The nature reserve where this building is located is a contiguous natural area, 55 acres in size, deeded to the University which charged the architect with designing a facility to serve eight different departments for the nature portions of their teaching. The University desired that this building have minimum environmental impact and be an overall energy producer in spite of the fact that it is in the cold climate of Northern Minnesota, USA. As a result the Classroom Building is designed as a zero-energy and near-zero waste building. Construction of the building was completed in June, 2010.
The design is very sensitive to issues of site disturbance, water run-off, views and meets the positive energy goals of the University while gracefully marking the entry to the nature reserve. The building footprint and heat island effect was addressed by minimising size to 1,995 gross sq ft and 1,550 net sq ft and providing a vegetative roof. The architect designed an outdoor classroom to serve some of the educational function thus reducing overall square footage of the building further. The assembly of physical elements of the classroom building, the outdoor fireplace, wood storage and recycled cedar benches created a gathering area which has become a popular student study area and is already recognszed by professors as an unexpected secondary 'classroom', creating opportunities for two classes to be in session at the same time.
The project is designed to reduce its energy consumption by 90% and the remaining 10% energy need is 5,500 kWh per year. The grid-connected photovoltaic panels are projected to produce between 7,500 and 8,500 kWh per year making it a positive energy producer. The primary source of winter heating is the sun. The structure uses 87% less potable water than the average University building. 35% of the project materials were harvested and manufactured within 500 miles of the project, 17% of the project materials have recycled content in them, 86% of the wood products used on the project come from sustainably managed forests as certified by the FSC and 88% of the construction waste was sorted on site and recycled.
All the habitable rooms have exterior views and natural daylight to keep artificial lighting off. All these design concepts and performance strategies have gone into making this building a comfortable, habitable space where the students and occupants are truly connected with nature.