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Carnegie Mellon goes green with Gates-Hillman complex

New digs for the computer science crowd can boast of sensor thermostats, gray-water flushes, green roofs, natural light, and, yes, even fresh air.

The Gates Center for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.
Carnegie Mellon University

Please raise your hand if you've spent a lot of time in a basement environment while attempting to master one computer-related art or another.

I'm referring to any room with a noisy ventilation system, windows that don't open, and dim fluorescents overhead. You know the one. It was either so sweltering that you ended up wearing shorts in January, or kept so cold for the sake of the servers that you wore a scarf and fingerless gloves year-round.

Well, that universal rite of passage for computer lovers seems to be over for Carnegie Mellon University students thanks to a $20 million gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a $10 million gift from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, and several other donors.

The Gates Center for Computer Science and the Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies will officially open on September 22. The linked buildings will house research space, offices, conference rooms, laboratories, an auditorium, and classrooms for CMU's School of Computer Science.

Inside the atrium of the Gates Center. Carnegie Mellon University

In announcing the scheduled September 22 opening ceremony at which Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will speak, CMU also released updated information on the Green attributes of the Gates-Hillman complex.

Through landscaping and a series of five green roofs, the university has managed to "double the amount of green space that previously existed on the 5.6-acre site," according to CMU. Professors and students using the buildings will actually be able to breathe in the fresh air created by that surrounding green foliage because the Gates-Hillman complex has over 310 windows, "most of which can be opened."

The green roofs are each equipped with heat exchange system to limit energy loss in the ventilation system. They will also collect rainwater and snow melt (gray water) that will be directed to the building's toilets.

The nine-story Gates Center has seven atria, and roughly 21,000 square feet of interior glass to insure plenty of natural light throughout the building.

"I was truly captivated also by the many cuts and atria in the building (a couple having complex series of stairways reminiscent of Hogwarts). There is even an 'impluvium' that will allow weather--including rain and snow--to enter into the building, all the way to the central 'collaborative commons' area," Peter Lee, head of the Computer Science Department and future Office Director at DARPA, described in his blog.

Both buildings have individual thermostats for each room that can be manually controlled, and are additionally linked with motion sensors to detect when they are empty so they can adjust accordingly.

Rendering of an aerial view of the completed Gates-Hillman Complex. Carnegie Mellon University

While it's not officially open, professors and students have already moved in. Photos of the building have also appeared on The Tartan, CMU's student newspaper.

As you would expect, there's some nostalgia for the old facilities. Mark Stehlik, professor and assistant dean for undergraduate education at the School of Computer Science, had his dim, overcrowded office memorialized with a Gigapan snapshot, according to Lee.

Update 7:22 a.m. PDT: Photos were added to this story since it was originally published.