Radically resourceful

26 Feb 2010

Bio/Chem building achieves sustainable design excellence at 30% below benchmark

Completed in 2007, Johnson Hall at St. Lawrence University is the 21st Century exemplar of design excellence, a rigorously resourceful project that, upon completion, was the highest environmentally sustainable rated university or lab building in New York State and was constructed at 30% below the regional benchmark cost for this building type. A powerful challenge to building as object, Johnson Hall by design integrates built and natural systems deeply at the regional, community, campus, curriculum and individual levels.

Awarded New York State’s first LEED® Gold for a university building in 2008, the 115,000 sq ft Biology-Chemistry facility at a small private liberal arts school in Canton, NY had to address the extreme climate and shortened daylight hours at 44° 36’N latitude. Both issues seemed to create severe limits on energy efficiency aspirations and USGBC LEED aspirations. ‘Radical resourcefulness’ in design, detailing and integrated project delivery addressed the project’s financial limitations. Climate and energy challenges were addressed through active (technology) and passive (massing, orientation, geometric) design.

The building mass is divided into two slender north-south wings to achieve maximum daylighting. The courtyard formed by the two wings was lined with stone to receive and re-radiate heat. Outdoor environmental comfort was also enhanced by sheltering this space from wind with a two-storey bridge to the south and a full, three-story enclosure to the north. The highest performing commercially available glazing and an R-25 exterior wall are combined with a ‘2 Zone’ window and sloping ceiling geometry for maximum diffuse daylight harvesting.

Typical is the story of the development and integration of a constructed biofiltration wetland, initiated by our project team, that ultimately picked up runoff from 11.2 acres of the surrounding campus. The wetland is integrated as a Biology Department initiative and curriculum component. Biology 221, an ecology course, completes concurrent measurements (pH, nitrates, turbidity, temperature and oxygen) of both the wetland and the nearby River. In Biology 428, Plant Systematics, students within specific field plots; make species lists and track plant changes over time, leading an ongoing experiment comparing natural, pioneer species establishment with an introduced ‘inoculum’ of a wetland seed mix.

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