New Air Circulation System Debuts on West Coast

By Jessie Fetterling

The $36 million Mediated Learning Center at De Anza Community College debuts the first buoyancy-driven air circulation system in the West.CUPERTINO, Calif. — A buoyancy-driven air circulation system — one of the first in the West — heats and cools the Mediated Learning Center at De Anza Community College in Cupertino.

This is just part of the design that will help the building achieve LEED Platinum certification. The building has acquired all the necessary LEED points but has yet to be actually certified.

The $36 million, 67,000-square-foot facility for anthropology, sociology and world language students was completed in October and was nominated for the 2012 Structure Award for Best Green Project from the San Jose Business Journal. Tempe, Ariz.-headquartered Sundt Construction Inc. was the general contractor, while Emeryville, Calif.-based Ratcliff was the project architect.

San Francisco-based WSP Flack + Kurtz and its sustainable design service, WSP Built Ecology, created the design for the buoyancy-driven air circulation system, which ventilates more than 80 percent of the building without fan power. Using the laws of science and exact placement of materials, the system enhances indoor air quality by drawing outside air into the building with six air changes per hour.

“The thought process was to use something that would really set the building apart,” said Jason Hughes, senior project engineer for Sundt Construction. “As far as the physical reasons [for building the air circulation system], Flack + Kurtz was able to identify that this area could bear this type of construction.”

While the buoyancy-driven air circulation system is perhaps the most unique green element, another one that stands out in the design is the skylight. “One of the neat features of the building that gets overshadowed by the air circulation system is a 10,000-square-foot skylight,” Hughes said. “This thing is gorgeous. You walk into this atrium and you’re bathed in natural light. It’s really something to behold when you’re on site.”

Other highlights include the rooftop photovoltaic panels, rooftop solar hot water panels, water conservation and water runoff control, and radiant heating in the lobby level.

Hughes said the greatest challenge on the project was fine-tuning the air circulation system, as it was the construction team’s first time building a system of this kind; however, he is really proud of how it worked out. “Because it is such a unique system, we’ve been continually fine-tuning this system based on user needs. It’s been a process to make these minor adjustments to the building control system that really optimizes building performance,” Hughes said.

Although timing differentiates depending on the project, Hughes suggests that future projects using this type of system should bring the contractor team on a lot earlier in the design process “so we could really get an understanding of how the thing comes together. If we had a couple more months in preconstruction, we could have had an even better understanding.”

The two-story building includes two large mediated learning classrooms, 11 medium-sized mediated learning classrooms, study tutorial areas, faculty offices and an outdoor study area, among other spaces. The goal of the project was to create a “state-of-the art learning facility that could accommodate distance learning and teach the occupants of the building about the various sustainability initiatives,” Hughes said.

A dedicated television-recording studio, editing suite and broadcast space are available to students, allowing them to access academic content through different digital media formats.

Sundt Construction is also working on a $6.6 million advanced technology center on the De Anza college campus. The project broke ground in December.

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