Driving Building Performance With Data

October 14, 2020
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This post is a collaboration between Rishika Shrivastava and Chris Hazel.

Ayers Saint Gross has long embraced sustainability as a vital component of good design and we believe the more research we perform and the more data we collect, the greater our ability to achieve ambitious sustainability goals and design more beautiful and functional buildings for our clients. We have focused our thinking about building performance into two categories: embodied carbon and operational carbon.

Embodied Carbon

We utilize Whole Building Life Cycle Assessments (WBLCA) to investigate the impact and opportunities of construction materials and products to achieve our embodied carbon reduction goals. WBLCA looks at the environmental impacts of building materials (including global warming potential) over their entire life cycle—from extraction and manufacturing through the landfill or recycling plant. 

We are calculating the embodied carbon of completed projects to identify which components or life cycle stages are the largest contributors to environmental impact, and will leverage this information to inform even stronger design processes in the future.

One project we’ve completed a WBLCA on is the Hayden Library Reinvention. By renovating existing buildings in lieu of tearing them down and constructing with new materials, we avoid the embodied carbon of new construction altogether. WBLCA was conducted to quantify how much embodied carbon was preserved by maintaining 95% of the building’s existing opaque envelope and structural system and how much additional embodied carbon was invested to make the building useful for the next 50+ years. Our analysis revealed 9000 MT of CO2e was preserved in the renovation while only another 550 MT of CO2e were spent. This example illustrates how building renovation or reuse can greatly reduce construction’s embodied carbon impact.

Structural systems and building envelopes tend to be significant sources of embodied carbon. For Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, we found that we could substantially reduce environmental impact by focusing on the materials chosen for curtainwall systems because of aluminum’s high embodied carbon. Similarly, focusing on thermal insulation also helped us reduce embodied carbon because some types of foam insulation, including expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS), and polyisocyanurate or spray foam insulation, have blowing agents with massive global warming potential. Specifying insulation materials with lesser embodied carbon can be helpful in reducing impact. 

Reducing embodied carbon in construction requires collaboration between designers, builders, structural engineers, and manufacturers across the building sector. WBLCA during the various design stages can be helpful in making choices between various building structural systems, assemblies, and products. We look forward to continued engagement with our partners to reach our embodied carbon reduction goals.

Operational Carbon 

While embodied carbon has more recently come to the forefront of sustainability discussions in the AEC industry, operational carbon (which occurs during the in-use phase of a building) has been the primary focus of sustainability thinking over the last several decades. Our thinking on operational carbon has continuously evolved and we are developing in-house digital tools and processes for measuring operational carbon throughout the design process so that we can produce buildings that function better, cost less to operate, are better for our planet, and are better aligned with our clients’ sustainability goals.

To reduce operational carbon in buildings, Ayers Saint Gross has been developing a process of iterative performance analysis throughout design. From early-stage climate analysis to understand site factors such as temperature, humidity, and solar access, to whole building energy models, we rely on thoroughly tested analysis tools and robust data to predict how buildings will perform prior to starting construction.

One of our most versatile methods for understanding building performance is known as “shoebox analysis.” By taking a simple, repeating element of the building (e.g., a single structural bay), we can run quick analyses on a small area but learn a lot about a large area of the building design.

We use this type of analysis to quickly learn about holistic effects of small design changes. For example, we can create a model with a small window and a large window in a repeated office module or student housing unit and compare how the variation in window size affects daylight access, outdoor view access, solar heat gain, thermal comfort, glare potential, and expected energy usage intensity (EUI). Since these models are small, we can run analyses in a fraction of the time of larger models and extrapolate the results to how a whole building is likely to perform.

The shoebox analysis is part of a larger toolkit developed by Ayers Saint Gross to evaluate expected building performance. These tools allow us to better study occupant comfort by visualizing more analytical and sensorial aspects of a building such as daylight access and thermal comfort. These tools provide a fast, reliable way for our design teams to optimize a building, saving owners money in both first costs and operational costs.

We’re excited to continue advancing strategies toward carbon neutrality. The tools we’re leveraging to optimize embodied carbon investments and reduce operational carbon will help us in aligning the people, programs, and places we serve to champion environmental stewardship, healthy living, and positive social and economic outcomes for all.

How Signage Optimizes High-Performance Buildings

October 13, 2020
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As more high performance design methods, materials, and systems are implemented in the built environment, it’s important not to forget that we as the human occupants of buildings still play a big role in their impact. Understanding occupant activities–the way people experience and use a structure over its lifespan–is key to maximizing the long-term value of any project and is a crucial part of creating effective designs.

Thoughtful signage can inform, inspire, and ultimately bolster a building’s long-term success, ensuring that high-performance elements remain front and center for users throughout a project’s lifecycle. Ayers Saint Gross encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between our architecture and graphic design studios to create building-specific interior illustrations. Here are two examples from our portfolio that illustrate how signage can reinforce sustainable design choices and create more successful buildings.

Trippe Hall at Penn State Behrend

Penn State University has a robust sustainability mission to “comprehensively integrate sustainability into the University’s core fabric of research, teaching, outreach, and operations that will transform students, faculty, and staff into competent sustainability leaders capable of carrying out our vision for the future.” However, overall efforts can sometimes be difficult to implement at individual campuses.

