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Palladio Awards




New Design & Construction – less than 30,000 sq.ft.

Winner: Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP

Green Education

By Martha McDonald

Designing a 24,000-sq.ft. Math & Science Center for a bucolic Georgian-style campus in upstate New York is one thing. Designing the structure to achieve LEED Gold certification is another thing entirely. Or is it? Actually the two goals work well together, according to Voith & Mactavish principal in charge Daniela Voith, AIA, LEED AP. “Millbrook has stewardship of the environment as part of its mission statement, but the school had never done a LEED-certified building,” she says. “They felt that at this point the school should take an active statement toward sustainability. They wanted to build the most environmentally responsible building they could and to use it as a teaching tool.”

The Math & Science Center (MASC) is the third building that Voith & Mactavish Architects (VMA) has designed for the Millbrook School, a co-ed high school for 250 mostly boarding students, during the past 12 years. The Holbrook Arts Center was completed in 2001 and Abbott Hall, a girls’ residence followed in 2003. In fact, after the first project was finished, Daniela Voith was asked to become the architect for the school. For this project, the school wanted the building to blend with the campus, and to also make a strong contemporary statement. It also needed to accommodate four discipline-specific labs, support spaces, independent project areas, five math classrooms, an IT suite, a faculty office suite and a freestanding greenhouse.

“The great challenge was the slope in the site and the height of the ceilings and the different mechanical requirements for the labs and the classrooms,” says Voith. “So we ended up with a very complicated section. There’s a two-story wing connecting to a three-story wing.”

“The other challenge was successfully intersecting the contemporary vocabulary with traditional vocabulary and having that make sense. It was difficult to make the architecture feel seamless.”

“The big story to me is that LEED does not have to be ugly. It can be executed with traditional design,” she points out. “We achieved 43 LEED points, so we are solidly in the gold category.”

VMA solved the siting challenge by designing an L-shaped building that stretches down the slope, creating a three-story structure in the north wing, while the other wing is two stories. The building is positioned to take advantage of daylighting and to relate to the nearby Holbrook Arts Center and Abbott Hall as well as the zoo across the road.

The designers solved the contemporary versus traditional challenge in a number of ways. The quiet detailing and intimate scale of the building blend with the delicate Neo-Georgian context of the campus, while stepped massing and overt juxtaposition of building methodologies make a strong statement about contrast and dialog between old and new, traditional and contemporary, sustainability, stewardship and context. “Visitors to the campus are greeted by the classical pergola on the south,” says Voith, “followed by the east-facing contemporary curtain-wall façade connecting the wings, so they interact with both the classical and contemporary. Students, on the other hand, have a pedestrian experience with the building, so they see the more classical details on the west façade and they usually enter through the main entry on the north, into the classically designed entry way. They experience the curtain wall from the interior, which feels like being outside.”

In this entry hall, visitors are greeted by a 32-ft. high ceiling and surrounding balcony. Hallways lead to the classroom areas in the other wing and on other floors in the L-shaped building. The curtain-wall corridor on the east façade of the two-story section provides access to both floors in the two-story wing, and it also provides passive solar gain for the MASC.

The result is a successful 24,000-sq.ft. building that combines classical with contemporary styling to create a LEED Gold certified structure. It also meets all of the requirements of the program, providing lab and office spaces for both math and science.

One of the major goals of the project from the beginning was achieving LEED Gold certification. “Designing for LEED is a much more complicated way of designing,” says Voith. “You have to include all of engineering functions as part of the initial design concept. You have to integrate these strategies from the beginning.”

The first step was siting the building to take advantage of daylighting. All learning spaces and offices receive natural light from at least two directions through large windows. In addition, high-efficiency sensors and dimming ballasts automatically control energy consumption. The basic design of the building also allows natural ventilation, especially in the spring and fall, reducing energy consumption.

A number of other features contribute to energy efficiency. The glass-enclosed corridors (shaded in the summer) serve as passive solar collectors by absorbing energy in the colder months. The standing-seam metal roof (manufactured by Englert Roofing, Perth Amboy, NJ) has a special finish to minimize heat absorption and there is a vegetative roof garden over the science corridor to cool the building.

Instead of standard heating and cooling systems, VMA and engineers at Bruce E. Brooks & Associates specified a geothermal system for the Math & Science Center. Sixteen 500-ft. closed-loop wells supply the heating and cooling for the building (installed by Earth Energy Connections). “Geothermal doesn’t work everywhere,” says Voith, “and the school was not certain it wanted to air condition the building. Geothermal only works if you have a balanced heating and cooling load and it does have some down sides. Instead of one central boiler and chiller you have to have an air handler for every room, so there is more maintenance. However, we looked at the pros and cons and decided that geothermal was the way to go.”

Voith says that solar panels were considered but ultimately only a few panels were installed as a demonstration system. “Unfortunately, solar is still not quite affordable,” she says. “The payback period is in the 100-year range as apposed to a 10-20-year range for geothermal.” VMA did include a LED screen, which is visible at the front of the building. It is connected to solar panels on the roof and gives read-outs about the energy being generated. “We are taking advantage of the sun,” she points out. “All of the hot water is heated by the sun through the vacuum-tube system on the roof, but the photovoltaics supply only a small amount of electricity.” Also taking advantage of the sun is a separate greenhouse located near the Math & Science Center.

The building was awarded 13 out of 17 LEED credits in energy and atmosphere for its efficient envelope, geothermal wells and sensor controls, passive solar gain and solar hot water. It also received 8 out of 14 credits for siting and 4 out of 5 innovation credits. The labs offer natural ventilation and controllable hoods, features designed to lessen energy bills by as much as 40 percent.

The Math & Science Center also got 5 out of 5 credits for water efficiency (for collecting rainwater for greywater, the vegetative roof and water conserving plumbing fixtures) and 11 out of 15 credits for indoor environmental quality (for low-emitting VOCs from materials, individual lighting controls, individual comfort controls, 90 percent of spaces receive daylight and views).

The credits for materials and resources (5 out of 15) were awarded for the use of salvaged and recycled materials, of local materials and of FSC-certified wood and for construction waste management. Slate flooring (unfading green slate in natural cleft and honed finishes) came from the Vermont Structural Slate Co., slate blackboards and countertops were salvaged from other spaces on the campus, weathered wood siding in the lobby was salvaged cypress supplied by Antique Woods & Colonial Restorations, and recycled glass terrazzo tile for the flooring was supplied by Eco Friendly Flooring. Paints were EcoSpec from Benjamin Moore.

The general contractor, Kirchhoff Construction Management of Pleasant Valley, NY, also did all of the carpentry, siding and concrete for the building. Marvin Windows supplied double-hung windows and French and commercial doors. The PolyStone columns were supplied by Chadsworth’s Columns.

Construction on the $9.3-million building began in November 2006 after a 17-month design phase, and the Math & Science Center was first used for classes in March, 2008. “Using energy-modeling software that compares the best-practice standards versus LEED building,” says Voith, “we were able to demonstrate that the MASC would use 65 percent less energy than a normal building.” She is happy to note that these statistics have been proven to be accurate. The results are in from the first few months of usage and the Math & Science Center is saving between $30,000 and $40,000 a year in energy costs, plus thousands of gallons of water because of the greywater system.  



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