Hampshire College Earns Living Building Certification for R.W. Kern Center 

By Daedalus Howell

AMHERST, Mass. — To the layperson, the term “net-zero” might sound like something is amiss with one’s business. These days, if you’re in the business of building green-themed colleges, it’s the pinnacle of achievement. One such facility is the new R.W. Kern Center on the Hampshire College campus in Amherst, Mass.

Designed by Cambridge-based firm Bruner/Cott & Associates, the 17,000-square-foot R.W. Kern Center has been certified as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

“This project was transformational for our firm,” said Bruner/Cott Principal-in-Charge Jason Forney in a statement. “A warming planet, scarcity of good water, human inequality and the destruction of a fragile environment call for a rapid evolution in thinking about how buildings can have positive impacts. The Living Building Challenge offers a rigorous but flexible framework for that thinking.”

Hampshire alumnus Jonathan Wright, founder and senior advisor of Wright Builders, Inc., served as construction manager.

The building is now part of a roster that includes just 16 other Living Buildings presently certified and is remarkable as the world’s largest such Living Certified higher-education project. The center cost $10.4 million, including $7.4 million in construction and was funded entirely by donors, most notably the family of alumnus William “Bill” Kern, who also gifted their name to the structure.

“The R.W. Kern Center represents Hampshire’s mission and values, who we are and what we believe,” said Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash in a statement. “The building’s value is in teaching what’s possible and inspiring questions about how we impact our surroundings. 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?'”

The center unfolded in stages, beginning with a multifunctional welcome center that came online in April 2016. Boasting a central double-height, glass-pavilion atrium that houses a café, lounge and gallery, the structure showcases the surrounding natural environs with impressive views. Admissions and financial aid offices are sequestered in two stone-clad wings. Classrooms boast views of a nearby amphitheater, and rainwater harvesting reservoirs and a solar farm, as well as an orchard and wildflower meadow, thrive throughout the campus.

Among the features that underscore the building’s energy efficiency are its rooftop solar canopy that generates electricity and a rainwater harvesting system that supplies drinking water for the building. Moreover, the project’s rainwater collection and treatment systems are complemented by composting toilets and a greywater-infiltration system. The result is net-zero water usage. Likewise, the photo-voltaic roof generates approximately 17 percent more energy than the building actually uses. 

“This beautiful, ambitious project demonstrates the power of possibility, which is the very essence of regenerative design,” said Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of ILFI, in a statement. “A visionary project owner, a skilled and curious design team, and a construction manager who brought craftsmanship to a new level have all conspired to create a building that will not only sustain Hampshire College, but also the entire community of learners who will experience the beauty and resilience of the Kern Center year after year.”

Hampshire College
Hampshire College and Bruner/Cott earned Living Building Certification for R.W. Kern Center. Photo Credit: Robert Benson