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Research Support Facility Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

August 3, 2011 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – The U.S. Department of Energy’s Research Support Facility (RSF) on the campus of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., has earned national recognition in the 2011 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2). In honor of this achievement, members of the project team were presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a reception hosted by NREL. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievement in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects around the country. The IDEAS2 award is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S.

Project team members include owners, DOE and NREL, Golden, Colo.; architect RNL, Denver; structural engineer KL&A (AISC Member), Golden, Colo.; steel fabricator Paxton & Vierling Steel Company (AISC Member), Carter Lake, Iowa; steel erector LPR Construction Company (AISC and SEAA Member), Loveland, Colo.; and general contractor Haselden Construction LLC, Centennial, Colo.

The RSF is a National Winner in the category of projects $15 Million to $75 Million, making it one of only eight projects around the country to receive the national honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor national and merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

Striving to become a model for building efficiency and ultra efficient energy design, the 222,000-sq.-ft RSF identifies and addresses issues of building sustainability on multiple scales. Large-scale building components like form and orientation are rooted in passive solar design principles using the natural and predictable processes of the earth to give the RSF an energy advantage over traditional office buildings. Smaller scale solutions using active energy generating systems and both innovative new construction materials as well as recycled materials help the RSF target aggressive energy goals culminating with the desire to become a net-zero energy office building.

The building form is best described as a lazy H with long narrow wings maximizing north-south exposure. This exposure and thin profile allows the interior office spaces to be naturally ventilated to receive an abundance of daylighting, greatly reducing mechanical energy consumption.

To produce an even spread of light, interior columns are eliminated while long-span steel trusses rest on perimeter columns. The steel decking runs perpendicular to the exterior walls to reduce any potential daylight from being lost in the ridges and valleys of the deck.

The perimeter columns are recycled natural gas pipe harvested from fields in Louisiana. Now rather than extracting fossil fuels deep underground they are the literal pillars of strength of a building supporting the effort to minimize the impact of human life on earth through research and development.

“Reuse of salvaged pipe was particularly appropriate for this energy lab structure,” commented Tom Klemens, P.E., senior editor, Modern Steel Construction magazine, Chicago, and a judge in the competition.

NREL invented the transpired solar collector, a steel panel used as part of the exterior cladding on the RSF. The panel is perforated such that natural convection draws outside air into the cavity between the panel and the thermally massive, insulated precast concrete panels. In the cool months this air is naturally preheated before entering the building, reducing the temperature differential between indoor and outdoor air. This panel along with approximately 42 miles of radiant tubing runs through the floor of the building, and the nightly purging of the building through operable windows keeps the RSF at temperatures close enough to human comfort levels that a traditional HVAC system is not required.

To help compensate for the remaining energy needs, the first phase of the RSF uses photovoltaic (PV) panels installed directly on to the standing seam steel roofing. Additional PV will be installed on the RSF expansion, the parking garages and visitor parking for a total of 2.5 MW, all of which is fed back into the power grid. The RSF is expected to perform 50% better than the ASHRAE 90.1 2004 standard and expects an energy use of 35 kBtu per sq. ft per year.

Through thoughtful design strategies focused on the building and its processes, the RSF is on track to meet the aggressive energy goals set forth during project conception. If so, the building will enter into a new category that aims to enhance, rather than simply sustain, the built environment.

The IDEAS2 award dates back over 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, “The entire Research Support Facility project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a sustainable lab facility that serves its employees extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

View high resolution images of the DOE/NREL Research Support Facility project in a slideshow gallery of photos available here.

NREL Research Support Facility


For more information contact:

Tasha Weiss
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]


American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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