Green Dorm Needs Green

Considered sacred in ancient Egypt, the lotus is a distinctive pink flower that can be made up of as many as 1,000 different petals.

But for modern day Stanford students David Geeter ’11 and Alexander Luisi ‘12, the lotus flower has assumed a new role: that of both the symbolic inspiration and namesake for the proposed “green dorm,” now dubbed Lotus One (1.0).

Geeter and Luisi are the co-authors of the current “Lotus One proposal,” a general plan that represents the latest development in the greater green dorm project that can be traced back as early as 2003.

Both Geeter and Luisi conveyed a sense of optimism in the prospect of bringing Stanford its’ first green dorm in the very near future.

“With the amount of support we received on both the faculty and student end, coupled with the fact that the University had previously committed to this project, I am pretty confident that [Lotus One] will move forward,” said Geeter.

This “previous commitment” to which Geeter cited is in reference to the Stanford’s 2006 offer to cover half of the green dorm project’s $10 million upfront cost. Unfortunately for green dorm supporters, that offer later was retracted due to the subsequent economic downturn.

And now, it seems Lotus One finds itself in the same position it was prior to 2006: seeking funds.

However, contrary to recent reports that have suggested a 2011 start date for construction, current indications from administrators do not project Lotus One entering the building stage until 2014, at the earliest.

In an email to the *Review, *Stephanie Kalfayan, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, discussed the financial situation for Lotus One.

“[The Green Dorm] is…waiting for fundraising to be complete for the project to move forward. Currently the plan is for the project to be held until about 2014,” wrote Kalfayan.


As the first step towards eventual construction, fundraising is a complex matter.

As of August 2010, half of the estimated $10 million cost for Lotus One is intended to come from private donations. As for the other half, Geeter, Luisi, and company are hoping that Stanford will commit $5 million towards Lotus One, as was offered in ‘06.

If the appropriate funds are raised, Geeter and Luisi feel confident that Lotus One will indeed be approved for construction.

“It’s really about the money at this point,” noted Luisi.

Kalfayan’s remarks seem to echo this sentiment as well.

“This is a project that, in concept, has approval; the University wants to go forward,” spoke Kalfayan about the green dorm. “But in times of constrained financial resources, we can’t put a shovel in the ground until we have the money available.”

Potential Controversies

Although Stanford seems prepped and ready to welcome its first fully sustainable dormitory, questions and concerns still remain. Among these issues is the potential loss of parking spaces along the Row.

The proposed construction site for Lotus One is the parking lot behind Row houses Bob, La Casa Italiana, and Xanadu. Nonetheless, the decision to build over a space already being used and demanded by lower row residents is not free from speculation about possible adverse effects.

On the subject of the possible parking inconveniences that could surface, Luisi admitted that the parking situation is “one of the things [he and his colleagues] haven’t looked very deeply into yet.”

Yet despite problems that could arise later, Luisi maintained confidence in both the parking lot as a viable building site for Lotus One, and also in his team’s ability to work through any such issues:

“We’re going to be working with the University on trying to plan out an alternative for those cars, because we definitely don’t want to inconvenience anybody,” commented Luisi.

Another point of contention concerns the timing of construction. Luisi stands firm by his team’s desire to have Lotus One built as soon as possible.

“If we do [build Lotus One] now, we’re going to be trailblazers. We’re going to be able to test our ideas and bring these ideas out, and have the students and the University help shape the direction of the [Green Building] market.”

On the other hand, waiting could also have its benefits. The green building industry is expected to grow significantly over the next several years, which could lower the costs of building materials.

In 2006, EHDD Architecture conducted a Feasibility Study on Stanford’s proposed green dorm. In particular, study examined the proposed building as a “Zero Carbon” building, meaning the dorm would eliminate net carbon emissions via operational and embodied energy use.

As pointed out in the study, however, Zero Carbon buildings are also associated with “significantly higher construction costs.” And for a building the size of Stanford’s proposed green dorm, these higher construction costs translate into a rate of around $500 per square foot.

The study concludes that the pay back rate for the proposed green dorm would be about 30 years. Life-cycle costs of the green dorm would reach lower levels than that of a conventional row house after the house operated for over 50 years.

Despite the anticipated costs, Luisi maintained confidence in the decision to push forward.

“We could wait, and that might be more economical,” he said. “But if we wait, we’re not going to be on the cutting edge anymore.”

Symbolism vs. Substance

While the lotus flower did enjoy a place of honor among the ancient Egyptians, its reception throughout history has not always been as glowing.

Specifically, the legends of Greek mythology remember the lotus plant for its infamous ability to induce a dreamy forgetfulness in those who ate its fruit.

In the modern context of this metaphor, there are also those who caution against placing too high of a priority on the construction of a green dorm at the potential expense of other sustainability issues still at hand. Among these thinkers is Teryn Norris ‘11, president and founder of Americans for Energy Leadership.

In an interview with the Review, Norris spoke about the green innovation agenda at Stanford and where a project like Lotus One may fit in that agenda.

“To the extent that we need to build a new dorm, we should incorporate sustainability practices and design into that dorm,” said Norris.

“But we shouldn’t imagine that having a green dorm is nearly enough to make progress on a lot of the sustainability issues that we need to.”

Norris continued to state his concern that “perhaps Lotus One has taken on too much symbolism and importance.”

For Norris, the areas that deserve an increased focus are Stanford’s energy curriculum, research programs, and commercialization programs. It is in these areas Norris feels Stanford can play the biggest and most effective role in addressing today’s environmental challenges.

If Lotus One sticks to the planned schedule, it seems all sides will have ample opportunity to present support and concerns for the project. The dorm’s official planning stage with University administrators is not slated to begin until at least 2013.

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