Architects: VJAA in association with James Carpenter Design Associates and Transsolar
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Client: Tulane University
Principals in Charge: Vincent James, FAIA; Jennifer Yoos, AIA; Nathan Knutson, AIA
Senior Project Architect: Paul Yaggie, AIA
Consulting Architect: Wayne Troyer Architect, Louisiana
Landscape Architect: Coen + Partners
General Contractor: Broadmoor; Boh Bros. Construction
Constructed area: 13,750 sqm
Budget: US $28,000,000
Project year: 2007
Photographs: © Paul Crosby
The challenge for this project was to transform Tulane’s 100,000 square foot, rigidly compartmentalized, inefficient, mechanically-conditioned student union into a dynamic new Center for University Life. The resulting 150,000 square foot finished project reprograms its existing concrete structure by pairing microclimates with social activity.
This project explores technology as a means of enhancing the traditional New Orleans response to climate. Balconies, canopies, shading, and courtyards create layered spaces similar to this region’s vernacular buildings, which permit variable exchanges of air, light, and programmatic activities. Departing from the original hermetically-sealed envelope that relied completely on mechanical air conditioning, the building operates as a hybrid or mixed-mode system that relies on natural ventilation as well as mechanical conditioning to adjust to changing weather conditions. The project uses a mixture of passive and active systems to temper the micro-climate and maintain a comfortable environment for varying activity levels. Using support from a German climate engineer collaborating with local engineers, technically sophisticated building systems were produced for a range of climatic conditions. These innovative systems address four principles for actively engaging New Orleans’ unique climate while expanding opportunities for the social mixing of different groups.
Expanding The Comfort Zone
Although New Orleans is known for its hot and humid climate, there are prolonged periods during the spring and fall months in which daily conditions fall within the human comfort zone. Introducing shade, radiant cooled surfaces, and air movement, increases thermal comfort and extends the period the building can remain open to the exterior to 5 months, decreasing cooling requirements overall by 42%.
Programmatically, the Center For University Life was organized to facilitate easy movement through the building and provide direct connections with exterior gathering spaces. As a result, the interior is zoned with varying levels of conditioned spaces that respond to activity. Thermal “refuge” zones are maintained as core spaces with a consistent design temperature of 75 degrees and 50% relative humidity, while the more active “tempered zone” has a design temperature of 80 degrees F with 75% RH. This includes the Dining Hall, Commons, and Main Entrance, which act as transitional zones between outdoor spaces and the fully-conditioned thermal refuge of offices and conference rooms.
In addition to operable windows, the building’s social spaces are accompanied by a variety of devices that provide local conditioning. Three 60’ clerestory solar vents admit daylight to the center of the building and provide solar-driven ventilation, while pendulum and wave fans move air across chilled radiant surfaces, and large rotary fans circulate air at the building’s perimeter.
Exterior shading design responds to the specific orientation of the building. Green walls, louver systems, fritted glass, and canopies shade the building as needed, reducing heat gain while still allowing an appropriate amount of indirect daylight thereby reducing dependence on artificial lighting.
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