Lewis Center for Environmental Studies

Lewis Center for Environmental Studies in Oberlin, Ohio by William McDonough + Partners, 2001

The following text and images are by William McDonough + Partners for their design of the Lewis Center For Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio.

The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies represents a collaboration of ideas and interests. The client, Dr. David Orr, has written on what he calls “architecture as pedagogy” - the idea that the buildings we learn in teach us as powerfully as the content of our classes. In response, the Lewis Center was designed throughout to embody the curriculum of ecological mindfulness central to the Environmental Studies Program. The result is a remarkable synthesis of building and landscape, state-of-the-art sustainable materials and innovative design strategies. The Lewis Center manifests ecological stewardship and is widely acknowledged as both a prototype and a pioneer.

The Lewis Center is intended to be both “restorative” and “regenerative,” addressing how architectural design may reverse the environmental stresses brought on by the industrial revolution. To this end, the design team considered how the building and landscape could be fecund - like a tree - accruing solar income to the benefit of living systems, absorbing water quickly and releasing it slowly in a healthy state, and creating habitat for living things.

One of the project’s primary goals was to become a net energy exporter, generating more power than would use to operate on an annual basis, while maintaining acceptable comfort levels and a healthy interior environment. The building relies on current solar income and the natural energy flows created by the sun. The roof is covered with 3,700 square feet of photovoltaic panels, which are expected to generate more than 75,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. The design team employed advanced energy modeling techniques to evaluate design strategies. When the building is fully commissioned, its energy requirements are expected to be nearly 80 percent lower than those of standard academic buildings in the area.

Advanced and "sustainable" design features include geothermal wells for heating and cooling, passive solar design, daylighting and fresh air delivery throughout, a "living machine" natural waste water treatment facility on-site, a created wetland for natural storm water management, and a landscape that provides social spaces, instructional cultivation, and habitat restoration.