Red, Blue and Green: Old Main Renovation Reflects UA Commitment to Sustainability
As part of the restoration, contemporary technology like lights that turn themselves off is being integrated with the building's original green features.

By Shelley Littin, University Relations - Communications
April 21, 2014

Old Main.jpg

Photo credit: Gary Mackender
Photo credit: Gary Mackender

The renovation of Old Main, the University of Arizona's first building, is focusing not only on modernization and beautification, but also on sustainability.

Old Main, which opened its doors in 1891, was originally designed with features that protected it from harsh desert elements, such as intense sun and the high winds and rain that come with monsoons.  Its iconic wraparound porch, high ceilings and windows allowing for cross ventilation were effective and maintained the structure's condition over time, according to Corky Poster, the principal architect and planner of Tucson's Poster Frost Mirto Inc., which is leading the restoration project.

"Sustainability is part of the lifetime of Old Main," Poster said. "The main core building is in nearly perfect condition. All the windows are original and still operate and the walls are thick, providing insulation."

The building's placement – partially submerged in the ground – also helps keep Old Main cool, Poster explained.

"If you look at the Hohokam pit houses in this region, they're built about 3 feet down in the ground. Old Main really models the indigenous green building techniques that preceded our building in this area."

In order to best restore and make Old Main even more efficient, Poster's team is integrating "contemporary technology" with the smart building sustainability designs that were done originally, Poster said. "The building will have modern plumbing and electronic controls for heating and cooling, connected to the University's central plan to save energy."

The building is designed to be 10 percent more energy efficient than the baseline for a project of this type, said Charles Pifer, an architect with Poster Frost Mirto.

"To achieve this, cutting-edge LED lighting was installed for the majority of interior and exterior lighting. These lights are controlled by a sophisticated system that turns the lights off automatically when rooms are unoccupied. It's an odd combination of old-fashioned good ideas and new technology," he said.

Renovations to the building will enable it to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards.

"There's a very specific standard of green sustainability, which includes monitoring the amount of waste on the site, maintenance in the future, energy efficiency, water efficiency and reducing or eliminating any toxic substances in the building," Poster said.

"Sustainability is not a snapshot. It's the process by which the building is built, such as reducing waste and ensuring safety during construction. It's the building process itself, and it's also the operation and maintenance of the building over time. We are working closely with Sundt Construction and UA Planning, Design and Construction to make all of this sustainable."

Old Main is one of many buildings on campus reflect the University's commitment to sustainable building design.

The first campus recreation center in the country to receive Platinum LEED certification, the UA Student Recreation Center's sustainable features include recycled rubber flooring, features for water harvesting, high-efficiency lighting and 346 rooftop vacuum-tube solar thermal conductors that harvest around 2 million kilowatt hours of solar energy each year.

The UA's Meinel Optical Sciences building and Stevie Eller Dance Theatre were both constructed with sustainable materials, and are both included among Arizona's 18 Greatest Architectural Achievements, a list compiled by the Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Meinel was the first building in Southern Arizona to win a national AIA award. The building's copper outer layer shields its concrete walls from the sun, and as the weather warms, natural ventilation created by air rising in the space between the copper layer and walls moderates the building's temperature. The building's north-side glass façade allows for natural lighting.

In addition, a green roof atop the UA's College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture shades the building and captures rainfall.

The renovations to Old Main are scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014. The project is being funded with donations.


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