Architectural engineering students win sustainable building design competition


By Gabrielle Stewart

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Design a two-story, 50,000-square-foot building complete with a cafeteria, office, kitchen and storage space to accommodate 3,000 college students per day. Ensure that everything inside the structure, including windows, walls, air quality, climate control capabilities, water use, energy consumption, electrical design, landscaping and transportation access, meets high sustainability standards in a location that experiences four distinct meteorological seasons.

A team of Penn State architectural engineering (AE) students was tasked with accomplishing these goals in the international 2021 ASHRAE student design competition — and they achieved them to win first place. The winning team beat out 11 teams from the United States, England and Greece.

ASHRAE, formerly known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, sponsors the annual competition to encourage students’ involvement in the design of energy-efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems for Earth’s sustainable future, according to its website. The winning team, which competed in the Integrated Sustainable Building Design category, will be recognized at the ASHRAE Winter Meeting in January 2022 in Las Vegas. They are the second Penn State team to win the category since a joint team consisting of students from Penn State and the University of Denmark took first place in 2018.

The six-student team participated as part of the AE 455: Advanced Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning System Design course taught by William P. Bahnfleth, professor of architectural engineering. Another team in the class competed in the HVAC System Selection category to win a “Rising Star” honorable mention.

“At the beginning of class we were asked which category we wanted to compete in,” said Christopher Maitski, a fifth-year student in the AE department’s integrated bachelor and master of architectural engineering program pursuing the mechanical option with a minor in engineering leadership development. “We all stepped up to do the most challenging competition.”

To meet the green design requirements for the building, which would be located on the University of Northern British Columbia campus in Prince George, Canada, the team members first investigated renewable energy systems. They designed an HVAC system that uses naturally occurring carbon dioxide as the refrigerant, rather than conventionally manufactured refrigerants that can deplete the ozone layer and contribute to climate change. The team also included geothermal heating to reduce the use of non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources, such as natural gas, and their resulting carbon emissions. This low-energy system also provided high-efficiency particle filtration to help promote occupant health, according to Bahnfleth.

“An architectural engineer’s job is to take the architecture and building systems and improve on them, so that in the end you can save energy in your overall facility,” Maitski said.

The team also used the landscape and climate to promote energy efficiency and aesthetic integration with the rest of the campus. Choosing native plants for landscaping eliminated the need to implement irrigation systems and, combined with the team’s plan for roof rainwater harvesting equating to nearly 8,000 gallons per week, significantly increased water use efficiency. The team also prepared calculations that supported the installation of a solar energy array for building electrical loads and ensured that interior spaces would be well lit without becoming too warm.

The team also worked to promote sustainability by improving human interaction with the building and its site.

“One interesting requirement in the integrated sustainability design category was access to transportation,” said Christopher Unis, a fifth-year student in the B.A.E./M.A.E. program mechanical option. “How could we leverage the existing architecture to encourage the use of bikes, electric vehicles and public transportation?”

The team addressed this challenge through a new 40-spot bike shelter and design of solar energy structures for nearby electric vehicle charging that could be implemented in the future. And to encourage use of the city’s bus system and pedestrian access within the campus, the team planned new sidewalks connecting the new and existing structures to bus stops. They opted for a more porous sidewalk concrete to significantly reduce the heat island effect and water runoff associated with more urban settings.

In total, the team’s design attained 72 points on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

“We took on more creative solutions to offer a more sustainable and green building as well as one that is resilient to events like the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Roumany Phan, an AE graduate student in the mechanical option. “Fulfilling those priorities earned our design a LEED Gold certification.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AE 455 was taught remotely. The Penn State teams’ projects consisted of virtual work, including meetings with Bahnfleth and Luke Leung, a Penn State architectural engineering alumnus who served as a professional co-adviser.

Other team members included Xinyan Liu, who earned her master of engineering in AE in May; Andrew McGrail, a fifth-year AE student; and Andre Cosini, a fifth-year AE student.


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