Bruce Redman Becker
Solar panels are installed on roof of the Hotel Marcel, as well as on the adjacent parking canopies.

Hotel Marcel: Where historic architecture meets smart, net-zero technology

June 13, 2022
In New Haven, Conn., an iconic Brutalist structure originally designed by architect Marcel Breuer is adapted into a net-zero energy hotel, thanks to the efforts of designer and developer Bruce Redman Becker.

Hotel Marcel is an architectural icon. Designed by Marcel Breuer in 1967 and completed in 1970, the nine-story, Brutalist concrete block structure in New Haven, Conn., has distinctive exterior trusses and open-air cutouts at its third and fourth floors, known as “the void.” It originally served as the headquarters for Armstrong Rubber Co., before becoming the Pirelli (tire) building from 1988 to 1999. Ikea bought the building in 2003, after which it would sit vacant for nearly two decades. Last month, the historic project has reopened as an award-winning, eco-conscious modern hotel.

“Today’s whole challenge for humanity is to stop using fossil fuels and to do so as quickly as possible,” says architect Bruce Redman Becker, president of Westport, Conn.–based design and development firm Becker + Becker. In 2019, Becker purchased the historic building and renovated it into the country’s first net-zero energy hotel.

Hotel Marcel earned LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in recognition of design initiatives that significantly reduce its carbon footprint. It generates 100% of its own electricity, including the energy required for heating and hot water.

Additionally, the project is on track to become the country’s first Passive House–certified hotel. Construction measures to minimize air and energy leakage include the use of triple-pane insulated glass window units and continuous, closed-cell insulation and other insulating materials on the inboard face of the building’s existing concrete panels. The result is an estimated an 80% reduction in energy use.

Prior to design and construction, Becker researched similar buildings that incorporated innovative technologies, including Power over Ethernet (PoE), digital electricity (DE), and advanced HVAC and energy-monitoring systems. He studied the merits of using backup batteries instead of diesel generators.

He also reached out to Sinclair Digital Services (SDS) to tour the Sinclair Autograph Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. SDS had redesigned and repurposed a historic, 1929 office building into the 16-story, 164-room hotel, which it now owns and manages. The 2019 renovation added IP-based digital amenities in the hotel. SDS CEO Farukh Aslam made it his mission to integrate many building systems onto the data network, utilizing PoE and DE to create an intelligent, safe, and sustainable building.

After Becker toured the hotel and reviewed the energy savings and sustainability measures resulting from these technologies, he hired SDS to design and manage the infrastructure and network installation at Hotel Marcel.

Net-zero solar strategy

As a net-zero—and potentially net-positive facility—the Hotel Marcel expects to meet or exceed its energy demand through 1,000-plus solar panels installed atop its rooftop and parking canopies. On cloudy days or at nighttime, the hotel pulls power from the grid or from its on-site battery, which has a 1 MWh capacity. Through net-metering, the hotel will push excess power it generates back into the grid.

“The goal is no loss of power at all, anytime,” says SDS chief business officer Luis Suau, who oversaw the design and implementation of many of the hotel’s energy savings measures, including the network system utilizing digital electricity and PE. Along with Becker, Suau was instrumental in coordinating efforts between the solar panel manufacturer and the suppliers of the battery backups, inverters, and software management system.

In the event of the grid outages, the hotel’s microgrid control system sequences islanding the system to disconnect it from the wider grid. The inverters for the batteries have the ability to be grid-forming and support the localized grid, meeting the facility’s loads until the wider grid is restored to health.

The energy storage system (ESS), certified to UL 924: Standard for Emergency Lighting and Power Equipment, manages the emergency battery control system and inverters. Ageto Energy’s ARC microgrid controller coordinates and optimizes the hotel’s energy resources in real time. It leverages the energy stored in the on-site battery system to provide demand charge savings by optimizing around the utility rate, and it participates in regional battery dispatch programs to garner additional savings. It also oversees the sequencing to provide seamless backup power to the hotel in the case of a grid outage and to ensure the safe return to the grid. The controller monitors and records data from the solar panel system through Ageto’s cloud-based dashboards, allowing the building owners and facilities team to monitor their systems’ performance and track actual savings and renewable production in real time.

“Typically, [uninterruptible power supply] load power backup systems are constantly running off the system’s batteries,” Suau says. “With an ESS, you are not running off rectified power, but constantly monitoring the grid power. When the control system detects that the voltage drop is within 20 milliseconds, it automatically switches over to battery power within 3 milliseconds, so it is barely noticeable.” Hotel Marcel has two backup battery array units, each located in different telecom room, also known as IDFs (intermediate distribution frames).

More power savings through digital electricity and PoE

To limit the use of AC power for the Hotel Marcel, the SDS team specified the Direct Electricity system by VoltServer. DE, also known as fault-managed power, is a packet-based energy transmission, which is becoming the next format for a digitally connected world. Instead of bringing AC power to each IDF to power the active switches, SDS specified a centralized transmitter and receiver system to power the switches in the main telecom room, or main distribution frame. The transmitter sends DC power in packets through low-voltage cable to the receiver, which can output in DC or AC.

“Transporting and outputting power totally as DC power would be more efficient than converting back to AC,” states SDS chief operating officer Hannah Walker, RCDD, who designed the telecommunications infrastructure. “But because there were no certified DC-powered switches currently on the market at the time of implementation, this system transfers back to AC at the switch port. However, this technology offers longer distances for safer power—up to 2 kilometers without voltage drop.”

Throughout Hotel Marcel, PoE is deployed for LED lighting and controlling the automatic window shades. “The result,” Suau notes, “was savings in both capital and operating expenditures, a reduction in the amount of copper wire, the elimination of conduit, and a system that is more resilient to future changes and application additions.”

Becker estimates that the use of PoE reduces the hotel’s lighting load by 30%. Suau says that each guest can adjust their room’s lighting, shades, and room temperature through an interactive touchscreen panel or through headboard buttons. “Every button pressed in every room gets translated into a pre-programmed action, which communicates through nodes specifically assigned to each room and are connected directly to ports on the server in the main telecommunications room,” he says. “This gives each guest control of their own environment, making it a much more efficient system while enhancing their stay.”

“It’s the architect’s responsibility to design and make buildings hold their values,” Becker says. “I care about the quality of the environment and experience. I wanted to make sure that the time invested—including the initial three years of design and construction—would create something all members of the project team can continue to be proud of.

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About the Author

Carol Everett Oliver

Carol Everett Oliver, RCDD, ESS, DCDC, is the principal of CEO Communications and the 2022–2024 president of BICSI’s board of directors. She has more than 20 years of experience in information and communications technology, including technical training, writing white papers and case studies, and other marketing duties. The past chair of the BICSI Intelligent Building (BICSI-007) standards subcommittee, Carol continues to be a member of the mentorship program and of Women in BICSI.

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