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Solution of the Month

Core Strength: At a new Stanford building, atria double-major in sustainability and community.

BOORA Architects
August 2010

By David Sokol

In 2004 the Portland, Oregon–based firm BOORA Architects won the competition to master-plan Stanford University’s Science and Engineering Quad. “At the interview we had shown atria with pronounced monitors unifying all the buildings that would eventually be in the quad,” says BOORA’s Stan Boles, FAIA, the principal in charge of the master plan. “We knew that in some form or another sustainable performance and the expression of that was going to be real important to what Stanford wanted to do.”

Stanford University’s Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building
Photo © Tim Griffith
Stanford University’s Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building


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Completed in 2008, the 166,500-square-foot Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, or Y2E2, is the first completed structure in the new quad. It features four atria, which yield environmental as well as organizational benefits.

Thanks to the inclusion of the atria and the installation of Polygal clerestories in offices, daylight reaches as far into the Y2E2 building as the basement, where most of the building’s pure scientific research is conducted, and permeates approximately 90 percent of the interiors as a whole. Working with Arup, BOORA optimized the atria for light quality: In response to angle studies, three of their openings taper downward with more floor space on the south sides. In addition, a frit pattern applied to the atrium glazing minimizes glare and reduces heat gain at the upper levels of the building.

The atria also work as thermal chimneys. Warm air is released through louvers located at the base of the glass atria caps. (The atria extend 24-1/2 feet above the roofline.) To create negative pressure that expedites airflow, different louvers open and close according to digital readings of wind speed and direction.

Further digital monitoring allows each atrium to provide thermal comfort. In conjunction with manually operated windows and ceiling fans, a DCC system choreographs motorized operable windows in response to interior temperatures and carbon-dioxide levels. Warmer air escapes through corridors and the atria, both of which are not mechanically cooled. If warm weather is predicted for the following day, the DCC will also arrange for night flushing, which gets a boost from 6-inch-thick concrete and stone walls. “Even on summer mornings the building is on the chilly side,” Boles says. Moreover, thermal mass retains heat buildup on cold nights when there is no flushing.

Arup also ensured that the atria correspond with Y2E2’s passive smoke-release design, specifying a horizontal fire shutter between the basement and the first floor.

Partly as a result of the atria, and their integrated performance with Y2E2’s other sustainable strategies, the building is 50 percent more energy-efficient than a typical Stanford lab abiding California’s Title 24 regulations. The atria also impart order to a unique program. Y2E2’s occupants are devoted to the experimentation, research, technological applications, and policy making needed to solve global environmental concerns, and they’ve come together from 26 different university departments to do so. “The problems posed by environmental and energy issues are so complicated that the building brings people together, so innovation may occur at the intersections of all these disciplines,” Boles says.

Rather than compartmentalize civil engineers from philosophers from biologists, the building deploys focal areas to organize its polyglot population. The atria enhance this blending of disciplines by serving as social cores. Seminar rooms, reception areas, kitchens, and other common spaces cluster around the open spaces, transforming these volumes into hubs where each focal area can strengthen its sense of community. And looking to the floors above and below reveals “the whole spectrum of work going on,” as Boles puts it.

“We had no idea how they [the atria] would work internally, because the programs for all the buildings are so different,” Boles recalls of BOORA’s preliminary proposal for the Science and Engineering Quad, in which atria characterized all four forthcoming buildings. Although there will be different numbers and configurations of atria in the nanotechnology building versus the structure devoted to biological and chemical engineering, the multifaceted success of the atria in Y2E2 guarantees that the architects’ original vision of an atrium-punctuated quad will become reality.

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