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Welcome to the October 2019 issue of our newsletter about buildings, grounds, and more.

Chances are good that your institution has built at least some recent buildings to LEED standards. But a handful of colleges are now setting the bar much, much higher. On Thursday Georgia Tech dedicates its newest building, a $25-million structure designed to the exacting standards of the Living Building Challenge. We visited recently.

Also this month:

  • Art Lidsky explains Lidsky’s Law of Science Buildings.
  • Tuskegee U. students help restore a campus landmark.
  • An exhibit examines contradictions in Jefferson’s architecture.

Georgia Tech Opens a Building Meant to ‘Give Back More Than It Takes’

Atlanta — “What would be a building that does more good than harm, that gives back more than it takes?” The Georgia Institute of Technology hopes to answer that question with a structure it will dedicate Thursday: the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design.

Paid for with a $30-million grant by the Atlanta-based Kendeda Fund, the 37,000-square-foot facility is designed to meet the standards of the Living Building Challenge. “It’s the most ambitious performance standard in the world,” according to Shan Arora, the building’s director, who again and again asks why we shouldn’t start expecting our buildings to do more for the planet and its people. Of the $30 million, $25 million went to construction costs, with the rest set aside for an endowment for the building and its programs.

Like other Living Building Challenge structures, the Kendeda Building will have to prove itself over a year’s time before it earns its certification. Among other things, it’s expected to generate more electricity than it uses, collect all the water it needs and recycle that water after it’s been used, and help control storm runoff. “When it rains here, it’s like a flash flood,” Arora says. “We want to manage that on campus.”

The building will also be expected to contribute to social equity (more on that below). It must offer its occupants a happy, healthy environment, and it has to be attractive as well. In all, there are 20 requirements to meet, says Arora, so every aspect of the design has to address multiple needs. “You have to think through what you do upfront. ‘Good enough’ is not an option.”

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The Kendeda Building is among a handful of Living Building Challenge structures completed so far on college campuses. The best known is, perhaps, Hampshire College’s Kern Center, opened in 2016. What makes the Georgia Tech project significant, though, is its location in hot, humid Atlanta. “We want to show the world that this can be built in this climate zone,” Arora says, noting that the building is believed to be the first in the Southeast to rely on radiant-cooling technology that pipes chilled water through the floors. Combined with ceiling fans, it’s expected to keep spaces comfortable.

Another goal, he says, has been “to leverage the project to move the industry,” so that those involved in planning and constructing the Kendeda Building learn so much from it that they can become advocates for ultra-sustainable projects elsewhere. The architects, Lord Aeck Sargent, do a lot of work on campuses in the South, but here they collaborated with Seattle’s Miller Hull Partnership, which had experience with similar projects in the Pacific Northwest. The contractors — Skanska USA — and subcontractors were also drawn into the rigor of the Living Building Challenge process. “Once you learn the things you learn by being part of a Living Building Challenge building, you can’t unlearn them,” says Arora.

From the outside, the building’s solar canopy is its most distinctive feature, extending well beyond the enclosed structure below. The canopy adds to the structure’s capacity to make electricity as well as to its ability to capture rainwater (stored in a 50,000-gallon underground cistern). It also shades the west and south facades from summer sun. Inside, wood — much of it recycled from buildings on and near the campus — makes a big impression. Glue-laminated timber serves structural functions normally reserved for steel and concrete; a broad wooden ramp leads from the entrance down to an auditorium/event space that can accommodate more than 200 people; and wood stairs climb to the upper floor.

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What’s less obvious is just as important, however. Some of the wooden ceilings were constructed at a nearby nonprofit, Georgia Works, that provides employment to people formerly incarcerated — that’s part of the commitment to equity. And contractors worked hard to avoid a red list of “worst in class” construction materials. “Eliminating them was in many ways the most laborious aspect of this project,” says Arora.

Still, it’s probably the restrooms that visitors are most likely to talk about. Slate on the walls is recycled from the roof of a former alumni house, for starters, and there are composting toilets that Arora says use much less water than conventional toilets do (composting bins are in the basement). The water in the taps is rainwater purified by a system within the building; what goes down the drains in sinks — “graywater” — is sent to a constructed wetland to be returned to the aquifer.

The Kendeda Building does not belong to any one academic department, although it is home to Georgia Tech’s campus-sustainability office and its global-change program. Besides the auditorium, the building houses two 64-seat classrooms, two 24-seat classrooms, and two 16-seat classrooms, a conference room, and a makerspace. A branch of a local coffee shop is due to open in a bright area between the makerspace and the auditorium, attracting even those who don’t have classes in the building. There will also be a rooftop garden with an apiary and a pollinator garden — off-limits to people, though not, obviously, to the useful creatures for which they’re intended.

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A Theory of Evolution: Lidsky’s Law of Science Buildings

By Arthur J. Lidsky

As the world’s scientific knowledge has increased over time, built on a foundation of theories and laws, it has become clear that some laws have more of an impact on college campuses than others. Here’s a short list of laws and theories that affect campuses, and a drill-down on the last one — the Law of Science Buildings.

