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Wood in architecture
New Haven || Connecticut
When Hopkins Architects was interviewed about designing the new building for Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, project director Mike Taylor and Sir Michael Hopkins took the opportunity to have a look at the university’s plans room. Their main aim was to see the drawings for such important buildings as Louis Kahn’s art gallery, but while they were there they made a discovery that had a vital effect on their design. ‘We saw that Yale had its own forests in New England,’ Taylor explained. ‘We thought then that it could be a masonry building with a timber lining – and that it could use their own timber’.
The result is a building where much of the internal excitement comes from the use of American red oak, on stairs and liningswalls, drawing you up to the most dramatic space on the top floor, and imparting a warmth to the building that might otherwise have been lacking. The building, known as Kroon Hall, occupies a space that was previously a messy backyard. ‘All the good sites have gone now,’ said Taylor, but this positioning on what could fairly be described as a brownfield site accords with the aspirations of the building, which were to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The client wanted the building to score LEED platinum, the highest category in the US system (roughly equivalent to BREEAM). But it wanted to go further, to be carbon neutral. Hopkins designed a building that is one of the greenest in the US, using many approaches that are common in the UK, but unusual in the more extreme climate of New Haven Connecticut, which has hot humid summers and cold winters. Only in the pleasant ‘shoulder seasons’ of spring and autumn is it feasible to rely entirely on natural ventilation. Its approach is one of orientation, high thermal mass and good insulation, to minimise the demand for energy. There is as much natural light as possible, and an exposed southern façade to allow solar gain in winter, but with shading to keep out the high summer sun. Having kept the energy requirement as low as possible, the building then has windows that can open in spring and autumn (there is a system of red and green indicators to show when it is appropriate to do so). The rest of the time the building uses displacement ventilation with heat recovery. Heating and cooling come from heat exchange with geothermal wells that are nearly 500m deep. And there are photovoltaic panels on the roof to provide another source of renewable energy. If all this sounds complex, the building itself is surprisingly simple, a single, barrel-vaulted structure, two storeys high on one side, and three on the other to accommodate a change in level on the site and provide access beneath for service vehicles. It is also a clever piece of placemaking, creating new courtyards on either side of it.
Location: New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Gross Floor Area: 6.208 m2
Architects: Hopkins Architects
Photography: © Morley von Sternberg