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Tyson's Living Learning Center Races to Be Certified As North America's Greenest Building
The Living Learning Center, a 2,900-square-foot facility built at Washington University's Tyson Research Center, was designed and built to meet the Living Building Challenge of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC).

Tyson's Living Learning Center Races to Be Certified As North America's Greenest Building
Kevin G. Smith, Ph.D., associate director, Tyson Research Center, stated that 16 stated characteristics must be integrated into a successful project, such as net-zero energy and water, habitat exchange, nontoxic materials and beauty and inspiration.

Tyson's Living Learning Center Races to Be Certified As North America's Greenest Building
Rainwater from the building will pass through a filter before it is stored in a 3,000-gallon cistern, which when filled will be able to supply water for the building for 60 days without rain.

Tyson's Living Learning Center Races to Be Certified As North America's Greenest Building
Salvaged windblown trees including Hickory (shown above), Ash, Black Walnut and Red Maple were used in the flooring at the Living Learning Center.
Tyson's Living Learning Center Races to Be Certified As North America's Greenest Building
by Betty Moore,
ST. LOUIS, MO, (, May 31, 2009 - The Living Learning Center at Washington University's Tyson Research Center is on the fast track to becoming one of the first buildings in the nation certified under the Living Building Challenge. That level of green building has yet to be obtained by any of the 60 project teams since the Challenge was launched in November 2006.

Prior to the opening ceremony, May 29, at Tyson, located 20 miles southwest of Washington University's Danforth Campus in St. Louis, staff members were beaming with excitement and pride as they discussed a few of the 16 requirements to earn the coveted recognition of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC).

The flagship building is designed to be a zero energy and zero waste-water building. "Rainwater from the building will pass through a filter before it is stored in a 3,000-gallon cistern," explained Kevin G. Smith, Ph.D., associate director, Tyson Research Center. "Once topped off, the cistern will be able to supply water for the building for 60 days without rain. On average, throughout a year to meet the building's needs is about 8/10 of rain a month and we far exceed that in this area with about 3 inches."

Many materials could not be allowed in the building because of toxicity and environmental contamination during the production of those materials. Smith said PVC was not allowed in the building's construction because the manufacturing process creates dioxin.

Smith said the aggregate pavement surrounding the building is porous and will absorb almost all storm runoff. A 17-kilowatt photovoltaic system will provide power for the facility. The landscaping includes a rain garden planted with Missouri native plants.

The exposed Eastern Red Cedar exterior and interior wood, including Red Maple, Black Walnut, Ash and Hickory that was either from fallen trees or from trees slated for removal as part of the restoration activity on the Tyson grounds. The structural wood came primarily from Pocahontas, Ark., approximately 200 miles away. Smith said this was well within a 500-mile requirement to reduce carbon emissions from transporting materials.

Smith proudly explained that a local woodworker, Scott Wonder of Wonderworks, came out and took down the trees, milled them into floor planks at his facility and then came back to install the floors. "It was an unusual situation in that we were able to cut out so many lengths in the chain between manufacturer and consumer," Smith said.

"The Living Building Challenge which we are competing for is trying to really change the way people think about building and that takes it to the next generation of 'green building,'" stated Jonathan M. Chase, Ph.D., director of the Tyson Research Center and associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.

"It really changed the way we think about things," commented Chase. "And everything was a surprise, from the sustainability issues, to what they are made with, including every little screw, to the fans built in various places," he added.

"A lot of people ask about the cost of green building. If you wanted to build for the full challenge, it would be very expensive," stated Chase. He noted that while you might not be able to go the full nine yards for a 'living building', you could achieved some level with components like the nails, fans, light fixtures and energy efficiency.

Although the desire for a new building had been on back burner for many year, we have had a huge increase in our activities including the high school program that it was decided to get going. We decided to build something really exceptional," stated Chase. "Architect Dan Hellmuth, Hellmuth & Bicknese Architects, came to us with the idea of this living building challenge."

"Part of the Living Building Challenge is education, both for students and outreach," Chase continued. "As part of the internship, families and friends can come out and see what the students are doing and follow their research programs and hopefully bring that experience back to the community through osmosis."

Chase said that high school students from the St. Louis will be among the first to use the Living Learning Center this summer. The outreach program is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) collaborative grant to instruct the interns in ecological research.

"We are trying to bring the Ivory Tower of research to reality and the general public. We also have a collaboration with the Missouri Botanical Garden that we are trying to grow. The Garden owns the Shaw Nature Reserve which provides the environmental educational aspect and we provide the research aspect with the Tyson Research Center," stated Chase.

The building is expected to be the first in the Midwest certified as a "living building" by the CRGBC. The certification will not be final until the building has been operational for one year and can prove its net-zero energy and water use. And, that's a challenge the Tyson Living Learning Center's staff is eager to accept.


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