Largest LEED Platinum project in the world

The KAUST is Saudi's first LEED-certified project

A view of the library at KAUST
A view of the library at KAUST
Hussam S. Shayteh and Ahmad Al Naser from MEP contractor Drake & Scull, which won the 2009 'Most Sustainable Project of the Year' at the 2009 MEP Awar
Hussam S. Shayteh and Ahmad Al Naser from MEP contractor Drake & Scull, which won the 2009 'Most Sustainable Project of the Year' at the 2009 MEP Awar
The main entrance of KAUST at Thuwal, near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia
The main entrance of KAUST at Thuwal, near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia

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KAUST’s new campus is Saudi Arabia’s first LEED-certified project, earning LEED Platinum. In addition, it is the largest certified project of its kind in the world to date.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) at Thuwal, near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia was the ‘Most Sustainable Project of the Year’ in the 2009 MEP Awards. We take a closer look at this massive project.

KAUST was recently announced as one of the winners of the American Institute of Architects’ Top 10 Green Buildings awards for 2010. The new international graduate-level research university campus was designed by HOK Architects and completed in September 2009. The university was established by the government-owned Aramco, the world’s largest energy corporation, to drive innovation in science and technology and to support world-class research in areas such as energy and the environment.

KAUST’s new campus is Saudi Arabia’s first LEED-certified project, earning a LEED Platinum certification. While the project was certified under the old LEED Version 1.0 certification, as a 496 000 square metre project, it represents the world’s largest LEED Platinum project.

In order to assure that KAUST was awarded the LEED Platinum level, MEP contractor Drake & Scull International PJSC (DSI) had to alter conventionally used designs and installations, as well as employ several innovative engineering techniques and products. This included:
• Designing a system to sustain a lifecycle of 100 years;
• Maximising efficiency of installed systems and using specific special construction materials for the laboratory buildings;
• Adopting photovoltaic cells for generating power;
• Installing solar towers and solar water heaters;
• Using low-emission sealants;
• Minimising construction waste; and
• Using recyclable materials wherever possible.

The engineering office of DSI worked out of Saudi Oger’s engineering offices in Paris, France to ensure that the designs were being finalised as per the DSI team’s input and requirements. From inception, the campus was designed to be environment-friendly. The university will act as a living laboratory by demonstrating that environmentally-responsible methods of energy use, materials management and water consumption are viable in the Middle East and across the globe.

Alternative transportation reduces campus emissions and provides convenient transit options. A total of 100 shared electric vehicles and charging stations are distributed across campus, and additional vehicles will be added as the university grows in size. Three campus shuttle bus system lines with dedicated stops across campus serve the entire community. A Segway scooter and bicycle sharing system provide additional short-distance travel options in most months of the year.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy helps cool and power the campus. There are two solar towers each 75 metres high.

Two fans, each extracting 95 cubic metres per second through 3.0 metre diameter axial blades, use the sun and prevailing winds to create a passive pressure difference and continuous breeze along the shaded courtyards, and allow exterior courtyard occupants to feel comfortable for more than 75% of the year.

A total of 1 152 units of solar thermal panels with a 4 134 square metre area for hot water production was installed on the monumental roof, and will produce around 50 Gegajoules per day. A total of 16 567 square metres of photovoltaic arrays installed on the monumental roof will produce 4 Megawatts of renewable energy, offsetting 5.7% of the total campus energy demand.

A proposed 900 000 square metres of solar energy panels will eventually provide 100% of all campus energy needs and make the university carbon neutral. The university has contracted to obtain 35% of the total campus energy needs from an outside renewable energy provider.

The use of variable speed drives to run all the major equipment such as air-handling units, chilled water pumps and different types of fans contributes to reducing the overall power consumption.

Adopting the principle of skylights, side by side with daylight sensors to control the indoor lighting without human interference, will also help to eliminate power wastage.

Natural habitat

The natural habitat surrounding KAUST has been preserved and protected. A long-term habitat preservation, restoration and protection plan was implemented during construction, and will continue through the university’s existence for the 182 988 000 square feet of coral reef and 21 528 000 square feet of mangrove ecosystems on campus.

The campus architecture is designed to maximise the area’s unique microclimate and ecosystem. The university’s monumental roof connects and shields campus buildings from direct sun, resulting in a minimum solar reflective index value of 78 for 92.7% of the roof’s surface. Atria and courtyards throughout the campus buildings infuse natural daylight and ventilation into 75% of interior spaces.

The campus construction and design teams selected building materials that minimised overall environmental effects and recycled waste materials. A total of 37.8% of the building materials comprise materials and/or products either harvested or manufactured within 500 miles of the university, such as stone or concrete.

A total of 99.7% of all wood-based building materials used in construction were harvested from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). A total of 20% of the total building materials (such as steel, aluminum, and glass) were manufactured using recycled materials. More than 79%, or 35 169 tons, of all construction waste generated on-site was recycled and diverted from landfill. A campus-wide recycling programme will be instituted to recycle cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metal.

Water use

Water and material use has been minimised through innovative design and on-site treatment plants and recycling programmes. A full 100% of KAUST’s wastewater is treated by the campus wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). All treated wastewater is either safely returned to the environment or used on-site. A full 100% of all campus irrigation needs are provided by the WWTP, while 2.5 million gallons of treated water per day will be available in 2010.

Installed irrigation systems using recycled water reduce irrigation water consumption by 53.8% of estimated need. Waterless urinals, ultra-low flow lavatories and low-flow public showers reduce potable water use by 40.9% from a calculated baseline design. Native and adaptive vegetation that does not require large amounts of irrigation were selected for the majority of the planting on campus. A stormwater management plan reduces impervious cover, promotes groundwater infiltration, and will capture and treat 100% of the average annual rainfall run-off.

Energy-efficiency measures will reduce the total power demand. Technology like chilled beams and under-floor air distribution have been incorporated into designs to achieve energy cost-savings of 24.5%. Highly-efficient mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems reduce the overall energy demand of the campus. Non-emergency occupancy sensors automatically turn off lighting systems when a room is unoccupied, while interior lighting is dimmed automatically in conjunction with sunrise and sunset.

The decision to include efficiency and low-energy design into the design brief must be understood in its local and regional contexts, state the architects. In Saudi Arabia, the cost of electricity is quite cheap (2-4 cents/KWh) due to substantial government subsidies. This means there is little financial incentive to saving energy, and that the payback period for any energy-saving strategies implemented in a project are too long to be feasible. However, the decision taken by KAUST to create an efficient, low-energy campus was, in fact, to provide a campus that would serve as an example for environmentally-responsive buildings in the region.

In addition to the sustainable strategies incorporated into the overall design, KAUST will also implement a sustainable operations plan, which will incorporate using green cleaning materials and an extensive recycling programme that includes composting of all food waste. All service vehicles for maintenance staff are electric vehicles to reduce their fossil fuel use.

As for post-occupancy evaluation, the campus facilities management team will implement plans to continuously assess the campus’s energy use and the thermal comfort of occupants. Thermal comfort surveys will assess the effectiveness of mechanical systems, thus helping the facilities management to adjust the settings to ensure maximum occupant comfort. The campus’s automation system will also measure all energy and water use for the project with sub-meters and controls installed to allow for future increase in efficiencies of all systems.


100-year building lifecycle
900 000 m2 of solar energy panels
24.5% energy cost savings achieved

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