• Tyson Living Learning Center

    Eureka, Missouri

Tyson Living Learning Center

Eureka, Missouri

The Living Learning Center is located at Tyson Research Center, an environmental field station for Washington University in St. Louis. The site and building builds on the sustainable eco-systems research ongoing at Tyson. The site has been transformed from a degraded asphalt parking lot to a native landscaped garden replete with pervious concrete, local stone pavers, and a central raingarden.

The building fosters indoor/outdoor education with a large multi-use classroom that opens directly out to a locally-harvested white oak deck. The building is clad with Eastern Red Cedar with siding is site-harvested. All interior finish wood is harvested onsite.

Net Zero Energy is provided by Photovoltaic panels mounted both on the roof and on two horizontal trackers. Potable water is provided by a chemical-free rainwater harvesting system. Greywater is treated in an infiltration garden and blackwater by composting toilets effectively eliminating the concept of waste.

Use the icons below to find out how this project approached each Petal of the Challenge.


Site condition prior to project start: Previously developed parking lot

Significant site information
Name of Habitat Exchange project: TNC Howard & Joyce Wood Ozarks Conservation Buyer Fund
Location of Habitat Exchange project: The Current River Watershed, Ozarks, Missouri
Name of participating Land Trust: The Nature Conservancy

Additional Site Petal comments:
The Living Learning Center was built at Washington University’s Tyson Research Institute, a 2,000 acre field station located just outside of the St. Louis metropolitan area and in close proximity to a wide variety of other natural areas, like the 2,500 acre Shaw Nature Reserve owned by the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Tyson property has been previously utilized and has a long and documented history. From [12,000 B.C. to 1,500 A.D] it was a used as a quarry site by Native Americans to gather a specific type of chert, which was prized for tool making. Then between the years of 1890 and 1910 the entire site was clear-cut for pine and oak timber. Around the same time between 1877 and 1927 the site was also used as a limestone quarry.

The Hunkins-Willis Company established a small town occupied by men employed by the quarry and their families. Old foundations of houses and wall can still be seen at the Mincke Spring. During World War II
the Federal Government acquired the land via eminent domain. They constructed fifty-five 30-yard deep bunkers and ten 10-yard deep bunkers camouflaged into the hillsides, as well as various buildings, roads and the perimeter fence, all of which still exist on the site. The current Tyson administration building was previously a firehouse. After the war ended the whole area was converted into a County Park and open to the public. But in 1951 the government reacquired the land during the Korean War. After this war, Washington University bought the land in 1963 and turned it into the Tyson Research Institute. The Living Learning Center was built in between existing buildings on the site of an existing parking lot and does not conflict with any site restrictions.

Habitat Exchange
Habitats are increasingly degraded with the increasing of impervious surfaces within the watershed. This degradation occurs during conventional construction when a greenfield is built upon. The Living Learning Center is designed with wildlife in mind. The existing site was a degraded parking lot. The Center’s development improved the local habitat substantially with the introduction of a rain garden and landscaped area that had been an impervious surface with runoff into a nearby ephemeral stream.

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Annual Water Use: 13,000 gal 
Dependent on Rainfall & Usage, Potential for 50,000+ gallons/yr of harvested rainfall.
Harvested onsite: 13,000 gal
Rainwater cistern size: 3,000 gal
Collection strategies: Rainwater capture via sloped standing seam metal roof.
Systems fed: Domestic water distribution: lavatories, sinks & hose bibs
Grey water: 13,000 gal/yr
Systems fed: irrigation
Black water: Volume is unknown.
Systems fed: irrigation
Estimated total water use per capita: 520 gal/yr

Design tool(s) and calculation method(s): Rainfall data sourced from NOAA Climatology and Weather Records, years 1870-2008 for St. Louis, Missouri.

