CSU Northridge Sustainability Center

The new home for CSU’s Institute for Sustainability and the Associated Students recycling program opened in October of 2017, and has become a showcase of leading-edge sustainable building design, building systems and operations. The building is the first in the Cal State system designed to meet zero-net energy goals, and incorporates water conservation strategies such as composting toilets and a grey water irrigation system. The results of a holistic design approach, the building meets the stringent standards of LEED Platinum, receiving 82 of a possible 100 points, capturing all but a few points in the energy and water categories.

The building is the first in the Cal State system designed to meet zero-net energy goals, and it showcases advanced water conservation strategies including composting toilets and grey water systems.

The project architecturally merges two program elements — a small office building and a larger covered outdoor recycling area — into a single volume. The building serves as a nexus for activity for sustainability education and campus programs, as a resource center and also offering a studio, lab and meeting space for sustainability-oriented groups on campus. The recycling area is ventilated by high wall openings and uses a large high-efficiency fan to moderate the climate for the students who sort and manage campus recyclables, as they provide hands-on assistance moving the campus towards its zero-waste goal. The building development was funded by the student association, which saved for close to ten years to be able to finance the project.

Large overhead fans keep students cool in the outdoor recycling yard.

The design starts with energy efficient lighting, using occupancy and daylight sensors to maximize daylight utilization. Natural ventilation and occupant control are provided via operable windows that are fitted with position sensors allowing the HVAC system to be turned off when windows are open. The HVAC system is a variable-refrigerant flow (VRF) system that enables such highly granular control. The building’s hot water needs are provided for by a solar thermal system, consisting of two flat-plate solar collectors, storage tanks, pumps and controls that bank hot water on sunny days, saving it for use on cloudy days to reduce the use of electrical backup. Following the trend of many ZNE buildings, the building is fully electric and has no natural gas connection.

The building’s low energy needs are expected to be fully met on an annual basis by a grid-connected 24kW photovoltaic rooftop array. An interactive display in the building lobby shows water and energy use — including real-time performance — allowing both building users and visitors to see the building’s progress toward meeting its net-zero goal. The PV array is expected to generate 34,000 kWh per year.

The meeting space opens to a courtyard and to the recyling yard beyond.

In addition to energy concerns, the development team incorporated a broad range of water-conserving strategies. One of the most unusual is the installation of three composting toilets that are expected to save forty-five thousand gallons of water per year. The toilets use a vacuum system to move solids to composting digesters, requiring only ounces of water per flush, breaking down waste with a combination of aerobic microbes, heat and evaporation. The result is a useable compost with a consistency of common soil being used on campus landscaping beds (after testing for harmful microorganisms).

The front and rear of the site provide xeriscaped gardens filled with drought resistant plants chosen to provide habitat and filter stormwater, while remaining compatible with the campus landscaping palette. Water conservation is further advanced through a grey water system in which water from lavatories and showers is filtered, treated with UV light, stored in an underground cistern, and then used when needed for irrigation.

The building houses administrative areas and student work and meeting spaces.

Material selections were also made based on environmental considerations. The building cladding includes fabrication remnants of cementitious panels, and office furniture includes repurposed desks and bases, lowering the overall embodied energy of the project and advancing the center’s goal of waste reduction.

Since the final commissioning of the PV system and permission from LADWP to connect to the grid in June 2018, the solar panels have begun generating the expected kWhs and the building so far is meeting its ZNE goals.

David Crandall, the Associated Students General Manager, notes that the campus and its students have made great strides in addressing sustainability. “[Associated Students] are all very proud to have funded, designed and built CSUN’s first LEED Platinum building and the first Sustainability Center in the CSU.”

Images courtesy of Gensler.

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Green Features
  • The first ZNE building in the CSU system
  • 24kW photovoltaic array
  • Xeriscape garden with grey water system filtration, storage and UV treatment
  • Low energy design with VRF system interlinked to operable windows
  • Composting toilets
  • Solar thermal system
  • Houses campus recycling and many sustainability-focused programs
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