The newest, brightest addition to the University of Rochester is O’Brien Hall, the first dormitory built since 1968. O’Brien Hall houses 148 students in an assortment of singles and doubles and joins Anderson and Wilder Halls to form a new complex known as Jackson Court. While clearly exciting to have a new space to live and explore, O’Brien is exemplary in its sheer demonstration of the commitment the University has to sustainability. Every facet of O’Brien’s design was considered with regards to the environment and student wellbeing.
How do we know these additions are worthwhile? O’Brien’s design was considered against standards decreed by the United States Green Building Council. These standards are famous and known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED consists of ranking systems for the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings, homes, and neighborhoods. There are four levels of LEED – Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. To achieve higher rankings, points are awarded for high performance in implementing environmentally friendly technology and designs.
The focus of the ratings is on waste minimization and sustainable initiatives. Consideration is included in construction practices and water management both before and after construction. LEED puts emphasis on inhabitant’s health as well, leading O’Brien to have very different considerations in occupant health than other living spaces on campus. O’Brien was built with all of these practices at the forefront of design decisions with the goal of achieving LEED Gold.
On the outside, O’Brien is very “green”. New trees were added and new plantings frame the entranceway. According to Campus Planning, Design, and Construction Management, there was an overall net decrease in hardscape (pavement or sidewalk). There are four bioretention areas to diminish the amount of water runoff typically generated by hard surfaces. By capturing and holding water, these areas recharge groundwater. The largest bioretention area is next to the new parking lot. All plantings are native to the region and once established require little to no irrigation.
New public spaces on the first floor should prove to be very popular among students. New dance studio and music practice rooms were met with visible excitement, and the new conference room will be a boon to student organizations. On the other end of the floor is a bicycle storage room with a maximum capacity of 36 bikes. Bike conveniences are emphasized by LEED, and similarly the University is very considerate to bikers by providing numerous racks and free winter storage.
Shared spaces were built with occupant comfort and well-being in mind. Lounges are bordered by huge, ceiling high windows which show beautiful views of Jackson Court and allow for lots of sunlight. Paint was chosen very carefully, and each floor has a different color theme. The furniture is capable of many different configurations giving occupants freedom over their own relaxation space. Every lounge includes a flat screen TV with easy to use equipment. It is clear that much care was taken when designing these living spaces.
Near the lounges are enclosed study spaces with a large whiteboard and another flat screen. A message commonly found on the boards – “This place is awesome!”
Above O’Brien’s entranceway is a green roof. Green roofs absorb sunlight, provide insulation, help lower urban air temperature and thus mitigate the urban heat island effect. O’Brien’s green roof consists of native plantings minimizing its need for maintenance. The green roof is visible from the far right corner of the second floor’s lounge – check it out!
Occupant health was especially measured when considering dorm room furniture and building temperature. O’Brien is the first University dormitory to be fully air-conditioned and each room has its own thermostat. The furniture is made from regional (within 500 miles) and recycled content wood. They were also manufactured without and contain no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or formaldehyde. All furniture and wall finishes are low VOC as well. Following with the theme, rooms have a large window. Monitors in every room gauge the amount of CO2and will automatically adjust outside air volumes. At night, lights adjust to 50% off.
Bathrooms, both public and on living floors, are equipped with low flow toilets, showers, and faucets. The toilets are dual flush activated by pressing the handle up for less water and down for more. The faucets are solar powered and motion activated. The water fountains are also motion activated for accessibility.
O’Brien has an elevator but it is not readily visible. Instead students are invited to use the welcoming sun lit stairs that that overlook the Genesee River and open into the main lounge. The intent is to encourage social interaction, good health, and lower energy consumption. The basement of O’Brien connects to the tunnel under Wilder Tower, bringing O’Brien into contact with all the buildings of Jackson Court.
O’Brien’s main roof consists of bright white gravel and a white border. The choice in color reflects sunlight and thus reduces heat transfer into the building. This decreases the amount of energy needed to cool the building thereby reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. However due to these cooling qualities the building should cost more to heat, right? Fortunately, O’Brien is built with an extensive insulation system called a building envelope. The high performance special insulation foam in the walls and ceilings keeps in heat and works to reduce the overall amount of heating needed. Extra steps like these show the University’s commitment to innovation and sustainability.
O’Brien is the latest project to join the University’s collection of LEED buildings and is the first building on the River Campus to target LEED Gold. Saunders Clinical and Translational Science Research Building is certified Gold. The Robert B. Goergen Biomedical Engineering Building and the new Warner School of Education building are built to LEED standards. This fleet of new buildings, all with considerable design accomplishments, shows the University to be a leader in sustainable design and commitment.
Click here for more photographs taken by University Photographer Adam Fenster.
By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013