Digging In

Environment Hall – Inside scoop!
by Zachary Brecheisen -- January 21st, 2014

All of us here at Duke have been looking at it for ages now and we’ve heard many great things about solar panels and LEED Platinum certification, but I had been wondering quite a bit about what the titanic new Environment Hall was really all about and what it looked like inside. Not too long ago I took a tour  – here are a few sneak peeks!

This area will be part of the green roof on Environment Hall, here they already have some soil spread out. I'm looking forward to growing some veggies up here!

This area will be part of the green roof on Environment Hall, here they already have some soil spread out. I’m looking forward to growing some veggies up here!

The most exciting part of the new building for me will certainly be the green roof (photo). Plots where students can garden and spend time outside while being on the roof of one of the most advanced examples of eco-architecture around. The roof and rain catching system is capable of storing 20,000 gallons of rainwater and, in the lead construction managers words, “could handle 10 inches of rain in 24 hours.”

In the white area of the roof extending back, a couple of the rainwater catchment drains can be seen.

In the white area of the roof extending back, a couple of the rainwater catchment drains can be seen.

The water captured from Environment Hall will be used to irrigate the surrounding landscaping plants. There is an additional rainwater storage tank that will hold all the rain water captured from LSRC A-wing (the current home of the Nicholas School) which will supply the water for all of the toilets in Environment hall. I’d seen this giant second tank from out of the window of our lab during construction and wondered about it for a very long time.

Beneath the area to the right of the covered walkway is buried a huge water tank that will store all the rainwater captured from LSRC's A-wing.

Beneath the area to the right of the covered walkway is buried a huge water tank that will store all the rainwater captured from LSRC’s A-wing.

Another major feature of the building will be a thermal corridor just inside the impressive facade of glass windows on the southern face of the building. This area will be heated passively by incoming sunlight modulated by automated shutters to maintain an environment within ~5°C (+or-) of the climate controlled offices and lecture halls and will serve as a thermal buffer to reduce heating and cooling energy use.

This is the thermal corridor on the uppermost level (5th) of Environment Hall.

This is the thermal corridor on the uppermost level (5th) of Environment Hall.

Of course the building itself will come with its own power supply with 48 kW of PV solar panels and a nifty chilled-bean cooling system whereby dense cold air near the beam will sink and cool the air via convection. Live monitors will be set up near the north entrance where you can monitor the building’s solar power generation and consumption in real time. The building is wrapped around a central staircase topped with a large skylight allowing sunlight to shine down through every level, similar to the central stairway in LSRC.

Skylight above the central staircase in Environment Hall.

Skylight above the central staircase in Environment Hall.

One of the areas I anticipate spending the most time around Environment Hall is in the fruit orchard between it and the LSRC. Fruits are anticipated to include plums, figs, and pears with additional edible landscaping possibilities.

The impressive southern face of Environment Hall as well as the courtyard destined to become a fruit orchard. The area immediately against the building (free of soil) will be an elevated patio area.

The impressive southern face of Environment Hall as well as the courtyard destined to become a fruit orchard. The area immediately against the building (free of soil) will be an elevated patio area.

The other broad side of the building (north side) will be converted into another green space, an upland American chestnut grove, with the American chestnut Institute donating blight resistant trees.

Area north of Environment Hall destined to become a chestnut grove.

Area north of Environment Hall destined to become a chestnut grove.

One neat little offshoot of this lies in the flooring of the north entrance where marble chestnut “leaves” have been inlaid into the poured flooring material which will be ground away to reveal them “blowing” into the building!

Mable chestnut leaf inlay in the first floor of Environment Hall.

Marble chestnut leaf inlay in the first floor of Environment Hall.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m looking forward to classes, seminars, and just exploring the five floors of this impressive building!

Auditorium-style seating for one of the lecture halls in the new envionrment building.

Auditorium-style seating for one of the lecture halls in the new environment building.

 

View of Duke Chapel from the roof of Environment Hall looking over LSRC.

View of Duke Chapel from the roof of Environment Hall looking over LSRC.

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