Hacker is a proud recipient of a 2016 AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects award for University of Wyoming’s Visual Arts Facility (VAF), a pioneering LEED Platinum facility that has shaped a new approach to health, safety, and sustainability in arts education. The 80,000-SF building consolidates the University’s fine arts program from its scattered locations, establishing a central component of the campus’s new arts district. It also marks a turning point in the campus’s thinking about environmental responsibility.
Many art materials and processes are inherently hazardous; thus, the overarching goal was to promote safe and healthy practices while also addressing a range of environmental performance goals. The building provides a teaching and learning environment that is both state-of-the-art in occupational safety and in its concern for discharge of pollutants from the building’s use.
The building incorporates 15 unique process ventilation systems, bolstering the safety of traditional practices. As a facility contributing to the education of future artists, the VAF serves to cultivate improved methodologies that the students will carry into the world through their own practices and teaching.
The cold clear Wyoming skies together with a vast roof area set the stage for one of the largest solar evacuated tube installations in the U.S. The evacuated tubes sit atop the roof like a crown on the building making a statement for sustainability on a campus that is powered by coal and oil, both physically and financially.
The integrated solar thermal system includes hydronic radiant flooring, domestic hot water, and pretreated outside air for ventilation. Heat recovery is a major contributor to energy performance due to the laboratory style 100% exhaust ventilation throughout the studios. The efficient design also utilizes high performance windows and a well-insulated, airtight building envelope. Altogether, these elements provided 37% of the building’s heating in the first reporting year and is anticipated to reduce 5 to 6 tons of carbon emissions over the next 50 years.
Along with environmental considerations, the VAF design provides spaces that are accessible, flexible, and conducive to technological evolution. Public gathering spaces, critique and display walls, faculty studios, and an adjustable gallery space allow for an expansive flow of creative processes, providing students and faculty with the physical resources desired to facilitate their exploration in the fine arts.
VAF is a testament to what’s possible when an institution and a design team partner in seeking a better way of doing things – and embrace the process of research and discovery this entails. In the case of VAF, the university and our design team are continuing to learn from the building’s ongoing operations and to evolve our collective practices. Measurements and verifications of the project’s energy conservation strategies are supported by 63 different meters that record electrical loads, water usage, gas usage, and HVAC systems – data which led us to discover where further tuning was needed.
This collaboration of owner and architect continuing long after the building is complete is key to this project’s success story as well as its use as a learning tool for all.