Portland-based Soderstrom Architects was selected to design a $15 million, multi-use living learning facility on a 100,000-square-foot site that all involved hope will fuel and sustain itself. Soderstrom beat out three other architectural firms in a design competition - one other finalist dropped out - with a plan that includes three initial buildings and then two more in a second phase, each three stories high with about 35 students per floor.
Soderstrom, with engineering help from Eugene's Solarc Architecture and Engineering, took inspiration from Klamath Falls' warm climate and bright skies, and incorporated evacuated tubes and photovoltaics, or PV's, to fuel the majority of the net-zero-energy facility.
When you think of Klamath Falls, you think of the sun, said Dan Danielson, Soderstrom's project architect. It's not like Portland. They get close to 300 days of sunshine, where (in Portland) we can practically count the number of sunny days on one hand. So the big concept is to harvest the solar energy, which is what PV's will do.
All involved consider the project remarkably ambitious - the largest net-zero facility in the United States, according to Joe Holliday, OIT's vice president of student affairs. To make it a reality, Soderstrom and Solarc came up with a three-stage plan - load reduction first, then efficiency and finally on-site renewable energy generation - to keep costs down.
We're trying to make design decisions that save (initial) costs and operation costs, said Mike Hatten, Solarc principal engineer. We're asking, 'What are the appropriate lighting levels? How much light do we need? Where do we need it?' Almost always, that leads us to fewer lights. That's just one example, but there's so much you can do.
To reduce the buildings' energy loads and increase efficiency, the team proposed constructing what Hatten called a working relationship between OIT and the facility's occupants, in which the institution will automate some conservation via timer-controlled light switches and students will make a conscious effort to restrict energy consumption.
One idea I thought was interesting was giving students an energy budget. Or we might have energy competitions among the buildings and have (students) compete for prizes for using the least energy, Holliday said. We're going to need to talk through how much we're going to require the students to do. We know it's not just going to be a place where they live.
Summers at OIT can be hot, but Hatten said the facility will use the Klamath Falls climate to its advantage, via natural ventilation techniques.
One nice thing about Klamath Falls is that early morning temperatures get very, very low, Hatten said. It's an excellent climate for night ventilation to pre-cool offices and classrooms prior to the next day's warm temperatures. And we'll use louvers and wind towers to pre-cool classrooms and maintain comfortable conditions in the majority of spaces.
OIT already heats 95 percent of its campus with geothermal energy, and those resources will play a major role in fueling the residence facility, Hatten said. The buildings will incorporate small base boards or convectors into a passive cooling system, heating rooms either with radiant floors or above-floor radiators.
There's a nice little marriage, Hatten said. There are going to be some spaces that need cooling, and we have some ideas of how to create cool water, first by using solar energy and then supplementing it with geothermal energy. OIT years ago had a geothermal chilling plant and took it out because the technology of the day required a lot of water flow during the summertime. We're bringing it back, but the twist is we're using geothermal only as a backup. With the great solar resource in Klamath Falls, we'll be doing air conditioning with the sun almost all the time.
Although Klamath Falls isn't in a particularly windy area, Soderstrom strove to incorporate wind technologies, which Hatten believes will be the building's most noted feature.
Soderstrom was very interested in integrating vertical-access wind turbines, Hatten said. They're spiral turbines but they look more like moving sculptures. If you look at some of the images they've generated, (the turbines) look like flags but they're really rotating spirals that generate energy whenever the wind is blowing. Their visual design is really a symbol for sustainability.
Although the net-zero goal is ambitious, OIT hopes it shows students just how important sustainability is, said David Ebsen, director of facilities services. After seeing so many different sustainable technologies at play, students will be compelled to restrict energy consumption, he said.
We're trying to teach with this, Ebsen said. We'd never ask a student to submit a project that's 100 percent net-zero. We'd never punish a student for not being able to reach that mark. So 100 percent might not be practical, and it might be hard to achieve, but we want to promote the idea of using new technologies - some of them unproven so far - and to do that we've got to get as close to net zero as we can.
Ebsen hopes the project moves into schematic designs in six to eight months. Danielson is eager to get to work.
When (OIT) called me (to announce Soderstrom had won the design competition), I had kind of an out-of-body experience, Danielson said. This project is on the forefront of sustainable projects in Oregon, if not the entire Northwest. We're so ecstatic.
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