Reweaving human presence
in the world at Oberlin College

Oberlin College's new environmental studies center is a working laboratory for environmental education and one of the most advanced examples of ecological architecture in America.

Named the Adam Joseph Lewis Environmental Studies Center after one of the principal funders, the 14,000 square foot building was designed by William McDonough, dean of the school of architecture at the University of Virginia. McDonough has a worldwide reputation as a visionary green designer. Also contributing to the design were Amory Lovins and Bill Browning from the Rocky Mountain Institute and other leading experts in the fields of ecological engineering and landscape architecture.

The building will be a place that teaches. Its design concepts will help students learn ecological competence and mindfulness of place, environmental technologies, analytical skills in assessing full costs over the building's lifetime, and how nature's principle that "waste equals food" can be adapted for manufacturing processes and building materials.

We are fortunate to have such a demonstration of ecological design here in Northeast Ohio.

Design philosophy

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the center in September 1998, the director of the Oberlin Environmentsl Studies Program, David Orr, described the building's design philosophy as follows:

Three years ago we began the effort to design a building for the Environmental Studies Program. We intended to create not just a place for classes but rather a building that would help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment-one that would expand our sense of ecological possibilities.

We began by asking:

  • Is it possible-even in Ohio-to power buildings by current sunlight?
  • Is it possible to create buildings that purify their own wastewater?
  • Is it possible to build without compromising human and environmental heath somewhere else or at some later time?

In other words, is it possible to design buildings so well and so carefully that they do not cast a long ecological shadow over the future that our students will inherit? We now know that such things are possiblethat buildings can be designed to give more than they take.

But we intend the Adam Joseph Lewis Center to be more than just a demonstration. It is a means to the larger end of improving how creatively we think. In the century ahead all of those who will be educated here must learn how to:

  • Power society by sunlight and stabilize climate.
  • Disinvent the concept of waste and build prosperity within the limits of natural systemsin ways that can be sustained over the long term.
  • Preserve biological diversity and restore damaged ecosystems.
  • And do these things while advancing the causes of justice and nonviolence.

To these ends the Adam Joseph Lewis Center will serve as a part of the larger education of the Oberlin community aimed to promote the practical skills and analytic abilities necessary to reweave the human presence in the world.

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More about Oberlin's Lewis Center
Back to main Green Building

Lewis Environmental Studies Center
at Oberlin College. The on-site wetland retains
and filters stormwater runoff.

3,700 square foot of photovoltaic (PV) panels on the main south-facing curved roof provide electrical energy for the building.



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