From rural districts to Ivy League institutions, our education system is the perfect environment for teaching the next generation about the benefits of the triple bottom line. How do buildings themselves play a part? Below are three case studies that provide some answers. (Jump to a case study using the links below.)

University of Arizona | Princeton University | San Francisco Waldorf High School

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Battling to complement established university architecture and still embrace modern design, Årbol de la Vida Hall, part of the Sixth Street project, combines brick, stucco, and colorful aluminum panels. Photo: Frank Ooms

University of Arizona

building LEED Platinum Urban Housing

With a student body totaling more than 30,000, the University of Arizona needed a way to provide new housing for students that served a triune purpose. The residences must reduce energy costs, incorporate organic visual design, and model sustainable practices for resident life. Recently opened for the 2011–2012 school year and built to mimic canyon and arroyo topography, UA’s new Sixth Street Residence Halls (SSRH) house 1,088 freshman students and are the first LEED Platinum residential units in Arizona.

The primary challenge for the SSRH project—which comprises both the Árbol de la Vida and Likins halls—was getting the buildings to work with the surrounding area. “This is an urban campus, so we had limited planning boundaries,” says Debra Johnson, UA’s senior architect. Respondent to this, the architectural team at AR7 Architects was able to incorporate new space into the halls that works both practically and aesthetically. Johnson says, “We were able to build multiple courtyards into the design, and these become social spaces for the students that are private, secure, and enclosed by the buildings themselves.”

Natural gathering spaces, inside and out, were a primary goal of AR7′s design for the University of Arizona’s Sixth Street Residence Halls. Photo: Frank Ooms

Large windows, in some cases working in conjunction with a perforated facade, in student rooms and study spaces allow for the influx of natural light. Photo: Frank Ooms

Because the residence halls were being built within the campus precincts, Johnson says it was important for them to abide by the established architectural vocabulary. “We wanted … the halls [to] respect the campus context but still make them modern and unique,” Johnson says. The halls thus incorporate brick on the perimeter of the building to maintain this continuity, adding multicolored aluminum panels (No.1), stainless and galvanized metals, and stucco, provided by Mirage Plastering, on the interior, to bring lighter, reflective colors into the courtyards.

Johnson says the angles in the buildings are intended to make the exterior spaces more organic, though this is reflected in the interiors as well. “We widened the hallways at the ends to provide spaces for students to gather,” Johnson says. “We also placed study rooms in the corridor centers to naturally allow people to transition from loud to quiet.” As with the exterior design, the goal was to integrate private and public areas (No.2). The areas were styled with furniture provided by Target Commercial Interiors, among others, and students were assured cohesive social space.

Large windows in student rooms and study spaces allow for the influx of natural light, as does the buildings’ north-south orientation. Unlike many college dormitories, the windows in the SSRH are operable, which means they can be opened or closed relative to student preference (No.3). In addition to these passive strategies, all rooms are equipped with proprietary “smart” thermostats and occupancy sensors to conserve energy.

Heating domestic water uses a significant amount of energy in a residence hall. The desert conditions allow for practical implementation of rooftop solar-thermal systems to heat domestic water for the students. When it came to LEED scores, Johnson says the Energy and Atmosphere category was crucial. “We achieved 14 of 17 points here, and we were able to meet all energy-savings goals,” he says. The project was able to take advantage of off-site photovoltaic arrays, and the electrical design, provided by Monrad Engineering, has a lighting power density 45 percent more efficient than baseline and an electrical power density 10 percent more efficient than baseline.