Related regulatory appeals:
A barrier to the goal to use only captured rainwater for potable use, and treat and infiltrate the building’s grey-water on-site was identified in the St Louis County code early on. The project team chose to meet proactively with the St Louis County Public Works Department to explore how the project goals could be achieved under the existing code restrictions. They reached an agreement to submit the project under the Alternate Compliance path. The path was ultimately successful and paves the way for future regional projects to implement the same strategies.

Additional Water Petal comments:
Lavatory & sink waste is routed to a dosing basin then to a leach field based treatment sources. Black water is naturally broken down via the composting system.

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Type + size of renewable energy system(s) used:
Evergreen Solar Roof & pole mounted photovoltaic, 23.1 kWh

Annual Energy Use
Actual: 21,291 kWh
Energy use intensity:
33.1 kWh/sq ft
Annual electricity generated: 22,985 kWh

Design tool and calculation method:
EQuest, Trane TRACE 700

Related regulatory appeals: Ameren UE: Renewable Energy Net Metering Agreement

Additional Energy Petal comments:
The Living Learning Center required a true whole building approach to achieve net zero energy. This included minimizing energy demand while maximizing efficiency. On-site energy production was used to generate the necessary power. Through multiple design charrettes, several traditional and non-traditional energy reduction methods were agreed upon. These strategies include:

Proper building orientation
High efficiency glass
Shading of exterior glazing
High R-value insulation
Point-of-use domestic water heating
Utilization of natural ventilation

High efficiency HVAC systems
Demand control ventilation
Daylighting of occupied spaces
Lighting controls
Energy Star appliances and equipment
Owner training on efficient building operation

These strategies in conjunction with proper owner training to ensure systems are operating efficiently.

Perhaps the most formidable challenge of this Living Building Challenge is to produce a building that performs as a Net Zero Energy Building. Our design team approached this on two basic fronts. First, limit the amount of required energy the building would consume, and second, provide an on-site renewable form of energy generation capable of handling the energy needs of the building. The most detailed of this two-pronged approach was the task of limiting the building’s required energy consumption. The following is a partial list of the major components of that system:

  • Enhanced Building Insulation: Roof – U=0.03, Walls – U=0.03
  • High Efficiency Glazing: Windows - U=0.25, SHCG=0.39
  • Shading through exterior overhangs and awnings.
  • Building Orientation to limit solar gain.
  • Optimized ventilation: Operable Windows
  • Dedicated Variable Volume OA Unit with energy recovery
  • Demand Control Ventilation
  • Utilization of a high efficiency variable refrigerant HVAC system. This system is anticipated to reduce the HVAC load by approximately 40% over standard Split Systems of this capacity.
  • Enhanced Lighting Design: Daylighting to 100% of Occupied Spaces
  • Occupancy Sensors
  • Photocells for Daylight Dimming Control
  • High Efficient Fluorescent Lighting
  • Energy Star Rated Appliances and Equipment
  • Limited or eliminated Auxiliary power loads such as automatic faucets, 24/7 computer servers, and hot water storage tanks.
  • Utilized High Efficiency Point of Use Water Heaters.
  • Limited energy consumption to a single utility, electricity to better control energy usage.

Through these measures the building has been estimated to consume approximately 10 KWH/SQ/YR in total electrical consumption. To compensate for this energy consumption the design team reviewed various renewable energy sources.

 Wind power was considered for the project however the building is located in a valley with the nearest hilltop approximately one  quarter of a mile away. In addition, wind power studies for this area were analyzed. It was determined that this was too inefficient of a source of energy. Other alternative energy and rapidly renewable sources such as geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass boilers were evaluated and deemed inapplicable to this project.

Ultimately solar electrical power generation was selected for this project. Multiple solar options were considered including differing solar panel types as well as alternative panel locations. Ultimately the proper orientation of the building combined with the south facing sloped roof provided an ideal location for mounting the solar panels and reduced the cost by eliminating separate support for the modules. Ninety-six (96) 195 Watt photovoltaic modules have been installed on the sloped metal roof. These modules to combiner box and set of two (2) Fronius inverters. This system will feed the building and the utility grid with approximately 17 kW of peak power production. The owner has entered into an agreement with the local utility who will “buy back” excess power production the facility has.

