Green Design on SMU’s Campus

SMU’s new Embrey Engineering building utilizes green design and architecture.

Green Day

Dallas? A leader in the green movement? What in the world is going on? As it turns out, on SMU’s campus, plenty.


Green Team
The men behind the design and construction of the Embrey engineering building: Bob Gaston, superintendent, Turner Construction; Bob Ayers, architect and principal, Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford; Raynard O. Kearbey, architect, NCARB, senior project manager, SMU; Geoffrey C. Orsak, Ph.D., dean and professor, SMU school of engineering (left to right)

Photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Let’s be honest. Dallas—land of McMansions and Hummers and aerosol hair spray—was probably not the No. 1 movie market for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” But a handful of visionaries have created a new structure on Southern Methodist University’s campus that not only puts Dallas on the global map of environmental consciousness but also literally may change the way we live.

Dressed incognito in collegiate Georgian brick, you’d never know that the new J. Lindsay Embrey Engineering building was different from any other building on the SMU campus. But it’s built with predominantly natural materials and functions with exemplary energy efficiency. Earning a LEED gold certification—engineering’s equivalent of the Oscars—it’s a living laboratory of environmental awareness. Only a handful of these buildings exist on campuses worldwide, and it’s the first to be built in the Southwest.

The real story begins to unfold in the lobby, where a spectacular, three-story column of light cuts through the center of the building, illuminating it with natural light. Walls and floors are expanses of glass, limestone, stainless steel, woven textiles, and treated concrete. No side effects from nasty off-gassing here, since non-toxic paints, carpeting, sealants, and natural woods were used.

Considered one of the Southwest’s top engineering schools, its former building was derided for decades by students as a dreary facility that leaked when it rained and was drafty in winter. Now it’s a bastion of energy efficiency outfitted with motion detector controlled lighting, heat reflective materials, special insulation, low wattage lighting, and design elements to bring natural light into classrooms and offices. Building materials came from local sources. Water conservation measures include utilization of gray water from the central plant, drought resistant landscaping, crushed granite hardscape, and new technologies providing features such as waterless urinals.


A feat of green design, the Embrey building stands as one of the best examples of energy-efficient, environmentally sound structures in the country. But what does it mean to SMU’s bottom line? The cost to operate and maintain the new engineering building is 30 percent less than other similar buildings on campus, statistics that we hope will serve as inspiration for local builders, architects, designers, homeowners, and the rest of us. After all, the engineering school is doing what great universities have always done, and that is to encourage great ideas.


Light, Naturally Through a three-story light shaft in the core of the building, natural light helps to illuminate rooms throughout. Breath Deep CO2 monitors are located throughout the building to adjust for more fresh air for occupants.

Bright Idea Motion Detectors on lights conserve energy by having them turn off when not in use.

Safe Rooms The building includes separate rooms for printers and janitor closets where chemical and other potential health hazards can be contained and ventilated out of the building if necessary.

Water Wise low flow toilet fixtures and waterless urinals are installed in every bathroom.

Cool Down The landscape plan provides for shade trees combined with light colored or reflective plaza pavers to block and reflect heat away from the building.
Illustration by John Macneill


It Isn’t Easy Being Green

Meeting stringent guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is no small task. Passing the test for LEED gold certification is even harder. Indoor air quality, water and energy efficiency, design innovation, and relentless recycling are just a few of the hefty criteria. Undaunted, SMU began construction last summer, with plans to welcome the incoming 2006 fall engineering students.  Pending final certification from the USGBC, but with a green light from an independent LEED auditor, the mission has been accomplished in record time: a mere 12 months.






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