World's fifth 'living building' certified at Smith College [slideshow]

The Bechtel Environmental Classroom utilizes solar power, composting toilets, and an energy recovery system, among other sustainable strategies, to meet the rigorous performance requirements of the Living Building Challenge.

February 04, 2014 |

Smith College's newest building, a 2,300-sf learning center at its nearby field station, has achieved top honors for environmental sustainability by meeting the rigorous performance requirements of the Living Building Challenge, a green building standard overseen by the International Living Future Institute. 

The Living Building Challenge is considered the most comprehensive design- and performance-based building standard related to the environment. The Bechtel Environmental Classroom, as Smith College’s building is known, is only the fifth Certified Living Building in the world, and the first such building in New England.

Supported by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and located at Smith's MacLeish Field Station in Whately, Mass., the Bechtel Classroom was completed in 2012. 

The single-story wood-framed building was designed by Coldham & Hartman Architects, a firm based in Amherst, Mass., and built by the Deerfield, Mass.-based contractor Scapes Builders. The building comprises a seminar space, a multipurpose room, and an instructional lab. An outdoor gathering space offers visitors a view of the Holyoke Range. 



“The Bechtel Environmental Classroom highlights Smith’s commitment to sustainability and the environment in a tangible and meaningful way,” says Drew Guswa, professor of engineering and the director of Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS), which is a primary user of the classroom. He notes that CEEDS students had input into the design of the building.  

To meet the Living Building Challenge, buildings must fulfill the requirements of seven different “Petals”—Equity, Beauty, Health, Site, Water, Energy and Materials—that encompass issues of sustainability, aesthetics and social justice.

“The Living Building Challenge is straightforward, but immensely difficult,” says Bruce Coldham, one of the building’s architects. Even before ground was broken, Coldham and the contractors were conscious of the requirements of the Living Building Challenge. In their design, they incorporated elements like composting toilets and solar panels that return to the grid 50 percent more energy than the building uses. They used local materials and sited the classroom in an area that required clearing mostly invasive species. Also, all materials used were certified free of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemical agents.



Since the Bechtel Environmental Classroom’s opening in September 2012, students have monitored a range of data points around the building’s electricity and water usage to demonstrate that it operated over its first year of occupancy as a net-zero facility, meaning that it generates more energy than it uses and that it draws solely on a renewable water system.

The building is used by a variety of departments, including landscape studies and Jewish studies, as well as for writing retreats and concerts. 

Future plans include poetry readings and dance performances.

The Building Team included:
Survey – Berkshire Design Group
Geotechnical – O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun
Civil – Berkshire Design Group
Landscape – Dodson Associates
Structural – Ryan S. Hellwig, PE
Architectural – Coldham & Hartman Architects
Systems Design Consultant - South Mountain Company-Marc Rosenbaum
Interior Design – Lorin Starr Interiors
Plumbing – Kohler & Lewis
Mechanical – Kohler & Lewis
Electrical – Sager Associates
Lighting Design – Coldham & Hartman Architects
Contractor – Scapes Builders
Principal subcontractors:
Mechanical & Plumbing – Dobbitt Companies

Electrical – Martin Electric

For more on the building, visit:



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