Sustainability on Display

By Megan Browning

Set on a beautiful 17-acre campus in the residential community of Ross, Calif., the Branson School has a rich history dating back to the 1920s. In an effort to create a greater sense of campus community, plans were set forth to build a new multi-purpose student commons area situated between the upper and lower campuses. With the ultimate goal of bringing the outdoors in, school administrators teamed up with Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects to design and build a 7,500-square-foot LEED Platinum certified structure that would provide energy-efficient comfort while embracing the local climate.

“We did a digital rendering of the fluid dynamic model to optimize the airflow to the building,” Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Associate John Kleman explained. Based on these results, architects altered the size of the operable windows and openings to take full advantage of the building’s orientation and prevailing winds. The additions of two 10-foot diameter high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans, built with direct drive motors, keep the air moving throughout the building and were integral to the design strategy. “After evaluating our options, we thought, 'Let’s not condition the air, but use the climate that we have,'” said Mary Griffin, FAIA, Turnbull Griffin Haesloop. “We wanted students to eat outdoors as many days of the year as possible, so having the building open to allow them to go in and out was really important.” With the new facility serving as the heart of campus activity for students, comfort was a necessity. The HVLS fans do not lower the space temperature, but rather create a perceived cooling effect with silent air movement allowing occupants to feel up to 10F cooler. “The fans magnify the air movement through the building," Kleman said. "I’ve been in the commons on days over 90 degrees and it’s perfectly comfortable.”

While helping bring the outdoors in, HVLS fans serve as more than just a means of air circulation. Because these fans use their immense size, not speed to move impressive amounts of air with minimal electrical input, they also fit in with the school’s energy efficiency initiatives. Other sustainable features include a living roof, radiant heating, solar panels and large flexible doors that create an open dining experience in fine weather. “The building is an educational tool,” Kleman remarked. “There is curriculum built around the LEED program and understanding how buildings can contribute to sustainability.” Maintaining the community’s rich cultural traditions, popularity of the new student commons is reaching beyond Branson students as the facility has also become a venue for community events. “The student commons has been so popular we actually have another local school wanting to use it for events,” Facilities Director Dave Schneider remarked.

Megan Browning is a writer for Big Ass Fans®, the world’s preeminent designer and manufacturer of large-diameter, low-speed fans.

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