When the public caught wind of Kansas's House Bill No. 2366, a law introduced by the state's Committee on Energy and Environment to prohibit the use of "public funds to promote or implement sustainability," some thought it was an April Fool's joke. Perhaps before revisiting the proposal, Kansas legislators could learn a thing or two from students of Studio 804, a program within the Department of Architecture in the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design, and Planning. Graduate students spend two semesters conceptualizing and constructing sustainable projects, from prefabricated housing units to Passive House–certified campus research facilities.
Location Overland Park, Kansas (Blue River watershed)
Gross area 3,300 ft2 (306 m2)
Annual purchased energy use (predicted) 48 kBtu/ft2 (544 MJ/m2), 40% reduction from base case
Annual carbon footprint (predicted) 27 lb CO2/ft2 (132 kg CO2/m2)
Program Classrooms, student lounge
TEAM & SOURCES
Doors Assa Abloy; Kawneer; EZY-Jamb; Carter Glass; Hager Companies
Sloped roofing Carlisle Syntec / Gulf Eagle EPDM; Hunter Panels (roof/cavity insulation)
KU architecure professor Dan Rockhill, of local firm Rockhill + Associates, has been operating Studio 804 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to building affordable, green projects annually since 1995. "Green design can and should be good design work," Rockhill says. "We're planting seeds for the long-term future of the industry." Studio 804's most recent work, Galileo's Pavilion at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kansas, comprises two classroom wings connected by a student lounge. Clad in slate from recycled chalkboards, the minimalist yet striking pavilion is designed for LEED Platinum certification and serves as an environmental statement for the campus, educating students with infographics and a real-time dashboard display.
The JCCC facility is named after Galileo's Garden, a 1984 sculpture by Dale Eldred that was previously located on the site and now resides in the pavilion's courtyard. Acting as a solar calendar, the sculpture graphically represents the change of seasons. The inspiration behind the artwork is reflected in the design of the building, which is oriented to optimize natural light and use the heat from the sun.
"It's a good feeling space—the combination of daylighting and the green walls leads to a biophilic response," says Jay Antle, executive director of JCCC's Center for Sustainability. Fixed louvers prevent too much heat gain on warmer days while still allowing the concrete thermal-mass floor to take advantage of the warmth. JCCC did opt to install interior shades in the classroom spaces for PowerPoint presentations, which can throw off the passive strategy if the shades aren't raised after use, Rockhill says.
Studio 804 often seeks material donations from building-product manufacturers, and Rockhill allows the students to handle much of the contracting and engineering work themselves. "That's how we're able to bid a lower price than conventional construction," he explains. "It's a draw for clients."
The process, however, also presents a series of challenges for both parties. The budget is difficult to predict without knowing exactly which donations will come through; Rockhill values this project at about $2.2 million, but it was built for just over $880,000 (about $180,000 over budget because of the team's underestimation of the necessary HVAC equipment, among other things). The sophisticated variable-refrigerant-flow (VRF) system allows for simultaneous heating and cooling: a heat pump feeds refrigerant to six fan-coil units servicing the three main zones, while energy-recovery ventilators (ERVs) feed air to the fan coils. One ERV provides constant ventilation to each zone; a backup is controlled by CO2 sensors, turning on automatically when needed.
"During the fall, we were securing a client and budget, finalizing contracts, designing, completing documentation, and confirming donations," explains Megan Carrithers, who graduated and is currently studying for her LEED AP. "The intense schedule of the second semester does not permit outside jobs or other courses—we were on-site six days a week."
Photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine were designed to produce about 70 percent of the building's energy. "Engineers are quick to smirk about the effectiveness of the wind turbine, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it," Rockhill explains. "It's a statement about the building." Forty-four rooftop PV panels are rated to produce 9.68 kW, and the wind turbine is rated to provide 2.4 kW under peak conditions.
Actual utility bills reveal that the building is consuming more energy than anticipated, but Rockhill suspects that the electric meter may not be working properly. He admits that the single greatest hole in Studio 804's process is following up with the buildings post-occupancy. "It's difficult—students graduate and we hand over the project to the client," he says. "We should have someone scrutinizing the performance, as we often find that facility managers are not fully engaged. Only when we were asked about it did we realize this building is not performing the way it was intended."
According to Antle, it's taken some time to program the servers and align the systems. "Anecdotally, the building is performing quite well, but we're still gathering data for a longer-term analysis," he says. The college is also working on the building dashboard, as the interface is not intuitive and has issues syncing with the data to show real-time energy use. A maintenance person is contracted on-site for one year to help calibrate the irrigation system for the three green walls (fed by a rainwater-harvesting system through a 1,700-gallon cistern in the basement).
"Studio 804 depends on donations and on-the-fly design work, so it was a different kind of process for us," says Antle. "But the Studio 804 students' dedication was amazing and the project was worth the extra effort." JCCC students seem to agree—on a recent visit, three were raving about the fern wall. "It's a really cool-looking building—plus it's designed to save energy," one undergrad remarked.