For a residence hall at Penn State Behrend, sustainability signage had two major benefits: it earned LEED points via an Integrated Education Innovation Credit, and it helped align the Behrend campus’ sustainable efforts to the university’s mission. With increased mission awareness, Penn State students hopefully feel individually empowered and connected to each other by their sustainable actions. 

To highlight Trippe Hall’s high-performance elements, we designed a system of 26 unique interior signs that call attention to sustainable features throughout the building.

Of course, simply putting stats on signs is usually not enough to engage users. A didactic approach isn’t fun or memorable. So our design team created slightly cheeky copy and graphics, and used a relatively scaled-down size for the interior sustainability signage. The small, strategically placed signs are a fun discovery when a user adjusts shades in the lounge or does laundry. The interdisciplinary collaboration among our interiors, sustainability, and graphic design studios, and our in-house writing staff, resulted in a custom system that is memorable and inspires action.  

We also created a 43.5’ x 9’ vinyl wall graphic in the bike storage area, which is an exterior space in the notch of the building. The large, bright graphic provides desired lightness to the otherwise dark space as well. Included on the graphic are “stickers” that list destinations around campus and their bikeable distances, encouraging the use of bikes over vehicular travel.

Bancroft Elementary School

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) modernizations target LEED Gold certification and incorporate sustainability signage. The goal of including sustainability signage is to educate students on the benefits of sustainability and encourage environmental literacy and awareness.

As a part of the renovation and addition to Bancroft Elementary, sustainability signage was included as a part of a larger custom signage and wayfinding system. Originally proposed as a six-sign system installed throughout the school, our design evolved into one large graphic in a highly visible location at a scale appropriate for an elementary school audience. While small-scale signs with an element of surprise and discovery work well for college students, elementary-age students have short attention spans and multiple signs diluted the overall message. Additionally, since Bancroft students are usually confined to grade-level corridors, chances of all the students seeing all signs were limited.

Ultimately, we designed a 12’ x 10’ graphic for wall spaces on either side of the doors leading to a playground along a main corridor. Colorful graphics and statistics combined with kid-friendly messages in English and Spanish align with the school’s bilingual curriculum.

Both Trippe Hall and Bancroft Elementary demonstrate a heartening trend toward displaying sustainability information and inspiring a building’s users to take action.

Elevating Design and Research
Outside of the Office

October 9, 2020
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As an employee-owned firm, our people are our greatest strength. Even in the most challenging times, they exhibit expertise and leadership in their fields. October is Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) month, and a great time to celebrate the incredible work that employees are doing to elevate design and research in addition to providing great client service.


Architect Shannon Dowling was awarded a Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) fellowship. The SCUP Fellows program “supports members of the SCUP community seeking to carry out research that will benefit the integrated planning community and establish an accelerated path to an exceptional future.” Recipients are supported in their research by the organization and present at the national conference.

Over the next year, Shannon will study how colleges and universities can plan and design diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments that embody those values in physical space and provide campus planners and facility designers with a set of metrics with which to assess physical space. The results of this study will help inform how to manifest these values on campus.

“Through the research, I hope to create a roadmap for architects and campus planners to address these issues in a way that is meaningful, authentic and creates a more inclusive and student-centered campus environment through thoughtful, informed, and provocative integrated planning.”

The project will use a case-study methodology, and Shannon will be analyzing the mission, vision, values, and most recent strategic and master plans for three different universities, looking for measurable physical goals relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through interviews with the University Architects and Campus Planners at each institution and comparisons of their plans and progress to peer institutions, she will look for patterns of successful ideas, designs, and campus interventions.

In the spring of 2021, Shannon will lead a workshop with interior design students, giving them a voice in the project and another avenue to share what’s been learned.

See the SCUP page for more details.


Melonee Quintanilla, a student intern working in the architecture practice group, won the 2020 AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Award for Graduate Student, Beginning Design. Her design “Lightbox,” was a vision for the renovation of the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation Building.

“I chose to do a renovation instead of demolishing and starting over for sustainability reasons, but I also wanted to preserve the existing sense of place in the building. The school has a lot of built-in memories, but there was room for improvement. The design goal was to uplift and share the architecture program with others and get more people exposed and involved in the practice. I also wanted to ensure that the landscape improved existing issues and presented a learning opportunity.”

The jury commented:

A thoughtful and well executed project. It received high marks in design excellence for literally elevating the architectural program on campus and incorporating a bioswale to deal with flooding issues. It was a very smart design move to put a light, glass-filled addition above the existing brick building, signaling the department’s activity to the university community and increasing the transparency of the architectural field.


Abby Thomas, with assistance from Connor Price and Mike McGrain, all from the landscape architecture practice group, had a concept selected for the Design for Distancing competition. This initiative by the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore Development Corporation, the Neighborhood Design Center, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health set about looking for designs to reconfigure public space to safely patronize small business during the COVID-19 Pandemic. There were 162 total submissions, 10 of which were chosen for the design guidelines book. These designs will be implemented in some small business districts in and around Baltimore, and offer solutions that could be taken up nationwide.

The chosen design, “ParKIT” is a mobile kiosk designed to hold the key items for creating a pop-up park (the kiosk itself can then be used for any number of vending or service functions).

ParKIT and the other winners design briefs are here.

