Harvard HouseZero: Design Intelligence as a Platform for Sustainability
Harvard, Snøhetta and Skanska Technology develops ambitious research project, retrofitting an existing pre-1940s building to achieve unparalleled levels of energy efficiency.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017 — The Harvard Center for Green Buildings (CGBC) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in collaboration with Snøhetta and Skanska Technology, are retrofitting CGBC’s headquarters in a pre-1940s timber-framed building to become one of the world’s most ambitious sustainable buildings. As a first-of-its-kind research project, HouseZero demonstrates how to transform a challenging building stock into a prototype for ultra-efficiency, rapidly reducing the level of reliance on energy-intensive technology while simultaneously creating comfortable indoor environments.
HouseZero attempts to address the global environmental challenge of climate change by focusing on existing buildings, which account for energy inefficiency and carbon emissions on a vast scale worldwide. Through intelligent design that generates inspiring work spaces and a comfortable indoor climate, HouseZero achieves groundbreaking reductions in energy use and carbon footprint.
To realize this ambition, the design of HouseZero is driven by highly ambitious performance targets, including 100% natural ventilation, 100% daylight autonomy, almost zero energy required for heating and cooling, and zero carbon emissions, including embodied energy in materials. Once completed, the building will produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate and operate it. This measure considers the building’s total life-cycle, including the embodied energy for construction materials, building operations and equipment plug-loads over a 60-year lifespan.
“Before now, this level of efficiency could only be achieved in new construction,” said Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, founding director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities and the creator of the HouseZero project. “We want to demonstrate what’s possible, show how this can be replicated almost anywhere, and solve one of the world’s biggest energy problems — inefficient existing buildings.”
Acoustic quality as part of the spatial experience of HouseZero has been a major focus. Solutions that condition spatial acoustics through both absorption and diffraction are implemented in the interior. Treatment of the existing structure, from exposure of the beams to creation of double height spaces, has positive effects on both volume and acoustics. The addition of the facetted stairwell is designed to reduce potential disturbance to the working spaces from human circulation.