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Many Shades of Green

By Cheryl Dorschner Article published May 19, 2004

Aiken Finalist
The winning firm's preliminary vision for Aiken includes a waterfall and pond located where Marsh Life Sciences meets Terrill Building, and from it a walkway up through a natural area to the south entrance.

Imagine a greener Aiken: A sod-covered roof for insulation and treating rainwater, perhaps. Or a three-story glass tunnel sliced into the structure to bring light deep into the building. Maybe a waterfall, pond and natural area. These are just a few environmentally nouveau ideas that four nationally renowned architectural firms put on the table during the May 3 and 5 competition to redesign the George D. Aiken Center.

One group even came up with a sundial that not only will register time on a three-story brick wall, but during the solstices its mirrors will set a series of beams of light dancing across the atrium.

Twenty-nine firms vied to participate in the design competition for an environmentally sustainable remodel of the home of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources — an estimated $7-$10 million project for which fundraising has not yet begun. Four winning companies, Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates; Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott, Inc. in association with Michael Singer; Smith Alvarez Sienkiewycz Architects and William Maclay Architects & Planners, were invited to participate in the competition.

All were given the same seven-page, detailed request for proposal with requirements, budget and timeline. Each worked from the same goals for a retrofitted yet expanded Aiken Center with natural lighting, pure air, alternative heating and cooling methods, LEED certification (a rigorous national standard of a building's efficiency and environmental sustainability), reused and recycled materials and a restored landscape.

Building a contest
Their on-campus presentations before more than 100 people were the culmination of nearly two years of work by students, staff, faculty and UVM's Architectural and Engineering Services who planned the contest and articulated their vision for a more comfortable, efficient and sustainable facility.

At the same time, this is barely the beginning.

“We believe that completion of this project would help move UVM into a leadership position among the nation's environmental universities,” says Alan McIntosh, chair of the greening committee. “The new Aiken Center would also serve as a beacon for members of the campus and local communities interested in sustainability.”

But it’s not only the end product — a great building — that interests students and leaders alike. They see the process as a learning tool. Each panel was grilled by the audience, and questions invariably returned to how can students can be involved in every phase. Faculty repeatedly asked how courses might be structured around the building project.

“That the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources chose to do a design competition is a novel approach for UVM,” says Don DeHayes, the school’s dean. “Of course, Provost John Bramley is up to speed on the project and Robert Vaughan (Director of Capital Planning and Management) has been attending meetings.”

But getting so many involved “was a remarkable educational experience,” agreed McIntosh. “Panels of four to eight experts from the four firms not only spoke of their visions for a greener Aiken Center but also talked about the basics of green energy generation, water recycling and landscaping that both beautifies and functions with the building itself to minimize our ecological footprint.”

The school is expected to select the competition winner on May 24. That firm will present a concept at a board of advisors meeting in June. The project will move through the necessary approval processes while the plan and the firm become part of the fundraising for the project.

For more information the contest and some sketches of possible design directions, see Greening Of Aiken.