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  • Jeff Kronenfeld

Retrofitting Sustainability Part 2: The Local Perspective

In last month’s installment of this two-part series, we discussed retrofitting sustainable systems into historic and existing buildings. While Arizona is a young state — a spritely 107 years-old — it encompasses some buildings of truly remarkable vintage. These include the Mission San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson, established in 1692 with the current structure dating from 1797, and indigenous structures such as Pueblo Grande, which is believed to have been abandoned around 1450. While the carbon footprint and R-value of such storied structures may be surprisingly impressive, this article will confine itself to a few somewhat younger ones.

With at least 13 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places spread about its campuses, ASU has upgraded more historic buildings than any other entity in the Valley. One ongoing example is the University Club, originally known as the Science Hall, completed in 1908. It provides excellent examples of the principles discussed in the previous article. Since it is listed on the historic registry, the renovations required conversations and negotiations between ASU and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The project has been split into two phases to keep the building in use during the school year. The first phase was carried out last summer and saw the building's mechanical systems replaced with new and much more efficient ones. Since this didn’t significantly impact the building’s historic character, it was an easy decision. Much harder was the second phase, which will see all 66 individually-sized windows replaced with modern ones.

“From the average person's perspective, when they look at the building, it doesn't look any different,” explained Bruce Nevel, associate vice president for Facilities Development and Management at ASU. “But, from our perspective, it is now much more efficient with double-pane, aluminum-clad windows of the same dimensions.”

Old Main, dedicated in 1898, was just the second building for the Territorial Normal School, ASU’s original name. From a sustainability and functionality perspective, one of the biggest challenges was equipping the building with modern plumbing. ASU killed two birds with one stone by building an external structure housing the restrooms and elevators, making the building accessible without impacting its historic character. Indeed, the building’s front remains virtually identical to its appearance when Theodore Roosevelt spoke to a large crowd there in 1911. Though it hasn’t yet been upgraded with low-flush toilets, more than 2,500 of the roughly 5,000 public toilets at ASU have, according to Nevel.

The lattice of vees or diamonds gracing the inward curve of Manzanita Hall has been one of ASU's most distinctive architectural features since its completion in 1967. The tallest building in Tempe at the time — and the first post-tension building in Arizona — it was designed by the architectural firm Cartmell and Rossman. It was in desperate need of redesign and improvement when ASU entered into a public-private partnership with American Campus Communities. Architecture and design firm Studio Ma faced sever use constraints and major expectations when brought on to offer a bold redesign.

“The building’s skin had an R-value of less than 3, which is pretty low,” explained Christiana Moss, a principal for Studio Ma. “We created a new skin that was an R-20 behind the lattice, which gave it an additional shading. It reduced energy use by I think five to 10 percent, just because it was shading the building and that was interesting to explore.”

They also increased the amount of natural light and upgraded to LEDs, yielding considerable energy savings. Studio Ma worked on several other projects for ASU, including a significant overhaul of the Memorial Union, one of the University’s most heavily trafficked buildings. Like Manzanita Hall, Memorial Union required a radical rethinking in the face of major constraints. Despite these obstacles, the redesign yielded considerable reductions in energy and water use. It also saw the installation of what is called, Purple Pipe, which — when ASU obtains a greywater supply — will result in an 85 percent water-use reduction for the building, according to Moss. A greywater system could be used to supply ASU’s two large chilled water plants or any number of industrial cooling towers as well.

While much development throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area will involve razing existing structures with interesting histories, ASU has modeled how challenges with retrofitting sustainable systems to historic buildings can be solved through smart engineering and modern technology. At the heart of such efforts are policies that recognize the value existing structures offer, both culturally and in embodied carbon.

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, July/Aug 2019 issue, Vol. 8, No.4. The Arizona Contractor & Community magazine is a bi-monthly publication.

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