The University of California at Davis has just opened the doors to the first phase of its West Village complex — an ambitious net zero energy housing and recreation development that will eventually house 3,000 students. The project is the largest energy neutral housing project in the US, boasting superior insulation, solar electric panels, and the use of shading andreflective roofs to remedy hot summers. The project also takes on a technological twist to achieve net zero. In addition to using advanced energy saving techniques inside, including energy monitoring, students can also control various aspects of the building’s consumption straight from their smart phones.

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The huge development is not without precedent in the college town, which rests in the middle of the California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley. Davis has had ground-breaking green neighborhoods since the mid seventies.

West Village is a 205 acre project with 662 apartments by MVE Institutional , 343 single-family homes by Lim Chang Rohling & Associates and commercial and recreation facilities by Studio E Architects. When complete the community will produce 4 Mw of solar electricity onsite — enough to power two-thirds of their energy needs. A biodigester, which was based on a design developed by the school, will help supplement the rest of the energy needs.

The building’s low energy requirements are 50% that of code, utilizing an array of design options like daylighting, smart lighting controls, lots of insulation, and solar heat gain reduction. To get student awareness and involvement in line with achieving low energy consumption, each apartment is hooked up to energy monitoring software. Students can see their real time consumption and even remotely turn off lights and plugs from a smart phone or tablet.

How people use the building will be the key to success — and perhaps this will be the main challenge, as it is hard to design for habits. The University sees this as an ongoing experiment useful for developing and maintaining a low-impact community at scale. Luckily they have a lot of sunshine and plenty of fresh minds that are perhaps better predisposed in their awareness of their consumption habits.

+ UC Davis West Village

+ Lim Chang Rohling & Associates

+ MVE Institutional

+ Studio E Architect

Via Green Building Adviser

Photos UC Davis andStudio E Architects