R.W. Kern Center
Architect: Bruner/Cott & Associates
Owner: Hampshire College
Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
Project site: Brownfield
Building program type(s): Education—College/University (campus-level)
Hampshire College’s R.W. Kern Center is a 17,000 sq ft multi-purpose facility designed to meet the Living Building Challenge. As the gateway to campus, Kern includes classrooms, offices, a café, and gallery space. The building is self-sustaining—generating its own energy, capturing its own water, and processing its own waste. The Kern Center is the result of an inclusive and integrated design process and wholehearted commitment to the environmental mission by the whole team. The project demonstrates Hampshire’s dedication to the highest level of sustainability and stewardship, and to the college’s mission of critical inquiry, active leadership and hands-on learning.
Located at the heart of the Hampshire College campus, the R.W. Kern Center is a multi-purpose facility intended to embody a high threshold of forward-thinking sustainable design: generating its own energy, capturing and treating its own water, and processing and recycling its waste. The new building, which includes classrooms, offices, and a community café and gallery, serves as a primary entry point to the campus, and was designed to engage prospective students, provide community space, and showcase Hampshire’s commitment to sustainability by pursuing the Living Building Challenge (LBC).
The major challenges posed by the project—designing a net zero energy building in a cold climate; developing a rainwater-fed public water supply and a pilot project for indoor greywater treatment; and using only local, sustainable, and nontoxic materials—also offered opportunities to create a unique building. Strategic use of window openings take advantage of signature views and daylight harvesting while maintaining a 30 percent window to wall ratio. Water collection, treatment, and discharge showcased in design features that teach: exposed cisterns, indoor greywater planters, and a landscaped raingarden. The Kern Center’s aesthetic language features local stone and timber, connecting it to its dramatic mountain surroundings while also simplifying the materials palette to eliminate troublesome finishes and plastics.
The Kern Center was designed to create a positive impact across social, economic, and environmental boundaries. Inspired by Kern’s single rooftop array, the college scaled up to install a campus-wide PV system, saving money on utilities and improving community resilience. The project also inspired new courses exploring the building’s systems, mission, and meaning. Kern helped strengthen the local and global markets for sustainable and regional products, and minimized the building’s life-cycle costs with durable, low-carbon materials. The Kern Center shows net positive action and impact—for the same cost as a similar “normal” building.