Fall 2012 Debut for Newest of Three Alternate Energy Research Facilities in the U.S.

MADISON, WIS. – The newest of three alternate energy research facilities in the U.S. is slated to debut in fall 2012. Construction is advancing on schedule at the Wisconsin Energy Institute (WEI), a 104,000-square-foot collaboration-centric research center being built at 1552 University Ave. on the University of Wisconsin (UW) campus in Madison, Wis. Dedicated to cutting-edge renewable energy systems research, the $55 million, five-story building was designed by the St. Louis office of HOK and Madison-based Potter Lawson. The project is funded by the state of Wisconsin.

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The WEI is being built to create a physical hub where scientists from various disciplines can collaborate efficiently. Its lead tenant is the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), one of three BRCs funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct basic research that generates technology to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol and other biofuels. Currently, 200-plus biologists, geologists and engineers associated with the GLBRC are scattered across the UW campus in 15 buildings. The facility will also host the UW Energy Institute, the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative and the Center for Renewable Energy Systems.

“Developing next-generation biofuels and other renewable energy systems that are efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable requires a new level of interdisciplinary teamwork. We needed a building that was functional, flexible and that sparked the ‘random collisions’ between scientists from different disciplines that can catalyze the breakthrough advances that are our goal,” said Tim Donohue, GLBRC director and UW professor of bacteriology. “The facility also needed to respect the research being done there by applying state-of-the-art strategies to conserve energy use and optimize the use of renewable resources. HOK and its team understood those necessities and delivered a winning solution.”

“The benefits of centralizing research activities were apparent, given that the science is currently being conducted in umpteen separate facilities,” said Joseph Ostafi, IV, AIA, LEED AP BD + C, vice president and science + technology discipline leader for HOK. “Our design team also rallied to the challenge of seizing every possible opportunity to stimulate collaboration among academic and public and private sector researchers, many of whom are not accustomed to working closely in multi-disciplinary teams to solve problems.”

To that end, an interior light well supports each research floor. The light well provides open sightlines and highways for interaction between researchers and staff in the offices and work stations that ring the perimeter of the floor and the laboratories that populate its interior. “We know that highly collaborative, interactive space promotes pathways of confluence that spawn the informal interactions necessary to solve complex problems,” Ostafi added. Bridge walks spanning the light wells provide accessibility, while break rooms, seating nooks and formal meeting areas offer an array of venues for communication.

The building is being constructed in two phases, with Phase II to commence when funding is achieved. Feature elements of Phase I are:

  • five primary labs that focus on molecular biology, chemical engineering and organic chemistry research, totaling 25,000 square feet. Adaptability and flexibility are hallmarks of each of the three specialized lab templates;
  • a 1,400-square-foot applied engineering high-bay lab used for demonstration-scale solar and bio-fuels projects;
  • a central, shared solution-state nuclear magnetic resonance lab that will greatly enhance imaging capabilities and research productivity;
  • two video conferencing rooms to connect researchers with global constituents; and
  • an education and public outreach suite complete with biofuel demonstration gardens.

The building is pursuing U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold Certification criteria and is on track to deliver 54 percent better energy efficiency than basic energy code for laboratory research buildings.

Renewable, sustainable elements include a 22Kw photovoltaic array; a building design and orientation to optimize natural day-lighting and reduce electric light demand; and the extensive use of sustainable structural and finish materials such as steel, concrete, recycled glass terrazzo flooring and reclaimed wood tiles.

Additionally, the project team seeks to recycle 95 percent of all construction waste. It has already recycled more than 10,000 tons of concrete, 220 tons of steel and 40 tons of wood.

Teaming with HOK and architect of record Potter Lawson is Mortenson Construction, Milwaukee, Wis., general contractor.

HOK is a global architectural firm that specializes in planning, design and delivery solutions for buildings and communities. Through its collaborative network of 25 offices worldwide, the firm serves diverse clients within the corporate, commercial, public and institutional markets. HOK is committed to developing resources and expertise to help lead the world toward sustainable communities and building environments. Founded in 1955, the firm’s expertise includes architecture, engineering, interiors, planning, lighting, graphics, facilities planning and assessment, and construction services. For more information, visit www.hok.com.

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