SOM pioneers zero-energy school project in New York

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As the design and build industry across the GCC explores ways of making schools sustainable architect firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill has completed work on a zero energy learning facility.

Located on Staten Island, New York City, the Kathleen Grimm School is among the first such buildings to be operational in the world.

Almost 1,600 photovoltaic (PV) panels cloak the 20,700m2 two-story structure, covering the south façade, extending over its roof, and cantilevering out to float above a playing field.

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These PVs, plus about 400 more on top of a parking area, are expected to generate 662mWh of electricity per year – the same amount as the building needs to function.

This is intended to make the facility, officially named P.S. 62, the Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability, entirely self-reliant for energy needs.

To develop the system for wrapping the building in PVs, SOM worked with the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), a research facility.

CASE studied how best to mount the panels, angling them to produce the maximum amount of electricity while making sure they wouldn’t shade each other.

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New York’s density makes it difficult to find a site that allows sufficient roof space or unshaded and correctly oriented façade areas to mount PV panels—the most viable renewable-energy source for net zero projects.

So from its concept stage, P.S. 62 was considered a pilot project—one that would help improve and inform school design guidelines, says Chris McCready, SOM managing director.

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