The Grass is Greener Across the Charles, Planners Say of Enviro-friendly Complex

Allston planners presented their vision for an environmentally-friendly science complex that could require significantly less energy than similar structures, at a dinner in Quincy House last night.

An architect from the firm Behnisch Architekten, which is designing the science complex, said the firm will integrate green spaces into the building and utilize innovative heating and cooling systems that will allow the building to use at least 50 percent less energy than comparable buildings.

The architect, Martin Werminghausen, was speaking at a dinner discussion organized by Sustainable Allston, a subgroup of the Environmental Action Committee.

Presenting his firm’s plans, Werminghausen said that the science complex will consist of four buildings surrounding a central yard, reflecting the community atmosphere of Harvard Yard. Each building will contain a mix of offices, labs, and social spaces. They will be interconnected via elevated walkways.

A principal planner for Harvard’s Allston Development Group, Nathalie Beauvais, said that the complex will be at least LEED Gold Certified. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system is the standard for environmental building certfication in the United States; gold certification is the second highest possible level.

Beauvais insisted that Harvard did not want the gold certification “just to have it.”

Rather, she said, Harvard wants a building that reflects the spirit of the campus-wide sustainability principles adopted in 2004.

At the dinner, Werminghausen spoke about the challenges of designing ings typically need more ventilation and require considerably more energy than other academic buildings, he said.

The complex will use radiant underfloor heating and cooling, rather than the traditional model in which air is blown into rooms.

There was discussion at last night’s event of using “hot rock” technology to generate steam for the science labs. Geothermal energy would be used to heat water, creating steam. The technology is widely used in Europe and in parts of the American West, but hasn’t been tested on the East Coast, Werminghausen said.

The plan would require drilling down about four miles.

The attending students seemed particularly excited about this technology.

“Harvard has so many resources,” said Ashley M. Mannetta ’09, a co-chair of Sustainable Allston. “It can run experiments and set an example, like the steam experiment.”

The science complex is slated for completion by the end of 2010, as part of the first phase of Allston development.

Elizabeth R. Shope ’09, Sustainable Allston’s other co-chair, said she sees Allston as a unique opportunity.

“It’s not that often that a university builds all these new buildings,” she said. “We have the opportunity to show people that sustainability can be done well.”

-Staff writer Jillian M. Bunting can be reached at