The Cummings Library and Collaboratory—a living lab and window into the life of a sustainable building.March 11, 2021
The Cummings Library and Collaboratory is an addition that—in a regular academic year—acts as a central hub for student activity at Hamilton’s Mohawk College. Integrating various learning spaces that are fully connected, the multi-functional design provides a foundation for dynamic, collaborative learning. While the Cummings Library and Collaboratory acts as an important meeting place for students and faculty alike, the building itself also doubles as an experiential classroom, and has been designed to showcase the many critical systems that are key to day-to-day operations.
Dubbed a living lab, the structure can be used by Mohawk’s Engineering Technology program and has been designed as such. Many of its inner workings are fully exposed: mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as controls and manifolds for an in-slab, hydronic piping system that efficiently cools and heats the space. A classroom-sized mechanical room, designed to accommodate larger student groups, facilitates the monitoring of the facility’s core systems, as well as the integrated Building Automation System (BAS)—a network of electronic devices located throughout the building that collects data and controls the mechanical, electrical and lighting systems. Using a BAS helps the building intuitively respond to internal and external conditions, such as the level of activity within the building or the changing weather, maintaining thermal comfort while avoiding the need for excess energy to be used.
Another defining feature of the Cummings Library and Collaboratory is its two-storey biowall. Anchoring an important corridor in the building, this living wall—made up of more than two thousand plants—has been strategically placed to receive ample natural light throughout the year. Its location directly beneath a south facing window allows for direct sunlight to filter into the space for the benefit of people while providing bright, indirect sunlight that is more suitable to the needs of the vegetation.
Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, the biowall provides additional benefits that can support emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. The lush, green carpet absorbs a variety of toxins such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, and, with a fan system located directly behind it, circulates clean oxygen for the space. Along with the BAS and hydronic cooling and heating system, the biowall is also an effective tool that regulates indoor temperature, as plants have a natural propensity to release excess moisture when the air heats up. The biowall’s prominent and accessible location also means that it can have its various metrics tracked by students, acting as an emblem of this living laboratory—another key sustainable element of this LEED© Gold-certified facility.
Sustainable structures, either new or refurbished, are not only imperative in the face of a changing climate—in the case of academic spaces they can also promote student wellbeing by offering improved comfort, thus providing a more enriching learning experience. More than a challenge, sustainable building offers an exciting opportunity to delve deeper into the inner workings of the systems that support a building’s use, and to continuously work to create new, environmentally friendly solutions that benefit people and the planet.