ASME-Landmark:Commonwealth Building Heat Pump


The use of heat pumps for the heating and cooling of the Commonwealth Building, initiated in 1948, was a pioneering achievement in the western hemisphere. The theoretical conception of the heat pump was described in a neglected book, published in 1824 and written by a young French army officer, Sadi Carnot. Its practical application on a large scale is attributable to designers J. Donald Kroeker and Ray C. Chewning, building engineer Charles E. Graham, and architect Pietro Belluschi.

Following a World War II moratorium on construction of commercial buildings, the unique all aluminum-clad Commonwealth Building received the first permit and became a standard style for several decades. It was the first tower to be sheathed in aluminum, the first to use double-glazed window panels, and was the first to be completely sealed and fully air-conditioned.

Kroeker designed the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system with special features that included heat recovery from ventilation exhaust air and use of waste cooling water to heat incoming ventilation air, resulting in a reduction of normal heat requirements by one-third. The 14-story building has separate heating and cooling circuits controlled by thermostat. The basic heat pumps are four condensing units that pump water from two warm wells of different depths. No provision is made for auxiliary heating; circulated air is the heating or cooling medium arranged to permit change of partitions without effect on distribution of air. See ASME website for more information