Sixth Street’s urban site necessitated interior courtyards that double as social spaces, eventually shaded by sycamore and walnut trees. Photo: Frank Ooms

The residence halls’ long interior courtyards mimc the canyon topography of the desert Southwest. Photo: Frank Ooms

Sixth Street residents benefit from the buildings’ spacious, landscaped courtyards, designed to mimic arroyo topography (No.4). They also can learn from their living quarters. The SSRH project received LEED points for education, as residence halls are integrated with a Web-based dashboard. This allows students to track and monitor energy usage and learn firsthand ways to moderate consumption and encourage green practices. “It was important that the residence halls’ utility information be accessible,” Johnson says, “because this allows us a direct way to instruct the students on the benefits of sustainability.” –Benjamin van Loon

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Princeton’s new Chemistry Building features solar panels on its canopy-like roof while the project site uses rain gardens to manage campus storm water.

Princeton University

how to add square footage but reduce emissions

When Princeton University moved in 1756 to its current home in Princeton, New Jersey, the entire campus was composed of one building: Nassau Hall. For almost 50 years, it held Princeton’s library, chapel, dorm rooms, classrooms, dining room, and kitchen. But Nassau Hall couldn’t handle Princeton’s entire academic and residential needs forever.

Over time, the campus grew to 180 buildings. By 1990, it encompassed roughly 7 million square feet, and it’s now about 9.5 million square feet, according to director of facilities engineering Tom Nyquist. The growth, however, came with an environmental cost.

Director of facilities engineering Tom Nyquist says Princeton’s new solar field will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by as much as seven percent.

The steady expansion significantly increased Princeton’s carbon footprint. To curb its environmental impact, the university created a climate plan in 2007 to conserve natural resources, reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 without the use of offsets (credits that can be purchased to reduce the overall recorded amount of emissions), and cut energy costs by 25–30 percent.

At the start of every large construction project, Princeton holds a sustainability meeting with the design architects, engineers, construction managers, and Facilities Department representatives. Using this integrative design approach, Princeton was able to build an extremely efficient data center that incorporated the latest energy-saving technologies, including cogeneration, water-cooled computer racks, air and water economizers, and highly efficient, water-cooled chillers. Structure Tone handled the data center project and offered advice on capital costs of energy-conservation technology.

Comparing the anticipated energy and maintenance costs for the next 25–30 years to the initial estimates for an energy-conservation feature often makes a strong case for sustainability. “When adding energy-conservation features, we were adding cost, so [the feature] used to get cut,” Nyquist says. “[But] many times, you save so much over the life of the building that you’d be crazy not to put the feature in.”

External consultants also suggest green solutions. Rain gardens were added to the new chemistry building’s site to slow rainwater runoff due to research from Boston-based Nitsch Engineering. “We are tackling new buildings as we add them,” Nyquist says of current projects. “The more efficient they are, the less we have to cut energy elsewhere.”

Although LEED certification isn’t Princeton’s primary goal, it often uses the green-building standards as a general guide. The 250-year-old university also is trying to incorporate sustainability into building renovations, such as its ongoing library restoration. Upgrades include switching to a chilled-beam system that uses water to cool surrounding air more efficiently. “It’s a multiphase project that, in 10 years, could cut building energy use in half,” Nyquist says.

Princeton’s plan to reduce emissions will require a $45 million investment through 2017, yet energy-efficiency projects have already resulted in an annual savings of roughly $1.7 million. Nyquist says the university has always tried to reign in energy costs. In 1996, the addition of a cogeneration plant helped reduce the amount of power the university needed to buy. The plant produces electricity and steam efficiently and thereby significantly lowers the campus carbon footprint.

Princeton added this cogeneration plant back in 1996, significantly reducing the amount of power it needed to buy.

The soon to be added Neuroscience & Psychology Building has a high-efficiency envelope that includes two skins of glass sandwiching a three-foot-wide airspace.

Princeton’s new solar-collector field boasts 16,500 photovoltaic panels, built with the help of Van Note-Harvey Associates, a civil engineer and the project’s environmental consultant. Connected to the main campus’s electrical-power-distribution system, the field is expected to meet 5.5 percent of the total annual need and prevent production of 3,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The payback? “[This should] help us lower our carbon footprint by six to seven percent,” Nyquist says.