See page 48 for ParKIT from Ayers Saint Gross.

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Campus

August 17, 2020
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Colleges and universities are making significant changes to the configuration and operations of their campuses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are grappling with the same questions and assessing what it means for the future.

Ayers Saint Gross has always believed in sharing research with our college and university clients. In June 2020, we sent a survey to individuals in the academic, administrative, facilities, and student life departments of higher educational institutions across the United States. We wanted to gather insights about how back-to-campus strategy might impact forward-looking decisions about campus development. We asked questions about classrooms, workplace, student life facilities, the efficacy of remote operations, and the impacts of the pandemic on financial and strategic priorities.

All campuses can reflect on resiliency in light of the insights outlined in the report below. What is it that makes your institution distinctive? What aspects of this crisis threaten your ability to deliver on that offering? What creative opportunities exist to minimize those disruptions? How can you position yourself to be more resilient in the future? These are questions that may not be answerable immediately, but they are critical.

We hope this summary provides a window into the experience of planning for the future of college and university campuses during this uncertain time.


Forward-Looking Space Metrics

July 16, 2020
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As colleges and universities think through back-to-campus scenarios and their path forward as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is important to consider just what metrics inform the space analytics that are foundational to understanding a campus.

We have asked experts from across our firm to share their thoughts on:

  • Learning Environments
  • Student Housing
  • Higher Education Workplace Environments
  • Schools of Nursing

Q: What factors should be considered when developing forward-looking space metrics?

Three major trends have driven instructional space metrics over the past decade as higher education has shifted toward student-centered learning.

Autonomy: Information is now instant and mobile. Now that content can be acquired fast, free, and digitally, the new purpose of the classroom experience is to explore knowledge. This type of learning environment requires an increase of net assignable square foot per student. An instructional space that meets these guidelines will provide greater agility in adjusting to 6-foot social distance requirements, as well. Flexible furniture also allows institutions to rearrange or de-densify rooms.

Experience: The customization of the educational experience has led students to prioritize experience and hands-on learning. This type of learning often occurs in class laboratories, open laboratories, maker spaces, and research labs. Laboratory environments are rich with learning experiences that cannot easily be duplicated via online courses even prior to COVID-19, and we often recommended that institutions increase the amount of laboratory and maker space on campus.

Porosity: If you strip away the curriculum and the credits, a campus exists for serendipitous encounters between students and scholars where creativity happens, ideas are explored, and learning experiences are created. Porous learning environments allow learning to take place inside and outside the classroom and at multiple scales and comfort levels to create an equitable and adaptable learning environment for all learners. Post-COVID, experiential campus experiences may allow universities to differentiate themselves and offer an alternative to online lecture-based learning. Universities should consider dedicated space for student-centered study, group learning, and gathering space to represent approximately 15-20% of the instructional space found on campus.

Q: How is this affecting students?

Physical distancing in the classroom limits an instructor’s ability to “reach and teach” every student. By distancing students in the classroom and limiting instructor/student and peer-to-peer interactions, the learning environment favors students closest to the instructor. In this situation, a virtual synchronous environment may offer a better learning environment. In the virtual environment, the distribution of students on each screen is random, students appear the same size, and multiple modes of interaction are available via microphones, chat features, and interactive whiteboard exercises. Moreover, asynchronous virtual opportunities give students the flexibility to learn on their schedule. Learning does not compete with other priorities, such as jobs or families. Students can watch material multiple times to take notes and absorb information.

Q: Are there any fundamental differences for student housing during the pandemic?

Schools are exploring how to move forward, and it’s easy to imagine certain scenarios: relying more on single units, including converting traditional doubles to singles, for instance. Many schools, however, have planned and built in swing space for special accommodations that develop during the academic year. The pandemic adds another layer to this complexity and highlights the need for a flexible framework from which to work.

Many colleges and universities plan to start the fall semester at full occupancy, while leaving a certain number of beds or residence halls vacant as COVID-bed surge space. Other institutions are relying on the off-campus market to relieve pressure on their housing stock to best align their bed capacity with social distancing goals. Regardless, many are considering significant operational, policy, and infrastructure measures, such as reducing the occupancy capacity of their residence hall common spaces, more restrictive visitation privileges, providing much more frequent cleaning, or putting locks on common bathrooms to limit the number of students sharing each one.

As students return to living on-campus, schools will have a plan in place in case there are resurgences. Institutions with medical schools and requisite facilities may opt to provide their own testing and care, while others are partnering with their local medical community. While hopefully anything of that nature is only momentary, these measures may need to be in place for some time. When it comes to what makes a successful residence hall, though, the recipe remains the same: community leads to better student outcomes, so it remains crucial to provide the proper balance of outside-the-unit space and manage them responsibly in these trying times.



Q: Beyond physical distancing guidelines, how do we create workplace environments for the campus community that promote a sense of safety, inclusion, and collaboration for both in-person and remote participants?

On average 25% of a campus’ non-residential space inventory is devoted to office space and are part of most buildings’ programs. Small changes to office space metrics can have widespread impact, so it is critical that decision-making be grounded in data. An analysis of the anticipated needs of the workforce and the past utilization of existing space is a good starting point. Employee data and room-by-room space inventories can provide great insight and help identify opportunities to build a program that provides appropriate space per person for individual work, storage, circulation, and collaboration.

