Sustainable design in education building – the Institute of Environmental Sustainability

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At Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, students walk the sustainable talk every day.

Trends editorial director Paul Taylor looks at how the building by architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz achieves that aim.

Integrated university halls of residence, research labs, teaching facilities and urban glasshouse, incorporate geothermal heating, natural ventilation, optimum solar gain and rainwater harvesting.

Educational practice today is very much based around a hands-on approach – a belief that the greatest understanding comes from actively participating rather than just being lectured to. The Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago takes that a step further. It’s an integrated learning facility that brings together green building strategies, planet-friendly energy use, eco-farming, research and teaching labs with student housing and a social hub. Architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz reworked an existing brick structure into teaching and research facilities … and then added two new structures to create the 65,000 square metre complex. The most dramatic of these is the Ecodome – a central urban farm and laboratory under glass. The other is a new brick building which bookends the complex and provides student accommodation. Looking a little like a giant glass roll-top desk, the Ecodome’s shape optimises passive ventilation. Rising hot air is drawn out of the greenhouse while computer controlled vents allow cooler air to enter from below. This creates enough air flow through the space without the need for mechanical assistance. And the curving façade allows maximum solar gain … as well as collection and channeling of rainwater. The LEED-rated design also involves a geothermal system of 90 wells, making it the largest of its kind in Chicago. This too becomes part of the learning environment – glass floor panels allow students to see the operation first hand and read displays showing the water’s temperature as it descends or surfaces. The end result is that the Institute of Environmental Sustainability is itself a living and learning laboratory – an academic facility and integrated dormitory where students walk the sustainability talk every day.

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