AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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Research Support Facility

The building's narrow, H-shaped footprint can be seen in the photo.
Photo credit: Photo by Frank Ooms


  • Location: Golden, Colorado
  • Building type(s): Other
  • 222,000 ft2 (20,600 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Suburban setting
  • Completed June 2010

From its inception, the Department of Energy's (DOE) Research Support Facility (RSF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was designed to be a world-changing building. With the goal of creating the largest commercial net-zero energy structure in the country, the building is meant to serve as a blueprint for a net-zero energy future and influence others in the building industry to pursue low energy and net-zero energy performance. This building is meant to further the DOE and NREL's long-term mission.

The RSF is a large-scale office building housing more than 800 people who support and conduct the important research work at this national laboratory. The building also houses a data center that serves the entire NREL campus. NREL and DOE's goal is to transform innovative research in renewable energy and energy efficiency into market-viable technologies and practices. This building serves as an example of these ideas and a living laboratory for the staff of the RSF to learn from and work by. The resulting project is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, providing a high-performance workplace and aiming at operating at net-zero energy on an annual basis.

Environmental Aspects

As our client at NREL notably said, "every design decision has an energy impact." The net-zero energy goal for this project amplified every design decision and explicitly shaped the building and resulted in a positive impact on the program and functionality of the building. The building is a simple architectural response to the climate, site, and ecology that envelop it and the desire for a flexible, high-performance workplace within. Many of the integrated passive design strategies, such as daylighting and natural ventilation, strongly support both energy performance and human performance. The form of the building is driven by energy, with its long and narrow office wings connected by a central spine, forming an "H" shape. In fact, the building section was the first drawing sketched to understand how to harness passive energy.

The energy-driven form also facilitated significant building program and functional benefits. The open office plan resulted in a higher-density workplace, reducing the building footprint per person. The "H" shape provided secure separation between staff work areas in the office wings and collaborative public meeting spaces in the central collector. This shape also provided two exterior courtyards, which have become popular amenities.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Federal government
  • Typically occupied by 822 people, 50 hours per person per week; and 60 visitors per week, 2 hours per visitor per week


Integrated team, Design charrette, Simulation, Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Transportation benefits, Open space preservation, Wildlife habitat, Stormwater management, Efficient fixtures and appliances, Efficient irrigation, Drought-tolerant landscaping, Massing and orientation, Passive solar, HVAC, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, On-site renewable electricity

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Last updated: 4/14/2011

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

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