing and flush out any projects. It also means the end-users can use the building to its full potential.”

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