Driven by the goals of flexibility and innovation Leers Weinzapfel Associates’ design for this energy facility on Harvard’s Allston campus addresses a fossil-fuel-free future to provide reliable and resilient sources of heating, cooling, and electricity

Allston, MA

One of the first new buildings to be completed on Harvard’s campus in Allston, Massachusetts, the Harvard University District Energy Facility by Leers Weinzapfel Associates sets a precedent for high-quality design as a visible demonstration of sustainable practices in building and stormwater management.

Cities account for 70% of the world’s energy consumption. Almost 50% of the energy is used for heating or cooling.

District energy systems are one of the most effective ways to mitigate climate change, as referenced in “District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” United Nations Environmental Program report (2015).

The new 56,000 square-foot District Energy Facility (DEF) sets the stage for a state-of-the-art, cost-effective, and sustainable utility generation and distribution system for Harvard’s Allston campus that also makes a significant contribution to the urban design of the campus.

For its innovative and sustainable design, the Harvard University District Energy Facility has recently been awarded a 2022 American Architecture Award by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Center for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

The building’s compact cubic form with rounded corners allows for maximum flexibility of future development around it while maintaining a singular, bold and refined presence.

A wrapper of anodized aluminum metal fins forms a screen around the facility, with petal-like elements set at varying degrees of openness to reveal or conceal the various equipment areas within.

The exterior fins are most open at the structure’s corner entry, and most closed on its service sides.

On the public faces of the building, the ends are raised to engage the community through technology on display.

On the service side of the building, the fins are raised to allow vehicular access into the building and equipment access through large glass bi-fold doors.

The inner façade is composed of insulated metal panels, curtain walls, and louvers; each side is unique to address specific equipment requirements and interior layout

Materials were chosen for their durability, ease of maintenance, acoustics, and with sustainability in mind.

A high design priority was workplace safety, security, accessibility, and wellness.

Abundant natural light is an additional feature that was implemented in all workspaces.

Formerly relegated to the “backyard” of a campus with little visibility, today’s infrastructure plants are more centrally located to serve multiple buildings in a district and therefore face the pressures of relating in scale to nearby structures as well as mitigating noise and air quality.

An innovative approach is required to celebrate their energy and robust beauty and to make them good neighbors.

The DEF is one of the first new buildings to be completed on the Allston campus, therefore carrying the responsibility of setting a high standard of quality and design as well as creating a visible demonstration of sustainable practice in building, landscape, and stormwater management.

Occupying a previously deserted railyard, the project introduces native vegetation and water management to activate the area’s biodiversity and minimize stormwater runoff.

Resiliency, flexibility, and innovation are key goals for the design to transition to a fossil-fuel-free future, withstand climate impacts including storm surge flooding, and provide a reliable, resilient source of heating, cooling, and electricity to the Allston campus.

Project: Harvard University District Energy Facility
Architects: Leers Weinzapfel Associates
Lead Architects: Jane Weinzapfel, Andrea Leers, Winne Stopps, Irene Kang, Zhanina Boyadzhieva, Bruce Buescher, Langer Y. Hsu, and Joshua Liebla
General Contractor: Bond Brothers
Client: Harvard Campus Services-Capital Projects
Photographers: Brad Feinknopf

Green Good Design Awards 2023

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