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Spring ground breaking for new building at Santa Clara University showcases sustainable design

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Feb. 24, 2005 -- Straw bale walls, photovoltaic cells, recycled textiles, and furniture featuring locally harvested wood are some features that will be a part of the new Kennedy Commons building on   SCU’s Mission campus.

San Francisco architectural firm of Kaplan Mclaughlin Diaz (KMD) has been commissioned to design the new building, which will be the ultimate “green” building on campus and an example of SCU’s commitment to stewardship of the environment and promoting awareness of sustainability. 

The 7,500-square foot building will be a flexible multipurpose space that will include meeting rooms, a kitchen, classrooms, and office and lecture space for faculty and students. Situated in the current concrete Kennedy Mall area on campus, the facility will also have open area for outdoor programming and social events to support the adjacent student residence halls.

“The new building will be the neighborhood center for the students- a place where they can get together to watch a movie, study for finals, or eat pizza,” said Joe Sugg, vice president for operations at SCU. The construction of the project will begin this spring and is scheduled to be completed by the early fall.

“The Commons Building will represent one of the first entirely ‘green’ academic buildings in the U.S. It will represent a landmark design in terms of academic institutions becoming more up to date with sustainable architecture,” said Liz Chaney, KMD’s academic group director.

“Sustainable architecture means that the building is designed with the goal of reducing its impact on the environment,” said Michelle Marvier, assistant professor and executive director of SCU’s Environmental Studies Institute. “Methods to achieve this goal include incorporating recycled materials in the construction phase, choosing materials to minimize polluting emissions, and incorporating technologies that increase energy efficiency,” Marvier said.

Sean Huang, KMD’s design principal said, “The design of the Commons Building works in harmony with the mission style of architecture that is central to SCU’s thematic campus design.  Part of the challenge was to rediscover and revive the inherent vision of the mission style of architecture, as it was first used for warmer climates, and integrating sustainable elements from the past with new technologies to create iconographic design that provides a sense of excitement, flexibility, transparency and modernity.  The building uses a multitude of green materials to create a highly functional and flexible environment that uses the latest energy efficient technology such: as straw bale walls, raised flooring, and natural ventilation.”

Huang also added that the building will accommodate smart classrooms with the latest technology, but will also be designed with movable walls to create flexibility and a variety of experiences.

Santa Clara University is amending our design guidelines to incorporate sustainable architecture in future campus renovations and freestanding buildings. We are proud to be working with KMD and we are committed to becoming one of the first completely green academic institutions in the U.S,” Sugg said

He added that the next few meetings between the University, Santa Clara City officials and the SCU design team will dictate the direction of the overall design and performance of the building.  “Throughout the planning and design phases, a constant dialogue between the design, city and University teams will promote the cultivation of ideas for the student commons,” Sugg said. The involvement of the academic community in the new building is viewed as crucial for the project to be a success. Marvier said faculty and students may even have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and assist with the construction.  “This will serve to reinforce the University’s practical method of educating and will ultimately show a student commons facility that is a true collaborative effort between design, education and the environment,” Marvier said.

About KMD
Since 1963, Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz (KMD) has combined innovation and creativity to provide exceptional healthcare, academic, commercial and corporate architectural services.  Based in
San Francisco, with eight offices in four countries, the firm believes that experimentation and investigation of interpersonal interaction with the built environment are central to their work as architects, planners and researchers. 

KMD designs have been completed in over 25 US states, France, Japan, Korea, Spain, Germany, England and Mexico and have won over 200 design awards, including over thirty-five from AIA (American Institute of Architects). 

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its 8,213 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees. Distinguished nationally by the second-highest graduation rate among all U.S. master’s universities, California's oldest higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice.  More information is online at


Tags: sustainability

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