On a bright and sunny Monday afternoon (April 10, 2010) about 15 HBS students made their way across the Western Avenue bridge to visit one of Harvard's shining jewels as far as green buildings go -- the University Operations Services building at 46 Blackstone Street -- Harvard University’s first LEED® Platinum-certified building!

In 1888, the Cambridge Electric Light Company built the Blackstone Electric Station at the edge of the Charles River to power the city’s growing number of street lamps. However, due to overwhelming demand for electricity, construction of a new and larger plant began in 1901 on the corner of Western Avenue and Memorial Drive. The plant’s turbines were driven by steam which, beginning in 1930, was also used to heat many of Harvard’s buildings. Today, most of the campus is still heated by the Blackstone Steam Plant.

In 2003, Harvard purchased the Blackstone Steam Plant from the local utility, which included 3 adjacent buildings along Blackstone Street. These adjacent buildings were in a serious state of neglect and would become the focus of the Blackstone Office Renovation Project.

Here are my top 6 features of the building:

1. Exterior Lighting: All fixtures have high cut-off angles preventing light from being directed upward or outside of the property. Reducing light pollution helps to restore ecosystems and improves star viewing for city dwellers.

2. Building Envelope: All of the windows are double-insulated glass with a U-value of 0.25%. (U-value measures the rate of heat transfer through a building element over a given area, under standardized conditions. A smaller U-value is better). The windows were specially designed to maintain the historic look of double-hung units but instead open with an awning. Nearly all of the windows are operable, a feature integral to the design and operation of the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system. The Building Automation System is programmed to notify occupants by e-mail whenever outdoor conditions (temperature and humidity) are appropriate for windows to be opened. The decision to install high quality windows, as well as upgraded wall and roof insulation, resulted in a tight building envelope. These investments allowed for a smaller design with more efficient mechanical systems for heating and cooling.

A recycled foam insulation product (Icynene®) was applied directly to the surface of the brick on all exterior facing walls. This product provides a permeable vapor barrier resulting in a continuous R value of 12, more than 50% better than code requirements. The R value is a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. A bigger number means a better insulated building.

3. Bamboo Flooring: Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world making it a rapidly renewal resource. The species used at Blackstone grows at a rate of one foot per month!

4. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Wood: All of the wood used in the project is FSC certified. In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and mistreatment of wildlife. FSC certification is one way to ensure that the wood has been harvested in a responsible manner.

5. Skylight: The large skylight on the fourth floor, directly above the communicating staircase, allows large amounts of natural light to flood the interior of the building. An insulating film was also applied to the glass to further improve efficiency.

6. Eco-Space Elevator: The Eco-Space elevator utilizes a gearless traction system which is 60% more energy efficient than a conventional elevator. The gearless technology also eliminates the need for oil and hydraulic fluid which are potential groundwater contaminates.

Source: Much information in this blog post has been taken from the Blackstone Building online tour.