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Bright idea

Genzyme's new headquarters was designed with people -- and their affinity for natural light -- in mind

CAMBRIDGE -- Genzyme Center, the biotech giant's new 12-story headquarters on the edge of Kendall Square, was built on what was one of the largest brownfields site in the state. After 900 employees move in next month, the building is expected to draw the highest ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council, which has developed national standards for environmentally friendly construction.

Earning that distinction has involved everything from placing movable mirrors on the roof that direct sunlight inside to recycling about 90 percent of the construction waste.

It was also very expensive. Genzyme spent $140 million for its new facility, or about $400 per square foot -- a very pricey figure, despite the fact it includes furniture and other finishes.

Genzyme estimates that about $23 million, or 16 percent of total costs, went to "green features."

A sound investment?

"We'll save at least 30 percent on energy and water costs," said Gordon Brailsford Jr., Genzyme's senior project manager. "But we think there will be tremendous payback on the people part of the equation, in terms of performance and attitude. We expect to see reduced absenteeism and greater employee retention."

Genzyme is hoping that while its scientists toil away, fresh air and natural light will keep them happy and motivated.

Genzyme's chief executive, Henri Termeer, said the company wanted "a responsible environment for our employees and the community" and that the designers, Behnisch Behnisch & Partners, "took that to mean `green architecture.' To create something that would meet such high environmental standards was very attractive to us."

The project is the first North American building for the architecture firm, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany, and has offices in Los Angeles.

Stefan Behnisch said his team "designed the building from the inside out," making the individuals who will be working inside the focus.

"By doing this, and using an atrium to alleviate the large floorplates . . . we could create a very pleasant environment that would also be among the most efficient buildings in the region," he said.

The first thing you notice inside is the transparency. On the ground floor, and much more so on the floors above, you can see out the windows on all sides of the building from most common areas and many offices and conference rooms. Perimeter spaces have glass walls and doors, permitting views and light.

That sense is heightened by the amount of diffuse daylight in the space. A great deal of the light is coming from above and is being distributed by several elements -- mirrors on the roof aiming light through a skylight, prisms just below the skylight that refract the light, a reflective "light wall" and mobile, which hangs in the atrium.

The blinds are programmed to follow the sun. Their upper panels are reflective, bouncing light up to ceiling panels. The lower panels, operated by those who work nearby, are perforated for views and light.

The blinds close at night to shut down the transparency of the building and to limit the impact of light pollution; this also helps to prevent radiant heating loss at night during the winter.

"We think this is one of the first buildings in the US to use so many light-enhancement components in one facility -- and in concert with such a sophisticated building management system," said Brett Kass, project engineer with Turner Construction.

Energy efficiency is a big element of the Green Building Council's standards, known as LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Genzyme Center is expected to be certified at the platinum level, LEED's highest rating.

The building's power is 100 percent green, all from renewable sources, including wind, solar, and emitted gas from landfill.

There are also a few solar panels on the roof that light the fire escape stairwells, which receive no natural light.

The building has a double-layer skin in some areas which creates a temperate-zone loggia, allowing the building to take advantage of fresh air.

Workers can let air into their offices in fall and spring; in the summer, the loggia's upper openings automatically pop open to exhaust warm air.

Genzyme Center is a leaseholder in part of a $500 million, 1.3 million-square-foot, Lyme Properties mixed-used development. Lyme purchased the 10-acre brownfield site in 1998 and funded most of the cleanup. (A brownfield is a site that has been contaminated by industrial uses, often by such things as solvents or other chemicals.) Lyme then created a master plan for the land that includes a hotel, housing, a performing arts center, life sciences laboratories, office space, shops, restaurants, underground parking, and open space.

Lyme also plans a skating rink and boat launch onto the Broad Canal.

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