A LEED Platinum Living Laboratory
Environmental Hall serves as a teaching tool for students and the community

1    Thermal Corridor
2    Office Suite

3     Faculty Office
4     Reading Room

5    Art Gallery
6    Student Commons

7   100-Seat Auditorium
8   Garden Roof

interwoven sequential landscapes
Nestled among existing campus buildings, a series of choreographed landscapes ground the new building and extend its interior learning spaces outdoors.

Thermal Corridor
To reduce the building’s total energy usage, the design team arranged transient spaces such as lobbies and primary circulation routes as a network of thermal corridors along the south facade. Temperatures inside the thermal corridors are allowed to float + /- 5 degrees from the set points of interior program spaces, thereby buffering classrooms and open office areas from direct solar gain and harsh glare.

Interior spaces enjoy a strong outdoor connection due, in large part, to the building’s narrow footprint.


of workstations have individual lighting control

of the building’s spaces are daylit and have exterior views

reduction in water usage from code = 6,190 bath tubs annually

reduction in energy = 71 homes annually

reduction in solar heat gain

of the site is vegetated = 1.31 tons of CO2 sequestered per year

59 kBtu / SF / year


Duke University
Environment Hall: Nicholas School of the Environment

Durham, NC / United States


72,000 GSF

Faculty & Departmental Offices, Classrooms, Computational Dry Labs, Reading Room & Environmental Art Gallery

LEED-NC 2.2 Platinum Certified

Located within Duke’s main science precinct adjacent to the rapidly expanding medical center, Environmental Hall stands as a model for high performance campus architecture, embodying the same principles of sustainability and interconnectedness that underlie its inhabiting institution, the Nicholas School of the Environment, a premier institution for the study of environmental science and policy.

The Nicholas School of the Environment aspires to a new paradigm that approaches the earth, its inhabitants and the environment as an integrated whole by addressing today’s critical issues regarding climate, energy, ecosystems, human health and the environment. Our design team was asked to establish a new home for the School to embody this mission and consolidate its previously dispersed faculty and programs into a single precinct consisting of a new high performance classroom and departmental office building that would pair with the existing Levine Science Research Center. Furthermore, the new building needed to express notions of transparency, establishing a corresponding architectural vocabulary for future campus development. Reconciling this desire for transparency with the imperative for thermal performance and sustainability was paramount.

A simple concrete frame supports Environmental Hall’s articulated transparent envelope. Reflecting an awareness of the building’s solar orientation and pivotal position on campus, the hall’s exterior envelope shifts to address different site and environmental conditions. Along the north, the envelope disengages from the structure to create a taut glass plane facing the modern medical campus. Along the south, the envelope retreats into the structure, exposing each of the building’s floor levels, which overhang the facade and serve as primary shading elements.

The long narrow bar building nestles within the existing campus buildings affording virtually all interior spaces access to natural light and views. A subtle bend in the building’s geometry mitigates multiple campus grids, signifies entry and creates a variety of landscape spaces. The building’s structural grid and floor-to-floor heights align with the adjacent Levine Science Research Center, creating a dialogue between old and new across a protected orchard while preserving the flexibility of a future physical link between buildings. Entry occurs across an elevated pedestrian bridge, which mitigates a sharp change in site topography and established a direct connection with the landscape.

Sustainable Components
Through the use of the thermal corridor organizational strategy and other sustainable elements, Environment Hall uses 66% less energy than the amount dictated by minimum energy standards, establishing the project as the most energy-efficient building of its type on campus.

The project integrates low energy, sustainable building systems to reduce environmental impact and serve as teaching tools for the school and broader community. A rooftop solar photovoltaic trellis generates 60,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, equivalent to 9% of the building’s energy use, and is complemented with a solar thermal panel system to meet domestic hot water needs. The trellis shades a garden roof that functions as informal outdoor classroom space and is planted with a variety of water-wise edible plants. Two separate water recycling systems, one for greywater and one for rainwater, reduce site run-off and provide the water for toilet flushing and irrigation. Inside, energy-efficient chilled beams, which provide localized heating and cooling in offices and work areas, pair with energy-recovering air handling units equipped with enthalpy wheels to help dehumidify the building and significantly reduce the total energy needed for heating and cooling.

A low-ambient / high-task-lighting strategy with vacancy sensors and daylight harvesting reduces lighting energy to less than 0.5 watts / SF. Building wide, a dashboard monitoring system continuously monitors and communicates indoor and outdoor environmental conditions as well as indoor energy usage, allowing occupants to make near real-time adjustments to reduce their energy consumption.

Photography: © Warren Jagger Photography

George E. Marsh, Jr., FAIA

Robert C. Pasersky, AIA
Project Manager / Architect