In 2016, the R.W. Kern Center became Hampshire College’s first new building in 40 years. Today, the institution, located in Amherst, Mass., announced that the center has become certified as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Among the elite group of 17 projects (and one park) that have earned what is arguably the most rigorous green-building certification, the two-story, 17,000-square-foot Kern Center is the largest higher education project.
The Kern Center was designed by Cambridge, Mass., firm Bruner/Cott & Associates, which partnered with Northampton, Mass., contractor Wright Builders, which served as general contractor and construction manager; founder Jonathan Wright, of his namesake firm, is a Hampshire College alum. Situated at the center of Hampshire’s 800-acre campus, the mass-timber building houses the school’s admissions and financial aid offices, classrooms, a café, a lounge, and a gallery. A double-height glass atrium framed with a triple-glazed curtainwalls looks out to expansive views of the campus and the nearby Mount Holyoke Range in central Massachusetts.
The $10.4 million project ($7.4 million for construction) was privately funded by more than 100 donors, led by another Hampshire College alum, William “Bill” Kern, and his family; the building is named after Bill Kern’s father, Ralph W.
To attain Living Building status, projects must document one year’s worth of post-occupancy performance data to prove they are in fact net-zero water and net-zero energy, as well as net-zero waste. The Kern Center uses composting toilets, collects rainwater, treats its own graywater, and generates its own energy via a 118-kilowatt, roof-mounted photovoltaic panel array. It has produced about 17 percent more energy than its predicted—and, to date, relatively accurate—energy use intensity of 23.2 kBtu per square foot per year. (Hampshire College subsequently installed a large solar array able to power its entire campus.) The Kern Center’s energy and water performance are available in near real-time through its online dashboard.
One of the most difficult aspects of the Living Building Challenge is its requirement that all building materials and components are free of approximately 20 chemicals listed on LBC’s Red List, which materials consultant Integrated Eco Strategy helped the project team navigate. The Kern Center, which was designed to be a 100-year building, features structural framing from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, schist cladding from a quarry located 25 miles away from the site, and strategic, limited uses of concrete and steel, two carbon-intensive but long-lasting materials. The ILFI’s detailed case study on the Kern Center notes that the project’s windows, foundation, exterior walls, and roof compose 93 percent of its total global warming potential, while interior partitions represent 5 percent.
The Kern Center also won a COTE Top Ten Award from the AIA in 2017. “This project was transformational for our firm,” says Bruner/Cott principal-in-charge Jason Forney, AIA, in a press release released today by the project team.
In the press release, Hampshire College president Jonathan Lash says that he hopes that “for everyone who visits the center—which operates net-zero energy, water, and waste, avoids toxic materials, and reduces our carbon footprint—we want them to ask, ‘Why would anyone build any other way?' "