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Solution of the Month

Eat at Joe’s: An Ivy League cafe earns LEED Gold—and orders off the eco-menu, too.

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
October 2011
Voith & Mactavish Architects

By David Sokol

As they settle into their semester routines, University of Pennsylvania students may notice flora unexpectedly sprouting from the roof of longtime campus building Steinberg Hall–Dietrich Hall. This Wharton School of Business facility was the last commission of McKim, Mead & White, and the green roof belongs to a 1,300-square-foot rear entry pavilion just completed by Voith & Mactavish as part of a second major renovation. Although the Philadelphia-based architects’ limestone and mullion detailing caringly respects the original 1952 design, the green roof also represents a sustainable 21st-century perspective.

Photo © Jeffrey Totaro
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Inside, campus residents can sate their sustainability appetites at Joe’s Café, which is LEED-Gold CI (commercial interiors). Most of the dining area is located within the new east-facing structure. Low-E-coated, double-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows boast a U-value of .36 that keeps tabs on solar thermal gain in the 18-foot-tall interior. A steel-and-limestone trellis appended to the south side of the pavilion casts shade on the dining area to reduce both heat and glare.

Tracking those daylight levels are sensors that dim and brighten the CFLs in pendants over the dining area, while the adjacent servery is illuminated on occupancy sensors. Voith & Mactavish partner Daniela Voith also notes the second-chance bottle and mirror glass embedded in the terrazzo floors, and insulation and other materials that are locally sourced, low-VOC, and partly recycled. The academic community “was really so taken” with the LEED system, Voith says, “because it makes so much sense. Our [education] practice has become more rigorously green in advance of that.”

Yet the cafe does more than mark checkboxes for a sustainable interior. Joe’s operator is diverting at least half of its waste, for example, thanks in part to compostable clamshell and salad containers, paper plates, disposable utensils—from tiny salt and pepper packets to large trash bags.

Voith says that promoting usage of the space outside operating hours is another sustainability strategy that’s not by the books. “If you’re building it, heating it, and cleaning it, can’t we use the cafe in ways that support the academic program? We looked pretty closely at scheduling to make sure the dining area gets consistent use and the school doesn’t have to build more rooms than necessary.”

In addition to checking logistics, intensifying occupancy of Joe’s Café required making the dining area feel multipurpose. Direct ingress or entry through the new vestibule minimizes evocations of a high school cafeteria. And the servery shuts down completely without impacting the dining area. It disappears behind three pocket doors, and by shutting one passage to the interior hallway.

Ugly rolling closures could have sealed the servery, but ensuring daylong usage means making Joe’s Café feel pleasant, as well. Besides bathing students and faculty in ample daylight, then, the expansive windows and trellis-covered outdoor area provide occupants with views to another design feature of historical note: Woodland Walk, created by UPenn landscape architecture department founder Ian McHarg. In that same vein, “we paid attention to acoustics, so it’s quiet, and to specifying materials that don’t offgas, so there is no new car smell,” Voith says. “They may not know why, but people want to stay longer in spaces designed this way. Whereas the space was once viewed as a place to get a quick cup of coffee, now it’s where students are doing their homework and group work, professors are holding office hours, and the school is conducting admissions interviews.”


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