Also, consider how remote work, social distancing, and staggered or flexible schedules may impact space needs. Campuses should still be sprinkled with spaces that foster collaboration—both informal, spontaneous encounters, and more formally scheduled meetings. They should, however, anticipate increased virtual participation, both from those working remotely and those on-campus not ready for face-to-face interaction. Technology should be ubiquitous, and capacities and furniture layouts should be reviewed to ensure adequate space per person and good camera sightlines.

Q : What could this mean for offices moving forward?

Faculty-student interaction, which is critical for student success, will require a different setting. Looking forward, I anticipate increased demand for spaces that can safely accommodate one-on-one or small group interactions. In-office meetings already have made some uncomfortable and will likely now make many feel unsafe. I recommend identifying underutilized spaces in academic buildings (ideally in highly visible areas frequented by students) and repurposing them as dedicated, reservable faculty-student spaces.

Q: How are the skills lab and simulation spaces for nursing being altered by COVID-19?

Many schools have taken a detailed look at how to effectively prioritize and use specialized spaces safely while keeping the importance of a rigorous education front and center. After March 2020, nursing programs lost their clinical placements, and as a supplement to clinical practicum, nurse educators shifted to virtual and screen-based simulation through a variety of resourceful methods to supply all of their students remaining clinical learning hours. Immersive simulation using VR and projection is one way to transform any space into a simulation environment offering more utility from existing spaces and facilitating endless simulation scenarios.

For in-person lab courses in Fall 2020, nursing programs must calculate the useable area of their labs, less fixed equipment such as hospital beds and exam tables, to determine the reduced space allowance per student. Students can continue to work within their clinical groups that are normally 8-10 people, except they are spread out into different spaces. Flexibility and adaptability have long been key to designing success health science education spaces, and the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting this importance.    

Q: What kind of methods are being implemented?

Some things are now common in the broader world–smaller groups, temperature monitoring, face masks, daily sanitization of space and equipment—but there are some creative new ideas and methods. Skills and health assessment can be supplemented with customized lab packs sent to students to use at home. The expense of the lab kit can be offset with invention—one schools is discussing 3D printing their own objects and anatomical models for students to use at home. Some programs deferred skills training from spring to fall in hopes to have more hands-on opportunities. Virtually, students have been able to demonstrate skills competency through Zoom break out rooms, after viewing instructor demonstrations. Objective structured clinical examinations, key measures of a student’s competency, can be reimagined virtually as telehealth appointments with simulated patients. Telehealth has seen expanded use during the pandemic, so this has an additional benefit to train students in the way in which they may be working. Overall, some of the new teaching methodologies were found to be more successful than originally thought, and will continue in the fall semester.

Q: What about Nursing, Multidisciplinary Research, and Public Health?

Community based research in nursing has evolved since the onset of COVID-19. Here are some examples of how Duke University School of Nursing is providing outreach and creating partnerships with social work and public health organizations during this pandemic.

  • Homelessness: With the same goal to improve community health, partnerships such as the DCHIPP (Duke Community Health Improvement Partnership Program) is connecting the school of nursing and the community. Students transitioned from their traditional clinical setting of screening patients to working with the Durham Homeless Care Transitions (DHCT) organization that offers temporary housing, a case manager, and access to rapid testing for those who are homeless.
  • Spanish Speaking Populations: Multidisciplinary teams lead by the school of nursing have been established to work with the county health department to inform public service announcements by developing culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials to the Spanish speaking population.
  • Aging Populations: To assist seniors and the geriatric population, the school of nursing research team is facilitating virtual teaching sessions on effective communication with seniors so that volunteers can effectively communicate and provide reassurance during telephone encounters with seniors.
  • Global Healthcare Initiatives: With global clinical placement trips cancelled, nursing students partnered with Cureamericas contacting hundreds of Guatemalan residents and speaking to them informally about COVID. They are developing a database, referring them to local resources and creating an evaluation plan.

All of these efforts showcase really important work and the power of research and multidisciplinary teams.

Ayers Saint Gross at the 2020 ACUHO-I Virtual Summit

June 22, 2020
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Each year, we look forward to the ACUHO-I conference as an opportunity to see old friends, make new ones, and learn all we can about the latest in student housing and residence life. This year the conference experience is different, but the goals remain the same. We look forward to connecting digitally as the conference continues as a virtual summit.

ACUHO-I 2020 Educational Sessions

The Big Idea: Transforming the Student Experience Through Influential Leadership
Tuesday, June 23 | Session 3
Live Session, 4:00-4:45 pm

This session will examine how two universities partnered with industry leaders and parlayed their housing mission into vibrant communities for the next generation of learners. Learn more about an ambitious gateway campus precinct as well as a forward-looking high-rise community tailored to the needs of first-year students.

Presenters
Kathy Hobgood, Clemson University
Megan Becker, Virginia Commonwealth University
Eric Moss, Ayers Saint Gross
Cooper Melton, Ayers Saint Gross

Master Planning for Student Success
Pre-recorded Session

At North Carolina State University, the Student Housing Master Plan has created a roadmap to maximize the impact of future investments on student success. Faced with the challenges of limited resources, a rapidly evolving off campus housing market, and some large, aging housing facilities, the planning team leveraged market research and financial modeling, housing data from peer institutions, and creative design to create a plan that focuses on recruitment, retention, and student success.

