Sustainable Water Collection Strategy

By Matt Richardson

Sidwell Friends School, Washington D.C.

Architecture today is shifting more and more towards sustainable strategies.  Designers and builders are now invested along with the public discourse in the overall sustainability and reduction of a buildings carbon footprint.  As greater technology and awareness evolve, we are now seeing more creative and advanced strategies to implement green systems.  Sustainable strategies do not always have to be the most expensive or extravagant, not to say they can’t be, but it is more about situational awareness to the given project and surrounding neighborhood.  A project, whether it be new construction, addition or renovation, can be evaluated to enhance the environment which it exists on many channels.

Today we look at a case study which implemented numerous sustainable strategies and systems into an existing building renovation and addition to the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.  The complete renovation of the existing 50-year-old, 35,000 SF Middle School and 35,000 SF addition doubled its capacity and increased lab and auditorium spaces.  The systems in the Sidwell Friends School also benefit the students by having this technology on display to showcase the multiple sustainable strategies.  This project was awarded a LEED Platinum rating by utilizing an array of sustainable and site specific responsive sustainable strategies.

For example, this project included an integrated water collection and wastewater recycling strategy by introducing a constructed wetland on site.  The facilities waste-water collection is stored in a 5,000 gallon holding tank and after being used, is cycled back into the wetland for processing to be used again.  Heating and cooling strategies were implemented along with 50 PV panels which provide 5% of the schools electrical energy.  Green roofs with gardens include planting areas that support local wildlife.

One of the most interesting features of this building is the water collection and blackwater (waste water from toilets) reuse back into the school for greywater (sinks, showers, etc. but no waste) uses.  This drastically reduces the need for municipal water consumption by about 93% by treating and repurposing water on site.  Soiled water is collected and first processed within the building from sinks, toilets, etc.

It’s then sent to an outer distribution tank which cycles the water through a series of tiered, manufactured wetlands which naturally treat the water for functional reuse.  The second loop of collection is through rainwater which is harvested on the green roofs and drained down the new rainscreen to an aeration course/biology pond before its final resting point within the water tank which is housed in the sub-levels of the school.

The Sidwell Friends School is just one example of creative sustainability options that I wanted to bring into the spotlight.  Sustainable design is now almost mandatory on projects.  As time goes on, I’m sure these types of ecological approaches will be more common than not.