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School of Thought

Bruner/Cott & Associates
Amherst, Massachusetts

Hampshire College to transform an asphalt driveway into a Living Building Challenge certified admissions office and welcome center.

By Nicole Anderson


June 11, 2014
Renderings by Bruner/Cott & Associates

Hampshire College has never been a school to conform to the status quo. And now, not surprisingly, the Amherst, Massachusetts, institution, known for its alternative liberal arts curriculum, is yet again thinking outside the box. But this time, it is doing so with a bold sustainability plan that includes the construction of a net zero Campus Portal building, designed to meet the Living Building Challenge’s demanding “living status.” The 15,000-square-foot facility, designed by Bruner/Cott & Associates, will house an admissions office, welcome center, coffee bar, gallery, campus store, and shared learning spaces. The project is slated to open in 2016.

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The Campus Portal is the brainchild of Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash, the former head of the World Resources Institute, whose interest and background in sustainability led to the launch of a design competition, and a request for qualifications from over 40 firms. “Essentially it was his [Lash’s] idea and was infectious from the top down,” says Jason Forney, principal at Bruner/Cott. To prepare to meet the Living Building Challenge’s strict criteria, the firm held a daylong charrette with the International Living Future Institute, and also traveled to Seattle to visit the Bullitt Center and Bertschi School.

While the project began with the conception of the Portal, it soon morphed into a larger, more comprehensive vision for the 1960s Brutalist-style campus, calling on Bruner/Cott to create an overall site design as well as a long-term plan. “The project became a vehicle for transforming the center of the campus,” says Forney. They decided to erect the Portal closer to the center of campus, replacing an imposing asphalt driveway (which President Lash jokingly dubbed the “fossil fuel spear”) with new “pedestrian-oriented greenspace.”

The two-story Portal was conceived to welcome visitors while also providing students and faculty with shared gathering spaces for work and socializing. At the center of the building is a glass pavilion, functioning as the main hub of activity, which is flanked by two wings organized into dedicated programmatic spaces such as offices, classrooms, galleries, and meeting rooms. To maintain a small carbon footprint, the firm plans on using locally sourced materials: the façade will be made of Ashfield stone from a quarry within 50 miles of the college. A 100kW photovoltaic array will sit atop the standing seam metal roof, which also serves as a reservoir for the collection of drinking water. To achieve net zero (a requirement to attain “Living Status”), the firm will implement R40 walls, an R60 roof, and triple glazed windows. Rain gardens will be integrated into the landscaping to naturally manage all of the storm water on site, while composting toilets inside will cut down on water consumption.

A series of outdoor meeting areas surrounded by native plantings, including an oak-pine forest and meadow grass, will be woven into the landscape around the Portal, designed by Richard Burck and Associates. “It was important for the community to experience, activate, and use the area around the building,” says Jason Jewhurst, project architect. “The north (side) receives people in a very gentle way, and then on the south entrance, there is a plaza for people to gather, start a tour, or gather at end of the day.” The building’s orientation and new landscaping will work in tandem with the overall design and mission of the project—creating a more organic and sustainable entry point for an institution whose mission is to foster pro-active and collaborative learning.


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