2019 Building Tours: The Unisphere

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Aug 01, 2019

On July 9, D.C.-area properties opened their doors to 2019 Summit attendees to showcase their stand-out energy, water, and renewable efficiency measures. Below are highlights from one of the tours.

The Unisphere is the country’s largest net-zero energy commercial building at 210,000 square feet, located in Silver Spring, Maryland just outside the D.C. city limits. Opened in September 2018 as part of United Therapeutics’ existing campus, the building -- which was modeled after the Milky Way -- houses offices and conference spaces. CEO Dr. Martine Rothblatt had 2 requirements when planning for the Unisphere began in 2011: 1. A regulation pool in the lobby and 2. Net-Zero Energy. Thomas Kaufman, Associate Director of Corporate Real Estate for United Therapeutics, guided Summit attendees through the process of design, construction, and operation while showcasing the building’s interior and exterior features.

Between the curtain wall array, the rooftop, and the parking garage, the building’s 3,000 solar panels produce over 1MW of energy. It also has 52 geothermal wells – which required changing Maryland state law to install – and an Earth Labyrinth, a quarter-mile concrete maze 12 feet below the building that acts as a natural ventilation system and heat sink. Visual displays of the building’s energy performance are everywhere, from the striking Energy Wheel in the lobby to the giant energy dashboard wall on the 4th floor, and the many simple, clean infographics on the walls around the office. As for the pool in the lobby: Swim hours for employees are on Tuesdays and Thursday. The pool is heated via rejected heat from the geo-exchange wells. You can learn more about the Unisphere here.

Please enjoy photos from the tour below!

1-2: The exterior of United Therapeutics "Unisphere" HQ w/ curtain wall of solar panels
3: Thomas Kaufman (standing on the floor of the pool, which was lifted that day) speaking to tour attendees in the lobby
4-5: The group walks the exterior grounds and a view from behind the curtain wall
6: Office spaces, alongside an example of signage explaining one of the building's energy features
7: Thomas demonstrates the interactive Energy Dashboard Wall
8-9: Thomas shows the group some of the outdoor spaces and explains how the design process changed to suit the zero-energy goal
10-11: Signage about the geothermal exchange wells and a photo of the Earth Labyrinth under contstruction!
12-13: The Energy Wheel, and what it means
14: The main lobby of the Unisphere, featuring the lifted pool. 
15-16: Underneath the lobby, a look at the pool's hydraulic lift.