As the 21st Century rolls forward, understanding that sustainability is our main mission as a species, green building and leaders in the construction industry have educated themselves in what it will take to build a future.
One area where this is most dramatically demonstrated is in the halls of higher education in general. It has been American institutions of learning that have played a major part in leading the nation toward smarter, and more inexpensive, ways to build large scale buildings, keep them heated and cooled efficiently, and providing an architectural legacy while they’re at it .
Writer and green building expert Elizabeth Demcsak talks about 5 such buildings that are a part of 5 different colleges across the country, and how green building and LEED certification is more than a fad, but is the future.
I’ll admit it: when I first heard about green building, I was skeptical.
Building with recycled materials and green roofs just seemed like fads, while the LEED system, a certification system for sustainable buildings, seemed arbitrary and bureaucratic. But after I took a tour of the SKANSKA office in the Empire State Tower, which is applying for LEED Platinum certification (the top rating) — I changed my tune.
It turns out the LEED system awards points for things I associate quite closely to quality of life issues: being able to open one’s window (more sustainable than using the AC); being able to turn down the AC (goes without saying); getting more natural light (means less artificial light). Besides being newer, cooler, and better for the planet, LEED-certified buildings are just more pleasant to spend time in.
With more and more colleges across the country scrambling to become sustainable, which of them have the most eco-friendly — and student-friendly — buildings?
1.UT Dallas — Student Services Building
UT Dallas’s Student Services Building (SSB) was awarded LEED Platinum in 2011, making it the first academic structure to get the highest LEED certification. Along with solar panels that are used for water heating, recycled and regional materials, the SSB features a lighting system that automatically adjusts to the conditions — so daylight can be used as lighting, but doesn’t overheat the inside.
2.Yale — Kroon Hall
Appropriately enough, Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is housed in LEED Platinum certified building, Kroon Hall. The architects responded to the challenge of integrating this modern building into the rest of Yale’s neo-gothic campus by giving it a gently sloping roof and using similar materials, while integrating a number of green features. Bike commuting is encouraged through an abundance of accessible bike parking, lockers and showers.
Moreover, two screens in the building lobby allow visitors to monitor the building’s energy usage, which hovers at nearly 60% less than neighboring structures. The top floor offers flexible space that can be rearranged according to the need. But really, Kroon Hall increases quality of life simply by virtue of what it replaced: a brownfield site home to a power plant.
3. University of Washington — Paccar Hall
Actually, it’d be too much to list all of UW’s best LEED buildings: since 2006, every campus building has gotten LEED certification, one of the reasons Sierra picked it as its top “Cool School” in 2011. But Paccar Hall, which houses the Foster School of Business, can be representative: 96% of construction waste was recycled, a green roof deck can be enjoyed by the community, and there’s even an electric vehicle plug-in station.
4. Stanford — Global Ecology Research Center
The Global Ecology Research Center isn’t officially LEED certified, but it was one of the American Institute of Architects’ Top 10 Green Projects in 2007. The exterior is made of recycled redwood from 100-year-old wine casks, old doors were reused for furniture, and native plants reduce water use. The building even has a windcatcher, a traditional tower designed to ventilate buildings, to make sure cooling needs stay absolutely minimal.
5. Oberlin — Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies — 2000
Oberlin consistently tops lists as an eco-friendly school with the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies as one of its flagship projects. Solar arrays line the roof and the parking lot and the cooling system includes windows which automatically open when it gets too hot. But alongside all the other eco-features, the building is above all a teaching project: its website lets visitors monitor energy usage.
Looking at these buildings, which are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s clear my hesitancy towards sustainable building was unwarranted. After all, recycled materials, more daylight, native plants, exotic architectural details: green building might be good for the planet, but it’s definitely good for me.
Elizabeth Demcsak is a marketing specialist for a variety of clients including JW Surety Bonds. She writes on a diverse number of construction-related topics ranging from contractor bonds requirements to eco-friendly innovations.