Presenters
Donna McGalliard, North Carolina State University
Katie Karp, Brailsford & Dunlavey
Dennis Lynch, Ayers Saint Gross

2020 Student Housing Book

The conference also typically marks the release of our annual housing data book. We are pleased to continue the tradition digitally and share this year’s edition “Did You Plan for This?” No one could have planned for the crises we’re facing in 2020. Focused on housing master plans, this year’s book illustrates the common drivers revealed by data-driven planning efforts and how they are key to effective implementation and providing a flexible framework to respond to changing circumstances.

Read the book here.

Student Housing: What’s Next?

June 10, 2020
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Principal Dennis Lynch offers his insights about the value of a housing master plan in Talking Stick, the premier publication of the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-i) with the feature story “Questioning Why.” In the piece, Dennis discusses how a housing master plan can be a strategic roadmap to help colleges and universities make decisions about the development and renewal of student housing to align with short-term and long-term priorities, which is especially important in the environment of uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. 

“As students left campuses earlier this year to return to their families or other locations under the cloud of a pandemic, many may have seen this as a blow to the relevance of physical campuses. However, thoughtful planning that reconsiders the value of current housing and future needs can, indeed, provide a sense of optimism that, once on the other side of this crisis, students can appreciate more than ever before the value of being physically together on campus.”

Read the full article here.

ASU Hayden Library: Reinvention
of a Mid-Century Icon

May 20, 2020
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The Arizona State University Hayden Library Reinvention, located in the heart of the main campus in Tempe, AZ, opened in Spring 2020. Originally built in 1966 to serve a population of 20,000 students, Hayden Library had grown to become the anchor institution for one of the largest public universities in the country. Its system consists of nine libraries, serving more than 70,000 on-campus students and encompassing over 5 million volumes.

This extensive renovation reimagines and reinvents Hayden Library for the 21st century. The main drivers for the university were to provide variety of flexible spaces for learning, studying, collaborating, and making; enhance campus connectivity by engaging with the surrounding malls that intersect at a primary campus hub and a newly activated ground floor; and employ a sustainable approach to all aspects of design. The 252,600 GSF interior and exterior renovation transformed a place for books into a place for people, reflecting the diversity, history, sustainable vision, and scholarship of the university and greater Arizona.

Mid-Century Renovation

The original 1966 Weaver and Drover design of Hayden Library allowed for access and approach from the adjacent malls. Later additions, over several decades, removed ground-level entry to the tower. The 2020 Reinvention harkens back to the original design by celebrating the details of the past and highlighting them throughout the project. The mid-century modern shell and unique details, such as wood balustrade with stainless steel inlay on the existing terrazzo central stairs, are all maintained. The ground level is opened to allow for an approachable and welcoming experience for users, and custom profiles and angular geometry found throughout are reinterpreted and repeated in a mix of old and new details that support modern codes while maintaining the sophistication of the past era. A new interconnected vertical stair provides the network link from structured learning on the lower level to informal study and discovery of the upper levels.

21st Century Library Program

Part of a larger system with changing needs, the Hayden Library Reinvention embodies the library’s vision of a hub for inquiry, collaboration, innovation, and encounter by enriching the experience of patrons and supporting a broad range of uses. Traditionally enclosed programs break out and open into each other, blending use and ownership, and creating opportunities for cross-pollination. The design provides for a variety of flexible space types for learning, studying, collaborating, and making. The third level of the tower is dedicated to innovation, bringing together a collection of research centers and interdisciplinary learning labs that take the ASU community beyond book collections and archival materials into other regions of today’s scholarly landscape, in which new platforms for research and data facilitate new means of knowledge creation and dissemination. Collaborative lounges are dispersed throughout the floors to provide more student space and encourage quiet conversation. The fourth level reading room is designed for open reading and collections space. The perimeter is lined with modular shelving with integrated seating and display.

Campus Connections

With no clear entry, the existing tower was disconnected from the adjacent buildings and campus malls. Moreover, the subterranean entrance through the adjacent building addition created wayfinding issues. The new exterior design infills a majority of the surrounding moat on the lower level, creating a ground level plaza to reconnect the tower to campus. The 2020 Reinvention reinforces campus connections at building entries and new canopies mark ground level entries, connecting students from the campus malls to the library. The new entries improve wayfinding and extend campus green spaces and plazas into the heart of the library. The ground level plaza engages the surrounding campus malls, connects library program at ground level to adjacent buildings, and eliminates barriers to entry. Reading Rooms featuring unique, curated collections for active use by students and faculty are arranged along the long west side of the tower, showcasing the reinterpreted library program.

Retain and Renew

A design challenge for the Hayden Library Reinvention was how to reimagine the existing library in place to minimize environmental impact while giving Hayden Library the contemporary amenities it requires to support students. Reinventing the library in lieu of tearing it down allows 95% of the most carbon-intensive elements of the existing construction, the structural system and the opaque portions of the building envelope, to remain in place. Material choices throughout the project’s finish palette encourage the use of products that are regionally available with recycled content. Upgraded glazing and HVAC systems bring the best of contemporary high-performance building practices to the project and energy modeling indicates the new library will reduce energy expenses 47% compared to the existing library. Inside the building, water conservation is supported by efficient plumbing fixtures that are anticipated to decrease potable water use by over 37%. Outside the building, native plantings and a high-efficiency irrigation system reduce potable water consumption by 80%. The project is currently tracking LEED Platinum certification.

