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Beyond Glass Transforming Learning Environments

With careful use of glass, schools become symbols of wellbeing and energy efficiency. Schools may be found all over the United States. Some of them are brand-new, stunning beacons of distinctive and inventive architecture, while others are relics of a past era with few windows hidden under massive brick and steel fortresses.

George Evans
May 29, 202352783 Shares713284 Views
With careful use of glass, schools become symbols of wellbeing and energy efficiency. Schools may be found all over the United States. Some of them are brand-new, stunning beacons of distinctive and inventive architecture, while others are relics of a past era with few windows hidden under massive brick and steel fortresses.
There was a time when windows incorporated into a school design were seen as nothing more than a distraction for kids with wandering minds, even though it is now widely accepted that natural daylight and large expanses of windows can improve the performance and wellbeing of building occupants, whether children or adults.
Concerns about the cost of heating and air conditioning led to fewer windows and a minimal use of glass in 20th century school designs, among other problems. In the 1970s, as energy costs rose, the widespread use of glass for school exteriors came under scrutiny as bad stewardship of the environment as well as a drain on operational budgets.
The pendulum started to swing toward school designs that contain larger expanses of glass, allowing natural light to flood learning spaces, after decades of studies demonstrated improved performance for students and increased well-being for residents in buildings integrating daylighting principles.
The focus on human health in LEED v4 for New Construction and Renovation differs from past editions of the United States Green Building Councils' (Washington) LEED green building program.
The LEED v4 requirements, which include several factors for enhancing individual human health and well-being while also optimizing energy performance, express recognition of the benefits of daylighting and the capacity to achieve high levels of energy efficiency with substantial amounts of glass.
Among other objectives to earn points in the category, the "Indoor Environmental Quality" category is broken down into subcategories such as daylight and views, thermal comfort, and illumination.

Learning In 20th-century Institutions

Why is there such a fuss over schools built in the 20th century? due to the large number of them still in operation. The average age of public schools is over 50 years, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington.
Numerous "old design" schools lack energy efficiency and fail to provide the advantages of greater learning and improved performance found in settings where daylighting principles have been used. The need for design professionals to step in and transform these schools into energy-efficient, healthful, and light-filled places for 21st-century learning settings is urgent.
Schools are currently the third-largest energy consumers in the United States, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, Washington, which estimates that 10% of all energy used in non-residential buildings is utilized by schools.
Annual energy costs for K–12 schools are $8 billion, and universities and colleges spend an additional $6 billion on energy, which is more than what is spent on computers and textbooks combined.
Can energy efficiency and natural light coexist? Although statistics showing current energy use in schools may suggest differently, the answer is "yes." Beautiful, effective, and light-filled schools are a reality when technologically advanced glass solutions that deliver design aesthetics and high-level coding performance are implemented.
The most exacting code requirements are met and exceeded by low-emissivity (low-e) coated glass products. These high-performance glass options go above and beyond what is necessary right now, putting architects and other design experts in a position to take on the challenge of creating schools of the future.
In order to achieve the performance standards for projects in every part of the nation, options are available. With spectrally selective glazing, architects, designers, specifiers, and glass fabricators may address solar heat gain (SHG), insulating value, and visible light transmission (VLT) levels, while giving each project a special vision.

Sandy Hook Elementary

Svigals + Partners LLP, New Haven, Connecticut, was chosen in September 2013 to design a new 86,800 square foot school in Newtown, Connecticut. Town officials, government bodies, community organizations, neighbors, parents, teachers, and school administrators all contributed to the collaborative designprocess.
Additionally, the school's design was intended to meet LEED Gold criteria. The result of the fruitful process was the Sandy Hook School, which began operations for the first time in August 2016.
The school was built with a north-facing, undulating wood façade along the southern edge of the property as a consequence of the collaborative design process.
Large classroom wings with glass walls towards the back of the building benefit from southern daylight and views of forested wetlands. The school's main lobby is illuminated by natural light thanks to a two-story window wall made of colored and clear glass.
Julia McFadden, AIA, associate principal, Svigals + Partners said,
Our use of glass helps students connect to the natural beauty of the site, and it also allows in lots of sunlight and views that help make schools more nurturing and healthy. Colored daylight splashing across the lobby adds a warm and inspiring touch.
To make this concept work best, we designed the building and site for the best possible daylighting in the fall, winter, and spring," McFadden stated. For the purpose of minimizing thermal bridging and lowering unwelcome solar heat gain, Svigals + Partners specified insulated glass modules and frame.
For the best possible solar management as well as a neutral look and low reflectance, the glass panels are specified with specialist coatings. The glass nevertheless provides strong visible light transmission to boost daylighting effectiveness.
To enhance energy efficiency and available daylight harvesting, two distinct types of glass coatings were employed, one for north facing windows and another for E/S/W orientations.
We used colorful vertical fins to assist shield direct sunlight because the classroom wings' difficult orientations (southeast and southwest) without sacrificing the quantity of glazing, lighting, and vistas.
The project's environmental and lighting design consultants were from Atelier Ten in New York. By maximizing the building envelope with well-insulated wall and roof construction, high-performance glass, and curtain-wall systems, a savings in energy costs of 35.1% was made possible.
Larry Jones, LEED AP BD+C, associate director at Atelier Ten, said:
Various glazing types were studied throughout design from triple glazing to high-performance, double-glazed units. The building was constructed using double-glazed, low-e units with a U-value equal to .28 and SHGC equal to .40 for the northern orientations and U-value equal to .29 and SHGC equal to .30 for all other orientations.- Larry Jones

