Stanford University Central Energy Facility

Architect: ZGF Architects LLP

Associated firm: Affiliated Engineers, Inc.

Owner: Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Office—10,000 sq ft, Other—central utility plant

At the heart of Stanford University’s transformational, campus-wide energy system is a new, technologically advanced central energy facility. The system replaces a 100 percent fossil-fuel-based cogeneration plant with primarily electrical power—65 percent of which comes from renewable sources—and a first of its kind heat recovery system, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel and water use. The facility comprises a net positive energy administrative building, a heat recovery chiller plant, a cooling and heating plant, a service yard, and a new campus-wide main electrical substation. Designed to sensitively integrate into the surrounding campus, the architectural expression is one of lightness, transparency and sustainability to express the facility’s purpose.  

Image: Tim Griffith

In 2011, Stanford University examined options to replace its aging central cogeneration plant, looking holistically at 35-year lifecycle costs, and considering its commitment to carbon neutrality. The project provided an opportunity to demonstrate Stanford’s larger aspirations as a leader in environmental stewardship, technological innovation and as one of the world’s leading teaching and research universities. Recognizing that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is the greatest environmental and socioeconomic challenge and opportunity of our time, Stanford set forth to raise the bar in efficiency, to develop global solutions and implement them on its campus.

The project encompasses international best practices in district heating and cooling, with engineers, manufacturers and constructors collaborating to transform Stanford’s plant into one of the most efficient district energy systems in the world. Stanford’s Energy and Climate Plan identified significant and simultaneous needs for both heating and cooling in its buildings due to its diverse programs (including healthcare and research labs) and sophisticated building systems.

Based on this synergy, the Central Energy Facility project replaces the older natural gas-powered cogeneration plant and campus steam loop with an electricity powered ‘regeneration’ plant that supplies hot and chilled water to the campus and hospitals. The waste heat in the chilled water return loop is being “recovered” to supply 93 percent of the heating and hot water required for campus buildings. This singular project reduces overall campus emissions by 68 percent and potable water usage by 18 percent, thereby saving an estimated $420 million over the next 35 years.

Essentially a utilitarian structure, the Central Energy Facility showcases its efficiency through an elegant and integrated design—sensitively sited at the edge of campus—highlighting the hot water storage tank and displaying interior mechanical equipment, while featuring a climate responsive administrative wing designed for daylighting and natural ventilation.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2012

Year of substantial project completion: 2015

Gross conditioned floor area: 9,530 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 116,084 sq ft

Number of stories: 3

Project Climate Zone: 3C (ASHRAE)

Annual hours of operation: 8,760

Site area: 534,019 sq ft

Project site context/setting: urban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $175 million

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 42

Project team

Prime contractor/lead mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer: Affiliated Engineers Inc.

Construction contractor: The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company

Civil engineer: BKF Engineers

Structural engineer: Rutherford + Chekene

Landscape architect: Tom Leader Studio


Annie Chu, FAIA IIDA


Woodbury University

Los Angeles, California

Steve Kieran, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C

Kieran Timberlake

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

David Lake, FAIA

Lake Flato

San Antonio, Texas

Bungane Mehlomakulu, PE LEED AP

Integral Group

Austin, Texas

Amanda Sturgeon, FAIA

Living Futures Institute

Seattle, Washington

Jury comments

"This project fulfills a carbon-neutral strategy for Stanford and houses a central plant and facilities building. The facility demonstrates a long-range climate and energy plan in action. It transforms what would be a typical unappreciated energy plant into a classroom and a moment of architectural joy. A naturally ventilated, daylit work environment is provided for facilities staff who would normally be in a windowless basement. It sets a high bar for a university to provide national environmental leadership and design excellence."


Image credits

Final Image 1

Tim Griffith


Steve Proehl


Robert Canfield


Tim Griffith


Robert Canfield


Robert Canfield


Tim Griffith


Matthew Anderson