Electrification Case Studies
The Carbon Issue

Designing buildings to operate entirely on electricity without burning any fossil fuels on site is one of the first steps to achieving net-zero and decarbonizing the built environment, and it’s central to KPF’s approach to sustainability. Designing all-electric buildings prepares the built environment for a greener future by connecting buildings to larger energy systems that are undergoing their own sustainability revolution.


This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of KPF Review. View all of the accompanying videos here.

As renewable energy sources like solar and wind make up an ever-larger proportion of electricity generation, grid-supplied electricity will become less carbon intensive than burning natural gas for applications like heating, cooling, and cooking. When the power grid’s transition to renewables is complete, a fully electric building will be net-zero, while a conventional one that burns fossil fuels on site will continue to pollute.

This mirrors transitions elsewhere in the economy, such as the rise of electric vehicles. While the impact of a single building switching from natural gas to electric heating may be marginal, when that change is magnified at the scale of cities and energy grids, it has the potential to be truly transformational.

For our clients, pursuing a fully electric design helps manage future risks such as escalating costs—whether because of increased regulation or volatility in the fossil fuel market—and the possibility of that building’s fossil fuel infrastructure becoming obsolete.

With fully electric and electric-ready projects around the world, KPF understands that designing a successful all-electric building means more than exchanging natural-gas fired systems for electric ones. As architects, electrification requires us to take a different approach. Rather than designing the façade and building systems separately or in sequence, in successful all-electric buildings, especially the kinds of large, complex, mixed-use projects at which KPF excels, both must be designed together as a holistic system that manages occupant comfort and carbon emissions in the most efficient manner possible.

The entrance to One North Quay. Credit: Kiasm.

Columbia University Biomedical Research Building

New York, NY, USA

Designed for Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, this biomedical research building will be the first purpose-built, all-electric academic research lab building in New York City. The new building will connect to the Columbia University School of Nursing and Russ Berrie Medical Science
Pavilion, creating a unified academic and research facility offering laboratories and support facilities, alongside symposium and community space.

Aligning with Columbia’s 2030 Plan climate goals, diverse sustainable design strategies are embedded into the lab’s design through a series of mechanical, architectural, and operational interventions that, combined with the purchase of 100% renewable electricity, ensure net-zero performance for the building. Heating and cooling are handled by electric air source heat pumps, while a high-performance façade that features a window-to-wall-ratio below 50% keeps interior temperatures steady. Air-side energy recovery systems leverage waste heat to reduce the total energy needed to condition the building, while strategic shading and a system of louvers helps minimize solar heat gain and glare. Additionally, design features including a large communicating stair for active circulation, as well as green walls and natural, renewable materials, prioritize occupant health and wellbeing.

Progressive refinement of the building’s massing and façade design yielded greater energy efficiency and reduced solar heat gain, a prerequisite for the building’s super-efficient, all-electric mechanical system.

Designed to use significantly less energy than similar buildings of its kind, the Russ Berrie Expansion will outperform emission limits set by New York City’s Local Law 97, support Columbia University’s Plan 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals, and achieve a minimum of LEED Gold v4 certification. A model for net-zero projects, it will help catalyze the development of all-electric buildings in New York City and beyond.

One North Quay

London, UK

Heralding a groundbreaking shift in life sciences design, One North Quay departs from the conventional low-rise model, envisioning a vertical lab campus. With a keen focus on communal spaces and adaptability, the building is structured as a series of stacked neighborhoods, each comparable in size to a typical low-rise lab building. A central vertical spine, housing a series of communal spaces, ties the neighborhoods together and fosters a culture of innovation within the workplace. To more efficiently meet the heightened air-circulation demands of laboratories, One North Quay implements a distributed system with all-electric plant facilities strategically positioned on high-bay floors within each neighborhood. This design reduces the volume of air that requires handling and minimizes its travel distance, enhancing energy efficiency.

Credit: Kiasm.

Furthermore, the distributed mechanical systems enhance resilience and flexibility, allowing each neighborhood to adjust its operations independently or even temporarily shut down in response to tenant requirements. Complementing these efforts, KPF’s holistic, low-carbon design ethos extends to the building’s façade, which employs innovative, inverted mullions that minimize aluminum usage while optimizing solar shading, yielding an 11% embodied carbon reduction. Additionally, a roof-mounted photovoltaic array contributes to onsite energy generation, further reducing the building’s climate impact.

Electric heating and cooling systems are located on three extra-height floors distributed throughout the building. This configuration increases efficiency and conserves roof space for an amenity terrace.

One North Quay is committed to achieving top-tier certifications, targeting BREEAM Outstanding and WELL Platinum standards. It is poised to deliver a 38% reduction in operational carbon emissions and a 50% reduction in embodied carbon compared to baseline structures, marking a significant milestone in sustainable development within its category. Distinguished by its brightly glazed terra cotta panels, the tower’s striking exterior establishes it as a new architectural landmark for Canary Wharf, redefining the cityscape.

North Bund Lot 91

Shanghai, China

At 480 meters tall, North Bund Lot 91 will be the world’s tallest, and Shanghai’s first, net zero–ready supertall, creating a new framework for sustainable towers by prioritizing carbon footprint reduction and serving as a model for responsible vertical growth. To support China’s vision of becoming carbon neutral by 2060, the tower is fully electrified, burning no fossil fuels on site. Its modulated triangular shape reduces wind loads, allowing for a lighter structure that requires less material to construct. By catching the sun at an oblique angle, the triple-glazed façade minimizes solar heat gain, while integrated photovoltaic solar panels harvest electricity.

North Bund Lot 91’s optimized floorplate orientation and shading fins prevent solar heat gain, allowing for electrified mechanical systems to efficiently cool the building.

The tower prioritizes resiliency and the public realm: Its flared base collects rainwater and directs it to holding cisterns, aiding with urban flood mitigation and providing irrigation for a park at ground level. Working together, advanced mechanical, façade, and structural solutions will reduce operational carbon by 40–50% and embodied carbon by 20–30% compared to a typical supertall tower.

Located near the confluence of two bodies of water, the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek, and at the nexus of three neighborhoods, LuJiaShui, PuXi, and North Bund, the project reflects themes of intersection and balance throughout its design. The main form of the tower begins as a circle at ground level and transforms into a triangle as it rises. The crown culminates in three dramatic, stepped elements that reinforce the embodiment of nature, culture, and technology.

Credit: Atchain.