One final component of insuring compliance with this net zero energy prerequisite is our efforts to properly educate the facility users on the use of their building. We have provided a building Energy Checklist and have insured proper systems training. The Energy Checklist contains a quick list of items occupants can do to insure the building operates efficiently.

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Summary of short-and long-term health considerations for design, construction and occupancy phases:
To reflect the educational mission of the building, it was important to emphasize an indoor/outdoor connection in the Living Learning Center (LLC). Daylighting was also an important factor when designing the LLC. Every occupied space has both natural daylighting and a view to the outdoors. At least one operable window is provided in each occupied space. This allows the occupants to take advantage of natural ventilation when the weather allows it. Zero VOC paints were used on the walls as well as low/zero VOC wood finishes all interior wood to minimize the toxins that off gas from products when new buildings are built. Permanent walk-off mats were installed at all entry locations, both exterior and interior, in the building. This reduces the amount of particulates brought in from the outside by capturing it as people enter the building. The janitor’s closet is separately ventilated to reduce the contamination in the air from cleaning products. Tyson has also established a green cleaning program that uses non-toxic natural cleaners. It is important to note that the drinking water is sourced from rainwater and treated non-chemically providing cleaner, healthier water than that available by city water sources or local well water (see City of St. Louis water chemical list).

The restrooms, an often neglected space not only have views and operable windows but also a solar tubular skylight that provides natural light during the daytime hours. The compost toilets themselves have a slight negative pressure in addition to the required ventilation.

City of St. Louis water chemical list
Alpha Particle activity
Total haloacetic activity
Total trihalomethanes

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Summary of approach to achieving the Materials Petal Prerequisites:
The Living Learning Center (LLC) is located at Tyson Research Institute, a 2,000 acre forested property, about 20 miles from Washington University in St. Louis. In order to achieve our mission of building the LLC with the most sustainable materials available, we opted to use several woods from within the Tyson property, while fitting within their broader research and teaching mission of ecosystem sustainability. First, several of the harvested woods (e.g., Oak, Walnut, Ash) came from storm-downed or dead trees that were near roads (to minimize disturbance to the ecosystem). Second, we harvested a considerable amount of Eastern Red Cedar for the exterior siding and trim and Hard Maple for the flooring These trees are considered ‘invasive’ in the areas they were harvested from because they are able to grow in shallow soils when fire is suppressed (as it has been for decades at Tyson). Part of Tyson’s research mission is restoration ecology, and these Cedar and Maple trees were slated to be removed for experimental restoration of an Ozark Glade complex on the Southwest part of the property. First we did due diligence on the cost ramifications of this approach and it came out to be a similar cost/ board-foot as compared with FSC material. But then the question became, how do we actually do this? After some considerable searching we found Scott Wunder (WunderWoods) an amazing woodworker/lumberjack. Scott worked with the Tyson staff to carefully choose appropriate trees to remove, with minimal impact to the surrounding forest. Scott did the entire process from felling the trees; skidding them out of the woods with minimal impact; planning and molding the lumber; and finally laying and finishing the floor and building the casework. As a result the Living Learning Center is going to represent many of the local woods in the surrounding forest. Eastern Red Cedar was used for the exterior siding and trim; Hard Maple for the flooring and casework; Walnut for accents in the countertop and floor; White Ash, Red Oak, and Hickory for the window trim and baseboards; White Oak for the exterior decking. This project was a ‘win-win’ situation, in that Tyson had already planned to remove the trees as part of their Forest Restoration Project, it worked beautifully for the Living Learning Center and it fit with Tyson’s restoration, sustainability, and education missions.

