Environmental Studies Center Approved

Oberlin Plans Northeast Ohio's First Green Building

Are classroom experiences useful in the real world? Deirdre Holmes and Brad Masi, both '93, think so. They returned to Oberlin in August to help plan the design and construction of an environmentally friendly building that will house Oberlin programs related to the environment, a project that has a direct connection to a year-long course they took during their senior year-Ecological Architecture.


"At the time we left [planning such a building] seemed to be more of a fun, conceptual exercise," says Masi, who is coordinating communications and community and campus participation in the project. "Two years ago I never would have guessed that it would happen."

Yet happen it has. The students' work in the course contributed to Professor of Environmental Studies David Orr's proposal to build "a highly visible model of ecological design in a zero-emissions building." In June President Nancy S. Dye authorized Orr to begin raising funds for the project. The Board of Trustees approved the project in November. By the end of November Orr had raised $900,000 from organizations and individuals, including the Educational Foundation of America, the George Gund Foundation, and John and Libby Bowen Morse, both '35, who contributed a half-million dollars to the project.

The 10,000 square-foot, $2.5 million center will incorporate recycled building materials, ecological waste-water systems, solar energy, and ecological landscaping. Although the specific uses have not been determined, the center will do more than house classrooms and offices. "This really ought to be more than just an environmental-studies center," says Orr. "I think this building needs to be an interdisciplinary center where lots of different activities and perspectives come together."

One of the project's main goals is to recoup the complete cost- environmental and dollar-of the resources used to construct and maintain the building. The full cost accounting required to build this way is seldom done, says Orr, and the project will demonstrate how to do it.

Although other environmentally friendly buildings exist, Oberlin's focus on education, interdisciplinary studies, and community involvement in the design process makes the project "unique and rare," says Holmes, who is coordinating the design and planning aspects of the project.

During the fall eight brainstorming sessions involved the entire Oberlin community-students, faculty, staff, and townspeople-as well as interested outsiders in the design process, as did the first of four community programming charrettes, held the weekend of November 10-12. A charrette is an open-forum exchange of ideas and recommendations; the term is "architectural lingo for pulling an all nighter," says Masi.

Landscape architect John Lyle, cofounder of the Center for Regenerative Studies at the California Polytechnic Institute, facilitated the November charrette, which included review of the brainstorming sessions and presentations by nine students enrolled in private-reading courses related to the project. A group Winter Term project and a spring- semester class-Ecological Design-will offer further opportunities for students to do applied research and environmental problem solving.

Charrette participants began developing the project's program-a document of purposes, uses, activities, spaces, and educational programs on which the project's yet-to-be-chosen architect will base the building design. Four themes have emerged from the brainstorming sessions and the charrette, says Masi. The center should provide a friendly atmosphere for learning that engages the user with solutions to environmental problems, foster community by encouraging people of diverse perspectives and backgrounds to take part in its learning opportunities, encourage interdisciplinary and practical education, and consider the relationship of the center to the landscape and the community. Future charrettes will focus on specifics, such as uses, curriculum, space configurations, and furnishings.

The next phases of the project include finalizing the program, developing design sketches, and selecting an architect and site. Groundbreaking is scheduled for June 1997, and the center should be ready for occupancy in July 1998.

-Robb Stolberg '95

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