Environmental Science Center Complete, Runningby Lauren Viera (9/3/99)
It's been four years on the calendar since official planning commenced for what is to be the best example of sustainable development in the nation. In just over a month, Oberlin College will witness the completion of the Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies.
Director of Environmental Studies David Orr, who took a year-long sabbatical during the 1998-99 fiscal year to concentrate on the Environmental Science Center's development, is largely responsible for bringing the project to fruition. While some discussion of erecting such a building has been going on for years, plans were literally solidified last fall at the Center's ground-breaking ceremony. One year later, everything looks to be on schedule. "We're pretty much on budget, and pretty much on schedule," said Orr. "We expect to start moving into the building in October, and it should be ready for classes in February of 2000."
The new $6.5 million ESC will mark Oberlin's move into the next millennium with a revolutionary landmark. Housing classrooms, a library and auditorium, in addition to a two-story winter garden, the ESC will be a monumental milestone not only for college science buildings, but for the entire profession of green architecture. The building structure contains photovoltaic cells which will provide for electricity, while other solar-controlled heating systems will borrow stored summer sun to provide winter heat. Characteristic of sustainable architecture, the building will be naturally lit and ventilated.
"The whole idea of regenerative design," said Orr, "is subversive. We're talking about the interest of things in terms of wholistic design." Orr emphasized that, unlike most commonplace architecture, sustainable architecture requires that several factors come together at once: not only the design of the building is important, but its functions, and their long-term effects on the surrounding environment.
Sustainable architecture also becomes more valuable as time passes in that the energy saved in ecologically-sound structures will save money in the long run. "For standard accounts," said Orr of the building's costs, "what is often the bottom line will be half-way up the ledger. Colleges supposedly educate for the long run, but keep books for the short run."
During the course of the four-year project, Orr has acted as the chief liason between the College and the design team, personally selecting who would work with the ESC's architect, William McDonough.
Excited buzz of the Lewis Center has spread far beyond the realms of the Mid-West and into hundreds of journals on sustainable architecture and ecological design throughout the country. Orr named Popular Science as one of his recent interviews and mentioned that professors and professionals from Pittsburgh to India to Japan have come to visit the site throughout the course of construction.
"This is a collective achievement," said Orr. "By and large, we can be proud of it."
Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
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