Green: the Universal Color of School Spirit

By: John Beck, Carrier Johnson + CULTUREToday, green has become a universal benchmark for college and university building design and planning, campus-wide programs and student organizations. More so now than ever before, academic communities are catching the “green spirit,” taking on the challenge to make healthier environments, reduce energy consumption and inspire a connection to the outdoors. Click here for a slideshow of Pitzer College’s residences and UCSD’s North Campus Transfer Student Housing, Phase 2.Pitzer College, Claremont, Calif. For Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., social responsibility and environmental stewardship have long been a part of the educational objectives. According to the College, Pitzer’s College Council—a community-like governing body comprising students, faculty and administrators—adopted the Statement of Environmental Policy and Principles to “integrate socially and environmentally conscious practices into college operations and the education of [the College’s] students.” This directive is strongly supported by students, whose fervor has influenced sustainable initiatives such as tray-less dining halls, on-campus vegetable gardens, a green bike program, and committee leadership dedicated to green research, performance and messaging strategies. Recently, these efforts were crystallized when the College was recognized as one of the first in the nation to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification for its new residences (pictured, above). The certification is a key element in Pitzer’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative on Energy and Climate Change, in which the school agreed to quickly work towards becoming carbon neutral. Three new residences— phase one of the Residential Life project—have set a powerful example and expectation that other schools will join the race to make the planet environmentally secure and commit to converting the entire built landscape to green.Raising the bar on “walking the environmental walk,” these innovative residences have made photovoltaic cells, rainwater percolation basins, biodegradable cleaners, and native plantings the new college housing accoutrements. Other highlights include Dutch doors and double-glazed operable windows on opposite sides of the suites to maximize ventilation and fresh air. Overhangs and sunshades also help cool rooms and reduce the need for air conditioning. But that’s not all. According to the College, energy performance was also a key design concern, and today, energy costs are reduced by up to 32 percent, thanks to a central plant with energy-efficient heating and cooling delivered through individually controlled fan-coil units in each room, compact fluorescent lighting and significant daylighting. Window sensors automatically shut off the HVAC equipment when students leave their windows open, while platinum-rated boilers provide hot water for showers and sinks, as well as heating needs. This eco-friendly vision—having evolved from a group of Pitzer students, faculty, staff, trustees, administrators and a zealous design/build team—is a self-contained community that encourages students to live on campus for all four years. A neighborhood-driven experience, supported by amenities like a central experiential courtyard, shaded porches, community living rooms, thematic gardens, outdoor meeting nooks, study rooms, an art studio, and faculty suites with exterior patios for informal classes supplement the already-welcoming single- and double-room suites. These amenities sustain the school’s environmental commitment by encouraging a local lifestyle, enabling students to shrink their carbon footprints through less driving and fuel consumption. As an added benefit to staying on campus, students gain extra time for study and community activities. University of California, San Diego Pitzer’s students obviously have “green spirit” backed by a lifestyle of social responsibility and optimism for the future—a message that is delivered and reinforced by its residences. But these students aren’t the only ones with green character. At the University of California, San Diego, students are energized by the newly introduced Sustainability 2.0—a campus-wide initiative that employs the power of the UC system, community partnerships and individuals in the pursuit of sustainability goals. The University is already making quantitative strides in sustainability excellence, earning As in the categories of student involvement, climate change and energy, administration and transportation from The College Sustainability Report Card. Emerging from these progressive goals is a focus on student housing. Part of a $500 million, 3,400-bed housing expansion, the North Campus Transfer Student Housing, Phase 2 project (pictured, above) will house 799 students in a village-like neighborhood. The master plan creates a community of buildings including a bistro, market and community laundry room that open to a pedestrian spine called “The Strand.” Organized around The Strand are the residential buildings, all of which are connected by shaded plazas and gardens.In alignment with UC San Diego’s charge to achieve LEED Silver certification for all of its new residences, the North Campus Housing project will be environmentally friendly without sacrificing the stylishness and comfort sought for the occupying students. Natural light and ventilation are central design considerations for the creation of these highly energy-efficient buildings. Solar panels, trellises and sunshades are seamlessly integrated directly into the building facades to maximize long-term value and become environmental billboards for a more sustainable lifestyle. Other features include recycled plastic feature walls, rooftop terraces with an Astroturf lawn and innovative, energy-saving evacuated tube thermal solar collectors. These features—combined with an ambitious administration, spirited students and uninterrupted vision—champion UC San Diego’s mission to “practice and promote the principle of sustainability, which [the University] defines as taking from the Earth only what it can provide indefinitely, thus leaving future generations no less than we have access to ourselves.” John Beck, AIA, LEED AP, is an architect at San Diego-based Carrier Johnson + CULTURE.