Exterior view of Mesa Court Towers

UC Irvine Mesa Court Towers

A trio of mid-rise residential towers recently completed at UC Irvine serves a growing need for first-year student housing, while demonstrating sustainable building design and zero-waste food service operations. The Mesa Court Towers consist of three six-story buildings housing 932 beds, in an otherwise low-rise student housing area with 2,900 residents. The new development was envisioned as a 'living learning community,' with numerous amenities and public spaces to promote peer-to-peer learning and social interaction to help incoming students adjust to campus life. The project was delivered through a design-build process, and opened only 28 months after the contract award date, at least a year faster than traditional contracting methods would allow.

Many green building features are exposed to view, and sustainable programs are elucidated to students and staff, advancing campus and UCI Housing commitments to sustainability.

The design was centered around healthy biophilic design principles, including daylight harvesting, captured views to landscape, and opportunities for indoor-outdoor connections. The towers include a mix of triple and quad rooms, with spaces for meeting and places to study on every floor: two-story lounges, group study rooms, a computer lab, and quiet study areas. These spaces are enhanced with 10-foot ceilings that also promote daylighting and natural ventilation. Most of the buildings operate without air conditioning, with operable windows for natural ventilation, exposed concrete thermal mass, and building forms that are oriented to take advantage of the prevailing winds. When windows are closed, ‘trickle vents’ permit ventilation that is driven by exhaust fans, controlling humidity and providing a minimum level of outside air. Exterior shading devices on south elevations reduce heat gain.

Interior of Mesa Court Towers

The residence halls include a variety of meeting and study areas including two-story lounges.

The building’s energy efficiency measures are expected to reduce annual energy use by 53 percent, compared to the Title 24-2013 compliance path for LEED, which counts the performance of the project’s photovoltaic (PV) and solar-thermal systems. The HVAC system, which serves only the basement and podium level, includes high-efficiency heat pumps coupled with radiant heating, variable frequency drives on air handlers and pumps, large ductwork and radius elbows to reduce friction losses. Lighting is provided by 100-percent LED lamps, with controls limiting them to 50 percent of full power, and also occupancy-based controls. The building’s energy use intensity (EUI) is 47 kBtu/ft2.

Roofing areas feature several green elements: a 92-kW PV array that provides 14 percent of the electrical demand, green roof areas with drought-tolerant plants, and highly reflective roofing to reduce heat gain. Water heating is supplemented by 45 rooftop solar thermal panels and a 2,500-gallon hot water storage tank. Together these provide 40 percent of the hot water demand.

Exterior view of Mesa Court Towers

Exterior view showing outdoor dining area and bicycle parking.

Amenities and public spaces include a café with extended hours, a fitness center, and the “Anteatery,” a new 725-seat dining commons, with additional outdoor seating for 240 people, that supports the extended student population. The dining facility offers healthy menus and culinary classes, and follows UC’s Sustainable Practices policy, sourcing over 25 percent of all food and beverages from within 250 miles of campus, or from sources that meet sustainability criteria certified by third-party organizations.

The dining hall also has several programs in place to support a goal of zero waste. Food waste is treated using an anaerobic digestion program that is operated in collaboration with campus facility management, the dining commons vendor, and local water and sanitation districts. Unserved food is distributed to people in need in the community, through a campus partnership with a local church program.

Dining commons at Mesa Court Towers

The Anteatery dining hall strives for zero-waste operation, and offers direct connections to outdoor spaces.

The project team also pursued educational goals, creating features and programs to use the building for didactic purposes. Public spaces in the towers feature environmental graphics that provoke consideration of science and the injustices of climate change. A monitor in the reception area informs residents and visitors about energy and water use, making these metrics salient, and potentially encouraging environmentally-friendly behaviors. Parking for 250 bicycles encourages car-free transportation, hydration stations reduce waste from plastic water bottles, and attractive glass stair towers encourage healthy 'stair culture' over elevator use.

Soon after opening, Mesa Court staff hosted a sustainability initiative for residence hall employees, demonstrating event greening, energy and water conservation, container gardening and zero waste. The program led to an impressive increase in recycling of 33 percent. In the dining hall, educational programs such as “Weigh the Waste” increase awareness of food waste. The PV contractor, Sullivan Solar Power, is working with UCI to increase solar applications on campus, and to develop a solar educational program. These programs and activities, along with the building’s design and amenities, contribute to making Mesa Court Towers a living-learning place for students, faculty and staff.

Images by Bruce Diamonte courtesy of UC Irvine.

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Award Category
Green Features
  • Passive strategies include highly insulated envelope and exposed thermal mass
  • Exterior shading devices on south-facing windows
  • Transit-oriented development with parking for 250 bicycles
  • Natural ventilation for 70% of the project
  • 92 kW PV array, generating 165,000 kWh annually
  • Solar thermal panels and hot water storage
  • Zero-waste dining facility serving local products
  • Anaerobic digestion program for food waste
  • Lobby display of energy and water data for education and competitions
Annual Estimated Energy and Cost Savings
Completion Date
Additional Awards
Project Team