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View of the IRC from the waterfront. Image: Alan Karchmer  

  

The 350,000-sf NOAA Inouye Regional Center (IRC) encompasses the adaptive re-use of two historic World War II-era airplane hangars linked by a new addition on a national historic landmark site on Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island. The campus consolidates hundreds of employees from around the island in a state-of-the-art, LEED Gold-certified research and administrative campus. The vision for the IRC skillfully integrates the considerable cultural and historic significance of the site with high-performing, sustainable design rooted in the mission of NOAA.

Ford Island was part of the Japanese fleet attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The island has been designated as a national historic landmark, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation lists the island as one of the most endangered historic sites. Historic guidelines required new buildings and landscape elements be compatible, but not mimic Albert Kahn’s original architecture and site design. The historic tarmac and hangars represent recent naval history; the water’s edge serves as a metaphor for Hawaiian ocean culture. NOAA in the Pacific Region has a strong relationship with Polynesian culture and the ocean. The intersection of the two represents a collaborative fusion and respect for both traditions.

Two historic airplane hangars are linked by a new addition, a simple glass-and-steel building that beautifully complements Kahn’s original structures. The three-story atrium is the centerpiece of the facility—a central gathering place activated by natural light. The island’s ecology was a fundamental model of inspiration and efficiency for the IRC’s design. Biomimetic lessons from nature and the ecology formed design principles, such as the morphology of the native Hawaiian albizia saman trees that thrive on the site. The broad-canopied tree captures water vapor as their leaves open and close with changing light. This influence is translated into the design of the IRC’s passive cooling and lighting systems—a natural ventilation system that captures prevailing sea breezes and funnels them over chilled coils of water from geotherthemal undersea wells. The weight of the cooled air drops fresh air supply into vertical “thermal chimneys” that feed an underground air distribution system and through a system of raised floors, relying on the buoyancy of rising warm air to reach exhaust vents. As a result, most spaces in the building are ventilated without mechanical fans. The IRC is the state of Hawaii’s first-ever facility to utilize a hydronic passive cooling unit (PCU) system to condition the space.

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Collaborative meeting space with thermal chimneys. Image: Alan Karchmer  

  

The facility’s integrated daylighting system provides a significant reduction in energy consumption. Existing floorplates are long and wide, 730 by 270 ft, with occupants as far as 135 ft from a window. In response, a skylight diffuser system on the roofs was designed, virtually eliminating the need for artificial light during the day. Based on extensive psychometric/bioclimatic chart profiles, the IRC’s natural illumination systems provide a consistent spread of 30 footcandles/sf across the floorplates, reducing electrical lighting loads by 50%. A grid of apertures sprinkled across the roof was designed with tubular devices under the apertures that direct sunlight down into the building’s core. Below, these devices are translucent reflectors that capture sunlight and glow like a light fixture during daylight hours. They also reflect light back up to the ceiling, which acts like a luminaire.

Many of the natural resources available on the site inspired the design and resulted in the skillful implementation of three key natural resources—water, wind and sun—into a high-performance facility well adapted to its site, climate and culture. Designed through lenses of history and biomimicry, the IRC provides innovative solutions to modern challenges.

As Regional Leader of Science + Technology at HOK, Tom Fortier is responsible for leading planning and design teams on innovative and award-winning projects within the public and private sectors. Paul Woolford is the Design Principal for HOK’s San Francisco studio and is responsible for some of HOK’s most innovative and creative buildings.

Extra: Can sustainable design be cost effective?

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