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The R.W. Kern Center Story

The R.W. Kern Center is the newest building at Hampshire College, a small private liberal-arts college in western Massachusetts. The project began in response to the need for a new admissions space to better welcome students to campus. Then-President Jonathan Lash identified the new building as an opportunity to embody Hampshire’s inquiry-based educational model, history of activism and social justice work, and deep commitment to environmental stewardship, and to create a strong foundation for sustainability leadership on campus.

The RWKC project kicked off in 2013 with the formation of a building committee of faculty, administrators, facilities staff, and students, who developed a basic program and outline goals for the project. A local building firm owned by Hampshire alum Jonathan Wright (Wright Builders) was chosen by the Board of Trustees. The building committee hosted a design competition to find an architecture team, selecting Cambridge-based firm Bruner/Cott & Associates.

In consultation with the Hampshire community, the college decided to pursue the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the most stringent sustainable design certification to date. The LBC requires buildings to meet 100% of their energy needs with on-site renewable energy, to provide 100% of water demand using on-site rainwater collection, and to process their own wastewater and stormwater on site. By adopting the Living Building Challenge, the project team adopted a strong set of shared values and goals for the building, which were augmented by the greater Hampshire community. The team held numerous charrettes and visioning sessions to ensure all members of the college community could contribute.

Together, the team outlined project goals, including:

  • The Living Building Challenge project should underscore Hampshire’s core commitment to the environment.
  • The building should convey Hampshire College’s values and help tell the story of a unique, progressive, and experimenting intellectual community.
  • The building should be a comfortable and engaging place that encourages community, collaboration and conversation between all community members.
  • The building design should relate to its context and reflect its natural setting. It should be striking and new; impressive, but not pretentious; vibrant; and connected to the outdoors.
  • The building should be accessible, flexible, and adaptable.
  • The design, construction, and management of the building should be a learning opportunity for the entire community. All should understand how and why the building signals “a new age of design,” and be inspired to apply what they learned.
    • The design process began in September 2014 and continued for a year, with construction starting in October 2014. The building was substantially complete in April 2016, and occupied in August 2016. After taking several months to work out the kinks of operating the building, the official LBC year-long performance validation period began in February 2017. After submitting the necessary project documentation and an on-site audit, the building was LBC certified in March 2018.

      Students and faculty were involved throughout the design and construction process- taking tours of the site, studying the building systems in their classes, and undertaking independent research on topics related to the building and LBC. Though the building is now complete and certified, the campus community continues to engage through ongoing upgrades and improvements, faculty and student research, and courses based on building systems and themes.

The RWKC Team

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