News and Articles

Integrated Design – Bringing Biophilia to Child Care: The Child Care Center at Hort Woods

[The following is an excerpt from Volume 23 of The ReeSource, which was published in August of 2012. This volume was a special issue which focused on the innovative design features of the Child Care Center at Hort Woods – the first Penn State University building ever awarded a LEED Platinum Certification. An online version of this project feature is still viewable on the Penn State University Sustainability Institute’s website at]

Before the twentieth century and the architectural engineer, the window was the only means of ventilation, cooling, and suitable lighting. Today’s architects and engineers are very good at allocating space for building systems as aesthetically as possible, but this is ‘coordinated’ and not ‘integrated’ design. Integrated design occurs when systems work as part of one another – like the window – a process that hybrid ventilation design catalyzed at Hort Woods. It required the engineer to influence both window size and location. It looked at how plan, orientation, program, and microclimate impacted cross-ventilation compared against prevailing wind and solar heat gain locations, which aided in both daylighting and hot air relief. This integration involved the architect, mechanical engineer, lighting/electrical designer, and landscape architect.

Unfortunately, there’s no how-to manual for this process, since every project is unique and has its own creative solution. What it will always require, however, is for each discipline to think outside their area of expertise while dropping their own territorial boundaries. At Hort Woods this resulted in both energy savings and indoor-outdoor connectivity, in turn helping both the bottom-line and individual well-being. Ultimately it’s not the integration of building trades, but the integration of the building with its environment that’s the key to the program and the active involvement of the end user. The children are constantly engaged with their building, providing educational value and an opportunity for early childhood development research.

The integrative concepts continue to evolve. The LED light signal that prompts the kids to open the sliders, thus initiating hybrid mode, is currently being developed to include a corresponding reward. Trial kite spinners were placed in front of a few directional relief fans in one room – an idea we’re calling ‘fanimations’. The Penn State College of Arts is currently getting involved, with the help and input of the children themselves, to craft custom animated features propelled by the fans. The greater concept here is to ignite both artistic and mechanical creativity with nature and science as the backdrop – nurturing those little left brains and those little right brains – all with a foundation built upon sustainability. We can’t wait to see what they create.

– Bryan C. Smith, PE, LEED AP

Bryan is a Licensed Mechanical Engineer, a LEED Accredited Professional, and Board Member of the USGBC Central Pennsylvania Chapter. Please feel free to contact Bryan for further details regarding the above information.