This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

What's brick, concrete and green all over? La Kretz Hall

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Photos by Reed Hutchinson
Recycled material takes on different shapes in the Institute of the Environment. It’s everywhereyou look — in the chairs, the carpet, the office cubicles, even the tile in the restrooms. With changing rooms for bicyclists, light sensors and ceiling fans, La Kretz is an energy miser that uses innovative materials, imaginative design and the latest in power-saving technology.

On this day, it’s whisper-quiet in the large room where the staff of the UCLA Institute of the Environment (IOE) works. In reality, a silent revolution is in progress here.
It’s in the carpet and the chair offered to visitors. It’s in the padded partitions that make up the office cubicles, the air they breathe, the light that beams down from the room’s 13-foot-high ceiling.

In fact, revolution is pervasive throughout the design of La Kretz Hall, a three-story building where the IOE has been headquartered on the top floor since last June, when the building opened in the Court of Sciences.

At UCLA, the building is ground zero for the green revolution for sustainable design and construction that is transforming the environments where people live and work. A silent mantra seems to echo throughout, challenging building occupants to reduce energy consumption, use recycled content and cut waste. La Kretz Hall is concrete-and-brick proof of how seriously UCLA has taken this charge.

What looks like conventional carpet tiles at the IOE incorporate recycled carpet fibers and ground-up plastic bottles. In the restrooms, the tiles are made of recycled glass. Even the cubicle partitions, Steel-case furniture and the building’s steel structure consist of as much as 80% recycled materials.

Using imaginative design, innovative materials and the latest power-saving technology, architects created an energy miser of a building. La Kretz is so green that it will become the first UCLA building to meet the strict environmental criteria for certification by the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system, regarded as the industry standard for sustainable design, said George Conde, UCLA Capital Programs project director.

The idea to construct a campus building that would be a showcase for sustainable design gained momentum in June 2000 when donor and alumnus Morton La Kretz agreed to help fund a new building that would house classrooms, seminar rooms and office space for the newly formed IOE. Two institute members, Professor Rich Turco, an atmospheric scientist who directed the IOE, and Richard Schoen, an emeritus professor in architecture, were the first to suggest that the institute should have a green building.

UCLA Capital Programs and the SmithGroup, the designers and architects of La Kretz Hall, thought the concept made great sense. After all, shouldn’t the IOE not only talk the talk, but walk the walk?

IOE’s current director, Mary D. Nichols, wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s very important for the institute and for the morale of the people who work here to know that the building we’re in reflects the values we believe in and the commitment of the university to sustainability,” she said.
The site already projected an energy-wise, land-reuse ethic: The building sits on top of a 5-million-gallon water storage tank that was sunk into a slope long before construction started.

During summer nights when electricity costs drop, UCLA’s Cogeneration Plant chills water to 50 degrees, then pumps it into the storage tank. During the day when temperatures soar, pumps send the water through a system of pipes to air condition campus buildings using the cheaply cooled water.

Initially, UCLA administrators wondered whether a green building would cost more than a conventional one to build. But when the scope was fully identified, and costs were under control, everybody got on board, Conde said.

So, in a sense, did the University of California. Just before construction started, UC adopted a landmark “green building” policy in July 2003, committing the entire system to energy efficiency and sustainability in its building projects “to the fullest extent possible.”

La Kretz illustrates just how far that can extend in reality:
• To save energy, the building was designed without internal lobbies or corridors to heat or cool. “Internal lobbies and hallways can account for 20% of the entire building space,” said architect Mark McVay, design principal of SmithGroup’s Los Angeles office. “All the entrances and exits are on the exterior,” as is the building’s main staircase.

• Because people exhale carbon dioxide, there are air quality standards for room air ventilation. In this building, these standards are met using less energy. Fans in the auditorium turn faster or slower, depending on sensors in the room that measure the amount of CO2 in the air.

• The building uses a combination of natural and artificial lighting. Wide expanses of green-tinted glass wrap around the IOE headquarters to allow sunlight to flood the office space. The double-paned windows are coated to let in light waves but to block out heat-carrying ultraviolet waves. On the outside of the building, a horizontal ledge cuts across the tall windows. The ledge acts as a sunshade for office workers inside. But the top of the ledge is actually a sun reflector, which bounces sunlight through the upper part of the windows deep into the room, where it ricochets off the white ceiling and into the space.

• Lighting fixtures disperse a hybrid light. Electric light radiates through a light cover perforated with tiny holes to soften it. But the cover also captures light and bounces it back to the white ceiling, which reflects it back out into the room. The result: a glare-less light that is used more efficiently.

Mary D. Nichols, director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment

• To heat the room in winter, small radiators stand at floor level so that heat flows into the room at foot level and rises. In conventional buildings, heat comes from above. “More warm air must be generated and forced down to where people can feel it,” explained Conde. In the summer, natural ventilation cools most of the IOE space. Ceiling fans draw in air from lower windows and circulate it to the top where it can be released through higher open windows.

• Bike racks as well as a shower and changing room await those who get to work by pedal power.

The man who brought sustainable design to the campus, Morton La Kretz, the principal contributor to the $8.5-million project and member of the Class of 1948, said at inaugural ceremonies that he takes pride in giving his name to an exceptional building that stands for environmental values.

“Long before the environment was such an issue, I believed in conserving and reusing,” said La Kretz. “La Kretz Hall is an endorsement of these values and the perfect home for the Institute of the Environment.”

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