Arcadia University Commons is a Smart Building That Harvests Nature’s Bounty

By Purnell T. Cropper | January 27, 2012

Harvest the rain. Reach into the earth. Soak up the sun. Arcadia’s newest building—the Commons—is a beautiful open design that beckons visitors with its natural light, warm colors and comfortable spaces on the surface and a high-tech sustainability system beneath.

If Grey Towers Castle is known for its ghostly tales, then the new Commons will be known for its “spirits” that turn off the lights when no one is looking and even open the windows to let in the fresh air. It’s a marriage of technology and earth’s bounty that promises a more sustainable future. Some of its “green” features include:

  • Smart windows—Some windows are smart, opening and closing themselves to provide outside air to the building when they sense the pre-programmed need.
  • Smart lights—Lighting in the Commons senses how bright it is outside, decides if there is enough light and turns itself on if there isn’t enough comfortable light.
  • Smart rooms—Occupancy sensors decide if the lights in certain areas need to be on if no one is around. New high-definition videoconferencing that brings global excellence to Arcadia University from around the globe in nanoseconds without any carbon.
  • Low-E insulated glass—Windows in the Commons are coated with a thin layer of metal that reflects radiant infrared energy while letting visible light pass. In the winter, radiant heat is reflected back inside, and in the summer infrared heat radiation from the sun is reflected away.
  • Smart floors—Below the floor, the concrete floors have radiant heat coils buried into the concrete. The unseen coils run heated water from the geo-thermal well system throughout the first floor area of the building, keeping visitors passively warm in the winter.
  • Solar panels—Panels above the balcony provide self-generated electricity by harvesting sunlight. The metal roof on the Commons was designed to accept more solar panels in the future.
  • Geo-thermal heating and cooling—More than four miles of piping connect 42 wells nearly 400 feet deep under Haber Green to utilize nature’s temperate waters, which are stored in the earth, to warm and cool the Commons. The well field was designed to allow for an additional 42 wells for future growth.
  • Rainwater harvesting—An underground system captures and holds rainwater runoff from the roof of the Commons for irrigation of local plant material upon demand. The storm-water retention basin under Haber Green was built with 20 percent additional capacity for future building needs.
  • Natural light—Large window areas allow for additional natural lighting throughout the building.
  • Well water—A well 700 feet deep irrigates Haber Green. No processed city water will be wasted for this purpose.
  • Low-VOC paints—Paints low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are used through the buildings for a healthier indoor air environment.
  • Recycled materials—Virtually all construction-related materials disposed of were recycled for future use.
  • Piggybacking on existing infrastructure—The Commons shares many systems with Kuch. Electrical, elevators, bathrooms, water, fire protection, sprinkler systems, and electrical systems were adapted to accommodate the new building.
  • Energy savings—LED and other low-volt lighting technology and controls are used throughout both buildings, and the highest efficiency HVAC system now cools and heats the Alumni Gymnasium.
  • Sky parks—The new highly insulated, solar reflective flat roofing sections of the Commons and Kuch were designed for future green roofing options and elevated park areas.
Photo by Josh Blustein