Keller’s Law of Community: At the end of a long and careful process to build community, consensus, and support, there will always be one person who will protest that “I was never asked to participate!”

Gotti’s Law of Project Cost: No matter how large or small a science project, it will always be more than the college can afford.

Physical Plant’s Law of Responsibility: It’s always Physical Plant’s fault.

Wright’s Law of Design: No matter how careful an architect is in involving user groups in the design of a science facility, there will always be someone who will cry out: “Gosh, this is sure different than the drawings.”

Alonso’s Law of Location: The best site for a science building is always on a faculty parking lot.

Einstein’s Law of Instrumentation: Two weeks after moving into a new science building, the institution will be given an expensive piece of science equipment for which no space was planned and for which there is no space available.

Hubbell’s Law of Science Faculty: While a new building is under construction, another university will hire away the faculty member who made the most exacting demands for space designed for his or her unique research needs.

Lidsky’s Law of Science Buildings: Over time, all science buildings become humanities and social-science buildings.

Let’s take a more serious look at the last law. It states that science buildings, given sufficient time, will always evolve.

Two buildings on the Colgate University campus demonstrate this evolution. Hascall is the older (1884) and was originally known as the Laboratory Building, housing the physical sciences and astronomy. When a new chemistry building was constructed, it became the biology building and later housed the art department. After a significant renovation, it now houses the philosophy department. Lathrop Hall, constructed in 1905, was a science resource for biology, geology, and physics. It’s now the home of the English department, writing and rhetoric, the Division of University Studies, and the Writing and Speaking Center.

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Similarly, Franklin & Marshall College’s Stahr Hall was originally designed for the sciences in the 1890s. Over the years, the building went through a variety of renovations. Renamed Stager Hall in 1988, it houses American studies, computer science, economics, history, Judaic studies, mathematics, religious studies, and women’s and gender studies.

Other examples abound on campuses across the country. So why have buildings originally designed for a specific set of disciplines with a complex infrastructure evolved to a more generic and simpler set of spaces?

Many older science buildings were conceived, designed, and constructed for a curriculum and pedagogy that is no longer effective for contemporary science teaching, learning, and research. Older buildings were not designed for the hands-on, collaborative, active learning environment that is required today.

The structural bay size of older science buildings is typically too small and inflexible for contemporary science labs. Building and life-safety codes and ADA requirements have increased the amount of space needed. Contemporary building systems (electrical, plumbing, mechanical, communications, control, and alarm systems) require more space than the original systems used. Today’s science buildings require a floor-to-ceiling height of 14 to 16 feet. Older buildings have less height, making it difficult to retrofit building systems, especially air ducts.

Although science buildings are among the most expensive buildings to construct, it is more cost-effective in the long run to build new than to try to renovate an older building, given today’s code and system requirements and the programmatic needs of these evolving disciplines.

There is a corollary to Lidsky’s Law. How many Carnegie libraries on college campuses are still libraries?

Art Lidsky is president of the campus-planning firm Dober Lidsky Mathey.

On Campuses and Beyond

Middle Earth Expansion housing and student-life center at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) -- energy-efficient, LEED-Platinum accommodations along with dining, learning and amenity spaces by a design-build collaboration of Mithun and Hensel Phelps.
Middle Earth Expansion housing and student-life center at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) -- energy-efficient, LEED-Platinum accommodations along with dining, learning and amenity spaces by a design-build collaboration of Mithun and Hensel Phelps.

The U. of California at Irvine has opened a 495-bed, LEED-platinum housing complex (above) that sits on “a mixed-use podium and richly landscaped base, echoing the natural form and color of the region’s limestone canyons.” Read more.

Six Tuskegee U. architecture students are helping to restore a university building constructed by students nearly 100 years ago. The six are part of a program started by the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Read more.

“Rates are based on the market, which is strong”: At a new 886-unit complex intended for students at Florida International U., in Miami, rent will start at $975 a month for a room in a four-bedroom apartment. Read more.

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“The paradox — or hypocrisy, to be harsher — is that he’s creating an architecture that’s for liberty and against monarchs and aristocracy. And yet it’s dependent upon slave labor.” —Erik H. Neil, director of the Chrysler Museum of Art, in Norfolk, Va., and curator of a new exhibition about Thomas Jefferson’s architecture and conflicting ideals. Read more.

Connecticut College is about to start a $24-million renovation of its 1939 Art Deco auditorium, Palmer Hall. Plans include “bringing daylight into the hall, installing an elevator, adding comfortable seats, improving sight lines, and fine-tuning the acoustics.” Read more.

Lastly …

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Afternoon light pours through windows in the reference room of Franklin & Marshall’s Shadek-Fackenthal Library. It turns out that sunny October afternoons with leaves crunching underfoot can almost be counted on to make a person miss being a college student — even decades after he graduated.