Multiple-choice quiz: One of the newest buildings at the University of California, Davis, is: 1) targeting LEED Gold certification; 2) a prime example of a more holistic view of student health; or 3) the most popular destination on campus?

The answer is 1 and 2; and while it’s unlikely that students will be crowding the health center just to hang out, UC Davis’ new Student Health & Wellness Center certainly makes the grim student infirmary a thing of the past. The 75,000-square-foot facility brings together various student health services, including primary and urgent care, sports medicine, a women’s clinic, and counseling and psychological services, in a sleek, glass-walled building. For San Francisco architecture firm WRNS Studio, whose City of Watsonville Water Resources Center was just named one of the AIA’s Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects of 2010, sustainable design was a given.

“The UC Davis building arrives at this wonderful moment in our thinking about health,” says Bryan Shiles, a principal at WRNS Studio. “These days, there is more awareness of diet and health, and of the pressure that students are under. Student wellness is being pushed to the forefront as something to be taken care of and thought about.”

The new three-story space puts that emphasis on display. All the public parts of the building, where visitors enter, wait, and walk from floor to floor, are visible to passersby through glass curtain walls. The open façade on the north side floods spaces with bright but indirect light. In contrast, the sunny south façade is mostly stucco. The west and east sides, which are difficult to shade, are minimized in the long, thin building shape.

After creating this classic design centered around solar orientation, WRNS looked for other ways to make the building more sustainable. Cooling was a key issue, since medical offices and equipment generate significant heat and summertime temperatures in Davis regularly hit 90 F. A chilled beam system uses considerably less energy than traditional air conditioning and is also used for heating. “Since you’re not blowing large volumes of air, it’s very comfortable and eerily quiet,” says Shiles. The chilled beam system was a first for UC Davis, as was a small green roof over the lobby. “The campus representatives were hesitant, since there weren’t any other green roofs on campus,” says Jill Tomczyk, senior project manager in the university’s design and construction management division. “So we assured them that if the plants died, or it looked horrible, we would replace it with a rock garden.” The green roof is planted with native, drought-tolerant, flowering sedums that the designers expect will need no irrigation once they are established. All the water that is collected on the remainder of the roof is handled on site, draining into a wellness garden on the south side of the building.

The wellness garden features drought-tolerant species that stimulate the senses, such as lamb’s ears, trumpet vines, pineapple guava tress, and orange trees. In addition, one section is devoted to medicinal plants and herbs such as ginko biloba, wormwood, wild lilac, sage, and St. John’s wort. “A committee of campus wellness professionals, the campus landscape architect, the building designer, and my office was assembled to select appropriate planting materials and a layout for the pathways and seating areas,” says Tomczyk. “We were able to implement almost all of the requests from the group in the final design. The garden contains several small ‘pocket’ areas where meditation or reflection is encouraged, and it also contains a vegetable garden that is maintained by the staff of the wellness program.”

When it came to space planning, “we wanted to maximize flexibility, so we created the clinics and rooms so they were interchangeable,” says Brian Milman, an associate partner at WRNS. The firm developed a modular scheme for the spaces. On the second floor, there are four clinics—two primary care clinics and two specialty clinics currently being used for women’s health and dermatology. The layout of each clinic is virtually identical, with offices on the perimeter and exam rooms and nurse stations in the center, and exam rooms and offices are set up in a consistent fashion so that it is relatively easy to covert one pod to another.

Although the project had been designed with LEED Silver in mind, the decision to pursue formal certification for LEED Gold was made at the 11th hour, right before construction began. “We were slightly handicapped, since the design was completely set in stone at that point,” says Tomczyk. “But from day one, WRNS had worked so much sustainability into the project that we were still able to get as far as we did.”

A healthy building for a health center makes perfect sense. After all, while daylighting is fundamental to an energy-efficient building, its positive impact on human health seems all too obvious, though difficult to quantify. One 2005 study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies reported that daylight exposure of at least three hours a day resulted in less stress and higher work satisfaction for nurses. But even for the students, who are there for just a little while, a case of the flu or a sports injury is now a little more bearable. “The transparency of the building lets you see the outdoors,” Tomczyk says. “That’s nice when you’re in a place that you have to be in because you’re sick.”

- Lydia Lee writes about architecture and sustainability from Menlo Park, Calif.

Green team

Architect, interior designer: WRNS Studio,

Client/owner: University of California, Davis,

Mechanical engineer: Guttmann & Blaevoet,

Structural engineer, geotechnical engineer: Rutherford & Chekene,

Electrical engineer, lighting designer: Silverman & Light,

Civil engineer: Sandis,

General contractor: McCarthy Building Cos.,

Landscape architect: Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning,

Materials and Sources

Adhesives, coatings, and sealants: Dow Corning Corp.,

Building management systems and services: Siemens Corp.,


Ceilings: Rulon Co.,; Hunter Douglas Contract,; USG,

Cladding: Alcoa,

Curtain walls: EFCO,

Exterior wall systems: LaHabra Stucco,

Flooring: Pacific Decorative Concrete,; Nora Systems,

Furniture: Steelcase,

Glass: PPG Industries,

HVAC: TROX,; Luppen & Hawley,

Insulation: Owens Corning,

Interior walls: Georgia-Pacific,

Lighting control systems: DSPM,

Masonry, concrete, and stone: Trenwyth,

Metal: Alucobond,

Millwork: Braun Construction Services,; Midmark Corp.,; Lozier Corp.,

Paints and finishes: Frazee Paint,

Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products,

Plumbing and water systems: Airco Mechanical,

Roofing: Fibertite,; American Hydrotech,

Signage: Weidner Architectural Signage,

Structural systems: Gayle Manufacturing Co.,; Glazier Ironworks

Wallcoverings: Xorel,

Windows and doors: EFCO,; VT Industries,; Wilson Partitions,