University of Virginia chooses ‘Life Lab’ over light green jonquils

By Meg Garvin One of the iconic, yellow, jonquils on the banks of the Potomac River will welcome students to the University of Virginia this fall. A new logo introduces UVA as “Virginia’s flagship…

University of Virginia chooses 'Life Lab' over light green jonquils

By Meg Garvin

One of the iconic, yellow, jonquils on the banks of the Potomac River will welcome students to the University of Virginia this fall.

A new logo introduces UVA as “Virginia’s flagship university” and adds, “With its confluence of world class buildings, breathtaking scenery and class and life-changing experiences, it’s not easy to imagine that the campus can be anything less than dreamlike.”

In truth, the campus is character by, of all things, dark and uncomfortable. UVA had issues with mold, mold and more.

The darkness was so pervasive that the university decided to turn the campus into what it calls the “Life Lab” this year. Students will live in single-family, dome-shaped tents on campus to tackle systemic issues that would otherwise stay at bay: mold, roaches, mice and the shared and bitter winter weather.

An article in Outside magazine tells the story of Hannah Casals, the first student of the Life Lab. She’s a senior at Grafton High School in Virginia. Her home “makes me sick. I’ve never had mold in my life, and here it is,” she said. “We’re all trying to create an environment for ourselves that feels comfortable and safe, and every house has issues.”

At first, only 300 to 400 students will live in the Life Lab this fall, which will host two classes on campus. Students at the new Living Laboratory can live on the lower level of the burnt orange brick Lurie Hall dorm. Rent will start at $550 a month for a 10-room apartment, but the price of housing will increase each semester.

UVA said the new Living Lab experience provides benefits beyond mold remediation. The students will work together with faculty and staff to tackle a range of social, environmental and policy issues. The trials and tribulations of dorm life, as with any new experience, will be intense but beneficial, the university said.

The students work nine-to-13 hour days. The Housing and Dining Services team said the environment can be “literally the worst environment for health, safety and hygiene in the world.” The five “Living Lab” tents are stacked to hold an estimated 240,000 pounds of trash and daily waste. The students recycle 100 percent of their trash and include a composting program. There is an on-site trash/dining option of compost bins, natural composting and trash bins designed to filter down into the ground. The trash bins are fitted with automatic paper shredding machines.

Campus leaders said most of the problems are related to messy and dated conditions, which can be as difficult to deal with as mold.

“In many ways, the dorms are broken more than they are moldy,” said Forrest Reed, vice president for operations at UVA. “The central issue is that dormitories are just not set up for students’ use. They’re designed for older people who came from their own homes and their own apartments. We must rethink the way we architect and build our spaces so students’ needs are met. This is the time to try something different and do more than just fix mold.”

News article in Now magazine

The Healthy Buildings Council has a website design contest

Visit Outside magazine for more articles

Live.UVA.edu “For the sake of belonging

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