Bill Timmerman

Continuing our coverage of the 2014 AIA COTE Top Ten green projects, this article is part of a series of 10 pieces that examine a specific, defining design challenge or innovation of each of this year's winners.

Arguably the most distinctive feature of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Tempe campus is the historic Palm Walk, a pedestrian mall through a half-mile allée of 70- to 90-foot-tall Mexican Fan Palms, some of which are 100 years old. In addition to its aesthetic and symbolic value to the campus, the Palm Walk acts as “connective tissue” and an organizing element for campus buildings.

It was particularly unfortunate, then, that the university’s old Health Services Building (ASU HSB), located on one end of the Walk, had no relationship to this important pedestrian spine. However, thanks to a sustainable renovation of the building led by Lake|Flato Architects in partnership with Orcutt|Winslow, that is no longer the case.

The ASU building provides both general and women’s health services to the 60,000-student campus. Despite this essential role, the original building was nondescript and sterile, with a disjointed plan that included both a sprawling one-story section and a two-story wing. Originally, the design team sought to simply renovate the existing building. After a thorough programming and cost-analysis process, however, the architects found that the most efficient solution involved deconstructing the oldest single-story section, renovating the 14,500-square-foot, two-story wing, and constructing a new 20,000-square-foot, two-story addition. The resulting building reduced the building’s footprint by one-fifth and preserved 5,000 square feet of open green space.

Because of the redesign and increased efficiency, says Andrew Herdeg, FAIA, a partner with Lake|Flato, “we were able to focus the energy of the building on the Palm Walk and preserve open green space that could be used for both programs and stormwater management.”

Most significantly, the design team reoriented the building so that its entry pavilion is now located at the intersection of the Palm Walk and University Drive, the main city street that cuts across the campus. To further strengthen the connection between building and campus, the design replaced 10,000 square feet of turf grass with native landscaping that further ties into the arid region in general and the Palm Walk in particular. Small landscaped courts also serve as outdoor gathering and waiting areas for students and others using the building.

The building’s site and climate were factored into the design in more direct ways as well. The team devised passive solutions to reduce the building’s thermal loads, orienting clinics and offices along the south and west sides to minimize the need for glazing along these sun-blasted elevations. Broad roof overhangs provide natural shade to the south-facing glass, and vertical sunshades on the south and west also provide privacy and reduce solar gain. These measures, along with an on-site, 69-kW photovoltaic array, high-efficiency mechanical systems, and ample daylighting, have resulted in a 49 percent energy reduction below the standard for similar buildings.

In judging the project for the AIA, the COTE jury praised the ASU HSB as emblematic of a trend toward biophilic design. Jury member Fritz Steiner, AIA, said that the ASU building “made profound connections with the deep structures of the place, that is, with the fundamental natural and cultural processes where they were located.” Jury member Catherine Gavin called the ASU design “an elegant response to a very historic, high-traffic corridor of the campus.”

Click here to access our full coverage of the 2014 AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects, including more information on each project, additional images, and exclusive Q&As with each winning firm.