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November 20, 2018

It is zero hour for net zero energy buildings

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When Silver Spring, Md. biotech firm United Therapeutics recently introduced a new building on its corporate campus, it spelled the latest triumph for the net-zero building movement. On an annual basis, Net Zero Energy (NZE) structures generate about as much new renewable energy on their sites as they consume. The result: Buildings that contribute fewer greenhouse gases to the environment than non-NZE buildings.

That’s an important benefit, given estimates that traditional buildings devour 40 percent of the total U.S. and European Union’s fossil fuel energy. Not surprisingly, traditional structures as a result substantially contribute to the buildup of greenhouse gases.

United Therapeutics, also known as Unither, aimed at achieving two goals with its new building. One was to advance its mission to create breakthrough products meeting the medical requirements of patients facing life-threatening or chronic conditions. A second was to develop a building that could offset its own energy usage with renewable energy produced on-site. The building’s revolutionary system is so trail blazing that Unither chairman and chief executive officer Martine Rothblatt, a globally acclaimed biotech innovator, commissioned “experience design agency” HUSH to convey its uniqueness.

HUSH created a multi-layered narrative experience. “Our goal was to communicate that this is a building unlike any other – a living, breathing entity with its own consciousness and behaviors,” said David Schwarz, founding partner of HUSH. “We wanted to inspire people by designing things that reveal their crucial part within this system.”

A single focal point built in to the structure’s interior shell serves as the hub of the project. It is a sprawling, sundial-like sculpture called the Energy Dial. Forty-foot-long light rays communicate real-time data from the building’s control room, surging inward and outward to convey the increase and decrease of net-zero forces.

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