Successful Red List substitutions:

Original Product Red List Item Specified Manufacturer + Product Names
Door hardware Lead stainless steel or salvaged hardware and cores
Wood doors (100% FSC) Formaldehyde Salvaged wood doors
Pipes PVC Copper and HDPE pipes
Wiring PVC PVC-free wiring
Wood treatment VOCs Alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ)
HVAC refrigerant HCFCs and CFCs R-410a ( aHFC)

Summary of the biggest hurdles to achieving the Materials Petal:

Sourcing building products that met both the radius and red list requirements has been the most challenging part of the Living Building Challenge. Simply finding out information about the products has been very frustrating because most representatives at manufacturers don’t know information about the materials and components that go into their product and in many cases that information is proprietary. In the process we have discovered many things about the manufacturing industry that we did not know before, for example that no ceiling fans are manufactured domestically or that all brass door hardware contains lead. It has also been shocking to see the inefficiencies that exists in the manufacturing industry for example how many parts of products or materials are shipped from overseas when they could easily be made locally. As a green design firm, we are generally aware of major environmental issues in products but were not expecting to find that so many products and components were not only sourced overseas but no longer manufactured in this country. This has applied especially to light fixtures, ceiling fans, door hardware and mechanical equipment.

Notable regional products specified:
Salvaged products created both some exciting opportunities and challenges for this project. When we first proposed the use of salvaged products to our contractor and sub-contractors we got some resistance because they had never encountered a situation like this before and didn’t know how to source salvaged products. But in the end using salvaged products saved a lot of time and money. We were able to find salvaged items in several different ways. First we contacted Planet Reuse, out of Kansas City, MO. They were very helpful and we found a salvaged fire extinguisher cabinet and polyiso rigid insulation that was seconds from another construction project. This was a lucky find because ordering new insulation board had a month long lead time, which would have put the whole project behind schedule, but the salvaged material was able to be shipped in 2-3 days and much less expensive. Another source that we used was craigslist.com. Through craigslist we were able to get in touch with Jim, a local collector of salvaged materials, he had salvaged schoolhouse light fixtures from a school in Illinois that was built in 1905. Also through him we were able to source some old factory-type exterior fixtures as well. Another advantage to our project was that we were working with Washington University, a large institution with lots of building projects. From Washington Univ. we were able to get restroom sinks, double basin steel sinks, bathroom accessories, and some door hardware. Another local source for salvaged materials was Bob Cassilly, a St. Louis sculptor/artist who is famous for his use of salvaged building materials in the City Museum. Through Bob we were able to procure 10 wood doors. But this presented its own challenges because the doors were taller than the ones we had originally specified and by the time we found the doors the framing had already been constructed. So the contractor had to raise the headers on all the interior doors by 4 inches.

Notable manufacturers who made ‘Proprietary Claims’ when asked about product contents:

Company Product
MFM Building Products Corporation
Tamko Corporate
W.R. Meadows
Millikin Contract
Waterproof Membrane
Roof Underlayment
Building Paper/Vapor Barrier
Overhead Sectional Door
Walk-off mat

Sources for wood: Certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), salvaged and harvested onsite
Notable manufacturers of FSC certified wood products: Potlatch Farms
Organizations and/or individuals that assisted with timber harvest and lumber seasoning process: Scott Wunder, Wunderwoods
Brokers that assisted in sourcing salvaged materials: Planet Reuse
Embodied carbon footprint:
Name of Carbon Offset project: Tanaka Wind Farm
Location of Carbon Offset project: Dickey & McIntosh Counties, MD & MacPherson County, SC
Name of Carbon Offset provider: Bonneville Environmental Foundation
Related regulatory appeals:

