Town and gown relationships between higher education facilities and their communities can sometimes be contentious, but the new student center at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., is both a dynamic student space and a community asset. To achieve this balance, Toronto, Canada’s Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSAI) knew that translucence was fundamental for the success of the building—which occupies a prominent main street location in the city at a key campus intersection—to extend a welcome reception. University administrators also wanted to be transparent about their approach to sustainability to both the student population and the larger city.
Creating an open, hospitable building in the piercing New Mexico sun, however, demanded a unique design solution. So DSAI principal Martin Davidson, AIA, turned his attention to a highly intelligent sunshade system. “We wanted sunshades that would offer transparency and lightness by day and bring luminosity to the building at night,” he says. “The sophisticated sunshade system we chose mitigates heat gain in high sun but still opens up the building.”
Placed on the east, west, and south façades, the sunshades are divided into six zones. Large louver blades allow for maximum light penetration. The control system monitors the time of day, light intensity, wind speed and direction, precipitation, and temperature, and then uses this data to calculate the angle of each louver independently on each elevation.
Best of all, students still have total visibility from inside thanks to the sunshades’ strategic deployment. “We braced the system 2 feet off of the main façade, and the sunshades begin 10 feet up from ground level,” explains Davidson. “In the double- and triple-height spaces, this leaves open views at eye-level.”
To prevent heat gain and glare on the third level, DSAI set back the floor plate and added smaller windows and large overhangs for passive shading.
Carefully selected exterior materials give the center a place in Las Vegas’s eclectic design context, which includes Spanish Colonial–style architecture, Southwest regional elements, more modern structures and more than 700 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The student union’s brick and stucco respond to the city’s traditional architecture and Cor-Ten steel is used as a modern interpretation influenced by the regional red sandstone and terra-cotta tile roofs. “The city is a remarkable place and this is the gateway into the university, so we developed a design language and chose materials that blend the historic and new,” Davidson says.
Drawn inside the 65,000-square-foot center, visitors find a three-story atrium animated by student lounge spaces. Skylights filter daylight around a suspended 75-seat student council chamber. Although the emphasis was on student spaces, the public can take advantage of the center’s bookstore, dining facility, theater with retractable seating, and 400-seat ballroom, which is the only space in the region large enough to host conventions and conferences. Additional services such as an ATM, post office, and bagel shop attract the public.
The sunshades greatly reduce the center’s electricity needs and cooling load, and a geothermal well system with two chillers meet 100 percent of the student union building’s heating and cooling needs. Large air-handling units distribute 75 percent of the space conditioning through an underfloor distribution system with the remaining 25 percent descending from overhead.
Energy-efficient lighting and electrical systems combine with the sunshades to offer a reduction of more than 260,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually. As a result of the savings, the local utility gave the university a $26,000 rebate. Natural gas powers kitchen cooking equipment and heats domestic water.
Thanks to water-conserving fixtures such as low-flow bathroom fixtures and service sinks, the project saves 41 percent of water from a model building designed to the Uniform Plumbing Code. A 60,000-gallon cistern collects roof stormwater for use in irrigating the center’s drought-tolerant landscaping.
White reflective membranes cover 60 percent of the roofs, which have been structurally constructed and waterproofed to accommodate a future green roof when funding for the planting system becomes available. DSAI partnered with Albuquerque, N.M.–based Studio Southwest Architects on the joint-venture project, which is pursing LEED Gold certification, and Halcolm Consulting provided LEED services.
By the Numbers
Building gross floor area: 66,762 square feet
Number of permanent occupants and visitors: 80 permanent occupants, 400 students
Percent of the building that is daylit: Zero
Percent of the building that can be ventilated or cooled with operable windows: Zero
Total water used (gallons per year): 168,480
Calculated annual potable water use (gallons per square foot per year): 2.5
Total energy used (kBtu per square foot): 49.18
EPA performance rating: 100
Percent total energy savings: 28.3
LEED rating: Gold (anticipated)
Architect: Studio Southwest Architects, studioswarch.com; Diamond Schmitt Architects, dsai.ca
Client, owner: New Mexico Highland University, nmhu.edu
Mechanical engineer: Arsed Engineering Group
Structural engineer: Chavez-Grieves Consulting Engineers, cg-engrs.com
Electrical engineer: Lopez Engineering, lopezengineering.com
Civil engineer: Walker Engineering
General contractor: Franken Construction, frankenconstruction.com
Landscape architect: Lola–Laboratory of Landscape Architects, lo-la.net/default4.asp
Green consultant: Halcom Consulting, halcomconsulting.com
Adhesives, coatings and sealants: Chem Link
Air, moisture, and vapor barriers: Sto
Building management systems and services, HVAC: Trane
Exterior wall systems: Corten Steel
Flooring: Wood, Helsinki
Furniture: KI, Knoll
Glass: Western Commercial Glass, Guardian
Insulation: Owens Corning
Interior walls: Gypsum Board, USG, MTL Framing Dietrich
Masonry, concrete and stone: Trednstone CMU
Millwork: OG Bradbury
Roofing: Henry Roof, Johns Maville, TPO
Signage: Best Signage System
Shades: Mezmo Shades
Tile: Interceramic, Daltile, Pico
Resilient base: Mannington
Doors: Paylon, Algoma
Marker boards: Claridge
Toilet room accessories: American Specialties
Fire ext cab: Larson
Fire extinguishers: Larsen
Walk in refrigerator/freezer: Kolpak
Kitchen hoods: Captive Aire
Projection screens: Draper
Access floor: TATE