The Hitchcock Center for the Environment is an educational center that aims to develop a deeper bond between humans and the natural world. The Hitchcock Center is a certified living building located on the Hampshire College campus in Amherst, overlooking the Holyoke Range.
The Center for EcoTechnology was able to help The Hitchcock Center measure their energy efficiency by performing blower door tests to assess the airtightness of the building during construction and again once the project was finished. CET has also partnered with The Hitchcock Center for many years on various educational and outreach events.
What is the Living Building Challenge?
The Living Building Challenge is one of the most rigorous building standards today. Living Buildings must be self-sufficient and use only local resources. In addition, Living Buildings are required to have a positive impact on the people that occupy them as well as the surrounding environment. The Living Building criteria is designed as a flower, both for its self-sufficiency and the simplicity of the symbol. There are 7 petals, or holistic building criteria, that a Living Building must meet according to the International Living Future Institute: place, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. Let’s explore how The Hitchcock Center meets these criteria in more detail!
Place: Restoring a healthy interrelationship with nature
To earn the place petal, a building needs to improve the surrounding environment. The Hitchcock Center was built on the site of an abandoned apple orchard engulfed by invasive species. The soils were contaminated with arsenic from long-term pesticide use during its former life as an orchard. As a remediation measure, the contaminated topsoil was removed and buried under the parking lot. Healthy topsoil was deposited to replace it, and native landscaping was implemented, including a native bird and pollinator garden, a rain garden, a bioswale, and a constructed wetland. Shared parking at Hampshire College, bus routes, and a network of trails limit the number of cars coming to the premises.
Water: Creating developments that operate within the water balance of a given place and climate
The building accomplishes net zero water by harvesting rainwater from the roof as the only water source for the entire building. The water is then filtered in the basement and passed through UV light. The Center also uses composting toilets! The toilets use foam to flush and gravity moves the solid waste to a chamber in the basement where it is mixed with sawdust and wood chips. The greywater is treated through a constructed wetland. Nearly all runoff is captured by meadow vegetation and a series of rain gardens.
Energy: Relying only on current solar income
In addition to being net zero water, the Hitchcock Center achieved net-positive energy production in a 12-month performance period. The Center earned its energy petal through the use of solar panels and minimal use of automated systems. Light switches, ceiling fans, and windows are manual so that visitors learn to turn off electronics when they are not in use. The building uses passive temperature control, assisted by an automated system incorporated with passive ventilation indicating when windows can and cannot be opened for a specified comfort zone. As a result, the building produces more energy than it uses!
Health & Happiness: Creating environments that optimize physical health and well being
Not only is the building in harmony with the surrounding environment, but it is also a teaching tool for environmental principles. Walking through the building, the windows allow for plenty of sunlight, seamless access to the outdoors, and mesmerizing views of nature. Indoor and outdoor spaces facilitate exploration and interaction between humans and nature. To assure the health of its visitors, a pair of Energy Recovery Units (ERUs) maintain indoor air quality.
Materials: Endorsing products that are safe for all species through time
The Red List encourages builders to avoid certain materials and chemicals that have negative health effects, such as asbestos, lead, and certain wood treatments. On top of not causing adverse effects on the wellbeing of people, the materials need to be sourced sustainably. The majority of the materials used in The Hitchcock Center were sourced within a 300-mile radius. The Center is an all-wood structure from locally sourced eastern white cedar and can be disassembled for reuse in the future. The materials were a combination of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified, locally sourced, and salvaged material. The result is a responsibly sourced building.
Equity: Supporting a just and equitable world
The Hitchcock Center does not charge an entry fee and is a public resource to promote environmental literacy. To break down economic barriers, much of the programming is offered at no or low-cost, and scholarships are available. The Center is accessible through a variety of transportation methods: car, bus, bicycle, and public transportation.
Beauty: Celebrating design that uplifts the human spirit
The wooden building blends well into the ecosystem, and the roof is covered in solar panels soaking up the sun’s energy. The building is modeled after a flower as, “a single self-regulating body.” From an aerial view, the building is split up into two parallel wings, creating the Den and Nest Courtyards. Due to its orientation and positioning, the Den and Nest display two different microclimates. The Main Entrance is on the south side and adjacent to the Nest courtyard, a sunny place for dry species to flourish while overlooking protected land and where the pollinator garden is housed. The Den is located diagonally on the northwest side, nestled into the shady hillside and surrounded by vernal wetlands and trees.
Entering the building, visitors are welcomed by a mural of the six principles of natural systems as well as a display of living and taxidermy animals. The ecotone, defined as an ecological transition, connects the northern and southern wings. It is also where the building’s watershed is located. There are four clear tanks that fill up when it rains connected to colored pipes that indicate the water’s route through the building. A depiction of the Connecticut river against the concrete floor reinforces a sense of place while staying within the theme of hydrological cycles. The criteria of the Living Building Challenge are laid out in an interactive way throughout the building and are incorporated into the curriculum of the Center. Visit The Hitchcock Center’s interactive building dashboard for current updates on how these different criteria are coming into play across the building. Together, these criteria leave visitors with a sense of hope because the building represents an example of humans living in symbiosis with the environment.
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