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Austin College Science Center: Fostering a Creative Science Environment Through Collaborative Design

Anthony Morra, Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott


We will demonstrate how the design of a new Science Building at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and its site respond to three distinct environmental and human influences:

1. How the interdependence of curriculum and facility design can create a sustainable architectural framework for the biology and environmental studies curriculum. By incorporating sound sustainable design principles, the building itself becomes a laboratory on the interior and exterior to support the many student-faculty interactive research projects. For example, the building is deigned to enable students to conduct a rainfall study based on water collection on the roof.

2. How buildings can be engineered to respond to intense solar exposure and sporadic and heavy rainfall as well as to respond to the aesthetic aspects of the sunlight and water. The specific architectural and engineering elements respond to local climatic conditions, particularly intense solar exposure and sporadic but heavy rainfall.

3. How flexible and human-scaled work environments facilitate social and scientific interaction between the students and faculty both within and across disciplines.


Principals of sustainable design significantly drive the building and site design. The building is sited to respond appropriately to different exposures of the sun and to the solar path. The building's shape seasonally responds in plan and section to the sun's angle of altitude and azimuth to maximize or shield the sun's light and heat. Varying building elevations respond appropriately to sun control based on their exposure to sun, and their energy efficiency is reinforced by vertical and horizontal sunshades, interior light shelves, deep overhangs and low "E" glazing. A sweeping Atrium that follows the sun's path in plan and section will have an ever-changing natural daylighting effect due to its indirect light monitors, light shelves, cascading stairs and overlapping floor levels.

Different roof levels capture and channel rainwater either to a sculptural splash garden or an underground cistern to be used as a primary source of irrigation for landscape. The site will be planted with native vegetation to sustain the natural environment and serve as an exterior laboratory and teaching space.

The building's mechanical systems contain sustainable design features intended to reduce the building energy, chilled water and heating water usage by means of a combination of energy recovery wheels, economizer cycles, VFD's, occupancy sensors and day lighting sensors. "Right-sized" mechanical systems also maximize energy efficiency.

To encourage social and scientific collaboration, our design response includes creating community spaces and interdepartmental science "neighborhoods" for teaching and research that foster the excitement of discovery and the creative spirit in science.

Labs21 Connection:

The Design Team, College Administration and Faculty agreed early in the design phase to establish environmental performance goals in order to reduce the environmental impacts of the new science facility. We targeted overall energy consumption, chilled and heating water consumption, domestic water consumption, building ventilation, artificial lighting utilization, to name a few. We will aggressively pursue and monitor these goals throughout the project. During design, we evaluated potential energy savings options in terms of a "whole building" and "whole systems" approach. We will continue to do so and make decisions based on the overall impact on the environment in relation to the associated costs. We are working closely with our consulting engineers to evaluate design options based on life cycle cost analysis and not just initial costs. Both short and long payback features are being explored. Key components of the design of the mechanical systems are energy and heat recovery, rainwater harvesting, increased utilization of day lighting and automated monitoring and occupancy sensor systems. In addition the users have already adopted building wide recycling programs, aggressive management in chemical inventories and distribution and curriculum supported sustainable oriented research projects and energy consumption monitoring programs.


Anthony J. Morra, AIA, joined Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott in 1996 and was named an Associate in 2000. He is a member of the Science Practice Group and has considerable experience in designing science research and teaching facilities. His projects include The New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Strategic Maritime Research Center at the United States War College, the Biomedical Engineering Building at Washington University, and the New Science Building at Austin College. Mr. Morra received a Master of Architecture from Harvard University and a BA from University of Pennsylvania.

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