Location Rochester, MI
Size 173,000 ft²
Program Administrative and classroom space
Client Oakland University
Construction Manager The Christman Company
The motto on the seal of southeast Michigan’s Oakland University is a line from Dante’s Inferno. It says, in the original Italian, Seguir virtute e canoscenza—seek virtue and knowledge. This happens at a moment in the story when Ulysses is soliloquizing to his sailors, extolling the pursuit of these values in the wide world, and it was adopted at Oakland in order to encourage its students to do the same after graduation. But the motto also relates to the direction in which the institution itself, from the inside out, is committed to growing. In the realm of architecture, what is more virtuous than the highest LEED certification the USGBC offers? And how do you seek knowledge without the optimal environment, both design and technology-wise, in which to do it?
Oakland University’s new LEED Platinum Human Health Building represents those values, as well as the dawning of a new era of building for its mid-20th-century campus. The facilities management team members, who are all passionate about sustainability and supported by upper management, hoped to achieve LEED Gold with the building, which would house the School of Nursing and School of Health Sciences. But midway through development and design with the architectural firm, SmithGroupJJR, they received word that their project had received a grant from the Department of Energy. That money, $2.7 million in all, would bridge the gap between Gold and Platinum.
Certification LEED Platinum
Transportation Public transit, bike racks, EV-charging stations
Site Restored wetlands, rainwater drainage system
Materials 95% of construction waste recycled, regional and recycled materials, low-VOC materials, FSC-certified woods
Water Solar-heated water storage, low-flow plumbing fixtures
Energy Geothermal system, variable refrigerant flow, photovoltaics, solar desiccant air system, occupancy sensors
Landscape Water-efficient and native plants, rainwater cisterns, water-use reduction
A majority of that money was invested in two particular components of the construction: a desiccant dehumidification system and a variable refrigerant pump system. Both are already being used in Europe—and, in the case of the variable refrigerant system, Asia—but the Human Health Building is the first project of its type and size to use both in the United States.
The large variable refrigerant flow system, coupled with 256 geothermal wells, allows the building “to do heating and cooling simultaneously and do much more on the high-efficiency side,” says Siraj Khan, director of engineering for facilities management at Oakland University. For example, if Terry Stollsteimer, vice president of facilities management, wants his office at a cool 68 degrees while his colleague next door is more comfortable—and, importantly, productive—with warmer temperatures, the system can do this and eliminate the use of energy-draining space heaters.
The second unique feature combines solar panels with the desiccant dehumidification system. The 117 solar panels are interspersed with photovoltaics on the roof, and 3,000 glass solar tubes lighten the load on the HVAC system by storing hot water collected in underground tanks.
Being an educational institution, Oakland University hopes students will make permanent the habits they can learn on campus, from recycling to bicycling, encouraged at the Human Health Building with bike racks, lockers, and showers and a campus-wide bike-sharing program. The school also brings local middle-school students to campus for an educational program about its sustainable systems. And a future LEED Gold Engineering Building, which will have nearly all LED lighting and a tri-generator system, allowing it to funnel electricity back into the campus grid, will provide a concrete, first-hand training ground for engineering students who plan to make their way forward—seeking virtue and knowledge, as Ulysses would say—as professionals in an increasingly green industry.