Putting Science on Display: The Universities at Shady Grove BSE Facility

August 8, 2021
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On July 22, 2021, Associate Principal Rick Fredlund of the architecture firm Cooper Carry accepted USGBC’s Midsummer Night’s Green award for the Universities at Shady Grove’s new Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Education (BSE) Facility. The award is one of several earned by the project in 2021, joining a IIDA Georgia Best of the Best Award and a NAOIP DC/MD Chapter Award of Excellence for Best Institutional Facility 

Photo courtesy of Cooper Carry. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf © 2019 Feinknopf

The facility is a product of a successful collaboration of design firms and consultants, fueled by an appreciation of sustainable and biophilic design, as well as what Rick called a “synergy.” Contributors included architects Cooper Carry and Lake Flato, general contractor Gilbane, a host of consultants from a broad background of subject matter expertise, and a core leadership team including members from the Universities at Shady Grove and UMD College Park. This Montgomery-County-based project opened its doors in 2019, and after achieving LEED Platinum certification, it’s no wonder the building is receiving high praise. 

Centering Sustainability in Education 

Shady Grove’s BSE facility houses teaching laboratories, active learning classrooms, lecture halls, maker spaces, academic offices, a community dental clinic, and student gathering spaces. The intention was for the building to meet workforce needs – especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM) – in Montgomery County, to become a center for the Universities at Shady Grove’s students, and to be a national role model for sustainability. 

“From day 1, [the Universities at Shady Grove] wanted us to maximize sustainable and biophilic design features and make this building be an example of what you could achieve in an environment when you set your goals really high,” said Rick.  

And as the LEED Platinum rating suggests, they achieved the Universities at Shady Grove’s desire. The facility features a unique combination of sustainable technology, passive design features, and elements of biophilic design that reduce energy consumption, reduce non-potable water use, increase daylight, and feature biophilia. For example, the atrium – affectionately known as the “ecological spine” and “living room” of BSE – allows daylight to penetrate the center of the building, reaching deep into each wing. The atrium also allows for natural ventilation between floors, assisted by motorized operators on the curtain wall and the Life Safety Smoke Exhaust system that control fans in the building. Similarly, operable windows provide natural ventilation in offices. 


                    Photos courtesy of Cooper Carry. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf © 2019 Feinknopf 

For stormwater runoff management, the site has 14 microbioswales that capture, filter, and then percolate surface water into the Piney Branch Watershed, reducing stormwater runoff by 28%. In addition, the facility has two underground cisterns that collect rainwater, foundation drainage, and HVAC equipment condensation; after processing, this non-potable water is used for flushing toilets and site irrigation. By adding in high-efficiency fixtures, the BSE facility is expected to use 79% less water than baseline predictions. 

The building also supports 101 kW photovoltaic arrays on its roof and adjacent buildings, generating 1,023,680 kWh of power annually. That’s 15% of BSE’s energy needs provided by onsite renewable energy. When not used by BSE, that renewable energy is sent to the electricity grid instead for other Pepco customers. Overall, the building was designed to have an energy use intensity (EUI) of 98 — 36% lower than a typical laboratory building. 

In addition to being a model of sustainability, BSE was designed to educate; interactive green screens throughout the building let students explore the facility’s water, energy, and daylight systems in real time. Along the same line, glass walls allow direct observation of classrooms, study spaces, and labs. As Rick encapsulated, “this building’s purpose was to put science and learning on display.” 

Photo courtesy of Cooper Carry. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf © 2019 Feinknopf

A Natural Approach: Biophilic Design 

The BSE facility was developed using an approach to sustainable design based on the theory that humans respond best to natural features and processes: biophilic design. Biophilic design is design that connects people with nature within the built environment in an effort to decrease society’s separation from their surroundings. Some famous examples of biophilic design in action are E. Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel, the Selgascano Architecture Office, and Boeri Studios’ Vertical Forest. 

Biophilic architecture features direct and indirect contact with the natural environment and aims to connect visitors to their setting, creating an emotional attachment to place. According to scientific studies, biophilic design benefits mental health, increases productivity, increases concentration, enhances creativity, improves interior building health, and contributes to social cohesion. Biophilia drives many of Cooper Carry and Lake Flato’s projects and shaped the design of the BSE facility. 

In regards to biophilic design, Rick noted, “We like our buildings to be very daylit, have those outside views, natural ventilation for a healthy interior environment, and provide buildings that focus on nature.” 

Biophilic Design in Action 

Photo courtesy of Cooper Carry. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf © 2019 Feinknopf

Built adjacent to a 100-year floodplain, the BSE facility intentionally borders the natural wetlands, providing access to the natural landscape from exterior patios and an east-west boardwalk that guides campus circulation. The building’s natural setting is continued inside with a skylit atrium, living green wall, nature-inspired colorful furniture, green-glass classrooms, and reclaimed wooden stairs, studios, bridges, and elevator tower. 

“We were able to take nature and pull it all the way through the building, as part of that biophilic experience of the natural environment,” said Rick.  

Two of the elements Rick was most proud of was the amount of natural light and views accomplished in the design. The atrium is flooded by natural light, even on the cloudiest days. Glass on the exterior of the North and South wings provide light to the parts of the building the atrium can’t reach. Plus, 87% of BSE’s occupied space has exterior views. Scenic views found in perimeter classrooms, atrium corridors, and exterior gathering spaces allow visitors to comfortably experience every part of Maryland’s seasons. 

“[The] variety in the seasons can be experienced in this building from both the interior and exterior, proudly revealed Rick.  


Photos courtesy of Cooper Carry. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf © 2019 Feinknopf

All of these features add up to the biggest benefit biophilic design can offer: the natural features connect students, staff, and visitors to the setting, resulting in occupants that are invested in the happenings of the BSE community. For the Universities at Shady Grove, this means a stronger community, increased student success, and confidence in the long-term use of the building. 

From the start, the BSE facility and its biophilic elements drew in the community.

“The students adopted the building as soon as they found out the front door was open,” revealed Rick, “From day 1, the students adopted the building. It’s really their building.”

Photos courtesy of Cooper Carry. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf © 2019 Feinknopf

As the building is more fully occupied in 2021-2022, the Universities at Shady Grove plan to undertake surveys of staff and students to capture the positive impacts of this building design on health, well-being, and student success.  

Montgomery County is incredibly fortunate to have public access to an innovative, biophilic-designed center like the BSE facility. 

Written by Susannah Auderset, Montgomery County Climate Planning Team Intern, Summer 2021. 


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