New England's "Living Building"

Is it possible to use glass in architecture and still achieve energy criteria that have won awards? The 17,000 square foot R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, was created with the intention of earning the Living Building Challenge certification.
The International Living Future Institute, located in Seattle, defines a "Living Building" as one that generates more resources than it consumes. The Kern Center is acknowledged as the largest Living Building in New England when the one-year anniversary of reaching this benchmark is celebrated.
The Kern Center was designed by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Bruner/Cott & Associates to be a self-sufficient structure that generates its own electricity and water on-site.
Locally obtained and red-list chemical-free building materials were used in its construction. A floor-to-ceiling glass pavilion with locally produced high-performance windows that have triple-pane glazing and high-efficiency coatings is incorporated into the design.
The center, two-story glass pavilion was constructed with low-e glass, which meets stringent Massachusetts building requirements for energy efficiency while simultaneously providing thermal insulation with passive SHG and high VLT for an abundance of sunshine.
For better thermal insulation, the triple-pane design has passive solar coating on surface number 5 and solar-control low-e coating on surface number 2. A nearly invisible coating provides a neutral, clean appearance with a low amount of reflectance both inside and outside.
With the help of these elements, architects and other design experts may use glass as both a design element and a source of light without sacrificing energy efficiency or the advantages of daylighting.
In South Easton, Massachusetts, Solar Seal vice president of sales and marketing Brian Shaw claims that "the Energy Select low-e glass coatings on the number two and five glass surfaces gave us a high visible light transmission of 61% for the curtain wall, and the half-inch thermally broken spacer and Argon gas in both air spaces of the insulating glass units allowed us to attain a desirable U-value of 0.13."

R.W. Kern Center Details

The R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, was built with the intention of earning the Living Building Challenge certification. The facility's performance attributes as a result of the installation setup as stated are as follows:
  • Winter U-factor/U-value: 0.13.
  • Summer U-factor/U-value: 0.13.
  • Solar heat gain coefficient: 0.34.
  • Shading coefficient: 0.39.
  • Relative heat gain (Btu/hr-ft2): 80.
  • Light to solar gain: 1.78.
  • Visible light transmittance: 61%.
  • UV-transmittance: 10%.
  • Solar energy transmittance: 28%.
  • Visible reflectance out 14%.
  • Visible reflectance in 16%.
  • Reflectance solar energy out 32%.

Frederick County Middle School

Frederick County Middle School (FCMS), located in Winchester, Virginia, was built with the goal of fostering a community-serving, collaborative, and student-centered learning environment.
The design deviates from conventional ideas of school design and was created by Stantec Architecture, Charlottesville, Virginia, with input from advocates for students, teachers, and citizen groups.
Open learning areas with movable benches and tables were included in the design of the spaces to give students a flexible, creative environment. With continuous sightlines, floor to ceiling glass walls define classrooms.
High-performance glass with cutting-edge coating technology was employed, including Energy Select 28 on the number 2 surface, to achieve the benefits of daylighting while upholding energy-efficiency goals.
The principal at Stantec Architecture, Rob Winstead, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB, said:
Glazing was a critical component of a high-performance building envelope. Glazing properties including U-value, SHGC, and VLT were carefully considered during the design, specification, and submittal process. External shading devices are tuned to the specific solar orientation. Interior light-shelves and advanced lighting controls maximize available daylight. A green light indicator communicates when temperature and humidity are such that operable units allow natural ventilation of all primary instructional spaces. These strategies contribute to a building that is designed to use 70% less energy than a typical school in the region.- Rob Winstead
Winstead noted the value of daylight in educational spaces. “Research has demonstrated that daylight and views directly affect learning outcomes and improve health and wellness. Dramatic views of the site are a major part of the experience of the building, connecting students to nature and inviting them to make use of a variety of landscaped outdoor spaces designed specifically for learning,”he said.
Glass was used in the architecture of FCMS to capture light, showcase views of the surroundings, and foster connections in the learning environment, according to Winstead.
All of the teaching areas that make up the Small Learning Communities include windows that are strategically placed and positioned to maximize natural light. The Learning Commons, a large central area that serves as the heart of the school, is illuminated and furnished with views thanks to extensive glass sections.
Designers were able to produce a desirable neutral glass appearance to go with the school's stone and brick facade by making wise glass choices. Winstead discussed how glass and organic elements were combined. “As a design element, the glazing at FCMS was intended to ‘disappear’, a transparent thermal membrane spanning between masonry elements of stone and brick and the hovering wood ceiling floating above major public spaces. In this way, the beauty of site is integral to the experience of the building and becomes a natural extension of the learning environment. The blue-green tint and the precise, cool, and reflective properties of the glazing systems are an effective counterpoint to the warm and rough qualities of the masonry and wood. Daylight and the ever-changing qualities of the site animate the interior space and the building glows like a lantern at night–a beacon in an underserved part of the community.”
Frederick County Middle School has been named a Platinum Level Green School by the Virginia School Boards Association, the highest honor in the Green School Challenge, for combining beauty and energy efficiency successfully.

Design Inspiration From Glass

Architects and designers are in a great position to construct high-performance schools that improve student achievement while offering energy efficiency that fulfill tight code requirements as schools become outdated and are refurbished or replaced with new facilities.
Because daylighting principles are used in designs with lots of glass features to optimize the advantages of natural light, it is known that kids perform better when exposed to it.


Making the proper product selection is made simpler as well as more inspiring for design professionals by glass producers who invest in new technologies and continue to develop higher energy efficiency and control systems for managing light transmission and solar heat gain.
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