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Center for Advanced Energy Studies

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2005–2008, GSBS Architects. 995 University Blvd.
  • Exterior from southeast (Photograph by Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg)
  • South facade showing solar shades (Photograph by Anne L. Marshall)
  • East facade entrance and cantilevered meeting room above (Photograph by Anne L. Marshall)
  • Atrium (Photograph by Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg)

The Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) is a research and education consortium between Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Given that the mission of CAES is to conduct innovative energy research leading to economic development based on sustainable technology, it is altogether fitting that the CAES building—containing offices, meeting rooms, and laboratories for collaborating researchers—is the first LEED-certified building for a state agency or university in Idaho.

While CAES was still in the preliminary planning stage, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the Idaho Office of Energy Resources a grant to conduct a cost and benefit study for a LEED building for a major state project. The grant included resources to facilitate early visioning and design charrettes as well as ongoing analysis of the investments and values associated with constructing a LEED building. CAES was identified as the most appropriate building project for this grant.

In 2005, key stakeholders from the universities, INL, and the Division of Public Works held an initial charrette that yielded important goals that were subsequently written into the request for proposals for design and construction services. First, it was determined that a design-build team would be best for delivering the project on time and on budget. Second, the building must use at least 50 percent less energy than the current energy code. Third, the building must achieve, at a minimum, a LEED Silver certification.

A design-build team with experience in completing LEED buildings was selected: Big-D Construction, GSBS Architects, and Colvin Engineering, all out of Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2006, University of Idaho’s Integrated Design Lab and K-energy led a schematic design charrette with stakeholders and the full design team. Participants discussed climate responsive design strategies and conducted an energy programming exercise resulting in suggested spatial organization that considered internal loads, daylighting, and visual and thermal comfort criteria. One of the earlier goals was revised at this meeting: the energy goal was modified from 50 percent to 35 percent below the current energy code, a compromise given that the code had become more stringent. Despite this change, setting these goals resulted in a successful design-build project that earned a LEED Gold certification and was modeled to perform 38 percent below the 2004 energy code. Had these goals not been explicit in the charrette, it is unlikely that the building design would have achieved this level of performance.

Located on the University Place campus at the north edge of Idaho Falls, the CAES building lies perpendicular to the east bank of the Snake River. The two-story, 58,000-square-foot rectangular building is oriented so that its long elevations face north and south. The building is organized around a linear, two-story, daylit atrium, with office spaces along the south, laboratories along the north, and meeting spaces in protruding blocks at each end. At the east end, a second-floor meeting room is cantilevered out over the primary entrance as if it were the building’s head; at the west end, the “tail” of the building sits on the ground. As viewed from the north and east where visitors enter, CAES appears as a minimal, aluminum-clad block. It is along the south side that the building reveals its design intent. Continuous ribbon windows spanning most of the south elevation are bisected by solar shades acting as light shelves at each of the two floors. Within two of the eleven structural bays, floor-to-ceiling glazing shaded by fixed louvers reveals cross-bracing. Similar louvers shade glazing along the south side of meeting rooms at the building’s ends. Barely visible from the exterior are bands of clerestory windows illuminating the atrium.

Within the context of a cold, semi-arid, high desert climate, the building was designed to minimize energy use and operating costs through a variety of strategies. These include proper orientation (elongated along an east-west axis), spatial zoning, architectural solar shading combined with high performance glazing, under-floor air distribution, and increased insulation. In CAES, daylighting is key, not only to building performance, but to aesthetics and user experience. Sloped ceiling panels in the atrium reflect daylight from continuous bands of clerestories into the circulation and adjacent open office spaces. Along the south wall, interior and exterior light shelves mitigate glare and reflect daylight to the sloped ceiling, then down to open offices. Private offices are inboard, but with glazing that captures light through the south exterior wall and the atrium to the north. Large, north-facing windows illuminate laboratories, as do windows admitting light from the atrium to the south. With extensive glazing on three sides, meeting rooms can be flooded with daylight or darkened for presentations with interior blinds.

The Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a LEED case study in the desert of southeastern Idaho, demonstrates how visioning and design charrettes, energy modeling, and integrated design-build can deliver a high performance building to serve collaborative teams conducting innovative energy research. The building proved that even with additional upfront costs of almost $200,000 (in a building with a construction budget of $15,000,000), the energy-saving design paid for itself in less than four years while providing users a superior daylit work environment.


Baker, Ken. Cost Report for LEED Certification for the Idaho Division of Public Works and the Idaho Office of Energy Resources, June 2008.

Meek, Christopher, and Kevin G. Van Den Wymelenberg. Daylighting Design in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Writing Credits

Anne L. Marshall
Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg
Anne L. Marshall
Wendy R. McClure
Phillip G. Mead
D. Nels Reese

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