Hayden Library’s reuse retains the embodied energy and value of its structure and reveals the character of the building in a new light for a new time. Reinvention allows for a design respectful of context, history, and tradition, while showcasing new and future uses and programs, built around a mix of details that celebrate the past and project the future. By creating welcoming, equitable environments, engaging surrounding malls, and reinforcing physical and visual connections on the site and within the building, the library repositions itself to support students at the heart of campus, reconnecting itself to its place.

Green Week 2020: The Carrot Awards

April 23, 2020
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Since 2013, Ayers Saint Gross has hosted an annual Green Week to elevate sustainability literacy within our staff, advance high-performance designs for our clients, reflect on sustainability achievements, and plan for the year ahead. Our firm continues to energetically advance the diverse interests of our clients and communities. It feels particularly important to celebrate Green Week this year, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The global scientific community agrees that preserving our way of life requires keeping global warming below 2°C. Past 2°C, climate change will accelerate and become irreversible – the planet will warm until humans can no longer survive. The scientific community has established a carbon budget of 500 GtCO2e. This is the total amount of carbon human activities can emit from this day forward and stay below 2°C. Annual CO2 emissions today are approximately 40 GtCO2 per year. If we maintain the status quo on annual carbon emissions, in about 12 years global warming will accelerate. The time to act is now and as practitioners in the built environment, we play a critical role.

The AEC industry’s discussion of sustainability has historically focused on operational carbon emissions from building operations. Keeping buildings at appropriate temperature and humidity, electric lighting, and powering our plug-in devices are responsible for approximately 30% of annual carbon emissions. Missing from this dialogue, however, has been an appreciation for the embodied carbon of the actual materials from which the built environment is constructed. Industrial activity is responsible for approximately 40% of annual carbon emissions, of which half is tied to the production of concrete, steel, and aluminum alone. Concrete, steel, and aluminum are significant components of our built work as an interdisciplinary design firm, and we need to aggressively reduce the amounts of those materials we design in developing our clients’ built environments.

This week, we’ve been hosting teleconference meetings across our organization to share information that will help us in our quest to reduce embodied and operational carbon emissions from our design portfolio 50% by 2030.

These sessions included Baltimore City’s Sustainability Director, Lisa McNeilly, highlighting the creation of the Baltimore Sustainability Plan and how it’s been implemented and tracked. The Plan is framed to lead with equity and when plans, programs, and policies are implemented at the intersection of equity, economy, and the environment, outcomes are often more relevant, impactful, and longer lasting. FSi Engineers’ Ben Roush broke down the basic concepts and principles behind net-zero buildings and spoke on lessons learned over many net-zero projects. A trio of professionals from Thornton Tomasetti – Alexandra Davis, Christopher Williams, and Paul Becker – addressed why embodied carbon matters, how to identify carbon “hot spots” in a building, whether wood is truly good, and what questions architects should be asking structural engineers from the start to influence positive change and drive progress toward the AIA 2030 Commitment’s goals.

We reflect on our AIA 2030 Commitment results, the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects, and the lighting power density of our interiors projects. We’ve recorded this data since 2011, which enables us to recognize and reward the most energy efficient of these projects from the previous calendar year with our annual Carrot Awards to inspire other projects to strive for greater energy efficiency.

We believe sustainable design and great design are the same. Our highest performing projects under design in 2019 illustrate strategies every project in our firm aspires to achieve.

We’re pleased to announce this year’s Carrot Award winners are the Elon University Engineering and Physics Building and the Denison University Residence Hall Renovations. Congratulations to the design teams of these projects!

Elon University, Engineering and Physics Building
Elon University, Engineering and Physics Building

In collaboration with Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects, Ayers Saint Gross is designing a new Engineering and Physics Building for Elon University that will incorporate design fabrication space, prototyping equipment, and project assembly areas for the program’s engineering students. The project will expand the engineering program’s offerings and create a campus edge that will complete the quadrangle expansion between Moseley Hall and the existing Elon Elementary School. The building is composed of two parts: a three-story building that reflects the Greek Revival style of Elon University’s campus context and a two-story wing with a more modern aesthetic. Associated outdoor spaces will support community-building.

The Denison University Residence Hall Interior Renovations refresh existing residences for primarily first year students. Smith Hall, Shorney Hall, Curtis Hall, and Crawford Hall offer double and triple room options, but had limited space for community-building. For all of the halls, the entry sequence and ground floor common areas are being upgraded to provide a more open and welcoming experience. The renovations provide necessary outside the unit social spaces for residents and meet the needs of contemporary students. The new interior lighting design will reduce lighting power density by 77%, more than three times the current AIA 2030 reduction target for interior spaces, through daylighting and LED lighting.

Be on the lookout for more sustainability-focused projects from our firm. For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

The Modern Learner: Formal and Informal Learning Environments

February 20, 2020
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At Ayers Saint Gross, the design of new learning spaces starts with understanding the mission, vision, and values of the institution for which the project is being planned. Planning and designing successful learning spaces requires an understanding of today’s students: who they are, how they learn, and what their needs are. Learners come from a cross-section of backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic situations, ethnicities, and experiences. The campus learning landscape must be more inclusive of learners from all backgrounds and experiences.

