Hampshire College's Newest Building Receives Environmental Award

Jun 7, 2017

The R.W. Kern Center, which opened in 2016, was the first new building constructed on the Hampshire College campus in three decades.
Credit AIA

   The newest building on a western Massachusetts college campus has earned a national award for its environmentally sound design.

     The American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment has recognized Hampshire College’s R.W. Kern Center with one of its Top Ten Awards for 2017.  The year-old 17,000-square foot building is self-sustaining, generating its own electricity from solar panels, using purified rainwater, and composting organic waste on-site.

     The honor comes as educational institutions in the region are claiming leadership roles on environmental issues in the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris Accords on climate change.

     When the multi-purpose Kern Center opened in 2016, Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash called it a symbol of the school’s beliefs.

      " We want this building not just to be a structure that shelters some activities, but a part of who we are and what we teach," said Lash.

      Hampshire College worked with architects Bruner-Cott of Cambridge, Massachusetts to design the building with the goal to be certified a “living building” by the International Living Future Institute. Results from a yearlong performance test will determine if it gets the designation.

     Jonathan Wright of Wright Builders in Northampton said the construction project was “difficult and exacting.”

     Construction materials and chemicals identified on a so-called “red list” of toxins had to be avoided.

     "Everything had to be checked out  down to the electrical tape, caulks, glues, it is very process intensive," explained Wright.

      Except for the heat pumps and window glass frames that had to imported from overseas, everything else was fabricated within 500 kilometers of the construction site.

      " That's part of the "Living Building Challenge" is to source it locally," said Wright.

      Wesley Evans was a student member of the planning committee for the new building.

      "What came out in the final product is a testament to how involved the  community was and how deeply the Hampshire community cares about  sustainability and leaving the planet better than we found it," said Evans.

      The AIA said “the project demonstrates Hampshire’s dedication to the highest level of sustainability and stewardship, and to the college’s mission of critical inquiry, active leadership, and hands-on learning.”