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College of Design

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Little Underground Investigation Between Classes

As a term project for my Architecture and Ecology course (a requirement for the architecture minor), our class was assigned to work in pairs and conduct a comprehensive energy investigation on a building of our choice - the only limitation was that it had to be one which designed and built using strategic sustainable and energy-saving strategies.

My team partner and I looked no farther than across the lawn from our classroom in Rapson Hall, to the Civil Engineering Building less than ten meters away. After some initial research and a stroll in and around the building itself, we quickly learned that the Civil Engineering was no ordinary structure and that it still stands as a revolutionary landmark in underground design implementation .
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Constructed in response to the 1970s OPEC Energy Crisis, the Civil Engineering Building used the most modern technologies and engineering practices of its day to produce a building that descended seven stories (110 feet) underground. Aside from these revolutionary geological engineering feats, the building's design itself also brought about a whole new method of spatial design for its users inside.

Solar technologies were used to beam natural light to the depths of the building whose exterior features comprise of about 5% of the building itself. It is almost entirely underground, but many places within the building are still naturally lit using these unique design practices.

During my research I found a great book in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture Library was written by two U of M alum who set up the Underground Space Research Center in the bottom floor of the Civil Engineering Building in the 1980s and studied its space alongside worldwide examples that existed at the time. Very interesting! It's amazing how subsurface buildings are so dramatically different in so many ways than conventional structures, and we have a famous example right on campus!

Have a good week!

Jesse LaMack - Housing Studies, B.S.