Maharishi University of Management’s Sustainable Living Center

After pioneering the first four-year sustainability degree in the United States, Maharishi University of Management constructed the Sustainable Living Center (SLC), an inspired educational facility and home to the famed Sustainable Living Department. Designed as a modern, urban educational facility, the 6,900 square foot building marries sustainable infrastructure including lush gardens, fresh indoor air, rain catchment, and alternative energy sources with Vastu, an ancient eastern building philosophy.  This architectural synergy creates a true “East Meets West” design, a reflection of the conscious mindset at the University.

For the past decade Maharishi University of Management has been a hotbed for sustainable design and education. The University was the first to respond to the growing needs of the sustainability industry when they created the nation’s first B.S. Degree in Sustainable Living. Since then, the program has been expanding. The Sustainable Living Department offers a broad curriculum spanning areas of permaculture, alternative energies, water management, alternative building techniques, and performance design for the built environment. The new SLC is designed to be a building that teaches, incorporating the many principles taught within the degree program into an incredible example of architectural vision.
A closer look at urban off-grid design

The SLC uses a number of strategies to cover the important functions of heating, cooling, and ventilation.


The building envelope has high levels of insulation and tight construction to minimize heat loss. Interior thermal mass, created by handmade bricks with local clays, helps maintain a steady indoor temperature. Radiant floor heating helps maintain high radiant surface temperatures that allow occupants to feel comfortable at a lower air temperature. Passive solar design features include south facing windows with overhangs that collect solar energy and boost interior temperatures during winter months, but prevent overheating by providing shading in the summer. A heat recovery ventilator allows classrooms and offices to be flushed with fresgardensh air without an energy penalty.

the SLC has 750 square feet of evacuated tube solar thermal collectors that can harness solar energy even on cloudy days.  Annually, the collectors can provide about 30 % of the thermal energy required by the building. This energy is stored in a 5,000 gallon water tank.  When the building requires heat, the water is pumped into tubes just below the surface of the concrete floor.  If the solar thermal panels are not able to keep up with the heating demand of the building, a ground source heat pump kicks in.  The heat pump uses solar and wind generated electricity to move 2.5 units of heat from the ground for every unit of electricity used. The heat pump is capable of providing 75,000 BTUs per hour.

When outside temperatures allow, the building is cooled by opening windows or running a large fan.  When additional cooling is needed, the building can be flushed with cool night air, and air can be drawn into the building through four tubes in the earth.  If additional cooling or dehumidification is needed, a ground source heat pump is used.  The ground source heat pump uses solar and wind generated electricity and the constant temperature 18 feet below the surface of the earth to cool and dehumidify the building.

Aside from the building’s high performance design features, the energy systems would need to produce enough energy to power the building uninterrupted, year round. To achieve these design criteria, we installed a combination of solar and wind energy systems which work in tandem with seasonal changes providing uninterrupted power, year round.


meadow copyThe SLC has an annual projected energy use of 30,000 kwh, including all electrical loads, heating and cooling. Energy consumption includes the operation of geothermal heat pumps, solar hot water pumps, air circulation and lighting, in addition to the variety of electronics used within the classrooms and offices of the building.

In Southeast Iowa, wind production is highest in the winter and spring, versus photovoltaic production, which peaks in the summer and is minimized during winter months. To maintain year-round renewable energy production in Iowa, solar and wind is a vital combination. 
For this project, a Bergey XL 10 wind turbine was installed, which sits atop a 100 foot latticed tower. The turbine has a 23 foot diameter rotor and output is rated at 10 kW.  With only three moving parts and no scheduled maintenance necessary, this unit is more reliable than any other small turbine on the market. The estimated annual output is 17,00 kwh, with power production peaking in the winter and spring (source: Iowa Energy Center).

The photovoltaic system consists of 12.5 kw of PV panels, installed across three locations on the SLC property. The arrays produce an accumulative 16,250 kwh per year, with higher in production during the summer (source: NREL’s PV Watts). The solar ties into three SMA Sunny Boy inverters (two 2.5 kW inverters and, one 5 kW inverter) and an Outback 3600 watt battery based grid-tie inverter. Any surplus power from the solar and wind systems help power other buildings on campus.


In addition to the off-grid design, the Sustainable Living Center also captivates with unique architecture and innovative design. Visitors are greeted with verdant herb gardens and stunning whole tree round timber framing. The building is constructed of natural materials and finished with locally made clay plasters. The southern façade features an indoor greenhouse, where students can practice permaculture design, or enjoy quiet relaxation for studying. And true to the educational nature of the building, self-guided tours instruct guests on the many sustainable features of this brilliantly forward-thinking structure, and offers a vision of a vibrant, green future.

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