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The University of Texas, Dallas Engineering and Computer Science West Building is a center for discovery and learning. The building incorporates both teaching and research labs, along with breakout spaces to encourage student engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
The facility houses the entire mechanical engineering program, uniting engineering facilities dispersed across campus and complementing, rather than duplicating, existing resources. The building is organized into highly transparent “instructional research clusters” — the idea of co-locating same-theme instructional labs with research labs to foster intellectual collaboration and interaction and share resources, staff, equipment and tools.
The engineering building incorporates multiple types of plumbing systems which include but are not limited to steam water heaters, condensate reclaim, reverse osmosis, laboratory compressed air and laboratory vacuum systems.
This article focuses on the air-handling unit condensate reclaim system, reverse osmosis system, trench drains, and how the building design highlights the essence of the building engineering systems.
Condensate Reclaim and Reverse Osmosis System
Dallas is classified as a warm, humid climate; combined with the large amounts of conditioned single-pass air required for laboratories, this results in a sizeable amount of water in the form of condensate from the cooling coils. While nearly all buildings discharge condensate down the drain, this facility looked for ways to capitalize on this resource.
The UT Dallas Engineering Building includes a prefabricated penthouse with two large air-handling units that deliver all the conditioned air to the building. To maintain the relative humidity levels needed by the laboratory within the building, large chilled-water coils in these units remove excess moisture. Instead of directing the condensate from these coils to the sanitary waste system, the condensate from these locations is isolated and directed to a 750-gallon storage tank.
The recovered condensate is then used to supplement makeup water for the reverse osmosis (RO) system, which serves laboratories throughout the building. It is used at the lab sinks and any lab equipment, such as glass washers and biosafety cabinets.
To ensure that there is always enough makeup water for the RO system, a domestic cold water connection with a backflow preventer and solenoid valve is provided. The solenoid valve opens and closes to maintain a minimum water level within the storage tank. The backflow preventer provides protection for the domestic cold water system within the building.
The reverse osmosis system pipe routing is designed to avoid the need for balancing valves on the system mains. The piping distribution uses a three-valve assembly on each floor to allow isolation of any floor while providing continuous loop circulation throughout the entire building.
Each floor has two normally open branch valves per floor with a normally closed main valve in close proximity to the branch valves. By opening the main valve and closing the branch valves, any floor can be isolated while the balance of the building circulates normally. This approach minimizes disruption to service while ensuring continuous flow to other areas of the building where research may not be able to be interrupted.
Custom Trench Drains
The UT Dallas Engineering Building uses a formed concrete framing system to provide structural strength and protect against corrosion in the humid climate. The longer, clear spans needed to achieve the laboratory program requirements resulted in deeper concrete beams — some places as deep as 4 feet. These attributes, however, can become challenging for plumbing systems and for plumbing drains in particular.
Per the plumbing code, the tailpiece from a drain cannot be longer than 2 feet without compromising the seal at the trap. Given the prevalence of these beams and the building program, it was inevitable that drains were required in beam locations. The solution? Coordinate with structural to provide a trench drain with a tailpiece slightly deeper than the beam to penetrate the beam and connect to the sanitary waste system.
The length of the tailpiece was not the only reason for the trench drain customization. The design intent was to make the trench drain look more aesthetically pleasing and continuous by minimizing the number of sections, as the trench drain lengths could vary from 8 feet to 18 feet. These long dimensions required the trench drain to be installed in multiple sections.
While it is possible for the manufacturer to fabricate the trench drains in longer sections, these long, sometimes shallow sections tend to warp during transport. To limit the potential for warping, trench drains on this project were limited to 11-foot sections.
Highlighting the Essence of Engineering
Mechanical engineering is one of the most diverse engineering programs, exposing students to a variety of disciplines and applications within it. One such application is mechanical engineering for building design. Given that this facility supports the entire mechanical engineering program, it was only fitting that the mechanical systems within the building were highlighted and brought to the forefront of the building design.
Instead of simply being an abstract theory to be studied, here they are physical, tangible elements to be experienced.
Where possible, ceilings were removed from laboratory spaces to highlight the systems and components. In the more public corridors, perforated ceiling panels together with lighting above the ceiling highlight the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), data and even structural infrastructure. A protected glass wall was added at a shaft to highlight the vertical circulation of these systems further.
The engineering systems are color-coded and organized carefully to properly allow students to identify and follow the engineering components that support their laboratory and the building. For example, the domestic water piping is color-coded with green and the laboratory compressed-air piping is orange. Similarly, mechanical supply ductwork is blue, while laboratory exhaust ductwork is green.
The University of Texas at Dallas Engineering and Computer Science West Building is a defining home for the College of Engineering. The MEP systems and structural elements are designed for function and organized to highlight the practical application of engineering in everyday buildings.
The air-handling unit condensate recovery system contributes to the facility’s LEED Gold certification and highlights alternative ways to lower water usage. The specialty plumbing systems and fixtures within the building capture the essence of the engineering by putting engineering systems on display.
Lhymwell Manalo is a plumbing designer at SmithGroup’s Phoenix office. He is a member of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) and has six years of experience designing plumbing systems for various building types.
Leah Bosma is a plumbing engineer at SmithGroup’s Detroit office and an ASPE member.
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