Virginia Wesleyan University Greer Environmental Sciences Center
Occupying the last building location on Virginia Wesleyan University’s main quad, the new Greer Environmental Sciences Center represents the university’s commitment to environmental sustainability and its thriving cross-disciplinary sciences program. The building also serves as a new portal for students as they move across the campus, connecting them to the building’s program and natural content. Since opening, the center has transformed campus life and supported the university’s desire to broaden research opportunities for undergraduates.
The center is designed to recognize former university President William Thomas Greer Jr.’s commitment to sustainability. To that end, the LEED Gold-certified building has created an inspiring sense of place and emerged as a standard-bearer for how architecture and design can advance hands-on learning opportunities and connect students to a greater sense of purpose as active stewards of their campus.
“The jury loved how this building promotes an ethic of sustainability and creates a multitude of teaching opportunities,” noted the jury. “The atrium is a warm and intimate space with a good connection to the labs. It is integrated with the geography and promotes connection with the outdoors. This is an educational facility that promotes collaboration between students.”
“The atrium is a warm and intimate space with a good connection to the labs. It is integrated with the geography and promotes connection with the outdoors. This is an educational facility that promotes collaboration between students.”- Jury comment
The building is an immersive science experience for the entire campus, not just science majors. The team stacked and centered teaching labs within the building, tying wayfinding, program adjacencies, and visual proximities to the lab experience through its fully glazed, quad-facing walls. Science is on full display for the small liberal arts community, and the orchestrated transparency between key spaces engenders greater connectivity among students and faculty. Rather than tie the labs to specific departments, they have been organized around atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere. Support spaces flank each teaching lab and support specialized investigations.
Interactive details complement the building’s transparency, animating it as a teaching tool. Educational signage throughout explains the wide range of sustainable materials and systems used to construct it, and a building dashboard provides real-time data visualizations that track the effectiveness of the center’s geothermal heat exchangers and photovoltaic panels. Sustainable features, including constructed wetlands and the center’s green roof, are made available to students studying flora and fauna.
In its celebration of place-based investigations and collaborations, the center draws students, faculty, and local research opportunities into its orbit. Building resources were developed to leverage partnerships with many environmental agencies and organizations in the Chesapeake Bay region, providing them with a platform at the university. This initiative has extended the center’s footprint and fostered a culture that fulfills the university’s mission to engage students in applied learning experiences.