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The Bridge for Laboratory Sciences

The Bridge for Laboratory Sciences opened in January 2016 and was dedicated in May. The project included the construction of state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories in both new and renovated buildings to consolidate and unify the sciences into a coherent science precinct, creating a vibrant new community on-campus. The new facility centers on multi-disciplinary laboratories and program suites that foster collaboration between departments, researchers and students from different fields of study.

In seeking LEED certification, the Bridge Building at Vassar College has been able to incorporate a variety of elements in order to achieve sustainability and environmental responsibility.    

Energy Usage and Climate Impacts

The Bridge building has been able to reduce energy usage by 26% from the building code baseline. This was achieved through a high efficiency building envelope, LED, and energy efficient linear lighting with occupancy sensors and daylighting controls. The HVAC system operates on four variable air volume air handling units that each contain energy heat recovery technology to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption. The first floor is heated through hot-water fin-tube radiant panels beneath the floor.

To reduce potential carbon emissions the HVAC system uses no CFC-based refrigerants.

Water Usage

Water usage reduction strategies have been employed that in aggregate use 20% less than the baseline that was calculated before the construction of the building. This is thanks to low flow fixtures in all of the bathrooms and labs, and a closed cooling loop for the HVAC system.

Smart decisions with the landscape reduced water needs for site irrigation by more than 50%. This includes the installation of a rainwater cistern that collects water for the roof and a network of drip irrigation lines.  

Site Design

The construction of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences building also was able to achieve requirements of LEED certification in the area of site design in a variety of ways.  The selection of a site that was not on prime farmland, below an elevation of five feet, above the elevation of the 100 year flood, in an endangered species habitat, or previous parkland allows it to be a sustainable site.  

The landscape architect, MVVA, calculated that over 75% of the site is either protected or restored habitat.  The sustainable stormwater design plan captures and treats the rainfall using best management practices through a rainwater cistern, a network of rain gardens, and the prioritization of planting native species.  

The roof of the building was minimized and numerous trees were planted to help stabilize the restored wetland and reduce the heat island effect. Over 70% of the site non-roof hardscape is shaded by trees, providing valuable shade.


Bike storage, changing rooms, and an accessible shower were included in the building to incentivize human-powered transportation. The building was sited to be within walking distance of the Dutchess County bus system. Parking capacity was also included in the plan to meet, but not exceed minimum local zoning requirements.  

Indoor Air Quality

In terms of indoor air quality, the building meets the minimum indoor air quality performance, prohibits smoking indoors, and has CO2 sensors installed in order to monitor spaces with occupant density greater than 25 people per 1000 square feet.  In terms of increased ventilation, mechanically ventilated spaces have increased breathing outdoor air ventilation rates by at least 30% above the minimum rates.  The Construction Indoor Air Quality management plan has also been created in order for plans to be made in advance about managing indoor air quality.  Low-emitting materials that include adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, flooring systems, and composite wood products all contribute to ensuring the compliance with VOC limits and limits on use of certain chemicals. The overall indoor air quality indicators for this building show that the construction had these goals in mind in order to be sustainable and meet LEED standards.   


The specially designed frit 'bird-safe' glass is one of the largest applications of this kind of material to prevent solar gain, reduce glare and deter birds. Ennead, the building architect, worked with national leaders in bird-friendly design to develop a number of innovative approaches to make the building’s glazing safer for birds. This included employing patterned glass, screens and sunshades, and Ornilux glass, a specialty glass product that uses a UV coating visible to birds but not humans. The Bridge Building is working with the American Bird Conservancy and the USGBC to pilot the LEED credits for bird-safe design. 

Fitting in with the Campus Landscape

As both a figurative and literal bridge across campus, the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences spans the Fonteyn Kill which flows through campus. The wetland is in the process of being restored into a natural landscape. The building’s high performance facade is clad in fiber cement and stone and is inspired by the texture and horizontal striations of the dense tree-lined landscape.

The exterior fins providing solar shading on the outdoor patio, classrooms, offices and first floor atrium overlooking the Kill.

Learn more about the Sciences at Vassar and the Bridge Building here: http://bridging.vassar.edu/about/bridge/