Hitchcock Center for the Environment
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

The Hitchcock Center for the Environment is a 9,000 sf environmental education center seeking full Living Building Challenge certification. The building was designed “to foster greater awareness and understanding of our environment and develop environmentally literate citizens.” The Center features indoor and outdoor classrooms, offices and educational exhibits. It is located on Hampshire College land, within walking distance of another Living Building Challenge project: the R.W. Kern Center. For this project Integrated Eco Strategy is consulted on building material compliance. This building is pursuing full Living Building Challenge, and currently in its 12 month performance period.



Architect: designLAB architects, inc.

Civil Engineer: The Berkshire Design Group

Landscape Designer: Stephen Stimson Associates

LBC Consultants: Integrated Eco Strategy

Full Living certification is the goal of this project, meaning that all 7 ‘petals’ and all 20 imperatives of the Living Building Challenge must be achieved.

Site: Built on a former apple orchard, the building both mitigated and embraced the site’s previous use. Arsenic present in the soil from pesticides was managed on site, protecting people from exposure to any impacted soils. Artifacts from the original site were harvested during construction and re-used as building features, including: benches made from felled trees; a “basking boulder” installed inside to illustrate warming techniques of cold-blooded animals; a root ball hung from the ceiling to highlight complex sub-surface systems; and a unique H-shaped tree used to mark the trailhead at the edge of the property.

Water: The building captures all of its drinking water from rain and returns all water used back to the aquifer. Inside the building, pipes are color-coded to interpret the net-zero water system.

Energy: The building’s energy consumption is 75% less than the average for a building of this type (site EUI is 24.1 kBtu/sf/yr) . The project is net-zero, with the rooftop solar array providing all the energy required by the building. Features that reduce heating and cooling energy consumption include the building’s wooden design (the solid wood diaphragm absorbs latent humidity and mediates diurnal temperature swings); sensors that monitor outdoor temperature and humidity and indicate when it’s time to open the windows; and windows that provide ample daylight, decreasing lighting requirements.

Healthy Air:  Orientation and relationships to the exterior environment were key determinants in the building design. Large south-facing windows with extended canopies and vegetal screens capitalize on the seasonal benefits of solar gain, while providing vast views to the Holyoke Range in the distance. Smaller, high north-facing windows were chosen to mitigate the harsh north exposures, while providing peeks into the tree canopies. Additionally, all occupied spaces enjoy access to natural ventilation, giving users ownership over their own comfort.

Materials: Wood is the dominant material in this building, and 100% of the wood was either Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified, site harvested or salvaged. The building structure and envelope are formed from small-size dimensional lumber for easy assembly and to facilitate disassembly at the end of its useful life. With the exception of the concrete floor and foundation (necessary in the temperate northeast) no stone or concrete assemblies were used. The all-wood approach also created a carbon sink, serving as an alternative to the steel and concrete structures pervasive in the region. The project off-set all the embodied carbon (273 tCO2e) of the for entire construction project.

Equity: Necessarily located in a rural area to provide access to the undeveloped environment they interpret, the project went to great lengths to improve public access for both carbon reduction and social equity motivations. By relocating the building to a college campus, they were able to access existing transportation networks established to serve the college community. They also worked with regional transportation authorities to create a new bus stop in front of the center, and built a bike pavilion to leverage their new location along the public bike path. Moreover, in anticipation of the construction of the center, Hampshire College greatly expanded the network of hiking trails in the area and converted manicured lawns adjacent to the center to meadows planted with indigenous grasses and wildflowers.

Beauty & Inspiration: The Hitchcock Center for the Environment staff believes users must understand the inner workings of buildings to be better stewards of the built environment. Toward this end, the building systems were substantially exposed as teaching tools – the building itself teaches lessons about sustainability at every step. Visitors navigate the building by following animal footprints that are painted on the floor, and they are initially greeted by a wall graphic that illustrates the five principles found in all natural systems, each identified by an animal glyph drawn by a local artist. In the classroom wing, the building dashboard tracks the production of energy and water for visitors to monitor, while the applications of the natural systems are highlighted on a large map of the building systems. The building challenges people to think of themselves as active participants in maintaining a healthy environment. Finally, an extensive trail system, interactive teaching gardens and connection to a bike-trail system encourage users to engage with the environment through healthy activities.