The Davis Center building project, which is a combination renovation and new build, began its first design phase in 2019, pausing only briefly during the height of the pandemic. Now, as the project nears completion, we wanted to share insights from a person who has had an incredibly close view of it all for the past five years – Scott Henderson, the DC building project manager. Just before the Thanksgiving break, I had an opportunity to walk the construction site with Scott and ask him to share his perspective about how sustainability is integrated into this project.
Our conversation began on the accessible curving pathway that runs from Walden Street up to and past Jenness and then across the threshold of the Rice addition building. As we walked, Scott pointed out various site and building elements and illuminated aspects of the materials and processes that aren’t visible from the surface. The Davis Center is the fourth building project on campus that has pursued an International Living Future Institute certification (Other ILFI certified buildings include the ‘66 Environmental Center (achieved Living Building Challenge (LBC)) Petal Certification, currently pursuing LBC Full Living certification), Fort Bradshaw (achieved LBC Petal Certification), and Fellows Hall (ILFI Zero Energy); numbers five and six are in the works as the new WCMA is pursuing LBC Core certification and the Multipurpose Rec Center will be pursuing Zero Energy.) ILFI calls the principles of the LBC certification “petals” and Scott used this framework to tell the sustainability story of the DC. Here are a few of highlights from our conversation:
Equity Petal is composed of the Universal Design and Inclusion imperatives.
“The intent of the Equity Petal is to elevate equity as a project goal, and to transform developments to foster a just and inclusive community that enables all people to participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.”
A design feature that aims to make the site accessible to all is the pathway up from Walden Street, which has to navigate a challenging hill while not exceeding a 5% grade, which ensures that the path meets ADA requirements. The buildings are fully accessible as well, something that has never existed in Jenness where the DC offices have always been. This approach to accessibility extends through the entire project with special focus areas on the kitchen designs and focus on all equipment being able to be used by everyone.
Equity is also considered when it comes to the people working on the project. LBC’s inclusion imperative requires that a certain percentage of the design and/or construction companies must be registered as Minority/Women/Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (MWDBE). Typically for capital building projects, the number is about 5-7%, however for the DC that number is closer to 35%.
The Materials Petal is composed of the Responsible Materials, Red List, Responsible Sourcing, Living Economy Sourcing, and Net Positive Waste imperatives.
“The intent of the Materials Petal is to help create a materials economy that is non-toxic, ecologically restorative, and transparent.”
LBC projects that pursue the Materials Petal must select building materials that avoid Red List chemical classes in at least 90% of the project’s new materials by cost and ensure at least 80% of its wood is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Mass timber is a modern take on a building material that has been around for a long time. In an effort to shift away from steel, mass timber construction, which has a much lower embodied carbon footprint, has seen an upward trend. Mass timber for the DC building project was sourced from the region and milled, cut to size, and customized in Rhode Island. The design of the new building highlights mass timber as a structural element, showcasing natural building materials in the project. Inspired by the utilization of this material in the DC project, mass timber is being included in the design for the new WCMA.
Health & Happiness
The Health & Happiness Petal is composed of the Healthy Interior Environment, Healthy Interior Performance, and Access to Nature imperatives.
“The intent of the Health + Happiness Petal is to create healthy spaces that allow all species to thrive by connecting people to nature and ensuring that our indoor spaces have healthy air and natural daylight.”
The Health & Happiness petal prioritizes indoor air quality as well as connecting people on the site to nature and daylight. For the DC project, the building is equipped with a system that ensures the tight, energy-efficient envelope also effectively brings in and circulates fresh outdoor air. In terms of connecting people to nature and daylight, the ample and strategic placement of windows bring light in throughout the building while offering views of the surroundings, including the mountains to the southeast while also attempting to strike the right balance of daylighting and energy efficiency (since windows transfer heat more readily than walls).
The Beauty Petal is composed of the Beauty + Biophilia and Education + Inspiration imperatives.
“The intent of the Beauty Petal is to recognize the need for beauty and the connection to nature as a precursor to caring enough to preserve, conserve, and serve the greater good.”
Though beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, LBC requires the architects to articulate and incorporate what they think are beautiful and biophilic design elements into the project. The project must include elements that “nurture the innate human/nature connection.” The hip roof, which is a roof where all four slides slope downward from the peak, that adorns Rice House and the Rice addition attempt to do just that as its shape mimics the neighboring mountain range.
As part of the Biophilic Design Charette that was facilitated by the design team over zoom in 2020, the building committee’s staff, student, and faculty members were asked to conceptualize how the project will be “uniquely connected to the place, climate, and culture.” That day-long workshop bubbled up the history of black residents in the White Oaks neighborhood and the racism that they faced. This conversation led to identifying wood as the primary facade material reflecting the wooded White Oaks neighborhood. In order to preserve the wood similar to preserving the history of the area a method was used that involves charring the wood based on a 200 year old Japanese tradition.
Additionally, the project will include signage that explain both design features and the relevant petals as well as both the architectural history and social history behind the decision to keep Rice and Jenness Houses, rather than tear down and rebuild.
A few other features worth highlighting are:
- A laptop bar on the bridge between Rice and the Rice addition with a view of Mount Greylock.
- The stormwater system includes a bioswale that runs north-south throughout the entire project, which controls runoff and defines the western edge of the project.
- A diversity of landscape plantings that includes trees and plants, which represent the multitude of cultures in the Williams community. Many plantings won’t be found anywhere else on campus other than the DC project site.
- A fully accessible kitchen that can accommodate two student groups cooking at the same time.
- The building’s ambitious energy use intensity (energyper square foot per year) target, which is in line with ambitious EUIs for other capital projects across campus. The elements of the building that will contribute to its energy goals are an efficient envelope, comprehensive controls and monitoring (which enables our Facilities team to quickly identify and fix any challenges that may arise), and efficient systems within the buildings such as mechanical, lighting, etc.
(Some information drawn from the Living Building Challenge standards)
Information provided by Scott Henderson, Project Manager of DC Construction
Article compiled by Mike Evans, Deputy Director of the Zilkha Center