The University of Texas at Austin
  • Sustainability in Practice

    By Tim Green, University Communications
    Published: March 8, 2013

    exterior of new Belo Center for New Media

    Sustainability was a focus in the design and construction of the Forty Acres’s three newest buildings, including the Belo Center for New Media, above. [Belo photos by Roy Mata, courtesy of Flintco.]

    All of the cranes, trucks and construction crews that occupied sections of campus recently have given way to three new, state-of-the-art buildings. And while they are home to diverse disciplines — communications, liberal arts and computer science — the new additions to campus all share a focus on sustainability.

    These buildings — the Belo Center for New Media, the Liberal Arts building and the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex, which includes Dell Computer Science Hall — have opened in the past six months, adding nearly 500,000 square feet of classrooms, study areas, laboratories, auditoriums, meeting rooms and offices to the campus.

    And they are visible examples of the university’s commitment to sustainability. The commitment ranges from everyday concerns like recycling and reducing paper use to how its largest structures are built and operated.

    “Sustainability is never just a technology or a checklist,” says Rustam Mehta, one of two architects from Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects who designed the computer science building. “Every sustainable item should be there because it enhances the appearance of the building, the life of the occupants and the health of the occupants.”

    the dramatic floating stairwell in the Gates-Dell Complex

    Sunlight passes through offices, which ring the perimeter of the building, into interior rooms and hallways of the Gates-Dell Complex. To get the sunlight through and yet give privacy to the office occupants, the architects used prismatic glass. “It throws light further than clear glass because it has this bouncing effect,” says Rustam Mehta of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. “That provides a lot of visual privacy, but you can never roll a shade down and steal the light from the center of the building because it’s kind of an open plan space that’s flexible, adaptable and keeps light moving through the building.” Allowing as much sunlight as possible into the building helps reduce lighting costs and it helps occupants maintain contact with the outdoors. [Photo by Marsha Miller.]

    Sustainable factors start from the ground up: From materials used in the interiors, to modern HVAC systems and even window placements, the buildings feature myriad examples of ways that design, materials and technology reduce the amount of energy and water the buildings use. For example, energy-efficient windows help keep heat or cold from coming in the building, and shadings such as long overhangs also protect the interiors at times of high heat.

    The result is lower long-term costs for operating the buildings, as well as a reduced impact on the environment.

    As the campus’s building inventory turns over, the university requires that new buildings and renovations meet at least the silver standard set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is defined by the U.S. Green Building Council.

    lobby space in the Belo Center for New Media

    Each of the new buildings used a significant amount of recycled materials and took care to recycle waste from the construction. The Belo Center features long-lasting materials, such as the terrazzo floors, as well as wood grown in a certifiably sustained manner.

    LEED ratings range from basic to silver to gold to platinum. The rating is determined by points on a checklist, which covers energy efficiency, water efficiency, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

    The three newest buildings meet the silver standard. By the time final reckoning is done, the Belo Center and Liberal Arts building might be gold. Five other buildings constructed during the past six years have achieved LEED gold.

    a view toward a second-floor balcony in the Liberal Arts building

    In the Liberal Arts building, chilled beams heat and cool more than 28,000 square feet of office space. The technology, long used in Europe but rare in the U.S., uses water flowing through pipes installed in the ceiling. Because the heating and cooling is done in the office, the occupant has more control. It also allowed the architects to reduce the size of the more conventional heating and cooling systems, leaving more room for classrooms, labs and offices. [Photo by Sandy Carson.]

    Saving resources translates into saving money, but it will take time to determine what kind of savings, says Steve Kraal, senior associate vice president in the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management. Comparisons of energy use, where the first savings would be seen, are based on a modeling process that compares the LEED building to a hypothetical building, Kraal explains.

    “We are still learning how that energy modeling process compares to the actual operation of a building,” he says. “Because there are not two side-by-side buildings, one LEED and the other ‘not LEED,’ an effective comparison of building performance is difficult.”

    But with the three newest buildings, “we are much better informed and should be able to make some quantitative assessments of building performance,” he says.

    See slideshows with more photos of the Liberal Arts building, the Belo Center and the Gates-Dell Complex.

    Related links:

    Sustainability Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin Division of Housing & Food Service

    • Quote 2
      Doug Plum said on March 26, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.
      Pierce College in Los Angeles, has undertaken a great renovation to make the campus more green. Also there are filling stations for bottles, to try to eliminate plastic waste. I thought that was a great idea.
    • Quote 2
      Shedric Jenkins said on March 20, 2013 at 1:15 p.m.
      i love this school... Recruit me for football... very talented and a bog threat.
    • Quote 2
      Alan J. Yancelson said on March 14, 2013 at 8:09 p.m.
      Awesome! Keep up the good work UT!!
    • Quote 2
      The Refinishing Touch said on March 11, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.
      As a company that takes great pride in working with higher education institutions to increase sustainability whilst lowering budget commitments – it is always exciting to see a project of this magnitude come to fruition, and it’s great to see the University of Texas at Austin achieve its well-deserved silver and gold LEED ratings. As the article mentions, these new buildings are not the only environmental commitment the university is making. As the building inventory turns over, renovations must also meet LEED requirements, which is a great opportunity for the campus to implement sustainable, budget-friendly tactics, such as furniture refinishing, remanufacturing, and reupholstering solutions, which provide significant cost and carbon emission savings when compared to buying new. As the University of Texas at Austin furthers its commitment to a sustainable campus, we hope other colleges across the nation will continue to follow on the same path.
    • Quote 2
      Jim Walker said on March 11, 2013 at 3:18 p.m.
      If you're interested in seeing an inventory of all UT Austin's green buildings, check out
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