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Practicing What They Preach
by John Bartel
Coastlines Vol. 31, No. 1
Summer 2000

Visitors to UCSB's newest building in 2002 will sit and walk on recycled materials. When they use some restrooms, the toilets will flush with reclaimed water. Visitors and tenants in the office wing will be cooled by ocean breezes instead of air conditioning. A connection to campus' multi-building virtual chilled-water loop will provide cost effective cooling for the laboratory wing. Users of the building will also be participants in a living laboratory whereby cost-efficient technologies and operations will be understudy by researchers from UCSB and Southern California Edison.

Welcome to Bren Hall, now under construction on Lagoon Road between ENgineering I and Biological Sciences II. The new $22 million home for the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management will, appropriately enough, be a showcase of environmental stewardship incorporating sustainable design principles. Considered to be the "greenest building in the UC System," Bren Hall has already been recognized nationally for its innovative design. It is one of the first 12 buildings certified for sustainable design and construction by the U.S. Green Building Council. In recognition of the Bren School's decision to use office furniture made from recycled products, the UCSB Associated Student Recycling Program gave the School one of its Green Awards in April.

From desks and chairs made from recycles newspapers and wheat husks to tiles made from old tires, Bren Hall will showcase on every level the very principles it teaches. Less visible but no less important will be the energy efficient ventilation and lighting systems. Even the construction of the building required the general contractor, Solltek Pacific of San Diego, to separate and reuse waste to minimize debris being taken from the site to a landfill. For example, the pavement of the parking lot on which Bren Hall is being built was ground up and incorporated in the building site.

Planning for the new building did not begin with these concepts in mind. Instead, it was originally designed to provide the most assignable square feet for the money available. As Jeff Dozier, dean of the Bren School, points out, the planning process for the building began in 1992 before there was a school of Environmental Science & Management. The school came into being when he was named dean in 1994. Faculty were hired beginning in 1995, and students began arriving in 1996. In 1997, a $15 million gift from the Donald Bren Foundation provided endowment and operations funding for the new school, which houses a multi-campus graduate program. Dozier said that when he became dean, he assumed that the building plan had too much momentum to incorporate new ideas. But as the faculty assembled and an advisory board for the school was established, pressure mounted to change in ways that reflected sound environmental planning. The architecture firm that was working on the building, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership, responded enthusiastically. While the change orders to the original design have added to the cost of the project, many of the alterations have been subsidized or will save operational costs in the long run.

One change the architects could not make was to reorient the building. The original plan calls for the long side of the four-story laboratory wing to face west, which means it will soak up a lot of heat. To mitigate this load on the air cooling system, the architects are having a row of sycamore trees planted that will provide shade to that side of the building.