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Nature-inspired Design: A new transparent jewel transforms student union

Student Union BuildingTo revitalize the Student Union Building at the State University of New York at New Paltz, the institution transformed an existing original 1970's concrete building and an underused courtyard into a welcoming "winter garden" encased in glass and metal. Inspired by the regional landscape of the Catskill Mountains, the form and shape of the Student Union's new atrium is abstracted from the Shawangunk Ridge.

The university wanted to transform the front door appearance to the school, while creating a "living room" for students to gather and socialize, says Benjamin J. Petrick, AIA, with Princeton, N.J.-based ikon.5 architects. Complementing the exterior, the interior of the space was designed for comfort and is filled with many pieces of oversized modernist furniture. Bringing the "crystalline palisade" vision to life, Boonton, N.J.-based Niram Inc. served as general contractor.

Super Sky Products Enterprises LLC, Mequon, Wis., engineered, fabricated and installed the atrium's custom glazing system. The three-story addition is enclosed in 10,150 square feet of multifaceted, vertical, inverted and overhead glass in an aluminum frame and supported by an exposed steel structure. All of the aluminum framing and cladding components for the Super Sky's glazing system were painted by Wausau, Wis.-based Linetec with different colors on the interior and exterior. On the inside, a Bone White 50 percent Kynar PVDF resin coating was used, while on the outside, a Sea Foam Green custom two-coat mica, 70 percent Kynar 500 PVDF resin-based coating was spray-applied and oven-cured.

While not LEED certified, sustainability was also important to the university, requiring the project to meet the guidelines for LEED Silver certification. In addition to sustainable features such as daylighting, outside views, recyclable materials, thermal comfort and indoor air quality, the project features recyclable materials, including recyclable glass in the concrete flooring, radiant heating and cooling, ceramic fritted glass technology and low water use plumbing fixtures.

A key aspect of sustainable finishes is recognized by utilizing materials with low-VOCs to improve interior air quality. Linetec's finishing facility safely and efficiently captures and destroys the VOCs present in liquid solvent-based paints. "We use specialized equipment to safely capture 100 percent of the VOCs released in the painting process, and to destroy these captured VOCs with 98.5 percent efficiency at the factory-before the materials' arrival to the building site," says Linetec's senior marketing specialist, Tammy

Student Union BuildingSchroeder, LEED Green Associate. Schroeder continues, "As the mainstay of architectural coatings, 70 percent PVDF coatings offer the ultimate protection in building performance. These finishes exhibit outstanding resistance to humidity, color change, chalk, gloss loss and chemicals. The reliability and durability of this painted finish helps reduce maintenance, repair and replacement."

Along with the glazing system's recyclable aluminum framing and durable, eco-friendly finishes, the insulated, laminated glass units also support SUNY's sustainability objectives. Owatonna, Minn.-based Viracon Inc.'s VNE2-63 glass was specified to optimize occupants' comfort by reducing solar heat gain and enhance energy efficiency by reducing artificial light and electricity use. The glass also is a design element in itself as its ceramic frit is patterned after an abstracted, digitized version of the Shawangunk Mountains' tectonic plates.

The grand opening of the Student Union Building's Atrium took place on Sept. 13, 2010. Today, this award-winning Campus Commons fulfills its vision offering areas for studying, gaming, dining, conversing, collaborating and connecting.

"The campus' response to the Commons has been overwhelmingly positive," Petrick says. "The university has re-branded their logo to incorporate the form and shape of the 'glass palisade.'"

Additionally, Petrick says the project has won a number of awards, including an American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum and a design award from the New Jersey American Institute of Architects.