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Bechtel Environmental Classroom

Supported by a grant from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Smith College completed the construction of a 2,300 sq.ft. building at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in 2012. The Bechtel Environmental Classroom is designed to be one of the "greenest" buildings in the United States. A 9.4-kW solar array generates more electricity than the building uses on an annual basis, and Smith students and the building's designers vetted all of its building materials to ensure that they were the most sustainably-sourced materials available. The building has successfully completed the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous green-building standard overseen by the International Living Futures Institute.

The Bechtel Environmental Classroom developed from a student design for an outdoor classroom and pavilion at the MacLeish Field Station. The Bechtel Foundation's generous grant expanded the vision from a pavilion to a fully functioning building that could serve as a shelter and educational space for students and other visitors to the field station. The building comprises a seminar and lecture space, a "dry" lab room, a small office, a kitchenette, and two composting toilets.

Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is a certification program that provides a detailed set of design and construction standards for environmentally friendly buildings. It is the most comprehensive such certification and goes above and beyond the requirement for LEEDS Platinum. As of January 2014, the Bechtel Environmental Classroom became the fifth fully certified Living Building. For detailed information, read more here.

The Living Building Challenge comprises seven different "petals" that encompass issues of sustainability, aesthetics, and social justice. The challenge consists of being certified with respect to each petal: Equity, Beauty, Health, Site, Water, Energy, & Materials. Explore the images below to learn more about the seven petals.

Click for a slideshow

Sustainable Design

In order to successfully vie for the Living Building Challenge, designers and contractors had to engage with each other thoughtfully throughout every phase of the design and construction process, from the conception of the building to its completion. Each feature of the building, and the materials that went into it, had to be carefully considered for compliance with the requirements of the Living Building Challenge. Because of the high standards set by the challenge, and its relative newness in the construction world, there were some unprecedented challenges. Every item required approval prior to use in order to confirm that it did not contain any of the 13 Red List components. In order to achieve this, every vendor had to provide an "ingredients list" for their products.

Mindful Use

Another important element of the Living Building Challenge is how users and visitors interact with the building. The building has many features, both obvious and subtle, that require people to interact with the space in a more thoughtful and deliberate way than is the norm. For example, composting toilets get users to think about traditional and alternative systems of "waste" disposal and to consider whether "waste" is even the right term. The building offers a contrast to the general trend towards motion-sensor lights, instead featuring manual switches with messages that remind visitors to turn off lights they don't need. in addition, the lighting is individualized to small portions of the building, so that visitors must make deliberate decisions about lighting and electricity use. Separate containers for trash, recycling, and compost also encourage greater awareness of consumption and waste.

Programming & Events

In the spirit of the liberal arts, the Bechtel Environmental Classroom is intended as a multipurpose space. To date, the building has been used for class visits, seminars, workshops, celebrations, concerts, and to simply get out of the rain.
The space can be reserved for use by the Smith College community using 25Live, Smith's space and services request system. The classroom is equipped with a sound system and projector, 40 chairs, a seminar table and 6 additional folding tables, trash cans, and other basic event needs. If you have questions about what is available or how you can use the space, you are welcome to contact the Field Station manager. [macleish@smith.edu]