Opinion: Student Centre needs more than just LEED Framework

As many readers will recall, one of the TCSA’s major initiatives last year was towards finally securing the creation of our very own student centre—a building to house student services under one roof, as well as to expand social and study space, and further student culture and presence on campus. A referendum regarding an additional levy to collect necessary funds for the building passed, signaling that this was indeed an initiative supported by students.

Currently, many of the bureaucratic details being processed within the various levels of campus politics before a request for proposals goes out to architectural firms and the process continues.

Among the conversations surrounding the student centre initiative, and one which is close to my heart as an environmental studies major, is the question of sustainability. One of the possible and likely paths that’ will be chosen to incorporate a sustainable approach to the design and construction of the centre is via adoption of the LEED framework.

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is a green building certification process which enables a “green building path” and the analysis of buildings with respect to a range of environmental, site impact, water, materials, and energy-related factors. It is the largest green building framework internationally, and on Trent’s campus has been employed in both the DNA building and the AC renovation.

LEED promotes a clear direction within the sustainable building movement and provides relevant information, metrics and strategies for building better buildings. The core of LEED emphasizes the technical and bio-physical aspects of sustainability, and many LEED buildings have been great successes.

However, in some cases, LEED has fallen short of producing buildings that embody some of the other aspects of sustainability, like sociocultural significance, or spaces that simply create aesthetic pleasure and make sense in connection to their environment and users.

Indeed, following the LEED framework alone may leave something to be desired in terms of how I personally would like to see our student centre unfold.

LEED does little to incorporate input from stakeholders, or to encourage a more systemic form of environmental and social consciousness in regards to how we live and engage as students, in this part of our lives, in this place.

These, I feel, are important considerations given the significance of a student centre. On many campuses around the globe, student centres are the heartbeat of scholarly life and relate to student values, ambitions and beliefs.

So, how will we work towards a building that achieves both technical environmental sustainability and a degree of social relevance to our values, needs and ambitions as students? What will the building look like and where will it go? What features will it incorporate that promote the many services, groups and activities it will house, and how do we go about deciding these? How will the building itself live and grow with the university, as its students do?

These are important questions to consider while looking ahead.

As Winston Churchill once put it, “we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

The goal of this article is not to put down the LEED green building framework – it plays an important role in creating modern, efficient buildings. Rather, it is worth exploring the fact that LEED alone may not create an exemplary student centre that represents and embodies all that a student centre should.

Early in the process is the time to engage in conversations about what directions should be explored. Whether that’s incorporating a diverse understanding of sustainability and innovation into the building, or anything else for that matter, the coming months will be the time to become increasingly involved in and connected to what’s going on with our student centre.