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.

The Kern Center’s aesthetic language features local stone and timber, connecting it to its dramatic surroundings and simplifying its palette to eliminate problematic materials.

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.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2015

Year of substantial project completion: 2016

Gross conditioned floor area: 16,940 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 870 sq ft

Number of stories: 2

Project Climate Zone: 5A (ASHRAE)

Annual hours of operation: 4,810

Site area: 100,584 sq ft

Project site context/setting: rural

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $7.6 million

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 36

Project team

Advisor (Living Building Challenge): Coldham & Hartman Architects

Construction manager: Wright Builders

Consultant (code): Cutler Consulting

Consultant (cost estimating): A.M. Fogarty & Associates Inc.

Consultant (energy and systems): South Mountain Company

Consultant (LBC material vetting): Integrated Eco Strategy

Consultant (lighting design): Lewis Lighting Design, LLC

Consultant (specifications): Kalin Associates

Engineer (electrical): R.W. Sullivan

Engineer (fire protection): Rybak Engineering

Engineer (geotechnical): O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates

Engineer (mechanical, plumbing, and controls): Kohler & Lewis Engineers

Engineer (site/civil and permitting): Berkshire Design Group

Engineer (structural): Foley Buhl Roberts & Associates

Landscape architect: Richard Burke Associates


Annie Chu, FAIA IIDA


Woodbury University

Los Angeles, California

Steve Kieran, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C

Kieran Timberlake

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

David Lake, FAIA

Lake Flato

San Antonio, Texas

Bungane Mehlomakulu, PE LEED AP

Integral Group

Austin, Texas

Amanda Sturgeon, FAIA

Living Futures Institute

Seattle, Washington

Jury comments

"The R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College is designed to meet the Living Building Challenge; it achieves net zero energy and water and was built without red list products. A collaborative and integrated team approach resulted in this being one of the highest performing projects in the country, with a ripple effect across other higher education campuses in the Northeast. Its "campus portal" creates a new front door for Hampshire College that welcomes current and prospective students and expresses the mission of the college through the design and performance of the building. The building skillfully makes sustainability strategies like greywater treatment evident as an educational opportunity for students and further catalyzes a growing movement toward living buildings."


Image credits


Robert Benson Photography


Robert Benson Photography

Community 2

Robert Benson Photography


Bruner/Cott & Associates


Robert Benson Photography

General 3

Robert Benson Photography

Wellness 2

Robert Benson Photography