The AJLC was conceived as a “building that teaches”; that is, a facility in which the lessons embodied in technology and design choices serve to reinforce rather than contradict lessons taught in its classrooms.
The facility has been an integral component of education at Oberlin since 1992, when David Orr offered a year long course in ecological design that focused on defining design criteria for an environmental studies center at Oberlin College. Since completion of its construction in early 2000 the AJLC has proved to be a hands-on laboratory for studying principles of ecological design. For example, Environmental Studies faculty Dr. John Petersen has developed case studies, lesson plans, and semester-long research projects on systems and technologies used in the AJLC for courses. In 2001, a practicum in green building technology and education focused entirely on technologies employed in the AJLC and development of its website. In 2003, another practicum course has focused on developing interactive displays and installations that reveal the story of the AJLC to occupants and visitors.
Faculty from diverse disciplines including biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, dance, and emerging arts have incorporated study of and reflection on the AJLC into their curricula. Interdisciplinary collaborations have also emerged. For instance, environmental studies, biology, and art faculty together developed a course entitled “Art and the Environment”. Nationally recognized environmental artists visited and worked with students to consider how art might be used to augment the educational mission of the AJLC. In addition to course offerings, a wide variety of lectures and symposia sponsored and hosted by the AJLC have addressed issues ranging from global climate change to architectural education to economic mechanisms for addressing environmental problems.
The AJLC has also provided a variety of opportunities for independent student research, winter term projects, work-study and internships focusing on ecological design.
Each semester the Environmental Studies Program hires approximately 10 work-study students as building operators. These students have the opportunity to develop a hands-on understanding of the building and landscape with a special emphasis on monitoring and managing the Living Machine. Numerous private readings, winter term projects, assistantships, summer research experiences, and honors projects focusing on technologies incorporated in the AJLC have been supervised by Environmental Studies faculty. Many Oberlin graduates who have participated in courses or other programs at the AJLC go on to pursue advanced degrees and careers in the emerging field of ecological design.
The AJLC has proved to be an interesting and valuable asset to broader communities within and outside of Oberlin.
The AJLC serves as a resource that supports a broad range of College and Community activities.
The AJLC was designed to accommodate almost any class offered on campus. In fact, a variety of courses that contain no particular environmental theme are taught in the AJLC by professors in various disciplines including English, Creative Writing, African American Studies. Despite having only 6 distinct teaching spaces, the building can handle class sizes from 100 to 10 students, making it unique on campus. The atrium has proved to be a popular spot for special dinner events. Artistic uses of the space have included sculpture, painting, dance, performance art, and music, ranging from opera to Obertones (a student acapella group) to electronic music. The facility has also been used for summer camps and workshops. Although the popularity of the AJLC results in increased site energy consumption; use of the building provides critical opportunities to educate members of the community who may have no prior interest in environmental issues.