Since 2008, the university’s emissions have declined by 2.6 percent, and campus energy use increased by just 3.9 percent despite adding more than 560,000 square feet of building space. This year, Princeton plans to add more efficient lighting in at least 12 buildings and outfit more than 40 with energy-efficient, control-system-optimization technology, which Princeton tested in 2011 with positive results.

Yet according to Nyquist, Princeton isn’t the only university undergoing a conservation check. “There’s a general awareness nationwide for many schools to get more energy efficient,” Nyquist says. “A significant number of colleges across the county have hired sustainability directors or managers. And, cutting energy saves money.” –Erin Brereton

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Inside a concrete shell, the San Francisco high school needs little to no artificial light. For some classrooms, 450 Architects cut new windows into the façade.

San Francisco Waldorf High School

a natural learning environment in a concrete shell

450 Architects principals David Bushnell and Richard Parker are known for engaging multiple stakeholders in a project’s design, asking what a building and its environs can and should accomplish. They’re also advocates of both education and sustainability, so when the San Francisco Waldorf High School—an education system that values nature as a tool for learning— needed a new campus, the pair was a natural fit. What might not have seemed natural, however, was the brutalist, poured-in-place concrete structure originally built in the early 1970s that the architects had to work with. And yet the school received its LEED Gold certification in 2011.

450 Architects teamed up with green-building veteran Oliver & Company to complete the renovation on time and under budget. Among its features are an ultra-tight building envelope and numerous sustainable materials.

The philosophy of the Waldorf schools, which use a humanistic, sensory, and interdisciplinary approach to education, includes experiences in the outdoors. “Reverence for the Earth is ingrained in their philosophy,” Bushnell says. “We were able to transform a concrete shell that, to our surprise, was not only structurally sound after 40 years but met current seismic code requirements.” Part of the transformation involved the windows: dingy, single-pane, fixed-glazing windows were replaced with high-efficiency operable wood ones, increasing daylighting and providing natural ventilation.

450 architects celebrated the structure’s original materials. “Exposed concrete respects the building for what it is,” Bushnell says. “It’s durable and was well-made. Rather than cover it, we juxtaposed a warm palette of natural materials and finishes.” Light fixtures positioned near windows are set to dim with daylight while those closer to the building core provide higher-intensity light.

The hard angles of the high school’s concrete structure are softened by its curved interior walls. The LEED Gold school teaches students core subjects through nature and art.

Though many high schools use a singularly designed science lab for biology, chemistry, and physics, Waldorf schools configure them differently for each subject. Here, the biology lab benches are separate from the lecture area, under all of which are concrete floors. Why concrete? “When future resources allow they will get rubber and cork floor coverings,” Bushnell says. “Concrete can suffice for now, instead of installing cheap vinyl or carpet.” Via the operable windows, a eucalyptus grove provides a therapeutic scent inside the building. Given San Francisco’s moderate climate, no mechanical air-conditioning is necessary with such a tight building envelope, and a boiler that is 99 percent efficient minimizes energy use.

To contrast the hardness of the concrete, curved wall surfaces form a central hallway to soften the learning environment. “We had a raw, 80-foot by 60-foot space to work with,” Bushnell says. “We wanted to allow the space to naturally flow, to create places to congregate. This provided surfaces that were conceived to provide a gallery-like atmosphere for displaying art.” Bushnell says the project’s general contractor, Oliver & Company, was very adaptive to what the school was trying to do. Notable materials include the wallboard, which is made from 98 percent recycled paper and 96 percent recycled gypsum.

In its previous incarnation as an AT&T call center, what is now the textile arts classroom housed a backup generator to accommodate emergency functions in the case of an earthquake. Because Waldorf schools integrate the art of making things to also teach mathematics, physics, and astronomy, improving this space was vital. The architects cut windows into the concrete walls and transformed the vault into a light-filled studio, connecting the space to the outdoors. –Russ Klettke