NASA Langley Headquarters Reaches New Heights

A LEED rating was always part of the plan for the glassy NASA Langley Headquarters building, which was completed in 2011. Constructed as a design-build project with AECOM providing full bridging architectural and engineering services, Cooper Carry Inc. as the architect of record and Whiting-Turner as the general contractor, Edward D. Weaver, vice president, architecture for AECOM, says they started with a goal to reach silver.

“During the process, though, we realized we could achieve gold. Then during final design and construction we found we could reach platinum,” says Weaver. “We just kept reaching higher.”

The headquarters is the first new building at NASA Langley in 35 years. It stands as a $23 million, 79,000-square-foot structure that houses NASA Langley headquarters and all, or parts of, six administrative organizations. It’s the first of a planned $330 million program to replace and upgrade center facilities with the future in mind.

Under the GSA Design Excellence for New Construction program, AECOM was awarded the NASA New Town program at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

The first task was creating the bridging design package for the headquarters, which architects say “establishes an image representative of the entire NASA Langley Research Center and its progressive programs.”

Weaver says, the process of creating the new headquarters began with vision sessions. In fact, he says the master plan had been done years before the building was constructed. The second building, the Integrated Engineering Services Building, is under construction now and the third is currently in the design phase.

According to information from the architects, the new headquarters building is conceptualized as a parallelogram on a softly triangular site with a two-sided entry at ground level linked by a continuous lobby. The southern entrance plaza links both through the lobby and around the building to the north plaza, which is oriented to the heart of the campus. The building layout was designed to provide high efficiency and organizational clarity. Dominant daylighting and highly functional office spaces offset the cultural adjustment associated with the movement from the current private office space.

Weaver also points out that the new building was a “repair by replacement” project in that it was built, while older structures were torn down, ultimately creating a smaller, more energy-efficient building footprint.

In designing the structure, creating a sustainable, energy-efficient building was essential.

Speaking of the glass, Weaver says this was important for the interior environment of the project as it provides daylight and views.

“It helps create an open space and allows even the lowest level of the building to feel that way [open],” he says explaining the project features a large atrium and skylight that connects the three floors and keeps them well lit.

The project features laminated insulating units fabricated by Viracon and constructed with high-performance glass, which Mark Woodburn, AECOM associate principal, says was selected due to the high-performance features it could provide. Pioneer Cladding and Glazing Systems, with offices in Loveland and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Baltimore, was the contract glazier, installing custom unitized curtainwalls, vertical and horizontal sunshades and entrances.

The use of natural lighting and solar sensors help optimize daylight while also reducing energy and costs. The photovoltaic onsite power generation is achieved through fixed solar panels placed on the penthouse roof as well as photovoltaic film sandwiched between the glazing layers within the buildings massive atrium skylight.

According to information from NASA Langley, the structure uses windows to regulate light so that less power is used by employees during the workday. This is done by a computer, which notes the exact location of the building and the position of the sun in relation to it at every minute of the day. It was created to adjust the light and shade system to account for available sunlight.

While creating an energy-efficient, high-performance structure was important, the new headquarters also needed to provide high-security features. Weaver says the building had to have set back, as well meet such requirements as fragmentation and blast-resistance.

“Being able to create a feeling of openness, while still being cognizant of security issues [can be a challenge],” says Weaver.

Construction on phase two of the project is currently underway with completion expected in 2014 and with the third building still in the design phase, Weaver points out that this is a long-term project—with big goals ahead.

“With this being the first building, it sets the standards high in [terms of] performance going forward,” says Weaver.