Hooray! A High-Tech Building That’s Also Humane

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Because I’ve gotten a reputation for being extremely cranky about contemporary design, it’s delightful to find a modern building I can actually rave about.

Kroon Hall, the new home for Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, is an all-too-rare combination of state-of-the-art sustainable design with good architectural citizenship. Designed by the British firm Hopkins Architects with Centerbrook Architects and Planners, Centerbrook, CT, the building is intended to be a showcase of green features that minimize its carbon footprint and also to provide a real-world demonstration of lessons being taught at the school.

But while achieving this primary goal, the architects kept in mind the people who use and pass by the building every day. As a result, Kroon Hall is attracting as much attention for its aesthetics and human-friendly elements as for its green technology. Faculty and students enthuse about how attractive and welcoming the place is for both work and study.

The building’s advanced technology includes solar photovoltaic panels, geothermal wells for heating and cooling, displacement air systems, a green roof, a rainwater harvesting system and cleansing pond and recycled and sustainable building materials. The building also incorporates a lot of traditional – but often neglected – energy-saving features such as generous use of natural daylight and ventilation, stone and concrete masses to help regulate and retain heat and wooden sun screens.

 The wood-paneled, light-filled top floor of Kroon Hall is a big hit with students. Ironically, the building’s popularity has led to unanticipated high student use of computers and lighting – which may cause the building to use more electricity than originally estimated. Photo: Centerbrook Architects

The wood-paneled, light-filled top floor of Kroon Hall is a big hit with students. Ironically, the building’s popularity has led to unanticipated high student use of computers and lighting – which may cause the building to use more electricity than originally estimated. Photo: Centerbrook Architects

The architects expect Kroon will be responsible for 62% less greenhouse gases than an equivalent conventional building. The school will buy offsets to cover the rest and make the building effectively carbon-neutral. Yale is seeking a LEED Platinum Rating for the building from the U. S. Green Building Council.

Great care was taken to integrate the building with its surroundings – both natural and man made. Kroon Hall forms two new courtyards, reintroducing Yale’s historic collegiate urban fabric to Science Hill. The bottom floor has classrooms and a library that lead out to the lower courtyard. Loading docks previously on the site were reorganized underground, beneath a courtyard, and a walkway that formerly led nowhere now takes pedestrians through the courtyard and up Science Hill.

The designers of Kroon Hall were sufficiently self assured so they didn’t feel the need to create a starchitect-style “sculpture as building” or to flaunt the building’s technology. The architects designed a new facility that is people friendly as well as earth friendly. Wouldn’t it be nice if all new “sustainable design” were similarly humane?