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August 31, 2000

Living Machine® System Allows Award-Winning Center for Environmental
Studies to Treat Wastewater


OBERLIN, OH--"John Todd's Living Machine® is a vital thread in a larger tapestry of ideas in the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies," says David Orr, professor and chair of Oberlin's environmental studies program. "Students are learning how to purify wastewater by mimicking how natural systems have done it for 3.8 billion years."

The Living Machine® treats wastewater using a system of engineered ecologies that include microbes, plants, snails and insects, and is designed to treat up to 2,000 gallons of the building's wastewater daily in a beautiful, garden-like atmosphere. Upon completion of a water- pressurization system, the treated wastewater will be recycled back through the building for non-potable re-use.

Invented by Dr. John Todd, of Living Machines, Inc., the Living Machine® system is one of many innovative ecological design features in the Lewis Center, a highly visible model of ecological design and the focus of considerable national and international attention. Even prior to completion of Phase I construction this January, the building--designed by the architectural firm William McDonough + Partners--was honored with awards from the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education and from the Chicago Athenaeum's Museum of Architecture and Design. Oberlin College President Nancy S. Dye has called the Lewis Center "the College’s centerpiece in our efforts to provide the best possible laboratory for environmental education today."

More than a building where teaching takes place, the Lewis Center is a building that teaches; by virtue of its design concepts, students are learning the latest in environmental technologies, ecological competence and mindfulness of place. Along with its primary function of treating wastewater and its identification as a model for sustainability and ecological design, the Living Machine® System is a teaching tool for present and future Oberlin students. Selected students have assisted in the system's installation and have been monitoring the early stages of its operation as it stabilizes.

"Oberlin students have been involved in every aspect of building their Living Machine," says Dr. Todd. "A Living Machine has been part of the building's design since the very beginning of the project and will continue to teach students. It is a working classroom for sustainability and ecological design as well as other science and environmental course work," he says.

Numerous Oberlin students were instrumental in the Lewis Center's planning and design phases in the mid-1990s, guided by the vision of David Orr, an internationally noted environmental educator and campus ecology advocate.

In addition to its biological wastewater treatment system, the 13,600 square-foot facility meets advanced criteria for energy and materials efficiency, use of recycled materials, solar energy and ecological landscaping. "The integration of architecture, ecology and landscape ensures that students come away with the understanding that materials and design can be handled much more intelligently," says Todd. "The bottom line is that resources are saved for future generations in a way that teaches the generations of today."

The main part of the Living Machine® System is located in a solarium adjacent to an atrium and a 100-seat auditorium featuring wood from certified sustainable forests. Wastewater is cleaned through a series of environments populated by different biological communities that help reduce levels of organic substances along with nitrogen and phosphorus in the effluent.

Wastewater flows from the building into two underground reactors located just outside. In these reactors an anaerobic biological process begins digestion of the wastes. Following the anaerobic reactors, wastewater flows through two closed aerobic reactors--also buried outside--where the remaining organic compounds are further degraded.

After flowing through the closed anaerobic and aerobic reactors, wastewater enters the Living Machine® solarium and flows through three open aerobic reactors. Tropical, sub-tropical and native plants such as papyrus, calla lilies and willows root into the planted aerobic reactors and assist in the treatment process.

Following the open aerobic reactors, biosolids are settled out of the wastewater in a clarifier. Wastewater then flows through a constructed wetland surrounding the open aerobic tanks for final ‘polishing.’ Ultraviolet disinfection is the final step prior to the treated wastewater being reused in the buildings’ toilets.





Media Contact: Marci Janas spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer 8/31/00 #13 mj

Oberlin College is an independent undergraduate liberal arts college. Its 2600 students are enrolled in two divisions, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music. More Oberlin graduates earn Ph.D's than do graduates of any other predominantly undergraduate institution. Oberlin's Allen Art Museum is ranked first among college art museums, and its library is unequaled among college libraries for its depth and range of resources. Located 35 miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, Oberlin College admitted women since its beginning in 1833 and is an historical leader in the education of African Americans.


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