Office Building Of The Future?

May 7, 2004
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MUSKEGON — While most people marvel at the new-age energy systems that power Grand Valley Sate University’s new alternative energy research center in Muskegon, the facility’s design is no less important.

The building — which GVSU heralds as the “office of the future” — was designed and built to work in harmony with alternative energy sources that generate electricity on site, providing a testing ground for the eco-friendly design practices that architects and engineers are putting to greater use today.

Jack Cottrell, president of Workstage LLC, the company that developed the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center for GVSU, sees that integration of facility design and advanced energy systems becoming more prevalent — even commonplace — in the years ahead.

As alternative-energy technologies prove viable for commercial applications, he said, they will complement the growing use of “green” building practices in commercial development.

“Five, 10 years, yeah, this will be something that is done much more often. It’s going to happen,” Cottrell said of the marriage between “green” building principles and the advanced energy systems built in to the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center.

Workstage LLC, a joint venture between Steelcase Inc. and a New Jersey real estate developer that develops highly energy-efficient buildings, saw a significant opportunity in building GVSU’s energy center. The project for the first time allowed Workstage to develop a facility around the alternative energy systems that were planned, Cottrell said.

From the Muskegon project, Workstage can learn valuable lessons about energy efficiency and using alternative energy sources that it can use in future developments, he said.

“Our whole company is about research,” said Cottrell, saying he sees a “big time” future for stationary fuel cells for commercial buildings.

The $8 million, 25,000-square-foot Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center opened last month in Muskegon as a test bed to research, develop and help commercialize alternative and renewable energy technologies.

The two-story research center is a model of energy efficiency, using raised floors for heating, cooling and ventilation systems and numerous windows that maximize natural lighting to reduce energy use. Lights are also connected to sensors that turn them off whenever a room is not is use.

The net result is a projected 15 percent to 20 percent savings in utility costs from reduced energy consumption.

The center, which received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Standard certification, was also built with renewable and recycled materials, such as crushed tires used for the flooring of break rooms and pressed wheat panels for walls.

Mike Corby of Integrated Architecture in Grand Rapids — the firm that designed the center for Workstage — sees the trend as part of a societal move to redefine buildings. Corby said LEED techniques are growing increasingly popular with designers and their clients and will eventually become commonplace in commercial construction.

“It’s going to be normal for buildings,” he said. Energy technologies such as solar cells will take longer for the cost to be commercially viable, Corby said, although “it’s moving that way rapidly.”

Barry Lilly, president of Grand Rapids architectural and engineering firm Tower Pinkster Titus Associates Inc., believes fuel cell and solar technologies will find a strong market with today’s facility designers, once the new-age energy systems advance further and become more commercially viable.

“The design community is ready to go,” Lilly said as he toured the GVSU research center during a recent open house.

“It’s going to come and I really don’t see why not. It’s just a matter of getting people to understand the marketplace.”    

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