Jury: “This project is showing the way in regards to employing district-scale systems effectively. By using systems that are bigger than individual buildings, they are demonstrating that economies of scale are an important component of the continuing evolution of sustainable design.”

Architect: “We engaged not only faculty, staff, and students in the planning process but also the community to ensure the plan comes to fruition over the next 30 to 40 years. We integrated all the physical elements of where students live, study, and recreate with how people move through campus to create an architectural language unique to our sustainable goals and the Central Valley.” —Tom Lollini, FAIA, campus architect, associate vice chancellor, physical planning, design and construction at UC Merced

The University of California has ambitious plans for its Merced (UC Merced) campus, which is the first new campus for the university in 40 years. Its Long-Range Development Plan  aims to make the 815-acre site the first net-zero-energy, zero waste, and zero-net emissions campus in the country by 2020. By that year, the campus will be able to support 25,000 students on the site, which will be pedestrian-oriented and edged by 30,000 acres of permanently preserved vernal pool grasslands (temporary wetlands that are unique to the region).

The plan, submitted to the COTE Top Ten program by UC Merced, contains four phases. Phase one contains the 1.25 million-square-foot academic core for 5,000 students, and is almost complete. Phase two, currently in design, raises the student body to 10,000 students and the square footage to 2.5 million square feet. Phase three will accommodate 20,000 students on 5 million square feet just before midcentury. Phase four will bring the campus to its total of 25,000 students and 6.25 million square feet.

The plan is based on a compact orthogonal grid and is oriented around a car-free core. Transportation alternatives include an integrated bicycle and pedestrian network along two irrigation canals that bisect the site. The grid is oriented north–south to maximize solar collection.  A 1-megawatt, on-site photovoltaic solar farm generates 20 percent of annual electricity needs and 60 percent of peak needs. The array should generate enough power to meet all of the campus’s electrical needs by 2020.

With a daily temperature variation of up to 30 degrees on site, conditions favor passive environmental systems and heat sinks that will absorb cooler night air to reduce cooling loads during the day and sun from warmer days to reduce heating needs at night. The first classroom office building constructed on site serves a model of energy-saving strategies such as operable windows for small spaces; daylighting in 75 percent of interior spaces; energy-efficient lighting; daylighting controlsl double-pane, low-e glass; and window overhangs to mitigate solar heat gain and glare. Chilled water from a nearby central plant’s thermal energy storage tank is used to cool the building via a variable-air-volume, dual-fan, dual-duct HVAC system. The central plan stores thermal energy in off-peak hours for use during peak hours, and overnight the stored water is discharged through a chilled water loop to cool buildings on campus. This spreads the load out over 24 hours and requires less chilled water.

The first six structures on site have achieved LEED Gold certification or higher, and so far, the phase one buildings are achieving 50 percent of the benchmark energy design targets. The remaining buildings on campus have LEED certification pending. The plan estimates that the combination of renewable energy and energy-efficient buildings will save the campus more than $1 million a year in energy costs.

The long-range plan aims to improve water run-off quality and increase local water infiltration through an integrated bioswale system. Off-campus stormwater from adjacent grasslands is channeled through the open space and street system into ponds and streams in the north and south bowls of the campus. There, it is detained before eventually being released downstream. Two sets of piping on site allow potable water and reclaimed water to remain separated, and future phases of the project address on-site stormwater storage and treatment. The campus already uses 40 percent less water than benchmarks and as of 2012, all irrigation is nonpotable.

An integrated monitoring system is tracking campus energy use and UC Merced is processing the data for use in future projects. Post-occupancy surveys, interviews, and analysis have allowed the project team to monitor efficiencies thus far as third-party analyses have been conducted by the New Building Institute and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Building gross floor area:
6,250,000 square feet
Estimated percent of occupants using public transit, cycling, or walking: 45
Percent of daylight at levels that allow lights to be off during daylight hours: 75
Percent of views to the outdoors: 75
Percent of spaces within 15 feet of an operable window: 40
Percent reduction of regulated potable water: 10
Is potable water used for irrigation: Yes
Percent of rainwater from maximum anticipated 24-hour, two-year storm event that can be managed onsite: 100
Total EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): 11
Net EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): 8
LEED rating: Gold, LEED NC 2009 (six buildings)
Total project cost at time of completion, land excluded: $6 billion

Data and project information provided by architecture firm via AIA COTE Top Ten entry documents.

Click here for an extended Q&A on UC Merced's Long-Range Master Plan and the school's commitment to sustainable design. For more information on each project, as well as a database of past Top Ten projects, visit aiatopten.org.