The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Environmental Center
Designed by Re:Vision Architecture and certified as the 13th living building in the world, the Cafritz Center sets new standards in site sustainability, equity, health, and beauty.
The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Environmental Center is a day-use education and events building at the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm, a renowned environmental education center and working farm on a 330-acre site along the Potomac River about 10 miles south of Washington, DC.
This project advances the notion of “living buildings” by considering what it means to be a living campus with interdependent structures and site development. Certified as the 13th living building in the world by the International Living Future Institute, the Cafritz Center has 12 months of operating data to verify its net zero energy performance and net zero water performance, among other measures of site sustainability, equity, health, and beauty.
A highly collaborative process with an integrated design charrette was used to engage staff and stakeholders in the design of a master plan for a campus of living buildings. Minimizing site disturbance on the educational farm was essential to the client, which led to compact development on a previously disturbed location and its surroundings. Challenging site conditions encouraged the design team to look to nature for design solutions to address abundant groundwater and sub-par solar access. As a result, the Cafritz Center was conceived as an elongated blade of grass nestled on a woodland edge and the neighboring overnight lodge as dense moss under tree cover.
By design, the Cafritz Center pulls you out of doors and provides multiple ways to be sheltered while outside; its diverse exterior spaces allow for four-season education and enjoyment of the natural setting.
On the interior, each of the 450 materials used were vetted to be free of the hundreds of chemicals of concern that are identified on the Living Building Challenge Red List. In keeping with the owner’s environmental mission and desired “lodge” aesthetic, the wood flooring, ceiling treatment, and wainscoting were all milled from downed trees on-site, and exterior posts were salvaged from an Amish farm.
This is a building designed to be “sailed” by the occupants to take advantage of daylight, breezes, views, and indoor-outdoor flow.