Sustainability in Practice

exterior of new Belo Center for New Media
Sustainability was a focus in the design and construction of the Forty Acres's three newest buildings, including the Belo Center for New Media, above. [Belo photos by Roy Mata, courtesy of Flintco.] 

All of the cranes, trucks and construction crews that occupied sections of campus recently have given way to three new, state-of-the-art buildings. And while they are home to diverse disciplines communications, liberal arts and computer science the new additions to campus all share a focus on sustainability.

These buildings the Belo Center for New Media, the Liberal Arts building and the Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex, which includes Dell Computer Science Hall have opened in the past six months, adding nearly 500,000 square feet of classrooms, study areas, laboratories, auditoriums, meeting rooms and offices to the campus.

And they are visible examples of the university's commitment to sustainability. The commitment ranges from everyday concerns like recycling and reducing paper use to how its largest structures are built and operated.

"Sustainability is never just a technology or a checklist," says Rustam Mehta, one of two architects from Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects who designed the computer science building. "Every sustainable item should be there because it enhances the appearance of the building, the life of the occupants and the health of the occupants."

the dramatic floating stairwell in the Gates-Dell Complex
Sunlight passes through offices, which ring the perimeter of the building, into interior rooms and hallways of the Gates-Dell Complex. To get the sunlight through and yet give privacy to the office occupants, the architects used prismatic glass. "It throws light further than clear glass because it has this bouncing effect," says Rustam Mehta of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. "That provides a lot of visual privacy, but you can never roll a shade down and steal the light from the center of the building because it's kind of an open plan space that's flexible, adaptable and keeps light moving through the building." Allowing as much sunlight as possible into the building helps reduce lighting costs and it helps occupants maintain contact with the outdoors. [Photo by Marsha Miller.] 

Sustainable factors start from the ground up: From materials used in the interiors, to modern HVAC systems and even window placements, the buildings feature myriad examples of ways that design, materials and technology reduce the amount of energy and water the buildings use. For example, energy-efficient windows help keep heat or cold from coming in the building, and shadings such as long overhangs also protect the interiors at times of high heat.

The result is lower long-term costs for operating the buildings, as well as a reduced impact on the environment.

As the campus's building inventory turns over, the university requires that new buildings and renovations meet at least the silver standard set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is defined by the U.S. Green Building Council.

lobby space in the Belo Center for New Media
Each of the new buildings used a significant amount of recycled materials and took care to recycle waste from the construction. The Belo Center features long-lasting materials, such as the terrazzo floors, as well as wood grown in a certifiably sustained manner. 

LEED ratings range from basic to silver to gold to platinum. The rating is determined by points on a checklist, which covers energy efficiency, water efficiency, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

The three newest buildings meet the silver standard. By the time final reckoning is done, the Belo Center and Liberal Arts building might be gold. Five other buildings constructed during the past six years have achieved LEED gold.

a view toward a second-floor balcony in the Liberal Arts building
In the Liberal Arts building, chilled beams heat and cool more than 28,000 square feet of office space. The technology, long used in Europe but rare in the U.S., uses water flowing through pipes installed in the ceiling. Because the heating and cooling is done in the office, the occupant has more control. It also allowed the architects to reduce the size of the more conventional heating and cooling systems, leaving more room for classrooms, labs and offices. [Photo by Sandy Carson.] 

Saving resources translates into saving money, but it will take time to determine what kind of savings, says Steve Kraal, senior associate vice president in the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management. Comparisons of energy use, where the first savings would be seen, are based on a modeling process that compares the LEED building to a hypothetical building, Kraal explains.

"We are still learning how that energy modeling process compares to the actual operation of a building," he says. "Because there are not two side-by-side buildings, one LEED and the other 'not LEED,' an effective comparison of building performance is difficult."

But with the three newest buildings, "we are much better informed and should be able to make some quantitative assessments of building performance," he says.

See slideshows with more photos of the Liberal Arts building, the Belo Center and the Gates-Dell Complex.

Related links:

Sustainability Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin Division of Housing and Food Service