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Inward Looking: At MIT, a design team strives to build a better historic masonry envelope.

Bruner/Cott
Cambridge, Massachusetts

By David Sokol
June 2012
Photo © David Lamb
MIT Sloan School of Management Arthur D. Little Building E60

After studying chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1880s, Arthur D. Little contributed to his alma mater extensively: teaching papermaking there for more than two decades, founding a five-year business partnership with the school at the turn of the 20th century, and championing MIT’s establishment of a chemical engineering department. After Little’s death his namesake consulting business upheld that legacy of support, by donating its former headquarters to MIT. Located on the eastern edge of the MIT campus, the three-and-a-half-story laboratory building was completed in 1917, and it was transferred to MIT shortly after its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Today, campus directories refer to it in shorthand as E60.

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MIT has filled in this part of the map in the interim, particularly with the 2010 opening of a new building for the MIT Sloan School of Management known as E62. The 215,000-square-foot facility gathers the entire Sloan faculty under one roof for the first time in decades. Moreover, it physically connects to E60 and to two other Sloan buildings to create what Lynne Brooks, principal of Bruner/Cott Architects and Planners, calls “a cohesive community.” The Cambridge design firm served as executive architect of E62, with Moore Ruble Yudell as the design architect.

Fittingly, a complete modernization of E60 followed on the heels of new construction; the university tapped the local architect to lead this project. Unlike E62, which pursues sustainability through a suite of proven strategies that include envelope efficiency, automated lighting controls, and a green roof, for this effort Bruner/Cott persuaded its client to treat the renovation itself as a kind of laboratory.

Experimentation would focus on improving the performance of the historic building envelope, which promised the biggest return on investment. According to Henry Moss, Bruner/Cott’s consulting principal for historic preservation and technology on the project, “We encouraged them to use this building as an opportunity to research methods of bringing greater energy and resource efficiency to an existing bearing wall masonry building.”

The structure comprises a masonry perimeter bearing wall, with a row of concrete columns running down the center of the building. These elements support a north–south series of concrete girders underneath an early version of a formed one-way concrete slab spanning east–west. Moss continues, “The concerns with insulating traditional masonry wall systems such as E60 is that the addition of insulation will alter the temperature gradient within the original wall assembly, resulting in colder temperatures penetrating deeper into the wall depth. The problem, then, is that the original brick masonry could become saturated and that freeze-thaw conditions could possibly result in cracking and spalling of the brick.”

The design team ran several tests to figure whether the masonry could dry out with the addition of insulation. Using the software WUFI, for example, envelope performance was modeled according to the material properties of the existing masonry and mortar types, with various new materials and interior climate conditions. The team concluded that 3 inches of vapor-permeable, low-density foam would allow the masonry to achieve an R-value of 10.8 while continuing to breathe. The new wall assembly extends only slightly beyond the original plaster wall.

To enhance the performance of the open-cell insulation, exterior masonry was repointed and flashing was repaired to minimize water penetration and thermal bridging. To that same end, the installation of a green roof allowed crews to seal penetrations at the roof.

Bruner/Cott and MIT are now verifying their calculations via integrated climate sensors and a rooftop weather station that measure building performance over time. The Somerville, Massachusetts–based building technology consultant Building Science Corporation installed plug-type sensors in cores drilled into the interior masonry, documented the sensor locations, and sealed the cores with low-expansion foam. It also mounted a second kind of monitor, a flat sensor, on interior masonry surfaces. The equipment is charting temperature, moisture content, and relative humidity. Moss says that the first complete set of data will be collected by August, and that they should inform insulation of masonry building envelopes beyond the halls of academia.

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