Additional Material Petal comments:
Due to our location, sourcing 100 percent FSC wood and wood products within the appropriate radius was a challenge for this project. In our region there are not any FSC certified forests which supply framing lumber. For example, The Pioneer Forest, a FSC certified forest in Missouri, does not produce any framing lumber. We were very lucky to be working with Meek’s Lumber, a FSC Chain-of-Custody Certified wood supplier, who, along with us, did considerable research and searching for FSC wood. We ended up sourcing all our framing lumber from Potlatch in Warren, Arkansas, which was just within the 500 mile radius from our site. But, nothing is easy, and Potlatch told us that they only sold their lumber in large bundles to distributors and the closest distributor that we were able to find within 500 miles of our site was in Minnesota. That would mean that the wood would be loaded on a truck and driven from AK, basically though St. Louis and then up to MN and then back down to St. Louis, making the total journey over 1,500 miles. This was a very frustrating situation and we considered a variety of options. First the contractor considered buying a bundle of wood directly from Potlatch and then trying to sell what he did not need, but this was not economical and extremely risky. Next he considered renting his own truck and driving down to Potlatch and picking up the wood. He also asked Potlatch if their truck could just stop in St. Louis on their way up to MN and drop off some wood, but none of these options worked out. In the end, after repeated negotiations with Potlatch, the wood supplier convinced them to break up the bundle and only sell what he needed.

Another challenge that we faced was sourcing 100 percent FSC LVLs (laminated veneer lumber). The only FSC LVLs that we were able to find were in Oregon, which is over 1,000 miles from our site; in addition they contained formaldehyde in the glue, which is on the Red List. As a result we had to rework our structural design mid-construction. We went back to the structural engineer who redesigned the structural system using select structural timber and steel. Potlach ended up giving the wood supplier the select structural lumber at no extra cost, which helped out on the budget side.

The next challenge was finding 100 percent FSC wood doors. Since the Living Learning Center is primarily a wood building we wanted to use wood doors as opposed to metal to stay consistent aesthetically. We contacted several manufacturers of wood doors and could not find a 100 percent FSC door within 500 miles from our site. All manufacturers contacted used Mixed FSC and almost all contained formaldehyde. Finally we decided to use metal doors, until recently when we found a large quantity of high quality salvaged wood doors at the City Museum in downtown St. Louis.

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Please note that this project was certified under Living Building Challenge 1.3. The Equity Petal was not developed until Living Building Challenge 2.0.

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Project website:  www.tyson.wustl.edu

Tour information: Explore a map of the Tyson Living Learning Center and take a virtual tour.

Educational Opportunities:
Tyson Research Institute is part of Washington University in St. Louis, which has allowed for numerous educational opportunities. Many departments at Washington Univ. are excited about becoming involved with the Living Learning Center including architecture, engineering, environmental studies and biology. The School of Architecture has been especially involved. We have met with the dean of the school, Bruce Lindsey, several times to discuss our design and future ideas for interactions between the school and the Living Learning Center. A professor in the Graduate School of Architecture brought her class to the site to tour the building under construction. We were also invited to give a presentation about the Living Learning Center to a Sustainable Design Seminar, a multi-disciplinary class with students in architecture, engineering, social work and environmental studies. In addition, students in a Senior Seminar in Environmental Studies have been working with us and Tyson on their final senior project which is creating interpretative information for visitors to Tyson and the Living Learning Center. Due to the school schedule, this group of students did not get very far on the project, but we plan on working with the group next semester to continue with this work to make interpretative signage for the building.

We also have many ideas for future interactions between the University and the Living Learning Center. The Alberti Program, which is a design camp sponsored by the School of Architecture for inner-city children grades 4th-9th is planning on coming out to the Living Learning Center over the summer to help plant and build some of the native gardens and landscaping. This will be an opportunity for the children to experience planting a garden and learn about the native species of Missouri. The building itself if for a joint Educational Outreach program for high school students integrated with the Shaw Arboretum, a field center for the Missouri Botanical Garden. Susan Flowers, the outreach director of the Learning Center, will be using various aspects of the site and building as an integral part of the curriculum that she is currently developing.

