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Stanford University is a global leader in education, so when it came time to replace its outdated electrical system, which used 100 per cent fossil fuel, it made sense to delve into ­cutting-edge sustainable design. The commitment to raise the bar enabled ZGF Architects to look for solutions where none had seemed possible, and in the process demonstrate how architecture might well help to save the planet.

The Central Energy Facility, open since April, maximizes the 3,310-hectare campus’s energy efficiency by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 68 per cent. It also reveals how it all works – after all, what better way to understand sustainability than to pull back the curtain and see it in action? At every turn, the power plant’s multitude of mechanical systems are made visible with glass and semi-transparent surfaces.

Added to the mix are standard green practices, such as natural ventilation, daylighting, and photo­voltaics, which extend to an off-site solar farm. But the most prominent feature is the trio of massive thermal tanks that collectively store 23 million litres of heated and chilled water. Incorporating a new technology patented by Stanford, they’re on full display, with one clad in the university’s signature Cardinal red beneath its metal screen.

Nothing about the facility feels hulkish or out of scale. It’s surrounded by a drought-resistant arid landscape, and in one courtyard an open staircase doubles as bleachers. All of this design innovation is expected to save the school $US425 million over the next 35 years. More importantly, it will eliminate 165,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to the emissions from 32,000 cars.

About the firm: Established in 1942, ZGF Archi­tects is among the 10 largest firms in the U.S., with projects covering every type and scale. Besides its headquarters in Portland, Oregon, it has satellite offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., as well as ZGF Cotter Architects in Vancouver.

What the jury said: “It’s incredibly powerful to use design to change how people think. When you connect students to the energy resources they consume, they will probably live in a very ­different way.” – Thomas Woltz

Location: Palo Alto, California

Firm: ZGF Architects, Portland, Oregon

Team: Joe Collins, Toby Hasselgren and Renee Kajimoto, with Christopher Flint Chatto, Sienna Hill, Bradley Lest, Glen Justice, ­Michael McGale, Kelvin Ono, Nicholas Robertson and Curtis Williams

Winner: Environmental Leadership
2016 AZ Awards Winner: Environmental Leadership Award

The Central Energy Facility at Stanford University cuts campus greenhouse gas emissions by 68 per cent – and looks good while doing it.

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