Today’s students are not responsive to passive, row-based lecture methods, they want to learn actively through production and discovery. Integrating human interactions within learning creates connections and fosters retention, comprehension, and motivation. This holistic learning experience is supported through a combination of formal, scheduled learning space and places for informal, student-directed learning experiences.

FORMAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Classrooms, laboratories, and lecture halls have traditionally contained rows of desks facing one direction with a fixed lectern and singular teaching wall, but as the method of and behavior of learning is evolving, so too are formal learning environments; they are flexible, engaging environments. A thoughtful and well-designed space sets the expectation for active and collaborative learning. 

Formal learning environments need to have spatial flexibility: environments should be scalable, convertible, fluid, modifiable, and versatile. Flexibility ensures programmatic longevity by building plasticity into the architectural components of the space, thus allowing for the flow of information among faculty, students, and learning tools. A scalable room provides for a variety of student needs, including places for focus, team, sharing, and social connection to align with different work styles and the flow of ideas among peers in a classroom.

Alongside mobile furnishings, thoughtful placement of static architectural features and technology can enhance the fluidity of space. Designing spatial flexibility into a room enables the learner to appropriate the space for their perceived needs and allows for longevity as future needs evolve. When the learner has control over their learning style, it promotes choice and provides for a sense of connection among the students, faculty, and material created in the course.

Technology should be seamless, agile, and user-friendly while also being conducive to collaboration at a variety of scales. Space must be easily adaptable to new equipment and new styles of teaching and learning. Wireless technology allows a seamless connection to remote learners, creating environments that offer various models of engagement for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Power should be easily accessible and at waist-height and software should allow instructors and students to control classroom technologies without relying on a static IT podium.

To successfully teach every student, the instructor must be able to reach every student. Furniture should be mobile, versatile, durable, and adjustable to accommodate all types of users. The layout and furnishings should champion pedagogical adaptations by the instructor and the students. Seating density should be proportional to room dimensions, and ergonomic furniture supports a range of postures, motions, and physical abilities.

Acoustic quality is a priority when specifying fixtures, furniture, and finishes. Soft surfaces such as carpet and wallcoverings allow sound to be absorbed, whereas angled furniture, such as high-back lounge chairs, contain and direct sound. Technology can enhance the learning experience for those with hearing differences by compensating for less than ideal acoustic conditions; however, the noise associated with powering and utilizing digital tools must factor into the acoustic design of formal learning environments.

Natural daylight and views optimize learning but can often compete with the many digital devices used by students. Operable shades allow user control heat and glare, providing an additional layer of flexibility for users. In addition, overhead lighting should be a mix of direct, indirect, and task lighting to accommodate different means and methods of instruction. Proper design of learning spaces considers sightlines for all participants during discussion-based, presentation-focused, and team-based activities.

INFORMAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

In informal learning environments, the ownership of learning lies with the individual to design their own experience, create their learning incomes, and self-assess. Informal environments have non-traditional lighting and seating and can incorporate non-learning experiences. Informal learning environments mix private, public, and collaborative spaces to accommodate all learning behaviors. These types of spaces should be available inside and outdoors, in a range of scales, and encourage both planned and impromptu interactions.

Social and study space outside of classrooms and laboratories should have comfortable seating that is durable, ergonomic, and mobile. Whiteboards and access to power provide boosts to these spaces with the tools digital natives use to communicate in support of anywhere and anytime learning.

Rich opportunities for learning and creating exist in research and student project labs, maker spaces, simulation labs, exhibition spaces, pitch platforms, incubator spaces, ideation spaces, and intimate in-between social spaces. Space should be adaptable to new programs and technologies through tensile, versatile, and student-centric design strategies. Informal learning spaces should be designed with the same care and attention to pedagogy as their formal counterparts to create a campus-wide holistic vision for the learning experience.

When locating project labs and innovation studios, an important consideration is access for collaboration across disciplines as well as with outside business and industry partners. For these, special consideration to spots with additional noise, exhaust, and security requirements (such as lockable storage space for student work as well as space for the storage of tools and materials) is necessary. Flooring in work areas needs to be resilient. Writable walls enhance collaboration, however, glass can still sometimes be a barrier so furniture and collaboration spaces should spill from the zoned project lab to add permeability between project and adjacent social and collaboration areas.

Adjacent to student project areas, exhibit and pitch spaces help students to practice oral and visual communication skills. Acoustics and lighting are essential factors in designing these spaces, as students will be showing and describing work to peers as well as faculty and industry mentors. Technology should be available to capture performances and also available to amplify acoustic or visual effects as desired by student presenters. Presentation and exhibit spaces are informal in that they are not usually scheduled but should present as formal spaces that emphasize the importance of creating and sharing new work.

Informal environments allow formal spaces to flex and evolve as new learning needs arise. They allow for connection, invention, and discovery that both enhance formal learning discussions and encourage independent exploration and collaboration. With limited budgets, it is important that all learning spaces are designed with careful research, thought and expertise in support of future-proof and student-centered learning environments inside and outside of the classroom.

How do we determine how much space a student needs in these learning environments? Join us for the next entry in March 2020.

