Widgets Magazine

Green dorm blossoms as ‘LotusOne’

The parking lot behind La Casa Italiana may be replaced with LotusOne, the proposed three-story green dorm that planners hope will serve as both student residence and building systems laboratory to further explore sustainable living. (JING RAN/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford’s interdisciplinary studies so far have extended mostly to classes and research programs. But if David Geeter ’11 has his way, they will be part of a building – a green dorm, branded “LotusOne,” proposed for construction behind Bob, La Casa Italiana and Xanadu on the Row.

The long-awaited LotusOne, which according to its website seeks to be “the most desirable housing on campus” and a “living laboratory,” pack “measurable environmental performance” and achieve “economic sustainability,” has been under development off and on for the last seven years. And if Geeter and co-author Alexander Luisi ’12 sufficiently convince President John Hennessy to sign onto their proposal, LotusOne may be ready for students by the end of 2011.

The green dorm idea began in 2003 with a faculty committee from the department of civil and environmental engineering (CEE). The Green Dorm Faculty Committee, working with students and professionals, conceptualized the project and had it reviewed by Student Housing and Land, Buildings & Real Estate.

The pilot green dorm, which has been in development since 2003, now awaits approval from President John Hennessy. (Courtesy of EHDD Architecture)

Over the years, students who have wanted to get involved in the project have enrolled in the Sustainable Development Studio course (CEE 124), where students complete projects that support the green dorm’s development. Recent classes have used a class blog, where students posted research on building materials, energy use and water consumption, along with less technical aspects such as whether the building should be a dorm or a self-operated house.

The project made more concrete progress in 2005 when organizers commissioned a feasibility study from EHDD Architecture, a San Francisco-based firm. The study was completed in 2006.

That same year, the project received a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to Geeter and Luisi, shortly thereafter the University offered to cover half the project’s $10 million upfront cost.

With money flowing and optimism high, it was predicted the dorm would open its doors in 2009.

“When I was a freshman I was under the impression the building would be built by the time I graduated,” Geeter said.

But it was not to be.

The intervening financial crisis and subsequent budget cuts led the University to cancel funding for construction not already underway. That meant the LotusOne lacked the cash it needed to get off the ground. The green dorm idea “lost momentum,” Geeter said, and up until about a year and a half ago, the project was in limbo within the CEE department.

Last year, to revive the project, Geeter and Luisi approached the faculty committee about expanding its scope to include students in the social sciences as well, potentially increasing students’ direct involvement in development and execution.

Geeter and Luisi solicited input from professors outside the School of Engineering and put together a focus group of student leaders “basically that represented the general interest of students on campus,” Geeter said – a move that Geeter and Luisi hoped would gather perspectives on what one should consider in building a dorm.

“I think the biggest pull from LotusOne is that students have more ownership over the operation of the campus,” Geeter said.

As a sustainable building, the green dorm is designed to generate a surplus of energy and reduce its water consumption to roughly half that of other dorms. But as a living lab, little about the building is completely fixed. Students would be encouraged to research modifications that make the dorm more efficient economically, socially and environmentally.

It’s all about “coming up with a new way of educating students and making sure students are as actively involved in the process as possible,” said Vincent Chen ‘12, who designed the LotusOne proposal. “Before it is built, and after it is built – if it’s built – there are multiple ways to get students involved.”

Recently, the ASSU has shown support for the project as well. ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11 and Vice President Kelsei Wharton ‘12 supported the project during their campaign and were “involved in the brainstorming process to reframe and rename” LotusOne, according to Cardona.

The bulk of their involvement, she said, was building student support with a mass e-mail sent to the student body on June 23.

That support, to Geeter, has to embody a deep commitment. Typically, Geeter believes, “green” and “environmentally friendly” are associated with “kind of shallow objectives. That doesn’t attack the problem deep enough and it doesn’t bring up the interconnectivity of all these issues,” he said.

So what is attacking the problem deep enough? For Geeter and Luisi, of course, that would be an interdisciplinary lab like LotusOne.

“We’re going to make this happen and this is going to shape the future development of Stanford campus and make sure that we students have the ability to enact real change in the world,” Luisi said.

Cardona and Geeter said the proposal has been sent to the faculty committee and Hennessy for approval, and the students have not yet learned how their proposals will proceed.