New Mexico Highlands University by Diamond Schmitt Architects/Studio Southwest Architects achieves LEED Gold certification

The Student Union Building at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico has achieved LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects in joint venture with Studio Southwest Architects, this highly efficient and sustainable facility is responsive to the American Southwest climate.
A sun-filled three-storey atrium anchors the 65,000-square-foot facility, which has dramatic exterior cladding of black iron spot brick, Cor-Ten steel panels, and a glazed aluminum curtain wall. One of the first motorized sun tracking louvre systems in North America is mounted on three sides of the building. It shades the interior from direct sunlight during the day and opens during the night. “The louvres are held two feet off the main façade and begin 10 feet off the ground, allowing sun shading to the grade levels without compromising transparency and view,” said Martin Davidson, Principal at Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Additional energy-saving initiatives include a geothermal well system with two chillers that meet 100 percent of the building’s heating and cooling needs. Energy-efficient lighting and electrical systems in combination with the sunshades reduce by 260,000 kilowatt-hours the annual energy use. This saving resulted in the local utility providing a $26,000 rebate to the university.
To prevent heat gain and glare on the third level, the floor plate is set back under large overhangs for passive shading and to reduce the building’s overall scale. Green roofs are planned for the future that will have terraces with views to the mountains beyond.

Student lounges on all three floors surround the atrium, and above floats the governance chamber encircled by skylights. The building also houses a ballroom/conference facility, theatre, bookstore, café, and a cafeteria that opens onto a sheltered courtyard, meeting rooms, and a dining area.
This gateway building anchors a key intersection of the university and has a series of interconnected and transparent volumes that are legible and inviting from the street. A mix of one and two-storey program spaces animate the interior while the atrium acts as a circulation hub connecting the various elements.