A Sense of Stewardship

On the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, Chou Hall is a leading example of the practice of sustainable development.

Recognizing sustainability and climate resilience as the foundation of human health is the imperative of our time and the challenge of our future. As we re-orient ourselves in response, higher education institutions have a critical role to play, leading the transformation toward sustainable development. Our universities and colleges convene, manage, and create knowledge—they influence and equip students with the skills and values to participate in and steer the future. To that end, students need to engage in authentic and experiential learning to develop a meaningful sense of stewardship. Moreover, the practice of sustainable development is inherently transdisciplinary, requiring the full spectrum of perspectives and wisdom to balance the social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

Business and management are key influencers not only in the economic sphere, but also social and environmental too, as companies and financial investment have moved well beyond traditional ideas of corporate social responsibility, reimagining mechanisms such as financing and investment, organizational structure, and labor to address diversity and inclusion, natural resources, and ecological restoration. As a leading institution, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, recognized a new building as a chance to embed sustainability as the foundation of design and operations, making it part of the experience, to not only reflect ideas of sustainability, but to also inspire them.

Prioritizing Health

Pursuing LEED and WELL certification during the design and construction process of Chou Hall at the Hass School of Business made explicit the intent to prioritize human and environmental health, and the building expresses this in its experience. The unique site topography and natural environment connect inhabitants with the surrounding redwood grove. Referencing authentic site conditions, such as the Strawberry Creek creek bed, it embraces the site topography, ascending and descending with the slope of the earth. The building fits neatly into the existing fabric of the campus, offering excellent access to transportation and existing amenities.

Biophilic design elements create a synergy between quality of space and building performance, resulting in an environment that enhances human health, comfort, and performance. The building respects solar and view orientations, but also the existing site character, to protect and celebrate the beautiful surrounding oak and redwood trees, inviting them into the everyday experience of the building interior.

Natural light and views, a sense of prospect and places of refuge, the warmth and beauty of wood both inside and out and as part of the board-form finish on the walls, offer inhabitants a connection with natural systems and rhythms of the day. 

A natural aesthetic throughout the building is maintained by limiting finishes, offering a clear reading of the architecture. Wood, glass, and exposed concrete make up the bulk of the material palette and the robust and integral nature of these materials will result in less replacement, maintenance, and waste over the life of the building. In addition, all materials were screened for substances of concern to reduce exposure for building inhabitants and across the supply chain. Air quality is further enhanced with windows that open to invite fresh air and natural ventilation. 

Energy Efficiency

Extensive use of daylight limits the need for electric lighting, and building systems deliver a comfortable indoor experience with efficiency. The heating and cooling system is separate from the ventilation system to allow for optimized equipment and occupant control and a dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) and chilled beams system provide heating and cooling to the space. Exterior shading controls solar heat gain, helping to maintain thermal comfort and manage glare. A 75kW photovoltaic system generates 113,500 kilowatt hours of renewable of energy on-site, off-setting approximately 25 percent of total building electricity use.

Water is managed carefully both inside and outside the building. The landscape slows and treats stormwater, and demand for potable water inside the building is reduced with highly efficient fixtures. Potable water use is reduced further by diverting rainwater, collected and stored in cisterns, to flush toilets.  

Building operations at Chou Hall further embed best practices for sustainability and human health, ensuring the experience of the building remains authentic beyond the foundation established as part of design and construction. Café Think on level two serves only locally sourced food that meets the rigorous nutrition requirements of the WELL Standard and uses only reusable, recyclable, or compostable materials, significantly reducing waste generated on site. In fact, after the building was complete and occupied, Haas initiated a Zero Waste program at Chou Hall, and now diverts at least 90 percent of solid waste from landfills and incineration, earning TRUE Zero Waste Platinum certification in 2018—a first for any business school.

An Example of Leadership

Finally, early in 2019, undergraduates at Haas launched the first ever sustainability report to benchmark building and operations performance and track it over time at Chou Hall and other facilities on campus. As a student-led initiative, this is an example of the leadership and active engagement as stewards of the future the building experience hopes to inspire.

About the Author

Rebecca Holt is a senior sustainable building advisor and researcher with Perkins+Will’s Research team. She has been consulting on a variety of work related to sustainability concepts and high-performance building design for more than 12 years. She contributes to community energy plans, sustainability plans and policy, green building strategies, indicator and benchmarking programs, and sustainable land use plans.

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