Less Energy through Better Design

When I attended SQL Saturday #131 at the Chandler Gilbert Community College, I was struck by a few design elements that I thought were great examples of how a little thought can improve the experience of a space, and use less energy.

The event was outside Phoenix, which is hot. I mean really hot. It was 93F or so on the April day that I was in attendance, and it was expected to go over 100 the next weekend. A few local people told me that they really need to have fans in their houses to assist with the AC, otherwise they tend to dramatically shorten the life span of their units with the desert heat.

As I walked up, I noticed a few things. Lots of wide overhands and buildings placed in each other to shade courtyards. Many rooms opened from an outside wall, so less hallways to cool inside buildings. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, since cooling those rooms whose doors might open frequently might be worse than trying to cool hallways. I also didn’t’ see many airlock structures, which is something we see more in cold climates.

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The building above has a skin like structure outside of the main building, essentially shading the building itself. It reflects a lot of light, and at the same time, looks interesting. Not sure how the material costs compare with the energy costs, but I’ve seen this on a few buildings in the Middle East, so I’m guessing it’s a good trade-off.

The main student center, shown below, was like a glass garage. Each 10 or 12 foot wide section could roll up. I stood just outside one open door, and you can see another across on the left side of the picture. This was a pleasant building all day, even when it was over 90F. In the upper right, you can see a large ceiling fan. The blades on this had to be at least 10ft long, possibly longer. There were two in the space, but only one ran all day, even when there were close to 200 people eating lunch.

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Here’s one of the courtyard structures.

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Shaded, not completely so. Nice in the shade, definitely hot in the sun.

There also was an elevated walkway with a spiral art structure that would provide some, but not a lot of shade. I’m sure it makes things better, and it looks really nice. It was made of metal, with designs cut into it. Many of the railings and structures around the campus were metal, which holds up better in the sun. Most with artistic designs in them.

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I’m sure many of you have seen hot air hand dryers in bathrooms before. This college had the newer Dyson dryers, which are supposed to be more efficient and cleaner for the air. However they had a few other things:

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A few simple change (probably) to the toilets, but with this plaque, you have the choice to use less water for liquid waste. I hadn’t seen this before, but I’d hope that more buildings would implement something like this. It would be great for homes as well.

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Many of the urinals in the Men’s bathroom were waterless. I’ve seen these before at various ski resorts. They get used a lot, but they don’t stink, and they’re a great idea everywhere, but especially in places like CO and AZ where the water supply is limited.

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There were plaques describing structures all over. I think this is a great idea, because it helps people to understand there’s more to the design than architecture. These items were built to add useful space to the campus without adding to the energy bill.

There were all multi-language inspirational plaques and posts all over. This was one of the ones I passed, and I wish I’d walked around looking for more. I remember sayings like this on the grounds at Virginia, and they were always inspirational to me as I thought about all the people over time that had walked the path I was walking.

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I’m a fan of alternative energy and sustainable practices. I don’t think we need to end our dependence of fossil fuels, but I do think we ought to try to better use our resources, especially when we can use design to do so.

I was impressed with what is being done at this college, and it shows some effort is being made to build a structure for the long term. Is it worth it? Are things working? I’d like to know both from an ROI standpoint and an energy standpoint what differences there are from other designs. I sent a note to the school, and we’ll see if they respond.

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