Sustainability Tour

In conjunction with our current exhibition, Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925-1970, we are offering programs, tours and lectures that expand the conversation of sustainable design beyond the walls of the museum. Last week, the conversation took place just across Wilder Park on the campus of Elmhurst College, where Bruce Mather gave a tour of the college's Gold-Level LEED certified West Hall residence. Mr. Mather is Elmhurst College's executive director of facilities management and oversaw the design and construction of West Hall, completed in 2008. His hour-long tour gave us insight into each element of construction that makes this building "green."

An interesting concept Mr. Mather brought to our attention was the “green” process of constructing a “green” building. He said that most material used to build West Hall came from local sources in an attempt to reduce emissions from transporting building materials like wood and bricks. In fact, the structure itself does not necessarily resemble the typical,more contemporary design of LEED certified buildings that may first come to mind. Its brick façade with visible wood structural planks make it look like many of the other buildings on Elmhurst College's campus, however its green-ness lies in the details, like its parking lot, which is actually an enormous water retainer. The lot slopes away from the campus to the west, and its brick pavement has gaps that allow excess rainwater to be absorbed into the porous foundation, serving the dual purpose of a lab for chemistry students. Additionally, native plant species with deep roots, like purple prairie coneflower and prairie dock not only beautify the landscape, but absorb and process excess water, as well as maintain the integrity of the foundational soil.

Inside, every fixture is in accordance with the rules of LEED certification, from the low-voltage fluorescent lighting, heat absorbing windows, even sustainably produced fabric for the carpets and furniture. The element that gave West Hall a Gold LEED certificate exists not on the walls, but inside them. The residence utilizes an intricate solar-powered water system that heats water for bathroom and kitchen fixtures. Mr. Mather took us to the building's roof to see the panels and water system on the top floor, and as genius as it is, it has its limitations. Solar panels create the most energy in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky and solar incidence is at its peak. It is also the time when West Hall has its lowest occupancy due to summer break. So while the system does provide hundreds of gallons of hot water for student residents, it will provide less in the winter, when end-of-the-semester stress requires decompression in a long, hot shower. Nonetheless, it is a step toward an alternative system that does not rely solely on gas to heat residential water and truly sets West Hall apart from the other buildings on campus, not to mention in Elmhurst.

Between our ongoing programs, collections management, outside events like EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial (of which we are an associate partner), and preparation for upcoming exhibitions, it's been an incredibly productive September here at EAM. Looking forward to watching the leaves change in the beautiful Wilder Park, attending a whole host of exciting architecture-related public programs at the Museum during the rest of autumn and already anticipating the upcoming inaugural Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial: Chicago Statements, which opens December 12!  We welcome you to come and enjoy all we have to offer.

PG