Sustainability Comes to the Classroom

An architect's rendering of the Sustainable Living Center at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

An architect’s rendering of the Sustainable Living Center at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

Fairfield, IA – Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield has taken the teaching of energy solutions into the classroom and beyond.

The core of the effort is its four-year degree program in sustainability, a first of its kind, begun in 2003 with six students and now enrolling more than 50. The program revolves around how to design, build, and maintain sustainable communities.

“It takes into account not only the technical things like biodiesel, or solar energy or wind energy, but also the social aspects, the economic aspects and even aspects like critical thinking,” said Dr. David Fisher, director of MUM’s Sustainable Living Department. “All of these go together…”

And now as a companion project that puts these teachings into practice, MUM is planning a Sustainable Living Center that will serve as a model for how these alternative technologies and approaches operate.

The new center will be constructed in accord with the ancient building practices of Vedic architecture, originally from India, combined with modern green technology.

Vedic design takes into account a building’s orientation, proportion and room placement, seeking alignment with nature and taking maximum advantage of sun, shade and wind. The green technology will make for a building that is completely off-grid in receiving electricity, heating, cooling, water and waste disposal.

This structure will be a “living building,” according to Fisher, in that it creates more energy than it consumes, allowing the excess to be returned to the power grid.

A hybrid system will supply heating, hot water and cooling. A light monitor running east-west down the center of the roofline will collect natural light, to be bounced off a series of light shelves for redistribution throughout the building’s interior. Photovoltaic solar panels and a wind turbine will supply the remaining power needs. Water captured from the roof will be stored for later usage.

A process, known as a “living machine” strategy, which uses plants and microorganisms as a filter for wastewater, will allow for natural sewage treatment on site.

Fundraising is still underway for the $2 million center, with groundbreaking scheduled for May. The lead architect is Mike Nicklas of Innovative Design in Raleigh, NC. Evergreen Homes and Development of Fairfield, headed by Dal Loiselle, will handle the construction.

The center is designed to surpass all current Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification standards as it helps to teach both occupants and visitors how to live in an earth-friendly manner.

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Part of a special report entitled, Degrees of Green: Exploring the State of Iowa’s Environment.

Published by:  The Daily Iowan | 05-02-08

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