Having to excavate and replace12 feet of bad soil could have seriously derailed the construction budget for this new building at U.C. Davis’s Graduate School of Management. Instead, the architect and construction team turned it into an asset.

Rather than replacing the bad soil after excavating, San Francisco– and Boston-based Sasaki Associates and its partner, Sundt Construction, converted the underground void into a geothermal loop by filling it with 48 miles of pipe that draws and transfers the relatively constant heat from the earth, using it to help heat and condition the 82,000-square-foot graduate school and an attached conference center, says John Coons, principal of Sasaki.

This move, in turn, meant that the building’s boiler and chillers could be smaller—one of the many factors leading to a LEED Gold rating that will climb to platinum once the university adds solar panels.

Sasaki and Sundt won the competitive bid to construct the building, working as a team to design and cost the structure within a period of weeks. The budget was $28 million. “We actually were able to come in lower than that cost, and we had the highest technical score” for the building’s design as well, says Coons.

Project Details


Category Green/Sustainable project
Entrant/Architect/Interior designer Sasaki Associates, San Francisco
Builder Sundt Construction, Tucson, Ariz.
Developer: University of California, Davis, Calif.

The building also includes a high-performance ventilated wall system that clads an air space with a skin of polycarbonate board in some places and with Italian porcelain tile on the exterior walls on the most visible sides of the building.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.