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Bren Hall

Bren Hall provides a world-class arena for scientific and academic initiative, leadership, invention, and research. At the center of the Bren School academic experience, Bren Hall is a material reflection of the school’s commitment to meeting human needs in an environmentally sustainable way. Recognized as the "greenest" laboratory building in the United States, Bren Hall has received a triple LEED Platinum rating. In 2017, Bren Hall was the highest scoring LEED project for California and the entire country. Bren Hall received a third Platinum LEED certification for Existing Buildings - Operations and Maintenance (EB O&M), making it the first laboratory building to be certified three times. Bren Hall is a manifestation of the Bren School’s mission and acts as a living example that a superbly equipped scientific and teaching building can be a benchmark of sustainable design.

History of Bren Hall, an Exemplary Sustainable Building

Opened in April 2002, Bren Hall was the first laboratory building in the United States to receive the U.S. Green Building Council's Platinum LEED® accreditation — the highest level possible — since the USGBC established its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program to promote and recognize accomplishments in sustainable building. In 2009, seven years after opening, Bren Hall made history again by being awarded LEED Platinum as an existing building, making it the first structure in the nation to receive two LEED Platinum certifications. And in 2017, the building was again certified LEED Platinum for Existing Buildings—Operation and Maintenance, making it the first laboratory building in the nation to receive the highest level of LEED certification three times.

Aerial view of white angular building by oceanside

Bren Hall sets the highest standard for sustainable buildings of the future, and is being used as a model for other facilities and operations, particularly throughout the campuses and institutions in the state of California. In July 2003, the UC Regents adopted a Green Building Policy for all ten of its campuses, and in November of that year UCSB committed to constructing all new buildings to the level of LEED silver. This represents an extraordinary benchmark and demonstrates a serious commitment to sustainability. UCSB's new Marine Science Institute (also designed by Bren Hall's architects, Zimmer Gunsul Fransca) has obtained a silver LEED rating. 

The total cost of the building was $26 million. Building in a sustainable manner with sustainable materials added only 2% to the overall costs, which will easily be recovered through energy savings over time. Bren Hall is proof that cost is not a significant deterrent to green construction.

Awards & Honors

  • LEED Platinum for Existing Buildings—Operation and Maintenance, August 2017
  • LEED Platinum for Existing Buildings—Operation and Maintenance, August 2009
  • Flex Your Power Energy Efficiency Award (February 2004)
  • International Interior Design Association Environmental Award (May 2003)
  • Parade of Green Buildings featured site (April 2003)
  • Goleta Valley Beautiful Award (November 2002)
  • LEED Platinum Award, USGBC (April 2002)
  • Commendation from former California Governor Gray Davis (2002)
  • Commendation from the County of Santa Barbara (2002)
  • Case Study for the California Energy Commission
  • Case Study for the California State and Consumer Services Agency

LEED Rating

The USGBC's LEED program is a credit system. The pilot program in effect when Bren Hall was being built (version 1.0) specified a total of 44 available credits, 6 bonus credits, and 10 prerequisites, arranged in the following five categories describing major areas of sustainable design: sustainable site planning, improving energy efficiency, conserving materials and resources, enhancing indoor air quality, and safeguarding water. View a pdf document that itemizes Bren Hall's sustainable features in these areas.

Bren Hall achieved a score of 37 points to receive a Platinum rating, the highest available. It surpasses the new Title 24 requirements for energy efficiency standards by more than 31%. Today, LEED version 4.0 requires 80 credits for a Platinum rating. In 2017, Bren Hall achieved 93 credits to earn its third LEED Platinum rating.

View the LEED categories and credits document from the original construction.

Energy Efficiency

To ensure efficient use of energy, the building was designed to harvest natural light, heating, and cooling. Facing the ocean, the office wing has no air conditioning and instead relies on flow-through ventilation with operable windows and transoms. Daylight harvesting is coupled with a lighting plan that incorporates energy-efficient fixtures and bulbs along with controls for motion and ambient light.

The operable windows in the office wing have a mechanical interlock (a small sensor in the frame) so that, upon opening, the heaters in the offices are automatically turned off. The ventilation system for the laboratories is the most efficient available. The building is connected to the new multi-building chilled water loop to provide cost-effective cooling for the laboratory wing. The Bren chiller is also able to take on a portion of the total campus load when needed. (See a presentation by the manufacturer of the chiller system, featuring Bren Hall.) The estimated savings by participating in this shared system is 85% of the run time on our chiller. Our cooling system consists of three towers with different size fans that stage upon demand. An 85% efficient boiler is used in the building.

