henley hall exterior, a terracotta red facade punctuated by brise-soleil wings

Henley Hall Institute for Energy Efficiency Offers a Lesson in Natural Ventilation 

Designed by KieranTimberlake for The University of California, Santa Barbara, the laboratory building achieved LEED Platinum and is defined by a massive brise-soleil.

Climate is often the first box you need to tick when naturally ventilating a building—either the hours of occupancy align with good weather conditions or they don’t. “If you can’t make natural ventilation work in central Santa Barbara County, where can you?” asks Jordan Sager, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s campus energy manager. Situated directly on the Pacific Ocean, the university has climate on its side. Cool, breezy summers, manageable humidity, and mild winters help explain why the campus boasts several academic and residential buildings with passive ventilation for cooling, often coupled with radiant heating systems. 

This was the approach UCSB tasked KieranTimberlake with for Henley Hall, a new 49,900-square-foot academic laboratory building opened in August 2020 to house the school’s Institute for Energy Efficiency. A combination research and teaching lab, with supporting lecture spaces and offices, the LEED Platinum structure sits on the north edge of campus, along with a series of other science and engineering facilities. 

interior atrium in stairwell allows natural ventilation
Classrooms and collaboration spaces in the east wing open to a concrete-clad, three-story atrium that allows natural air to flow through all of its public zones. COURTESY JEFF LIANG

The three-story building is divided into two blocks: the “active” block of lab spaces to the west, and the “passive” block of offices to the east. Jason Smith, KieranTimberlake’s design lead for the project, says the building’s east–west orientation allowed its programs to take advantage of north-facing glass facades with clear views of the Santa Ynez Mountains in the distance while incorporating time-honored solar control strategies on the south elevation. Lab spaces vary from wet and dry to computational labs, including an experimental data center, all contributing to a research mission focused on the application and commercialization of energy-efficient technologies. 

A large brise-soleil defines the exterior of the passive block, with louvered vertical and horizontal extensions of the terra-cotta facade framing the south elevation. That treatment addresses summer sun angles and reduces peak temperatures along the perimeter. A central atrium defines the block’s interior, separating individual offices along the north and a lecture hall, conference spaces, and open offices along the south. The concrete-finished atrium is technically an exterior space, protected against weather but entirely naturally ventilated with a series of automated windows in a clerestory along the top to provide an exhaust path. The individual offices to the north include operable windows to bring fresh air in from the exterior, with smaller apertures in the doors on the interior wall. “This allows flow-through ventilation without having the privacy concerns of having to open the doors,” says Smith. Each office incorporates a ceiling fan, which aids cooling on warmer days, and flat-plate hot-water radiators to discreetly provide heating when needed. According to Sager, it’s a simple, user-centered approach to comfort for academic offices that has worked well across the campus. 

Depending on orientation, glazing stands alone or is protected by terra-cotta fins and applied fritting.COURTESY JEFF LIANG
Terra-cotta brise-soleil projects beyond a south facing glass-curtain facade. COURTESY BRUCE DAMONTE

The active block’s north elevation has a stucco-clad exterior with punched windows to minimize solar gain in its more light-sensitive laboratory spaces. Its north side incorporates the expansive glazed facade found on the passive block’s north elevation, but without operable windows. Since the labs produce high internal heat loads, the project’s engineers, Buro Happold, optimized the U-value performance and surface area of the glazing for the north-facing labs so those spaces could lose heat during Santa Barbara’s mostly cool days. The glazed facade also exposes the inner workings of the labs to the wider campus community, a realization of a desire for “science on display,” as Smith says. 

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Kim Fiffer, Buro Happold’s mechanical engineer for the project, says the labs vary between active chilled beams in spaces without fume hoods and variable air volume systems where fume hoods require higher air demands. All chilled water is provided by centralized campus systems, while hot water is heated by gas-fired boilers located in a mechanical penthouse. 

interior of classroom laboratory space—natural ventilation reduces energy loads on the building
Flexible, open labs contain large glass walls as well as exposed utilities in anticipation of future upgrades. COURTESY BRUCE DAMONTE

The team credits a relentless focus on energy efficiency with helping them reach an ambitious target—an energy use intensity (EUI) of only 100 kBtu/sf-year compared with the university’s average for existing labs of nearly 300. That achievement is one of the reasons it’s a rare lab building to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, even rarer to include natural ventilation. Currently, the team is reviewing metered operational data, but it has taken more time given the uneven occupancy of the building with pandemic shutdowns. Smith says the engineers who work in the building call it “fresh and clean,” which has struck a particular chord as designers everywhere have started paying more attention to indoor air quality during the pandemic. 

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