Sustainability under the sun
When the Georgia Institute of Tech-nology elected to demolish its old student health center and build a new one, Lord, Aeck & Sargent architects Howard S. Wertheimer, AIA, LEED™ and James Nicolow, AIA, LEED™ knew that Georgia Tech had one overriding requirement: The new building had to fit in with a campus-wide commitment to sustainability. The resulting Student Health Center met that requirement in several ingenious ways, including some detailed studies on sun exposure. Recently, Wertheimer, a principal with the Atlanta-based firm, and Nicolow, the firm's sustainability expert, discussed the evolution of this project with HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor Richard L. Peck.
Wertheimer: “As part of the initial planning for this project we interviewed with the university's Planning and Design Commission (PDC), a group of outside consultants whose goal is to assist the university in maintaining campus design continuity. Decisions had to occur quickly—in the design/build process we conducted with Whiting Turner Construction, this 40,000-gross-square-foot, $6.1 million building was designed and constructed in 53 weeks.
“The project was initiated when Georgia Tech, which had constructed an open-air Aquatic Center for the 1996 Olympics, decided to tear down the nearby Student Health Center so that the Aquatic Center could be enclosed. This structure is huge—60 feet high, with a roof consisting of a series of gently curving barrel vaults. We wanted the new Student Health Center to have its own identity and not be dwarfed by the Aquatic Center, yet fit in as a neighbor. So we conceptualized the Aquatic Center as a large tidal wave and the Student Health Center as a beautiful seashell that had been washed ashore. One of our contractors had a seashell collection from Maine, and he brought in this perfectly shaped nautilus that we actually placed on the site model during our design presentation to the PDC. This nautilus shape created the footprint and complemented the Aquatic Center with its own gentle curves.”
Nicolow: “We worked to bring environmental sensitivity and sustainability in other ways, too. We know from the literature that sustainable design contributes to energy savings, to patients’ health and welfare, and to staff productivity. We brought a lot of focus to the problem of sun exposure and daylighting. On the east and south sides of the building, we installed custom-made sunscreens that would reduce the sun's heat and glare at key times of the day. We created aluminum wire-mesh forms and custom connections for vertical sunscreens on the east side and more football-shaped horizontal fins for the south side. The screens are fixed at the optimum angle to control sun exposure and reduce the load on the building's cooling systems. Inside, we maximized availability of natural light by running the corridors between islands of spaces, all of which have window exposures. We pushed occupied spaces to the perimeter so that people have views wherever they are located.”
Wertheimer: “Physicians’ offices, waiting areas, and even dental operatories are all outboard, while spaces like examination rooms are inboard. Even though the nurses’ stations are centrally located, they're designed with an open plan and have views along corridors in every direction. The waiting areas have large windows along which we have provided built-in perimeter seating.
“Other sustainable features we incorporated in this design included use of indigenous building materials and locally supplied masonry, glass, etc.; landscaping for efficient water management; and reduced parking surface. This building was constructed on an existing parking lot, with the remaining surface parking restricted to emergencies and all other parking in a garage nearby.”
Nicolow: “We evaluated submitting the Student Health Center for LEED certification, but with the sheer speed of this project's fast-track execution and budget constraints, the client elected not to pursue certification. Instead, the LEED Rating System was used as a design guideline for the identification and incorporation of sustainable design strategies.”
Wertheimer: “The university's director of capital planning did say at a public forum that he considered this building to be the most sustainable on campus. The building has become a model for building-construction students both on and off campus, particularly for its management of sun exposure.”
Nicolow: “Designing this building has marked a major shift in our practice. With the power of the computer and the solar geometry software available, we have become much more quantitative and analytic in controlling solar exposure and preventing unwanted solar gains. It's fair to say that the computer played a central role in putting this building together.” HD