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Eco-Dorm Builds Community

Natural ventilation, daylighting, and a strong sense of community are central to Pitzer College's LEED Gold student residence.

September 01, 2008 |

The San Gabriel Mountains in Claremont, Calif., set the backdrop for Pitzer College’s new green student residence hall. The 318-bed facility is the first of three LEED Gold dorms planned for the private liberal arts school. 
In a climate where the temperature regularly hits 90°F, and 100-degree days are not uncommon, it would seem prudent for a university to discourage students from leaving the exterior doors and windows to their residence rooms wide open. Common sense would call for them to batten down the hatches and crank up the AC.
Pitzer wanted its new student residence facility to reinforce the school’s strong sense of community. Features like shaded porches and cozy meeting nooks create spaces along the exterior corridors for residents to gather and socialize.
The 69,000-sf complex also includes more than 20 community rooms, recreational areas, and study rooms.
Students requested Dutch doors for the suites to re-create the communal atmosphere inherent in enclosed dorms. The half doors also encourage the use of natural ventilation.
The campus pool is adjacent to the new dorm facility. 

But for many of the 318 students living at Pitzer College's new LEED Gold student housing complex in Claremont, Calif., an open-door policy is a way of life. And that's just what Jim Marchant was hoping for when his college set forth to build the 69,000-sf, three-building eco-dorm complex.

“It can literally be 100 degrees outside and students won't use the air conditioning,” says Marchant, dean of students and VP for student affairs at Pitzer College, a 950-student liberal arts college that is part of the Claremont Colleges network, with a curricular emphasis on the social sciences, behavioral sciences, international programs, and media studies. “They'll open the windows and the Dutch doors, and in comes a nice, cool breeze. It's amazing how cool the rooms feel.”

Each of the 90 suites in the complex is equipped with large bay windows, transom windows above the door, and Dutch doors that allow the occupants to control the amount of natural ventilation and daylight. Entry overhangs and exterior sunscreens temper glare and minimize heat gain. Light-colored surfaces diffuse the natural light entering the rooms, while the thermal mass of the concrete structure moderates temperate swings.

Even when students click on the AC or heat, minimal energy is expended, thanks to the complex's heating and cooling scheme. A central plant with energy-efficient boilers, chillers, and pumps supplies hot and cold water to individually controlled fan-coil units in each room. Window sensors automatically shut off the HVAC equipment when students leave their windows open.

“It's a very simple, efficient system,” says John Beck, lead architect on the project for design architect Carrier Johnson + Culture, San Diego. Pipes that run throughout the complex distribute hot or cold water (depending on the season) to the fan-coil units, which blow air over the pipes to warm or cool the air in the rooms. “It's a super-efficient scheme because we're only using one set of pipes and adjust how we use them during the different seasons,” says Beck.

The residential complex was the result of an integrated design effort that included input from students, faculty, staff, trustees, and even alumni. The goal was to create a living environment that not only encourages students to make eco-conscious decisions, but also reinforces the sense of community among the residents.

“The facility has lots of balconies, benches, large courtyards, nooks, and landscaped gathering areas to encourage social interaction,” says Marchant. He says the students pushed for features like the Dutch doors to help create a deeper connection with the environment and encourage interaction outside.

“This is our first residential complex with exterior corridors, and the students did not want to lose the sense of community inherent in the enclosed dorms,” says Marchant. “So, when students are in their room they can open the top half of the Dutch door and be visible to people walking by.”

The students also opted for a design scheme that features clusters of relatively compact suites (four students to a bathroom) with several shared living room spaces. By limiting the amount of recreational space within the individual suites, students are more inclined to socialize and interact on the balconies, in the courtyard spaces, or within the complex's 25 common/study rooms.

Beck says having the students at the design table was also crucial to getting several of the green-related features just right. One question was whether students would be uncomfortable having a window in the shower that could be open to the balcony walkway. “We ran the idea past the students, and they said it was worth any possible inconvenience because they could use natural ventilation instead of having to run electric fans,” says Beck.

Marchant says the green design features, including such big-ticket items as a rooftop photovoltaic array on one of the buildings, added 3-5% to the total construction cost. He considers that money well spent, however, since the buildings are modeled to achieve 30% energy savings over traditional construction.

Each of the 90 suites features large bay windows, transom windows above the door, and Dutch doors that allow the occupants to control the amount of daylight entering their living space. Entry overhangs and exterior sunscreens help temper glare and minimize heat gain. ILLUSTRATION: CARRIER JOHNSON + CULTURE
Green goodies at Pitzer College's eco-dorm

• Natural ventilation scheme with sensor-equipped operable windows and Dutch doors

• Compact suites with near-100% daylighting coverage

• Screens and sunshade devices to control sunlight and glare

• Concrete structure for thermal mass

• Central plant with energy-efficient boilers, chillers, and pumps

• Efficient fan-coil heating/cooling scheme

• Low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets

• Compact fluorescent task and overhead lights in rooms and common areas

• Low-VOC adhesives, sealants, paints, and carpet

• Rooftop solar panels (28,000 kW hours/year)

• Drought-tolerant plants

• 20% locally sourced materials, including gypsum board, structural steel, concrete, carpeting, and insulation

• Green roof garden

• Green cleaning products used by custodial staff and students

• On-site bicycle workshop

• LCD education panel and display boards that highlight green features
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