Living, breathing building: Kern Center earns rigorous green certification

Living, breathing building: Kern Center earns rigorous green certification

Photo courtesy of American Institute of Architects

In 2016, the R.W. Kern Center became Hampshire College’s first new building in 40 years. The facility now has become certified as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), according to the institution in Amherst, Mass.

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, reports Architect Magazine.

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 triple-glazed curtainwalls look out to expansive views of the campus and the nearby Mount Holyoke Range in central Massachusetts.

The $10.4 million project 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.

The Kern Center, 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. 


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