Low Impact Development (LID)
Case Study

Genzyme Corporate Headquarters, Cambridge, MA

Genzyme is one of the world's foremost biotechnology companies and a leading developer of innovative approaches to treating individuals with serious illnesses. Founded in Boston in 1981, the company recently decided to build a new corporate headquarters in Cambridge and, keeping with its philosophy of using cutting-edge technology, the building has become a national showpiece for green design. The building earned the highest possible rating (Platinum) from the U.S. Green Building Council under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system which sets standards for environmentally responsible construction. The 350,000 square foot building derives its energy efficiency results from the building's concrete construction, solar panels, use of waste steam from a nearby power plant for cooling and heating, extensive use of natural light, and an insulating second layer of glass covering much of the exterior. It serves as the centerpiece for the continued redevelopment of an area once characterized by outdated industrial and brownfield sites and provides public space in its ground floor to invite the public in and connect Genzyme with its neighbors.

Genzyme corporate headquarters building.
Low-maintenance succulent plantings grow on Genzyme's extensive green roof top.
Photo provided by Genzyme
Low-maintenance succulent plantings grow on Genzyme's extensive green roof top
Anton Grassl
Corrugated skylights are used to route stormwater runoff into mitigation systems.
Photo provided by Genzyme
Corrugated skylights are used to route stormwater runoff into mitigation systems

Low-Impact Development Design

Under the guidelines of the LEED certification program, the Genzyme Center incorporates several Low Impact Development approaches that successfully mitigate classic impacts such as storm water runoff and heat island effects from large scale urban development. Approximately 25% of the roof area is covered with an extensive green roof system landscaped with low-maintenance succulent plantings. These areas are irrigated by direct rainfall as well as stormwater that is collected in a corrugated skylight system and temporarily stored. A second stormwater collection system gathers runoff from the penthouse roof area and stores this as "make up" water for cooling and other mechanical operations.

Other LID components of the design are incorporated into the water supply aspects of the building. The toilets installed in the building are "dual flush" fixtures that can use different amounts of water depending on the need and urinals are waterless. With extensive landscaping both inside and around the building including 18 themed gardens as well as a lobby floor water feature, designers placed moisture sensors to monitor water use in accordance with the needs of the plants as opposed to a less efficient "fixed schedule" approach. Overall, the building uses one-third or approximately 525,000 gallons per year less water than what would be consumed without these features.

Irrigation of landscaping located throughout the facility is monitored with moisture sensors to optimize water use.
Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner
Irrigation of landscaping located throughout the facility is monitored with moisture sensors to optimize water use

Other Smart Growth Components

Every element of the building development was geared toward sustainability in an ultra-urban setting including the selection of the site. Positive environmental impacts were achieved in four basic areas: sustainable site design, energy costs, water usage, and recycled material.

The headquarters was built on the site of a former industrial plant in Kendall Square which was remediated prior to construction. This transformation of a polluted brownfield allows the Genzyme Center to serve as a cornerstone for a ten-acre urban revitalization effort that will include a performing arts center, residences, a hotel, office and laboratory space, retail shops, and a park.

Abundant light enhances the workplace and improves
Photo provided by Genzyme
Abundant light enhances the workplace and improves employee performance.

Site selection was also driven by close proximity (less than two blocks away) to the Kendall Square MBTA transit station and multiple bus routes to other areas of the city. This transit oriented approach makes it possible for employees to easily access public transportation on a daily basis. Other options that encourage alternative commuting and/or reduced air pollution are bike spaces and showers, electric vehicle hookups, dedicated carpool spaces in the underground parking structure, incorporation of solar photovoltaics, and the use of "green" power from renewable sources.

Efficient energy systems that monitor and control heat, humidity, and fresh air are projected to save nearly 40% compared to a comparable conventional building. The building is a comfortable workplace for its 950 employees with an abundance of natural light through over 800 operable windows covering over 2.5 acres of glass, local temperature controls, a 12 story open atrium design with a skylight, and direct views of the outside from 80% of the work spaces. Additional light enhancement features include reflective ceilings and atrium wall panels, an animated light wall, rooftop heliostats that track the sun and redirectional mirrors that direct it through the skylight, and computer-controlled louvered sunshades that allow diffuse light in while keeping heat and glare out.

Careful consideration of building materials resulted in the use of 23% recycled materials including concrete, steel, aluminum, tile, drywall, ceilings, and carpeting. More than 60% of the materials used were from local sources and all woods from managed forests. Additionally, 93% of the construction waste materials were recycled.

A green building such as the Genzyme Center demands a new collaborative design and construction approach between developers and tenants. In return the building is cheaper to run due to cost saving in energy and water usage, can command premium rents, contributes a higher quality of life for workers and greater employee retention, and delivers environmental and community benefits such as lower air pollution, reduced heat island effect, and attractive open space.