University of Pittsburgh, Benedum Hall Renovations, Addition

Existing building retrofit: University of Pittsburgh, Benedum Hall Renovations and Addition; H.F. Lenz Co.


Project name: University of Pittsburgh, Benedum Hall Renovations and Addition

Location: Pittsburgh, Pa.

Firm name: H.F. Lenz Co.

Project type, building type: Existing building retrofit, school (college, university)

Project duration: 6 years

Project completion date: April 29, 2010

Project budget for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection engineering only: $39.5 million

Engineering challenges and solutions


Provide lab space conducive to cross-disciplinary research.

Resolution: Tear down those walls! Open lab environment. The internal mechanical cores that compartmentalized the floor plates were relocated to the exterior of the building. Faculty offices, grad spaces, and open lounge spaces were organized along the perimeter and wet labs (contained areas) at the center of floor plate.

Challenge: Installing distribution ductwork for a lab building with 12-ft floor-to-floor height.

Resolution: Create three new exterior duct shafts for the vertical distribution and shorten the amount of horizontal duct required. The low floor-to-floor heights, coupled with the concrete structure, limited the height of ductwork that could be installed at the ceiling. The existing HVAC system used the corridors as the return air path, a concept that is no longer permitted by code, but it eliminated a lot of ductwork and allowed the original building to be constructed with the lower floor heights. The lab exhaust shafts were kept to the wet lab side of the building, and the supply airshaft came from the dry lab side of the building. These permitted the supply and exhaust ductwork to be sized large enough to keep airflows and noise within acceptable limits, and avoided crossing ducts, which would have lowered ceiling heights to the point that they would have been an obstruction.

Challenge: Outdated systems, centrally located.

Resolution: Relocate systems to exterior shafts of building. As mentioned above, relocating the mechanical cores to the external four corners of the building created open labs. Additional efficiencies were gained through flexible access to electrical, computational, mechanical, and plumbing systems via plug-and-play opportunities at each floor through ductwork, piping, plumbing, and IT server rooms.

Challenge: High energy costs.

Resolution: Provide right sizing of systems. The design team worked with the users to determine the optimal balance of dry and wet labs. Appropriate systems were provided that respected their environmental impact while achieving the goals of the research facility. The design is flexible and provides room for expansion and adaptation within open lab spaces. A variable air volume supply and lab exhaust system were provided.

Challenge: Research and learning spaces hidden behind solid walls and on upper floors of tower.

Resolution: Relocate classrooms to ground floors with multifunctioning circulation spaces. A new Teaching Learning Center was designed with café, library, student organization offices, computer lab, and classrooms located around breakout spaces.

Challenge: Constituency engagement throughout complex project.

Resolution: Host eco-charette and user meetings.

Challenge: Leaking raised plaza.

Resolution: Replace with green space.

Challenge: Windows leaking air and water.

Resolution: Replace glazing system and revitalize building enclosure.

Challenge: Locating a home for the Mascaro Sustainability Initiative.

Resolution: On-site addition to existing Benedum Hall. A new 42,000-sq-ft building houses wet and dry labs for 18 faculty members and 94 graduate and postdoctoral researchers.

Features of the project include: an estimated 17.9% energy cost savings over a similar minimally code-compliant designed structure, energy-recovery coil system, CO2 monitoring, and premium efficiency motors for all mechanical equipment estimated to save more than $600 per year each in energy costs. Other features include sensors that adjust lighting by the level of natural light, highly efficient LED lights on exterior, and reflective thermoplastic polyolefin, or TPO, roof. This project was designed by the same team and ran concurrently with the Benedum Hall project but had different general, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection contractors that needed to be coordinated. Construction cost was $8 million. The project has attained LEED Gold.

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