Earth Day: The VCU Rice Center

The VCU Rice CenterCreating a lasting, positive impact through engineering, surveying and environmental expertise is at the very core of what we do at Draper Aden Associates. With today being Earth Day, we wanted to highlight a past project that perfectly encapsulates that lasting, positive impact, especially when it comes to enhancing the environment. In 2008, Draper Aden provided civil engineering, design, and construction administration services for the VCU Rice Center. The Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences sits on a 343-acre property in Charles City County, Virginia, and is home to many natural resources and wildlife. When the property was donated by Mrs. Inger Rice, she requested that the building needed to make the most of green design elements.

The Rice Center is situated on a hill overlooking the James River and takes advantage of natural day lighting as well as natural shading from the surrounding tree canopies. Draper Aden incorporated a number of green elements into the design, including geothermal wells, an innovative grading and drainage system, stormwater runoff controls that recycle rainwater, pier and river access, an outdoor pavilion, and an on-site wastewater treatment system.


The Rice Center is one of the finest examples of sustainable design and was the first project in Virginia to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. The building features sustainable strategies for efficient energy use, lighting, water, and material use.


However, the project did come with some challenges in order for it to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. Mrs. Rice requested that the site layout should work around the natural vegetation of the property. All trees greater than 6 inches and within the 4.80 acre limits of disturbance were identified and mapped out during the topographic survey. As a result, the building and site features were blended into the existing natural surrounding to minimize the environmental impact.


Not only is the VCU Rice Center and its surrounding property beautiful to visit, but the design and construction serves VCU and its students in two very distinctive ways. The building is the focal point for administrative, education and outreach activities conducted by faculty, students, and staff of the Rice Center, and is VCU’s environmental field station. In its first year of operation, more than 1,000 students, teachers, and adults visited the Rice Center and enriched their environmental education experience through classes and being able to conduct independent research projects in the building’s labs.


In addition, the building serves as an education tool. The sustainable aspects of the facility’s design, construction, and operation are points that allow VCU staff to not just talk about sustainability, but to provide an actual visual and hands-on example. Discussions on sustainable landscapes, energy and water use, indoor environmental quality, and efficient use of materials and resources are greatly enhanced by students being able to see how these features are woven into their building.


In all, Draper Aden is proud to have been a part of this project and the Rice Center is a prime example of a building that helps VCU, its students, its faculty, and our broader environment. Happy Earth Day!