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DESIGN TREND: environmental responsibility

It only makes sense that the design of educational facilities should be on the leading edge of sustainable architecture. However, despite many fine examples and some general progress, sustainability is still a nascent movement in school design, particularly in the public sector.

If an owner has an opportunity to invest three percent in additional construction costs, which they will recover in energy savings over seven years, to save a million dollars in operating costs over 25 years—why would they not grab it?

Part of the reason is conceptual. How do architects help clients, school districts in particular, to understand that, with energy costs continuing to rise, first costs can no longer be isolated from operating costs? To see the value of viewing a building as one holistic, ongoing system?

Another part of the reason is data. Owners and architects must continue to collect data, not only about building performance and cost savings, but also about impacts on occupant health and student achievement. If architects do not gather—and validate and disseminate—these data, sustainability will falter.

Better data and greater understanding are crucial to working with clients, to keeping the movement going. But there is also a moral obligation. For architects, it is a professional responsibility. If we are not reducing the footprint, we are not doing our job. This is what the AIA meant when it announced its 2030 Challenge.

Green Dot Animo Leadership High School (Lenox, CA), Pugh + Scarpa Architects, Inc.
The designers of the Green Dot Animo Leadership High School set out to create a secondary campus that operates entirely off the grid, generating 100 percent of its energy consumption onsite. Its 850 solar panels (650 on the south façade, 200 on the roof) perform double duty, generating energy and reducing solar gain. Screens and louvers on the east and west elevations add visual interest, as well as solar protection. The school incorporates multiple conservation features: a building performance management system to optimize mechanical systems performance; automatic sensors and intelligent thermostats with automatic shutoff functions; high-efficiency lighting; storm-water recapturing; water-efficient landscaping; and waterless urinals and low-flow toilets.

Zero Energy Classroom (Hawaii), Anderson Anderson Architecture

The modular Zero Energy Classroom is also designed to generate energy and conserve resources. Further, it illustrates another aspect of environmental responsibility: it is durable and adaptable, as well as efficient. The designers’ analysis of 30-year, life-cycle costs found it comparable in cost to the least expensive portable structures currently available; yet it offers significantly greater comfort and functionality. Solar panels placed just above the roof create a ventilated double skin that reduces heat gain; operable, shaded glazing optimizes natural ventilation. Designed for reuse, the modular components remain on portable chassis sized for road-legal, cost-effective transport and are easily adaptable to future sites and program changes; mechanical and data systems are designed for easy upgrades. Steel sandwich panels maximize insulation and heat reflection, and also deter pests and mold. Building something that lasts means not building its replacement sooner than necessary. Broadly applied, that would have a significant impact on the environment.

Arizona State University Polytechnic Academy Complex (Mesa, AZ), RSP Architects, Ltd., LakeFlato Architects

Adaptive reuse operates in a similar way, reducing waste; but it can also slow the expansion of urban development, and its incursion into natural ecosystems. The Arizona State University Polytechnic Academy Complex reclaimed an abandoned air base to create a campus oasis. Designers found ways to both exploit and resist the desert climate to create effective learning environments. Strategic responses to the harsh sun resulted in both an extensive use of daylighting and a reduction in interior and exterior thermal loads. The exterior envelope is a layered system of plant screens, perforated panels and landscaping to shade the skin and reduce glare. Transforming 1,000 feet of street into a mall with native plants slowed storm water, establishing an indigenous landscape at the heart of the campus as well as solving a significant drainage problem. In addition to five new buildings, the campus includes three existing ones, wrapped into the courtyard plan and modified on their exteriors to blend them into a cohesive whole.

Environmental Education Visitor Activity Center (National Park Service, PA), Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Sustainability is not solely a matter of life-cycle performance; it can also be about aesthetics. The Environmental Education Visitor Activity Center can be read as an essay in conservation. It transforms material that is noxious to the site (discarded tires) into a building material, reclaiming some of the energy invested in their production while it advocates for a responsible relationship with nature. This reference to an iconic source of carbon emissions upends the connection between car and road, converting something that should be horizontal to the vertical. It must be fun, and then thought provoking, for visitors walking up the long path, as the front cladding morphs from a vaguely woodsy texture to: old tires. Hopefully visitors also come to appreciate the way the entire form is shaped by the management of the natural forces on the site—solar orientation and wind. The resulting composition, in its elegant simplicity, extracts the maximum poetic value from its elements, and imbues them with contextual meaning.

Yale University Sculpture Building and Gallery (New Haven, CT), Kiernan Timberlake

The Yale University Sculpture Building and Gallery is another artful building that integrates performance and form. It illustrates key elements of sustainable architecture, from the ground up. The project began with the remediation of the brownfield site, and then the recycling of 92 percent of the construction waste. The project achieved a recycled content value of 25 percent, including reclaimed cedar sunscreens on the gallery. Forty-two percent of the materials were manufactured within 500 miles of the project site; 93 percent were manufactured using raw materials harvested within that radius. There are no added materials or finishes that do not contribute to the building’s overall performance. The sculpture building’s high-performance façade incorporates solar shading; a triple-glazed, low-energy vision panel; eight-foot-high operable windows; and a translucent, double-cavity spandrel panel with a projected R-value over R20. A displacement ventilation system introduces air at low velocities and higher than usual supply temperatures for improved energy efficiency, thermal comfort and indoor air quality. The building’s water conservation systems include storm water collection for non-potable use, as well as waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets and low-flow lavatories. The gallery’s green roof reduces runoff by 85 percent. Back on the ground, a rain garden, porous asphalt, native plants and shade trees replaced impervious surfaces. Together, the green roof and indigenous landscaping establish a connective habitat patch for migrating birds.

Project Information

Green Dot Animo Leadership High School (Lenox, CA), Pugh + Scarpa Architects, Inc.

Zero Energy Classroom (Hawaii), Anderson Anderson Architecture

Arizona State University Polytechnic Academy Complex (Mesa, AZ), RSP Architects, Ltd., LakeFlato Architects

Environmental Education Visitor Activity Center (National Park Service, PA), Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Yale University Sculpture Building and Gallery (New Haven, CT), Kiernan Timberlake


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