On the northern edge of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s campus sits the Bagley Nature Area, an area for student learning and research. A new classroom building adjacent to Bagley Pond serves the students, while itself serving as a learning tool for sustainable design. The LEED Platinum-certified project was designed by local architect David Salmela, who answered some questions about the small yet significant project.
View from pond
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
This small university classroom building is located above a pond on a 55 acre nature reserve. The site has hiking trails through old growth hard woods frequented by the university students as well as the public. We were charged with designing a facility to serve eight different departments for the nature portions of their teaching and study.
View from East
Can you describe your design process for the building?
The Bagley Classroom Building was designed as a super-insulated, virtually air tight building that is heated primarily by direct passive solar gain from the south and internal heat gains from equipment and occupants. The building was placed facing directly south not only to maximize solar gain in the winter but also to maximize power production from photovoltaic panels which supply energy back to the grid and to connect the classroom space to its idyllic hilltop setting above Bagley pond. The space is cooled by passive shading devices and sensor activated natural ventilation system that takes advantage of the stack effect created by the lower east and west facing operable windows and high louvers. In addition, a heat recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply during winter and summer. The super insulated envelope with 12 inches of insulation surrounding the foundation’s footings and floor slab and 16-inch thick SIP wall and roof panels successfully minimizes thermal transfer. A draught tolerant green roof adds to the super-insulating effect.
View of outdoor court
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?
In a statement from the client: “Due to the scale of this small project, we decided to build this building using our ‘in house’ construction staff instead of hiring outside contractors. This led to an extremely smooth and exceptionally open communication process for all that were involved: architect, consultants, facilities professionals, professors, and construction staff. The quality of workmanship is second to none and we could not be more proud of what we have built.”
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
The University desired that this building have minimum environmental impact and be an overall energy producer rather than consumer in spite of the fact it is in the cold climate of Northern Minnesota. Keeping these goals in mind the building has been designed for PassivHaus and LEED Platinum certification. The PassivHaus concept, developed in Germany, allows extraordinary reductions in energy use of up to 90% and with the help of small renewable energy systems allows buildings to become self-sufficient in energy needs and potentially carbon neutral by providing enough energy back to the grid.
To help achieve LEED Platinum rating, recycled timber, recycled paper-resin siding, trim and countertops, partially recycled zinc siding and recycled granite pavers were used. The new wood materials have no applied finishes or VOC coatings. Composting toilets combined with the storm water retainage at the green roof makes this building close to a zero-water waste producer.
E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill