MIT's Not-So-Green New Buildings
There have been recent articles about the Stata building in The New York Times and Technology Review , describing it as one of the new green buildings in Cambridge. Not withstanding the positive attributes of Stata and Simmons, these are not good examples of green buildings. Stata may receive a LEED silver award; LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System . Silver is the lowest of the possible LEED medal awards (there is LEED certification below this) and is based, in part, on credits such as close access to public transportation that even Building 20 would have received.
Stata does have a raised floor technology that permits the use of displacement ventilation to provide cool ventilated air. This does produce more comfortable conditions. In studies we did for several climates, the energy savings in chiller use with displacement ventilation was just about offset by increased fan power requirements for the higher flow rates that are required. In other words, there aren't any significant energy savings to be expected with this system. Similarly, there were excesses in material used in the building structure.
The faculty and students in the Building Technology Program at MIT have a number of sustainable building projects underway in China, the UK, and the U.S. We have shown that if properly integrated into the original design, sustainable technologies can have a minimal impact on initial cost and at the same time improve the quality of the indoor environment. It was our hope that MIT could be a leader in demonstrating realistic cost-effect designs that produce extraordinary savings in CO2 production, nonrenewable materials conservation, and other important factors. Although there was a declaration at the outset to produce sustainable buildings in both the Stata and Simmons projects, the lead architects did not seriously consider sustainability measures. It is unfortunate that MIT has only achieved, at most, modest sustainability progress with the new buildings.
At the least, MIT needs to exercise some caution in our characterization of these projects. We would hope for future buildings that faculty and students emphasize the need to keep sustainability a major priority throughout the project.