Kaiser Borsari Hall, Western Washington University
Kaiser Borsari Hall at Western Washington University (WWU) will be among the first higher education STEM buildings in the United States to be tracking Zero Energy and Zero Carbon certification through the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Designed for WWU’s electrical engineering and computer science departments, it has a mass timber structure and is built to “smart building” standards as identified by ILFI . The facility also includes advanced battery technology that provides on-site energy storage, significantly advancing WWU’s vision to become the state’s first carbon net-neutral university campus.
In recognition of the building’s sustainability achievements, the Holcim Foundation honored Kaiser Borsari Hall with the Bronze Award for the North American region, the only award given globally to a building of higher education.
As industry workforce demand and STEM enrollment has grown rapidly across the State of Washington, WWU, in turn, has developed new degree programs for electrical engineering and computer sciences to keep pace. Kaiser Borsari Hall provides a home for these new departments and creates multi-disciplinary learning environments and collaboration, teaming, and office spaces that foster innovation, investigation, and inspiration.
To support an increasingly diverse student population as well as evolving pedagogies and curricula, Kaiser Borsari serves as a hub where industry experts, faculty, and students co-create the technology and engineering solutions for today and tomorrow. Technology-rich learning laboratories and makerspaces promote teamwork and collaboration through flexible furniture and writable surfaces. Collaboration and study spaces are positioned along circulation paths to encourage interaction and the development of soft skills that equip students with the necessary social tools to enter the workforce.
Conceived as a simple mass timber structure, the design plays on contrasting wood finishes. The warm interior structure is poised against dark shou sugi ban exterior cladding. Shou sugi ban is an ancient Japanese technique of burning boards—traditionally cedar—to make them more durable and resistant to fire and insects. Bands of horizontal windows punctuated by panels of natural finish wood provide views and daylight for the classrooms and offices on every floor. On the ground floor, an airy lobby with a central stair draws students up through the Hall, while glass walls allow sightlines to sweep the campus, strengthening the building’s connection to an arboretum to the east.
― ANTHONY GIANOPOULOS, OPERATIONS DIRECTOR, SEATTLE
Designed with our Chief Sustainability Officer Jason McLennan, the building exemplifies our firm’s philosophy of Living Design. When completed in 2024, Kaiser Borsari Hall will be one of the most sustainable higher education projects in the U.S., achieving Net Zero Carbon, Net Zero Energy, and the Living Building Challenge (LBC) Energy Petal Certification. Energy use is reduced by 82% below the baseline for similar buildings and solar panels cover over 75% of the roof area, maximizing on-site energy generation.
But the building is more than energy efficient, and its influence on sustainability extends beyond the site. The mass timber structure reduces embodied carbon by 63% while the natural grain of the wood connects visitors to the healing properties of nature. Native plant landscaping reduces outdoor water use by 78% while integrating the building harmoniously within its natural environment. As a sustainability destination, Kaiser Borsari Hall will function as a “living laboratory” where students learn from the building about innovative materials and energy technologies—lessons they will carry with them into the future.
“The design of Kaiser Borsari Hall is a watershed moment for Washington State public facilities as the first all mass timber, net-zero energy, and carbon neutral building on a university campus,” says Anthony Gianopoulos, who led the Perkins&Will design team. “The inspirational new building will foster an immersive learning environment for the next generation of electrical engineering experts, teachers, and carbon leaders.”