"Houston, we have a solution"

Local NASA building receives platinum rating for green design

It's safe to say that no other federal building has inspired the sort of language heard at a dedication on Friday for "Sustainability Base," NASA Ames Research Center's first new building in 25 years.

Officials were not shy in praising two new crescent shaped office buildings near the NASA Ames security gate, after the 1969 moon landing site "Tranquility Base."

"This is a historic day," said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. "This is one of the highest performing buildings in the world. It stands as a model for the world."

Ames director Pete Worden called it "the first moon building on the planet Earth" because of all the NASA technology that's been incorporated, including a water recycling system similar to what is used on the space station, cutting water use by 90 percent. "I want to do something I don't do often," Worden said. "That is to thank NASA headquarters for their enthusiastic support."

"This is the leading edge of what buildings in the future can be," said Steve Zornetzer, Ames deputy director. "It brings NASA technology back to people on the planet Earth."

Last week the building received the highest award for green building, a LEED platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Officials noted it was a major feat, made possible by using geothermal wells to take advantage of the earth's temperature for heating and cooling and solar panels and fuel cells to power itself and other buildings at Ames. Its computer system constantly optimizes the building's efficiency, opening and closing windows to let in natural winds, or cooling off a conference room before a scheduled meeting.

The building combines "high technology and ancient wisdom," said architect Kevin Burke, noting how the building was positioned to make the best use of winds flowing south from the Bay.

"Imagine if every building from this day on generated more energy than it consumed?" Zornetzer said. "What would that mean for our carbon footprint? It's possible, it can be done."

"If you could replicate this building across the U.S., we would no longer have an energy crisis," said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

Sustainability Base architect Bill McDonough ended the ceremony with a thought-provoking speech. He urged the audience to aspire to Mother Nature's designs when thinking about architecture.

"The problem is a material one," McDonough said. "We have carbon, a beautiful thing -- the basis of living systems, in the wrong place."

Mother Nature said, "Let's give ourselves a nuclear power plant, 93 million miles away, and its wireless," he said of the sun. The design "takes carbon from atmosphere and absorbs it in biota" or plants and trees.

"How do you design a building like a tree? That's a question I've been asking since 1989," McDonough said. "What if you could design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, creates habitat, changes color with he seasons, produces food and fuel, creates micro-climates and self replicates? How about building like a tree? How about building more of them? Let's think about that."

McDonough said the Sustainability Base was designed to allow it to be taken apart relatively easily to allow its materials to be recycled.

"We don't have income, like we do with solar energy, with materials," McDonough said. "We need to handle these materials with great care and enjoyment and make sure they can continue to be used by future generations. That's what we see here. This building is full of cradle-to-cradle certified products, which are designed to go back to the industries from which they came."


Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2012 at 2:18 pm

rem is a registered user.

Gee, he did say anything about the BUTCHING of a beautiful grass area that showed off the 70 plus year old building.

It was a beautiful area. Now we have yucky buildings blocking a beautiful area….

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Omander
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Happy to hear we are getting better at constructing buildings, and that it is happening in our neck of the woods!

It has often struck me how badly modern office buildings are designed. For example, I have worked in a building that always required cooling, even on freezing winter days. Hopefully that will be a story I will be able to tell my incredulous grand-children in a couple of decades when we have improved our housing stock.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Doughty
a resident of Gemello
on Apr 23, 2012 at 4:13 pm

"Imagine if every building from this day on generated more energy than it consumed?" Zornetzer said. "What would that mean for our carbon footprint? It's possible, it can be done."

Uh oh -- don't let PG&E hear about this.....


Like this comment
Posted by Sid
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Only the government could afford to build such a building! Using money we don't have.

Like this comment
Posted by gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm

How could anybody not be impressed with this? Are you kidding? This is the future and it is good for everybody.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm

What are all those people housed in that new building working on? Aeronautics and Space research, I hope.

Like this comment
Posted by Uthor
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm

"Only the government could afford to build such a building! Using money we don't have."

Yup, and now we know how to do this and can optimize and employ economy of scale to duplicate it for cheaper across the country.

Like this comment
Posted by wifeofworker
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm

my husband said people are going to burn up there, it's very hot inside and will get cold in the winter. He works there in management. It will not work for many people! Good try, lousy design job. Ugh

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Droege
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2012 at 11:13 pm

These type of buildings have been almost common practice in several European countries for years - check out refs on

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