University of Illinois snags highest green award for engineering building

SOURCE: University of Illinois
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Building at the University of Illinois has received LEED Platinum certification.

By U2B Staff 

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When it comes to higher education leading the global sustainability movement, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is certainly walking the talk. 

Recognising that universities stand at the center of civic consciousness, the institution set out several years ago to build its US$95 million Electrical and Computer Engineering Building (ECE) with the highest standards of sustainability in mind.

With international architectural, engineering and planning firm SmithGroup as their architects, the university in 2014 launched what is today one of the largest net-zero energy buildings of its kind in the US.


Spread across 230,000 square feet, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a high-tech and high-performance everything, from how it was constructed to how it will run and what it will do.

As a result of this, the building recently earned LEED Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC) for implementing practical and measurable strategies and solutions aimed at achieving high performance in: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, sustainable construction and waste management, and indoor environmental quality.

The LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design developed by the USGBC is the foremost programme for buildings, homes, and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance.

LEED Platinum certification is the highest rating awarded by the USGBC, and is known to be the global gold standard for green building credentials. The rating considers construction materials, processes, water management, lighting, ventilation, energy, and a long list of attributes for sustainability and quality of life.

That the ECE building achieved LEED Platinum is proof that the facility was able to match up to the university’s stringent and forward-thinking standards on sustainability, and its mission to build one of the academic world’s most advanced centers for high-tech education and training. 

“Illinois ECE’s LEED certification demonstrates tremendous green building leadership,” said USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam.

“LEED was created to make the world a better place and revolutionise the built environment by providing everyone with a healthy, green and high performing buildings. Illinois ECE serves as a prime example of how the work of innovative building projects can use local solutions to make a global impact on the environment.”


Several key features helped the ECE earn its LEED Platinum certification.

One example is its rooftop solar panel installation, which generates renewable electricity for the building and contributes to a campus-wide power grid. To achieve net-zero performance, energy generated by the solar array is supplemented by that from the campus’ solar farms.

The university will soon set up active displays in the building’s atrium to show its energy usage and power flows. A short video on the ECE’s solar array can be found below:

Another feature that contributed to the building’s LEED Platinum certification is the stormwater storage system, which ensures that water runoff from the building is slowed to the speed of the original green field.

The ECE building is also meant to be a living and learning laboratory, which allows students and faculty to research its sustainability features. 

It also features several passive heating and cooling features, including a distinctive terra cotta exterior and sunshades, and a chilled-beam heating and cooling system, which add to its efficiency standards.

“Our goal was to deliver a building that represents the stature of this world-renowned department, positions its students and researchers at the forefront of emerging technology, and acts as a catalyst for efficient building energy standards on the Illinois campus.

“Achieving LEED Platinum certification given the energy-intensive nature of the building, reinforces that the strategies we chose will support Illinois ECE’s sustainability goals now and well into the future,” SmithGroup Vice President and Director of Operations Carolina Lopez said.