Ayers Saint Gross projects featured throughout this blog:

Presenting Regenerative Design Principles at AASHE

January 14, 2020
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Recently, I presented at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference in Spokane, Washington on the opportunity of regenerative design and the circular economy as it relates higher education projects and campuses. At the largest networking and educational event of its kind in North America, my session, titled “Defining the Finish Line: What the Circular Economy for Universities Should Look Like,” helped attendees understand how design principles extracted from the natural world can act as a guiding platform for colleges and universities to develop a circular economy on their campuses.

Sustainability as a concept is laudably a part of everyday discourse now. This prevalence, however, highlights the importance of non-complacency and continuing to think beyond. Sustainability is not an end unto itself, it is a mid-point on the spectrum of performance between degenerative and regenerative. We can do better, and it’s important to look to how our buildings can create a net-positive impact on the environment.

We needn’t look far. Processes occurring in the natural world provide an excellent toolbox. It is the job of architects and designers to translate these thoroughly time-tested concepts into the built environment. Principles outlined in Permaculture, a design practice developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in the late 1970’s, do an excellent job of getting this conversation started. These concepts appear in many of our projects.

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, Washington College: Catch and Store Energy
Waste is not a pervasive issue in the natural environment – everything gets used as a resource somehow – nature excels at catching and storing energy to develop itself. With such abundant resources at hand, there is little reason that we can’t apply the same level of resourcefulness to the built environment. To create a circular economy, developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant is absolutely necessary.

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall is designed to be a net-positive building, meaning it creates more energy than it consumes. Having this be a goal from the outset played a large role in the design. This brought together form, function, and performance beautifully. Rather than attempting to retroactively apply sustainable features late in the design process, extensive analysis at the beginning of the process to figure out the energy needs of the building helped to minimize its impact. By first analyzing energy requirements, then creating opportunities for energy conservation, efficient use of that energy, and optimizing the time of use management allowed for the design to minimize its energy use intensity. Not only did this help the net-positive goal, it also limited the disruption of the environment in the building footprint (originally, solar panels were needed on the landscape; the final design only required them on the roof).

Alfond Commons, Colby College: Use Edges and Value the Marginal
In nature, it is the point at which things meet where the most interesting and diverse interactions take place. These interactions often create the most productive elements in a system, as is observable in estuaries where salt water meets fresh water and mangrove trees thrive in conditions that break expectations for what trees need.

This holds true when exploring the ways in which institutions and their host communities interact. We’ve talked about the successes of Alfond Commons a number of times here, and we remain impressed by the positive results created by embracing the edges of campus with housing. Many institutions and communities struggle with how to interact with one another, but Alfond Commons demonstrates the eagerness of students and residents to interact and solve problems.

Hayden Library, Arizona State University: Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Change is inevitable. Nature excels at adaptation. When it comes to translating this process to the built environment, it is important not just to repurpose a space, but to focus on its historic, current, and future uses.

For this project, it was important to acknowledge the historic legacy of this building as an icon on campus for 50 years, recognize the changing function of a library on a modern university campus, as well as anticipate a similar degree of change for the future. Libraries as a limited function place, with a primary focus on books is no longer true to the way students learn and gather information. Digital resources have largely overtaken that function. With the Hayden Library, the building remains a crucial learning resource, but with open, flexible spaces encouraging collaboration and interaction.

Kyle Ritchie, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, is a Sustainable Design Coordinator working across all discipline groups at Ayers Saint Gross.

Alfond Commons in the News

December 12, 2019
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In the fall of 2018, Colby College opened the Alfond Main Street Commons, realizing Colby’s vision of housing 200 students and faculty-in-residence in the heart of downtown Waterville, Maine. The past year has proven this initiative to be a resounding success. Already the project has been recognized for multiple awards, including:

It is always fulfilling to see our projects advance the student experience within the campus community. Alfond Commons is especially gratifying because of its significant impact on both Colby and the Waterville community at large, which has been highlighted in several articles and publications.

In addition to an interview with Ayers Saint Gross president Luanne Greene, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s special publication, “The Campus as City” featured Alfond Commons and produced this excellent video.

Talking Stick, the publication from the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) wrote about both Alfond Commons’ place in Waterville and the active learning community that has been created there.

Finally, we have been proud to share the success of Alfond Commons at conferences around the country.

Recently, Eric Zahn presented the project with Brian Clark, Vice President of Planning for Colby College, at the ACUHO-I Academic Initiatives Conference. Their talk highlighted the unique synergy of civic, academic, and student life spaces within the building, and the aspects of its design that render it both forward-looking and expressive of its place. Eric also spoke about how our student housing expertise and design build teaming arrangement with Landry/French Construction helped get the project designed and delivered on an aggressive schedule. While of great value to the owner, more significantly, this hall has elevated the Colby student experience and established a compelling template for a community-driven co-curricular living community. The fact that it is already the most popular of Colby’s on-campus housing offerings is a testament to its success

Sustainable Design Coordinator Kyle Ritchie presented at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference, on the principles of permaculture design, a platform that applies the patterns of natural ecosystems to the design of the built environment. Alfond Commons (along with Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall and the Hayden Library Reinvention) was presented as a case study for putting these principles into practice.

All in all, this news adds up to a remarkable year. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.