Atwater Commons

Sustainable Design in Atwater Commons

Photo of Sustainable Design in Atwater Commons Atwater Commons is a prime example of sustainable design on Middlebury’s campus. Both the dining hall and the newest residence halls were designed with sustainability as a high priority without sacrificing functionality or comfort. 

Atwater Dining Hall

Completed in 2004, the dining hall’s most notable feature is its green roof, which integrates native shrubs and grasses to cover the roof. This increases storm water retention, improves insulation, and provides some replacement to lost wildlife habitat. The dining hall also makes optimal use of natural light, energy-efficiency features, and Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.

Benefits of a Green Roof

  • Retains 70–100 percent of rainwater in the summer and 40–50 percent in winter.  Excess water flows through the storm system and is cleansed by filtration though the plants and soil.
  • Improves thermal insulation, substantially lowering air-conditioning and heating costs.
  • Insulative value protects the waterproofing layer from damaging ultraviolet radiation, prolonging the lifespan of the system.
  • Reduces airborne sound levels by 40 to 50 decibels.
  • Provides moderate replacement to lost wildlife habitat, improves air quality, and is an aesthetic improvement on conventional roofing materials.
  • Supports exclusively native species of herbaceous plants and ground-cover shrubs, making it very low maintenance.

Atwater Commons Residence Halls

The two building additions, known as Atwater Suites, use an innovative ventilation system to cut down on energy use without sacrificing thermal comfort. The building sites were chosen to minimize visual impact and reduce impervious surface area, and much of the building material used was recycled.

How does the ventilation system work?

The buildings have thick masonry walls that act as a thermal sink for cooler air. The walls absorb the sun’s heat during the day and release it in the evening as the temperature drops. They are also oriented with their longest sides facing east-to-west to take advantage of seasonal prevailing winds, and the suites are designed to allow for cross-ventilation between bedrooms and common spaces. All spaces are also equipped with ceiling fans to assist airflow, all windows have operable shades, and the 11-foot, 4-inch ceilings help to allow warmer air to rise, while individually controlled attic fans exhaust air through chimneys and draw in cooler air through windows.