Stewardship of the environment is an important part of the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia and their new Urban Science Center was designed to be a living laboratory to teach the students there all about that. Embracing sustainability, the new science lab demonstrates a myriad of green building strategies including green roofs, solar power, daylighting, rainwater harvesting, efficient mechanical systems and geothermal exchange. Designed by Philadelphia-based SMP Architects, the new science building provides space for innovative teaching labs for biology, physics and chemistry and fosters independent thinking.
The site, a former brownfield, had to undergo extensive remediation in order to bring it up to acceptable standards. Even after the remediation there were areas that had to be capped to eliminate the chance of water infiltrating down through the ground. An impervious parking lot and the building were located in those areas, while the other areas that could accept infiltration were planted with lush rain gardens. Sited to maximize sunlight into the classrooms, the building forms a courtyard around the gardens and a bridge to the adjacent math department.
Natural daylighting and ventilation play an important role in the design of the building as a way to reduce the use of artificial light and mechanical ventilation wherever possible. Each subject – biology, physics, and chemistry has two labs dedicated to its study. Biology is located downstairs next to the gardens along with the offices and chemistry is located on the top floor in order to minimize duct runs yet ensure proper ventilation. Last but not least, the Physics labs cantilever out over the offices as a way of demonstrating the mechanics of structural design.
A geothermal exchange system buried below the building and driveway provides energy efficient heating and cooling for the labs, offices and classrooms. Green roofs manage stormwater and provide additional space to hold class or perform experiments. Whatever rainwater is not filtrated through the swales and rain gardens is collected in two cisterns in the courtyard for use in the toilets. A rooftop photovoltaic system generates electricity for the building, while a real time display in the lobby provides information on energy generation and use as well as other building statistics. The students not only learn about the world, the environment and science while in class, but they also have the chance to explore and see it in action through the living laboratory.
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