Leers Weinzapfel Associates announces the completion of its East Regional Chilled Water Plant at the Ohio State University. The firm’s third university chiller plant, this $38M, 33,000-square-foot project joins previous award-winning structures at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. GBBN was associated architect for the building.

Located on a prominent site between the campus and the city, the new 12,000-to-15,000 ton (the latter with N+1 redundancy) chiller water capacity plant introduces a large, critically important facility to a mature campus, preserves an important green space at the east edge of campus, and frames the gateway for a new campus entry. Its perforated, copper-colored aluminum enclosure serves as a new interpretation of the brick used prolifically on this and many U.S. college campuses, adding aesthetic variety to its built surroundings. The result is an elegant approach that fits well with the building’s urban site and the surrounding context of older brick buildings.

The gemlike structure’s sizable scale, comprising approximately 23,000 square feet of interior space and 10,000 square feet of screened rooftop cooling tower enclosure, is designed to support a densely packed equipment layout of up to six chillers and cooling towers (it currently contains five). The building’s dimensions also respond to those around it, modulated by two offset volumes that each respond to unique engineering requirements and create zones of machine activity.

A linear zone is created within the lower, two-story, glazed rectangular volume with a mezzanine. Veiled and diaphanous on the exterior, it provides semi-transparent views from the interior looking out. The upper screened level, a lifted square volume open to the sky, uses perforated metal walls of resin-based, coated aluminum to provide a cost-effective water cooling tower enclosure. The walls are designed with two perforated densities, and, along with narrow open slots, achieve the combined 35 percent open area for ventilation required for the equipment. To minimize the building mass, a full basement contains pumping equipment. The new chilled water plant will significantly improve overall campus central plant efficiency.

Both volumes of the plant are gently illuminated at night to provide site lighting for the surrounding pedestrian zones and to continue the dialogue between the building’s forms and their contrasting materials. The glowing crystalline lower volume is lit from the inside, while the glittering metallic volume above is illuminated with a halo of projecting lights at its upper edge.

“We believe that performance and beauty can co-exist in campus infrastructure,” says Principal-in-Charge Jane Weinzapfel. “A building that serves utilitarian functions can not only meet rigorous functional requirements but can also, through artistic yet synergistic design, contribute to the architectural context of its environment. OSU’s East Regional Chilled Water Plan is our firm’s latest example of this approach.”