Boston University building, Boston University Center for Computing & Data Sciences, Geothermal Energy, Fossil Fuels

‘Jenga Building’ Uses the ‘Earth Like a Battery’ To Avoid All Fossil Fuels

The future of net zero architecture has begun in Boston with a breakthrough building design that harnesses the Earth’s natural geothermal energy. As much as 70% of carbon emissions in the city come from buildings, but this model could change all that.

Now one of the most sustainable buildings in Massachusetts, it’s the new Boston University Center for Computing & Data Sciences. Its floors are stacked and staggered around a central core towering 305 feet tall. But that’s just what you see above the ground. 

Many in Boston have had a strong reaction to the design’s appearance. (see video below). As construction took place over two years, some students said it looked like a “big stack of books.” Others began calling it the “Jenga building.” It was designed on top for an “iconic and engaging” appearance. But the book’s cover gives no indication of what’s deep down inside. 

Video by CBS Boston:

Building to Harness Geothermal Energy 

Even though it’s the tallest building on the Charles River campus at nineteen stories, the structure requires no fossil fuels and has zero emissions. Instead, the 345,000-square-foot facility harnesses geothermal energy from the Earth deep underground with a geothermal bore system installed by Suffolk. 

In winter, heat rises from the ground. But in the summertime, the opposite happens, naturally.

“…The building essentially uses the Earth like a battery — using the geothermal wells to carry the heat down into [the] ground during the summer and then bringing it back up in the winter,” reported WBUR.

Images via

Business Wire says the wells extend “twice as deep as the tallest structure in Boston is high.”

Thirty-one wells extend beneath the ground more than a quarter mile. (1,500 feet) with geothermal pumps and no gas lines.

Video by CBS Boston:

Related: Ancient Fossils Found in the Pursuit of Oil Tell Inescapable Story

Other Green Features

As well as the geothermal wells, this stack of books has many other environmentally friendly designs, including a system that can move heat when one side of the building gets more sunlight. Inside, all-glass interiors allow light deep into the building. For students, ample natural sunlight can improve student performance and make it a more attractive place to be.

The massive classroom also utilizes solar panels and cutting-edge shading systems, with big open spaces for collaboration. Triple-glazed windows keep the building insulated, while staircases near the windows encourage exercise and reduce elevator use. There are also terraces and a green roof that significantly reduce urban heat. 

On cold days, an electric heating system will assist the geothermal system using electricity from renewable sources like a wind farm. One day, the university plan to make the building zero waste too. 

It’s being called the largest fossil-fuel-free building in Boston history. Classes in mathematics and computer and data sciences will begin inside the building in the spring semester in January.

Related hopeful news about the environment: Return of the Bison Brings Hope and Heals Environment

Video via Vimeo/KPMB Architects:

Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube/CBS Boston