A Scientific Approach to Sustainability:

UC Santa Barbara’s Center for Bioengineering

“One of the first things we did was determine which areas of the building could be served by natural ventilation and which required mechanical ventilation.”

Achievement of LEED Platinum is no easy feat – for any building type. But when it comes to laboratories, the process is especially complex. That’s why the Center for Bioengineering at UC Santa Barbara, with its LEED Platinum certification and many recent awards, is such a meaningful project for Syska.


Designed by Moore Ruble Yudell (MRY), the four-story building comprises 84,000 square feet and combines office space with wet laboratories, laboratory support space, dry research laboratories, an auditorium, and an atrium. “All of these environments have vastly different requirements for lighting, temperature, and ventilation,” notes John Passanante, senior principal and head of Syska’s Western region. “So we had quite a few obstacles to overcome.”

“We also wanted to incorporate smart design principles into every area of the facility, even in the labs – which typically require large amounts of energy,” adds Chris Hamilton, associate principal and director of operations at MRY. “UC’s target was LEED Silver. We wanted to exceed that.”


Syska worked closely with MRY and the other team members to address these challenges. Collaboration began from day one, says Chris: “The team got together to talk about the project’s goals and how to achieve them. We’d come up with ideas and strategies, and then test and validate them at every stage of the process.”

Strategies included positioning the building to make the most of the Santa Barbara climate. “One of the first things we did was determine which areas of the building could be served by natural ventilation and which required mechanical ventilation,” Chris recalls. “We located the labs on the north side of the building so that they’d benefit from extensive daylight through windows, but not attract too much heat. The daylighting is so effective that every time I’ve visited post-occupancy, the researchers have the lights off.”

He also points out that concrete used in the structure further controls heat in the labs. Concrete soaks up the heat during the day and emits it when the night gets cool.

In these spaces, the greatest challenges revolved around systems. The laboratory design had to address the dense equipment loads and also support occupant safety – a particular concern for experiments conducted under fume hoods. “Our approach was to use a 100-percent outside-air system and chilled beams, which accommodated the equipment loads while maintaining safety, along with comfort,” says Rob Bolin, the principal in charge of Syska’s team. “And because we maximized the induction ratios of the beams, the lower primary air quantities allowed us to reduce fan power and achieve smaller overall duct distribution.”

The faculty and research offices on the south side of the building posed a different challenge. “It’s the hot side of the building,” explains Chris. To combat the heat, the team designed “chimneys” at the back of the offices that draw air across the space and exhaust at the roof. In order to provide daylight deeper into the space and from multiple directions, the team provided light shafts near the chimneys that allowed Solatube tubular daylight devices to deliver daylight from the roof to all levels of the building.

For the offices located around the central core, the team turned to operable windows that draw air across the offices from the façade through the transom and and exchaust at the top of the central atrium. Daylighting is delivered from both sides: the perimeter and the bright central core, which yields borrowed daylight.

None of the offices has mechanical cooling. Therefore, the proper control of solar gain was critical. The team first organized the building to minimize all west-facing glass, and then installed overhangs in the central core and an aggressive louver system along the southern facade.

The customized approaches applied to the atrium and the auditorium, too. In the atrium, radiant heating via PEX tubing embedded in the slab provides focused warmth, and a staged ventilation scheme operated by the BMS uses automated doors and windows to manage temperature. These windows and doors also act as the make-up air pathway and the smoke control system. In the auditorium, students and visitors enjoy enhanced ventilation and comfort through underfloor air distribution located under each seat.

“UC’s target was LEED Silver. We wanted to exceed that.”


Thanks to these measures, the building has reduced overall source energy consumption by 30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1-2007. Furthermore, the campus PV array supplies nearly 14 percent of the building source energy, resulting in a total source EUI less than 250 kbtu/sqft-yr for an academic wet laboratory.

But energy-saving is not the only outcome of significance. The project also meets the strictest standards of biophilic design with a high-quality, balanced, and illuminated environment. Operable windows, controlled by office occupants, facilitate sensory connections with the outdoors. Ceiling fans increase comfort. And although laboratory windows are intentionally fixed, laboratory tables are oriented perpendicular to the perimeter to maximize views of the outside.


Faculty and students alike are thrilled with the design. Chris visits the site regularly and keeps in touch with the director of the Center. According to Chris, “He tells me that his old office was in a windowless lab in the basement of a building. Now he’s on the third floor of the Center with floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean in two directions and of the mountains in another, with fresh air. This environment is incredibly rewarding for him and his colleagues.”

The director also told him that graduate students visited the labs before moving in, and upon viewing them, began clapping. Chris understands this reaction. When he was growing up, his parents both worked in labs. “These were not attractive or appealing environments,” he remembers. “Let’s just say there was a lot of motivation to improve on the model.

“Fortunately, Syska shared this perspective,” he continues. “By working closely together, we were able to design a place that is not just functional, but also inspirational.”

“By working closely together, we were able to design a place that is not just functional, but also inspirational.”