Green Roof Keeps Science Mixing Chamber Cool

To establish a fertile environment for the cross-fertilization of ideas, a university needs a meeting place that encourages the mixing of students from various disciplines. This is the thinking behind the new Amsterdam University College (AUC) building in the Netherlands, which employs sustainable techniques to help foster a sense of community.

Designed by Delft-based firm Mecanoo, the 62,400-square-foot building opened in September 2012 and includes many passive techniques, such as an irregular, sloped green roof and plentiful skylights for natural daylight illumination. The tall ceilings and open floor plan provide a space where up to 900 students and faculty can meet comfortably and share ideas.

The new Amsterdam University Colege building, showing its angled green roof. Image via Mecanoo.

The new Amsterdam University College building, showing its angled green roof. Image via Mecanoo.

Located in Amsterdam’s Watergraafsmeer neighborhood, the rust-hued building, clad with corten steel panels, houses the Liberal Arts and Sciences program for AUC, which is a joint program of the University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam. The building is also part of a 5.4 million-square foot Science Park Amsterdam campus that includes several office buildings, laboratories, educational facilities, hotels, conference facilities, sports and cultural facilities, restaurants, and housing.

These two interior views show how the large common areas of the building are lit naturally by overhead skylights. Image via Mecanoo.

These two interior views show how the large common areas of the building are lit naturally by overhead skylights. Image via Mecanoo.

Under the Dutch Government Buildings Agency’s tough GreenCalc+ rating system — an open-ended, points-based indexing system indicating the level of sustainability — the AUC building is designed to operate at or above the 200-point threshold for sustainable buildings, Mecadoo says.

The building also uses ground source storage and thermal massing in its thick concrete walls and foundation to conserve energy for peak loads. “The compact building mass creates an optimal ratio between wall and floor surface, and the relationship between open and closed surfaces in the facade is optimized,” according to the Mecadoo website.

Cutaway schematic illustrating the open mixing-chamber design of the AUC building. Image via Mecanoo.

Cutaway schematic illustrating the open mixing-chamber design of the AUC building. Image via Mecanoo.

The angled roof — covered with sedum to absorb rainwater, insulate the structure and regulate the internal temperature — is a modernist echo of the architecture used in the historic Anna Hoeve farm house, which, along with the AUC, forms the entrance to the Science Park. The troughs of the tilted roof, oriented on a north-south axis, are set diagonally in relation to the rest of the rectangular floor plan, creating an eye-catching, open loft space on the top floor, which is used mostly for quiet study.

Electricity usage is kept at a minimum by daylight monitors and sensors that detect movement, so that lights are automatically turned off in areas not being used. Extensive wood paneling helps soften the acoustics throughout the common areas of the building so multiple conversations among groups can be made more easily.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.