NASA Sustainability Base Moffett Field, California


NASA Ames engaged William McDonough + Partners to design Sustainability Base, its first new construction in 20+ years located at the entrance to the campus at the historic Bush Circle. The NASA team wanted to show how a federal facility, with a tight schedule and a conventional budget, could be a model of effectiveness and sustainability. Sustainability Base houses ~200 staff in an indoor environment that mixes open-plan with private offices, huddle rooms, video conference capabilities, and shared printing/copying equipment, library, meeting and social spaces both inside and in the surrounding landscaped areas (which have WiFi coverage).

Sustainability Base is named in recognition of the kinship between it and the first off-planet human outpost on the moon, Tranquility Base. The building’s appearance aesthetics and functional efficiency rest on two essential concepts: native to place design and biophilia (life-loving). The facility has earned LEED Platinum certification, among the first Federal installations to do so. In response to the building industry’s needs for methods and tools to understand and control dynamic energy and water systems, NASA is applying its expertise derived from aeronautics, information technology, and space exploration vehicles and habitats to the built environment. Among LEED Platinum buildings, Sustainability Base is unique in this utilization of NASA technology.

The collective design of building and site creates a new gateway into the surrounding Campus while preserving the historic view corridors to the hangers.


On-site electricity collected from the BloomBox(R) ES-5700 is functional, educational, and evaluative. The fuel cell harvests more electricity than the peak demand of the entire facility, contributing excess to the local Ames grid. It also demonstrates the application of NASA technology (solid oxide chemistry) in the built environment. NASA Ames and BloomEnergy monitor its performance. This resource is 55% efficient in converting the energy density of natural gas to electricity, ~2x the efficiency of traditional combustion without associated air pollution products or transmission loses from remote power plant generation. Solar energy, thermal and photovoltaic, further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


A major projected accomplishment is an intelligent, adaptive control system. Analysis and intervention approaches originally developed for aerospace requirements will be applied to optimize efficient operations, fault detection, on-demand maintenance, and occupant comfort. Initial work is underway to mine operational data and identify trends.

Over 2000 sensor points report data, instantaneously or at intervals; ~1200 generate quantified information. Sustainability Base doubled the active sensor numbers for the entire Ames campus. Facilities Managers use this data operationally and Intelligent Systems researchers access it to advance modeling, prediction, anomaly detection, failure anticipation, and on-demand maintenance studies. This scaled-up test-bed is an economic engine for built-environment technologies leading to autonomously smart buildings for NASA and its commercial and academic partners.


The heating/cooling systems combine passive (hydronic geothermal) and active (heat exchangers, radiant ceiling tiles) strategies to optimize energy use. The facility’s two wings are off-set to maximize natural ventilation from prevailing wind patterns. Intelligent, automated windows, window shades, and efficient lighting modified by individually addressable ballasts, intensity pre-sets, and integrated light sensors contribute layers of responsive optimization options. Sustainability Base’s narrow footplate allows daylight penetration and the architectural choice to externalize support structures provides seismic stability, maximizes usable internal space, adds shading and views, and visual consistency with campus buildings.


NASA designed the greywater reclamation system used at Sustainability Base for the International Space Station, where water recycling is a closed loop. In Sustainability Base, hygiene water is reclaimed solely for toilet flushing, reducing potable water use. The facility is presently utilizing less than 3 gallons of potable water per person per day (industry standard is approximately 7).

Landscape irrigation exclusively uses remediated groundwater from the Superfund plume beneath NASA Ames, a legacy of Moffett Naval Air Station operations and Silicon Valley’s semiconductor industry. Dedicated pipes bring remediated groundwater to Sustainability Base, where landscaping conceals a 6000gal underground tank. Diverting reclaimed water for irrigation eliminates discharge into San Francisco Bay and associated permitting costs. The facility, overall, reduces potable water use 90% compared to any comparably sized facility.


Augmented by NASA technologies, Sustainability Base is an “extreme green” laboratory combining technology demonstration, test-bed, and dissemination tools to engage business, academic, and federal collaborators.

Commercial partners demonstrate the value of NASA’s test-bed and expertise by engaging no-exchange-of-funds agreements with profit realization through product, technology, idea development and scale-up.

An Inter-Agency Agreement with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) was initiated early in the design phase of Sustainability Base. LBNL researchers produced an Energy Plus model of the facility, and Sustainability Base participates with LBNL’s Energy Efficient Building Systems Regional Innovation Cluster.

Extensive academic partner interactions include on-site research with Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley and the University of California, Berkeley as well as engagement with Stanford’s Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering, which hosted several BIM Consortium workshops.

“This is an exciting and potentially groundbreaking building on many levels—design process, technology, systems integration, occupant-focus, and smart operations. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with NASA and William McDonough + Partners and to all this building will have to share in the years ahead.”

– Stephen Selkowitz, Department Head, Building Technologies Environmental Energy Technologies Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

“Working closely with Bill McDonough and his team was inspirational and extremely beneficial. The collaborative process yielded a highly sustainable and beautiful design—optimized for building performance and representative of our values… I see this as a prototype of a 21st-century building. This is the way we’re going to have to think about building in the future.”

– Steve Zornetzer, Associate Director, NASA Ames Research Center


Office Building


50,000 square feet


Completed 2012


William McDonough + Partners, Design Architect
AECOM, Architect of Record / Landscape Architect of Record / MEP / Structural / Civil
Loisos + Ubbelohde, Daylighting / Lighting / Energy Consultant
Swinerton, Contractor
Siteworks Studio, Design Landscape Architect
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, Materials Assessment
TBD, Cost Estimator


LEED(R) Platinum Certification
Architectural Record 2014 Good Design is Good Business Award
Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), 2013 Sustainable Practices or Facilities
Acterra, 2013 Business Environmental Award, Sustainable Built Environment
Center on Environmental Innovation & Leadership, 2011 Leadership in Innovation Award
White House GreenGov Award 2011, Lean Clean and Green
ENR California, Best Projects of 2011, Award of Merit – Green Building
Silicon Valley Business Times’ Structures Awards 2010, Best Green Project
GSA Real Property 2010 Award for Green Innovation




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