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Smith College’s Bechtel Environmental Classroom

By Coldham & Hartman Architects | Whately, Mass.

09/25/2014

What was once an astronomical observatory is now Smith College’s Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada & Archibald MacLeish Field Station—a 2,500-square-foot, single-story, wood-framed building on a 233-acre forest and pasture property.

Designed to be one of the greenest buildings in the U.S.—a 9.4-kW solar array generates more electricity than the building uses—Coldham & Hartman Architects vetted all of the materials to ensure they were the most sustainably sourced available. Every item required approval in order to ensure that it didn’t contain any of the 13 Red List components, and every vendor was required to provide an ingredients list for their products.

“It took a huge effort to make the hundreds of calls to the various suppliers to determine if their products included banned materials or not,” said Thomas RC Hartman, AIA, principal at the firm. “However, the primary benefit of the Living Building Challenge as a design parameter was the simple clarity—there are no points to count. It either is or isn’t.”

Designed with a limited palette of products, the building is now a protected space—a requirement of the Living Building Challenge—and protects the mapped habitat of the Jefferson Salamander (a recognized endangered species whose habitat is just north and west of the building). Representations of salamanders can be spotted as craftily incorporated design elements in the woodwork on the porch and around the classroom’s windows and vents.

Composting toilets and well-water from and returned to the site allow visitors to engage directly in the ecological processes that surround them. The solar panels are pole-mounted and adjusted by hand every month to ensure optimal solar orientation, while all of the building’s windows open manually and all doors exit directly to the surrounding landscape.

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Smith College's Bechtel Environmental Classroom
By Coldham & Hartman Architects | Whately, Mass.

What was once an astronomical observatory is now Smith College’s Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada & Archibald MacLeish Field Station—a 2,500-square-foot, single-story, wood-framed building on a 233-acre forest and pasture property.

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