To reduce "heat-island" effect, an energy star "white cap" roofing material was chosen. The white material reflects light, thus cooling the building. The roof-integrated photovoltaic system, made up of two-hundred-forty 42-kilowatt panels, allows Bren Hall to generate, cleanly and on site, up to 10 percent of the power it uses, depending on outdoor temperature and electricity use in the building.

Site and Construction Management

The original site for Bren Hall was a parking lot, and great effort was made to reduce the actual footprint of the construction site to preserve existing landscape and habitats. The original trees were protected and maintained throughout the project. All asphalt and concrete curbing was ground up and reused as base. The small plants were also ground up and reused used as mulch on the campus. Contract specifications required the builder to separate and reuse waste and minimize debris taken from the site. Desilting facilities were used at each drainage outlet, and hay bales and fencing were used to assist with soil erosion and sediment control. After each rainstorm, all silt and debris were removed and hay bales replaced. All the native soil from the site has been retained and re-used as part of the landscape plan.

Many people in a landscape crew pose in front of an office building

One hundred percent of the demolition waste and 92 percent of the construction waste were recycled during the course of the project. Materials were specified to be shipped from with a 350-mile radius to keep fuel costs and emissions to a minimum. In the structural components, a fly-ash mix was used in the concrete (20 percent in the first two floors and 17 percent in the upper floors). The structural steel contains 80 percent recycled content (mainly from cars), the rebar 80-100 percent recycled content, and the pan deck 30 percent recycled content. The fireproofing material is made of gypsum, polystyrene, common cellulose, and recycled newsprint. It contains no asbestos or mineral fibers and is also HCFC-, HFC-, and CFC-free.

Recycled Materials

The carpets, lab casework, rubber flooring, fabrics, wallboard, tiles, ceiling tiles and grids, furniture, and insulation are all made with high recycled content. Cleaned and re-dyed carpet tiles were used, saving 14 tons of carpet from landfill. Wood paneling and cork flooring in the building comes from certified sustainable harvests. Restroom stall partitions are made of 90% recycled plastics; countertops are made of recycled tumbled glass. Linoleum—a biodegradable natural product made from linseed oil, limestone, cork floor, rosin, wood floor, and natural pigments—is used as one of the main flooring materials. All together, Bren Hall is composed of 40 percent recycled materials.

Water Conservation

The toilets on the first floor use reclaimed water, and the urinals are waterless. It is estimated that each waterless urinal saves approximately 45,000 gallons of water per year. All toilets have automatic flush valves, all sinks have automatic water sensors, and low-flow fixtures have been used throughout the building. The landscaping shades and shelters the building, creates outdoor spaces for discussion, uses drought-tolerant native plants, and uses reclaimed water for irrigation. The grids around the base of trees are made from 100 percent recycled metals. The fire road around the structure is made of permeable turf-block with a grass overlay, and the bike parking area is made from permeable interlocking pavers.

Non-Toxic Chemicals

Products in the building were required to meet a stringent low volatile organic compounds (VOC) criteria. Installation of products was sequenced to reduce the possibility of VOC sinks. All mechanical systems were run for a period of one week at full capacity, then all the filters were changed prior to faculty and staff moving in, thus greatly improving indoor air quality. All paints, adhesives, and finishes in the building exceed the 2005 South Coast Air Quality Standards. All material in the building is free of asbestos, formaldehyde, and CFCs.

A "Living Laboratory"

Installation of certain features within the building was varied so that the students and faculty would have the opportunity to use the structure as a "living laboratory." Metering was installed so that actual loads for dry labs, wet labs, and offices can be monitored; web interface systems are used to monitor many of these items, which enables us to gather data to improve future usage in this building as well as provide useful information for other buildings.


One-hour informational tours of Bren Hall are available by reservation, schedule permitting. To request a tour, please contact us at

The Greening of Bren Hall

Download a copy of Bren Hall's 1999 sustainability design feasibility study.

Founding Partners

The following Founding Partners provided contributions that were indispensible to Bren Hall's becoming the first LEED Platinum certified laboratory building in the world. Find out more about these visionary companies. These and other vendors have donated high-performance materials, which have since been recommended for use throughout the UC system as it has embarked on a plan to "green" its campuses and set the example of leading-edge sustainable design and construction for the state of California and the nation. The Bren School appreciates and acknowledges the importance of these Founding Partners.

Johnson Controls
PowerLight Solar Electric Systems
Valley Crest Tree Company
Parker Boiler Co.
To Market


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