Award-winning “green” design promotes healthy building, healthy community in $57-million home of School of Nursing
—David R. Bates
The School of Nursing and Student Community Center (SONSCC) is an education building, student nexus, research center and faculty administration building – all in one. Its design speaks to the important relationship between the practice of nursing and the built environment in promoting health-centered lives. Each aspect of the sustainable design promotes health by considering human comfort, indoor air quality, and access to nature.
The SONSCC, which officially opened in October 2004, celebrated its LEED® Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2009. It was the first LEED® Gold building in The University of Texas System, recognized by the USGBC's rating system for the world's greenest, most energy-efficient, and high-performing buildings.
Designed by BNIM Architects of Kansas City, in collaboration with Lake | Flato Architects in San Antonio and a consultant team encompassing 17 disciplines and specialties, the new building’s total cost was $57 million. The 194,000-square-foot, eight-story facility includes approximately 20,000 square feet of state-of-the-art classrooms, a 200-seat auditorium, a café and dining room, a bookstore, a student lounge, student government offices, research laboratories and faculty/administration offices.
Because of the limited space at the site, located adjacent to Grant Fay Park (one of the few protected green spaces within the Texas Medical Center), the SONSCC was designed in several tiers as a “vertical campus.” The lowest two levels contain the most public spaces, the third and fourth floors hold teaching spaces in several configurations, the next three feature faculty and staff offices, as well as the Center for Nursing Research on the fifth floor, and the Dean’s suite and a roof garden reside on the eighth floor.
The challenges of the building site and the strong Houston sun are reflected in the building’s four sides and roof. Each of these five unique façades was designed with its own fenestration and sun-screening strategies, striving to accept desirable daylight while rejecting unwanted heat.
Sustainable design strategies employed to achieve the university’s educational and environmental goals include: Energy efficiency (smart glazing, under-floor air distribution, etc.), low-impact resources and building materials, water efficiency (rainwater harvesting), daylighting and embrace of green space.
Recognized as one of the top “green” academic buildings in the U.S., the SONSCC has received 11 prestigious local, state and national architectural design awards.