Tour Images: View photos from a recent tour led by architect Dan Hellmuth. After the tour, the students wrote letters to Dan to thank him and to suggest some building improvements.

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Project costs (land excluded): $1597,277
Soft costs: $169,513
Hard costs: $1,427,764

Design Process
When we first learned that this project was located in Unincorporated St. Louis County we were nervous because the County is known for its inflexibility and highly tedious and bureaucratic process. To test the “waters”, I made some anonymous calls to Public Works to see what their reactions were to composting toilets, potable drinking systems and greywater systems, and their answer to all of the above was: “We don’t do that”. We suggested to Washington University that we meet with the County upfront to explain what we were trying to accomplish. All of the key players for Washington University attended this meeting: the Project Manager, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities, the Director and Associate Director of Tyson, the Business Manager for Tyson, and the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Sustainability. On the County side was the Business Assistance Center Manager, the Supervisor for Highways and Traffic, the Land Use Manager, and our Plan Reviewer. The meeting was cordial and the County Officials supported the concepts and suggested that we run the unusual designs by the inspectors at concept level. As soon as the preliminary review process kicked in, the “no’s” began coming in at the plan review level so we had to regroup and plan how to proceed. I called the Business Center Manager to let him know that we had reached an impasse and asked his advice on how to proceed. The resulting approach that he suggested was to submit all the systems under an “alternate compliance path”, which allowed for consideration of many of the systems that on the face of it did not meet code. This approach worked and in the end all the systems, including the rainwater collection/potable water system and the composting toilets were approved.

Integrating the Living Building Challenge into the design process has been quite difficult at times, especially when it came to material selection. We did a bulk of the material and product research upfront but we can not control every material the contractor will use. Because of the complexity of many of the products and materials, issues did not come up during the design process but during the shop drawing review process. In our project manual we specified strict LBC requirements in each section but the contractors had difficulties meeting them as well as difficulties understanding what was needed. So as architects, who are ultimately responsible, we had to go through each product and material and make sure that it complied with all prerequisites. In many cases products did not comply on closure inspection, so we either had to find a compliant product, figure out an alternative, or send it back to the contractor. There needed to be a lot of flexibility during the construction process to accommodate this, which was quite time consuming and costly for all parties involved. Dealing with the LBC material issues added a lot of unexpected time to our construction timeline, which in our case was very short to begin with. At times construction was put on hold because a compliant product could not be found. This process also created difficulties for the owner in having to approve Change Orders that were driven by LBC requirements, especially because in most cases the price went up. When no compliant products or materials could be found, we worked on getting salvaged products, which again takes some flexibility on the part of the owner, contractor and design team. From our experience, what this is suggesting is a modification to the design-bid-build process where more elements of a design-build process are introduced to accommodate the performance requirements of the Living Building Challenge.

Given the relative few net-zero building projects in the country, much-less the Midwest, we sought out a renewable energy product provider to work hand-in-hand with our electrical engineer to design the most efficient and cost effective system. We initially looked at a combination of wind and solar as there was an existing wind tower on a hilltop that had been used for wind experiments in the past. But even with the exiting tower, the combination of wind and field mounted solar arrays was significantly more expensive and less efficient than mounting panels on the roof. The PV supplier and the electrical engineer collaborated to design this system. The agreement with the local utility went smoothly, but when it came time to pull the permit for panel instillation the Country required that this be done by a licensed electrical engineer even though it was in the scope of work for the PV supplier. The electrical contractor refused to pull the permit unless they did the actual install but the solar supplier insisted that this was their responsibility. The head electrical inspector was called from St. Louis County to weigh in on the situation and whether installing and connecting the PV had to be considered electrical work. Since most inspectors were once contractors one can imagine how this discussion went down. A compromise was finally reached in which the supplier would assist the contractor with the layout and installation. This again resulted in an increased cost for the owner.

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