Between Sage Hall and Osborne Memorial Laboratory, halfway up Science Hill, stands an unfinished building that is beginning to come to life. Its glass façade and timber roof combine to create a look that feels sleek and Scandinavian, modern yet pastoral. At first glance, the building appears to be far from complete. Plastic tarps edge out of gravel. Orange spray-painted plywood lines the walls. Tyvek Commercialwrap covers its frame.
But the new home of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Kroon Hall — a project that began in 2006 — is on schedule and expected to be open by the end of this calendar year, officials at the school say. FES, currently scattered across several buildings across Science Hill, will move into the building over the winter break and begin to host classes there in the spring semester.
When finished, Kroon Hall will include a library, an auditorium, a student learning center, classrooms and offices. The building is expected to require a quarter of the outside power used by other commercial buildings of comparable size.
Indeed, every element of style contributes to the building’s sustainability. The glass lets in natural light. The barn-like roof arcs at a 45-degree angle, a shape ideal for arranging and disguising solar panels as part of the roof.
“All conventional logic of building has been tossed aside,” Chris Meyer, the project supervisor overseeing Kroon Hall, said of the building’s ‘green’ design.
Kroon’s approach to sustainability is two-pronged: It both reduces its environmental footprint and aims to create a healthy environment for occupants, said Stephen Kellert, a professor of social ecology, who—along with FES Dean Gus Speth and Deputy Dean Alan Brewster—came up with the concept for Kroon.
“You put those two together and I think that’s the true sustainability,” he said.
The Kroon building has been built to platinum rating standards according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system of building sustainability administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. Among its cutting edge sustainable features include its use of sustainable building materials — from “thermally inactive” concrete to sustainably harvested wood — as well as its use of solar and geothermal energy and a rainwater harvesting system. This rainwater system will collect and cleanse runoff rainwater to be reused in toilets and landscape irrigation.
Meeting the strict LEED requirements has not been easy. The sandstone used in the building comes from Breyer Hill, Ohio, just under 500 miles from New Haven. This barely met LEED requirements, which specified that the sandstone used for construction couldn’t be quarried from a site farther than 500 miles away, Meyer said.
But Kroon even goes beyond LEED standards—which only emphasize low environmental impact. Kroon’s conception of sustainability also entails the environmental experience of the building itself. In his 2005 book, Building for Life, Kellert describes how the design of a building can impact its occupants’ well-being—and hence, the quality of their work.
For instance, Kroon is designed to maintain a constant climate at all times, despite fluctuations in the outside temperature and humidity.
Inside, the heat has not yet been turned on. But even after the drop to 29 degrees Fahrenheit outside last Thursday, the building remains almost at room temperature — partially due to the concrete from which it is constructed. In the summer, the concrete absorbs heat and keeps the building cool. During the winter, it stores heat energy and releases it at night.
“It’s like heating a rock in the sun,” Meyer said.
Kroon is heated by delivering air up through the floor, he said. While most buildings control climate from the ceiling down, Kroon does the opposite. Meyer said that this is more efficient because the human body senses heat more quickly when it moves vertically upwards. Delivering heat through the floor is also less noisy and limits the amount of air that must be heated, because heat rises, he said.
To maximize natural air circulation and lighting, the building will monitor outside conditions to determine if it is a “green day” or an “amber day.” On green days, occupants will be encouraged to open their windows. On amber days, the system will monitor itself with heat or air-conditioning.
“There is a responsibility to the occupants of the building,” Meyer said.
FES officials call Kroon Hall a landmark for sustainability at Yale. But the University’s work in that area will not end with this building. Brewster said Kroon Hall is envisioned as a prototype for the next generation of University buildings.
“We see this as a model for Yale,” he said. “Certainly the construction folks have been trying to learn from this process so they can incorporate it in future construction plans.”