digital edition

CASE STUDY REVISIT: Examining Performance
Loyola University Information Commons

Chicago, Illinois
November 2010
(Originally featured November 2008)
Solomon Cordwell Buenz

By Nadav Malin

Photo © Steinkamp Photography
Administrators and trustees wanted a building that would take full advantage of its spectacular but exposed site on the shores of Lake Michigan.
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Location Chicago, Illinois (southwestern tip of Lake Michigan)
Gross area 70,495 ft2 (6,549 m2)
Cost $28.3 million
Completed January 2008
Program Open digital reading rooms, classrooms, group study rooms, meeting room, center for public service

Monthly Energy Use   Annual Energy Use  

Owner Loyola University, Chicago
Architect and interior designerSolomon Cordwell Buenz
MEP engineer Elara Engineering
Commissioning agent E Cube Inc.
Environmental building Transsolar

Loyola University’s Information Commons occupies a lakefront site adjacent to a large green—transparency was deemed essential to avoid cutting off the green from the lake. Thus east and west walls of the building’s central section are fully glazed, creating a heating and cooling challenge. The design team embraced a bells-and-whistles approach to maximizing energy efficiency in the face of this challenging design brief, with radiant ceilings, ducted underfloor air, a double-walled facade, and automated windows and blinds.

When outdoor temperature and humidity are conducive, windows in the east and west walls open automatically so the building can be naturally conditioned by lake breezes. The air movement is enhanced by the stack effect in the double-wall facade. Heating and cooling both rely primarily on the radiant ceilings. When radiant surfaces alone can’t do the job, additional systems kick in to condition the supply air. Finally, in hybrid mode, the windows open to allow natural ventilation while the radiant ceiling is activated to extend the comfort zone.

The controls sequence to manage all these elements and modes is quite complicated. A comprehensive commissioning process has helped to get it all working properly. This process uncovered problems with window actuators and gaskets around the windows, so both were replaced by the manufacturer before the 2009/2010 winter season. New performance data doesn’t show the improved performance that engineers anticipated from this fix, however. “I expected the heating (natural gas) usage to drop after the window actuators were replaced. I will have to check into this further,” noted Don McLauchlan PE of Elara Engineering, who designed the mechanical systems and is monitoring their operation.

Even when they’re all working optimally, all the building systems can’t reduce plug loads, which are driven by the 300 desktop computers that are on all the time—to allow instant access during the day and to support software upgrades at night. Fortunately, many students now carry their own laptops, so some of those computers are being removed.

Students have voted with their feet, making Information Commons the most popular building on campus. Anecdotally it is said to be very comfortable; a more formal post-occupancy evaluation is underway.

This article appeared in the November 2010 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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