Facilities (Campus Spaces)

A Living Building

greenest building


In June, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, opened its new 17,000-square-foot campus center, the R.W. Kern Center, as one of the greenest buildings in the world. The college worked with architects from Bruner/Cott & Associates of Cambridge, MA, to design a building that supplies its own water and energy on-site, processes its own waste water, was built non-toxic to avoid “Red List” chemical products and with materials mainly from local and regional sources to limit the project’s carbon footprint.

Hampshire designed the building with the goal of becoming one of only a dozen buildings worldwide certified under the most advanced green building standard, the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The standard aims to break society’s dependence on environmentally harmful practices, to protect not only the environment but also the workers who make the building materials, the tradespeople who install them and the people who use the building. It aims to compel improvements in the building and construction sector.

Aligning With Institutional Goals

The Kern Center, Hampshire’s first new major campus building in nearly 30 years, is part of the college’s broad sustainability initiative and its commitment to make campus operations carbon neutral by 2020. The college is pursuing a related plan for its campus to go 100 percent solar for its electricity this year, and arrays comprised of 15,000 solar panels on 19 acres are currently being constructed on campus.

The Kern Center’s $10.4 million project cost was made possible by private donations. It houses the offices of admissions and financial aid, welcome areas, classrooms and social areas for students and campus visitors, including a coffee bar. It was built as a living laboratory designed to facilitate and inspire education for its lifetime and was already being used during construction as the focus of science, math, architecture and technology coursework.

The Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge™ (LBC) from The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today. To support builders procuring for LBC projects, the ILFI maintains a “Declare” program (living-future.org/lbc) that provides a platform for manufacturers to disclose the chemical makeup of each product and list their product in the Declare public database.

inside greenest building


For the Kern Center, Hampshire committed to avoiding the use of building products containing any of a dozen toxic Red List materials or chemicals including: asbestos; chlorofluorocarbons; neoprene; formaldehyde; hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs); lead; mercury; polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and wood treatments containing creosote, arsenic or pentachlorophenol. The Living Building Challenge restricts use of products containing these chemicals because of the risks they pose to humans and the environment. The standard requires each manufacturer disclose product ingredients, and verify none are on the Red List.

In building the facility, the team was required to find a source for each material; verify materials were non-toxic, sustainable and replenishable; and maintain supporting documentation for certification. It fell on the project team to reach out to the manufacturers and in many cases even communicate with product chemists to document and verify ingredients.

More than 800 of the Kern Center’s building products were vetted in this way, six times the average for a construction project this size. As a result of these efforts, the facility will be one of the healthiest buildings possible for people to work in and visit, built with a relentless focus on sustainability and stewardship. Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash says, “It is a physical embodiment of the college’s values, a teaching tool in and of itself. This building helps us see what is possible.”

Materials Procurement

To further promote stewardship, the Kern Center building team aimed to procure materials from sources in close radius of the construction site, depending on their weight, to reduce environmental impacts from transporting products and to support local economies.

To achieve LBC certification, all products must be made using responsible industrial practices for sustainable resource extraction and fair labor practices. All wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or procured from salvaged sources, and the chain of custody of the wood from stump to project site was documented to negate the possibility of counterfeiting.

Lastly, the LBC standard asks builders to strive to reduce or eliminate construction waste, and to conserve natural resources.

The building’s architects, Jason Forney and Jason Jewhurst of Bruner/Cott, said in a joint statement that the LBC challenges architects and builders to stop focusing on making buildings that are merely less bad, and to ask instead, What does good look like? “Good design starts with net positive energy, net positive water, materials that are safe for humans, designs that favor people (not cars), healthy indoor environments and innate connections to nature,” they said.

To complement the Kern Center, Hampshire eliminated a long-standing oval driveway from the middle of its main quad and converted it back into a wildflower meadow in order to bring nature and pedestrians back to the center of campus, and also stopped mowing 10 acres of lawn to further reduce CO2 emissions. Hampshire also permanently protected 46 acres of land it owns on the Mount Holyoke Range.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management September 2016 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Michael Medeiros is a writer for Hampshire College as well as the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. A Massachusetts native, Medeiros recently edited A Mighty Room, a compilation of poetry by contemporary poets written in Emily Dickinson’s bedroom.