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Sustainability at Heart of New Sciences & Technology Building

New Labs, Collaborative Work Spaces Put Science on Display


By Mike Emery

The University of Houston-Downtown officially broke ground on the site of its new College of Sciences & Technology (CST) Building in 2017. Since then, Houstonians have seen the steady progression of the University’s newest academic facility.

Now, construction is complete, and Downtown Houston has a new state-of-the-art building dedicated to discovery.

Spanning 105,000 square feet, the CST Building (located off North Main Street along White Oak Bayou) is the latest addition to both the Downtown Houston skyline and the city’s academic landscape. With nearly 30 laboratories for teaching and research, high tech classrooms, meeting/study spaces, and a café, the CST Building—designed by Kirksey Architecture and constructed by Vaughn Construction—will develop future scientists and serve as a center for community engagement.

As the University of Houston System’s only LEED Gold-certified building (rated for its energy-saving design and sustainable features), the $73 million building will serve as a model for sustainability in Houston.

It will house the disciplines of Biology, Biotechnology, Biological & Physical Sciences and Chemistry. The building also will be the new home for UHD’s Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability (CUAS)—focused on promoting sustainable communities in Houston and beyond.

“It will be a game changer for UHD initiatives and scholarly activities centered on sustainability,” said Dr. Lisa Morano, director of the Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability (CUAS). “It also serves as an example of how planners and architects can incorporate environmentally sound decisions in the design and construction of academic facilities.”

The LEED Gold certification, Morano added, is a major accomplishment and certainly reflects the College’s commitment to a more sustainable downtown Houston.

Dr. Akif Uzman, dean of the College of Sciences & Technology, added that the building’s engineering contributes to its LEED Gold status. Some key features that factor into its sustainable design include the flow of air conditioning condensation into a 6,000 gallon cistern (providing water for the building’s urban gardens). Additionally, exterior light will easily make its way into much of the building, allowing for an energy-saving lighting system (light-sensitive adjustable lumens in spacious areas). Also, many areas of the building utilize recycled materials.

Complementing these green elements will be the addition of solar panels, which will power two environmental labs – one of which will be named the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Environmental Science Laboratory. These panels are made possible by a $250,000 gift from the Green Mountain Sun Club.

The building’s exterior will feature garden beds for agricultural projects and the aforementioned cistern, which also will be used to store rain water and additional condensation. Native grasses are used in the surrounding landscape to create a micro-pocket prairie and in effect, serve as an outdoor classroom for students learning about biodiversity.

Inside the building, science will literally be on display for faculty, students and visitors. Labs and classrooms will have large windows that allow for full visibility of lessons and experiments. Complementing lab visibility are numerous writing surfaces (such as whiteboards) throughout the common areas. These writing surfaces will allow students to collaborate on projects and assignments throughout the building. And on each floor, there will be visual displays of scientific activity to spark further interest in research and STEM disciplines.

“This really communicates to everyone that science is a human endeavor engaged in by people from all walks of life,” Uzman said. “The visibility invites passersby into the scientific enterprise and creates an energetic atmosphere that enhances creative potential of all who work and study in the building.”

Supplementing the “science on display” theme of the building is that labs and classrooms are designed to accommodate research and activities across scientific disciplines.

“The goal is to promote collaboration between students and faculty from different areas of study,” Uzman said. “Cross-disciplinary partnerships are commonplace in the sciences and yield many interesting projects and discoveries.”

Another key feature of the building’s interior is the Mark & Tami Mallett Grand Lobby that welcomes visitors and community members and connects to the Fondren Commons via a public hallway with a 60-foot mural highlighting the development of Texas agriculture. The Mallett Grand Lobby (located at the building’s west end) hosts a café serving Peet’s Coffee and the Fondren Commons (on the east side) will offer a place for socialization and gatherings.

Faculty and staff have begun the process of moving into offices and lab spaces. The first classes to be conducted in the CST Building will be this fall.

The CST Building’s planning stages began in 2015 when the Texas Legislature approved its development and construction. In 2016, UHD purchased a 17-acre parcel of land on which to construct this building and future University additions. The CST Building marks the beginning of new growth for UHD just north of I-10. This year, the Texas Legislature approved the authorization of a student fee supporting a new Wellness and Success Center (located near the CST Building) that will continue to deepen the campus’ footprint in downtown Houston.

A formal dedication ceremony for the new building will be conducted during the fall semester.

The CST Building becomes the seventh building at UHD. Other buildings comprising the campus include the Girard Street Building, Academic Building, Commerce Street Building (housing the College of Public Service), Shea Street Building (home of the Marilyn Davies College of Business), the Willow Street Pump Station, and the historic One Main Building.

“The College of Sciences & Technology Building will be a center for academic exploration and a catalyst for community collaborations,” said UHD President, Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “Its labs and learning spaces will elevate UHD’s ability to prepare the next generation of Houston’s scientists and innovators. The facility also will serve as a place where Houstonians can gather to address issues affecting our city and to learn how UHD is leading positive change in the region. It’s a major addition to our campus and an incredible asset to Houston.”

Read The Houston Chronicle's coverage of the new College of Sciences & Technology Building

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.