New South 40 roof promotes sustainability

| Contributing Reporter

The South 40 House boasts not only new dining options and expanded housing but also brand new environmental sustainability capabilities.

An environmentally friendly “green roof”—containing grass, native plants and approximately 110,000 pounds of soil —debuted in late September. The roof covers a loading dock, kitchen and other areas of the South 40 House’s southern lower level.

The new roof is part of a process that ensures that no newly constructed facilities are certified lower than Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system is a third-party certification program for the design, construction and operation of environmentally friendly buildings.

Currently Washington University is in the process of building Brauer Hall, which seeks to gain a LEED Gold rating. The Village East student apartment building earned a LEED Silver rating in July.

Once the second phase of construction is completed, Washington University will apply for LEED Silver certification for the South 40 House and Umrath House, another new South 40 residential building. Both opened in August.

The South 40 House and Umrath House would be the first LEED-designated residence halls on the South 40.

“What we’re seeing is what we’re trying to make inherent in all our campus construction projects,” said Matt Malten, assistant vice chancellor for sustainability. “This project presented a unique opportunity because is it is where a large majority of our students are living. We did try to pave a connection between the green design and quality of living space from a standard of living stand-point.”

The soil on the roof will absorb runoff, reducing the amount of water that flows into nearby sewers, as well as provide insulation, reducing the building’s energy usage. Additionally, for students, the roof provides lawn space for studying or relaxing.

Part of the next phase of construction is the installation of digital dashboards to give students information about how much energy and water is being consumed in these buildings.

“We’re doing all this work on campus to encourage people to consume less energy and less water, and it would be nice if we had the means to get their feedback,” Malten said.

Greg Frankenfeld, an architect with the firm Mackey Mitchell who was responsible for the planning of the South 40 House and Umrath House, noted the aesthetic value of the green roof.

“When looking at such a large environmental footprint, you have to protect it from weather so you have a roof. Instead of a traditional flat roof, which is not pleasing to look at and can’t really [be used] for anything, this was an opportunity to have a nicer-looking facility,” he said. “[The green roof is] a usable space and green space for students to utilize.”

Students responded positively to the construction of the green roof.

“I think it’s really great that our campus is trying to be environmentally friendly, and they’re taking that into consideration with their new building,” sophomore Carrie Kincaid said. “I really like the idea of a green roof.”

Given the University’s recent announcement of the 30 percent endowment drop, some people have questioned the cost efficiency of sustainability measures such as a green roof.

“It is the proverbial question because [there are] those who have scrutinized LEED rating system as a reason not to pursue LEED certification,” Malten said. “We don’t believe that pursuing LEED certification at a minimum Silver level for the type of building we have will add that much of a cost premium. Any organization, like a university, that has design standards that intend for their buildings to be in place for 50 years or so, are already looking at expensive buildings.”

There is still debate on exactly how much cost the South 40 House and other green structures will save.

“We’re still pushing for good material selections,” Malten said. “We’ve gotten really clear feedback, and we want to be able to provide that real feeling for students. We think that will be crucial, really giving feedback to students on the performance of the building, which is something that is not only valuable for students.”

  • M

    Good news, everyone!

    I’m most excited to see this development (above all others that have occurred) when I return next year for my 5-year reunion.