by Stephen Demarest Rath
The founder of the Lloyd Center for the Environment, Karen Gallup Lloyd, liked to discuss the deepest subjects over a cup of coffee with cream, a blend she insisted be the “color of the Potomac.” She was fascinated with the idea of balance and was drawn to a number of interests – Asian art, Native American mythology, psychology, music, and environmentalism – in her pursuit of it.
When Mrs. Lloyd met Kathryn Duff in 1993, she must have known that her new friend, a talented architect, would someday bring to life their shared vision of a perfect balance between humans and nature. And, as of December 2016 – when bulldozers and backhoes broke into the earth at the Lloyd Center for the Environment – new ground in environmental stewardship was broken, thanks largely to the work of Ms. Duff, founder and lead architect at studio2sustain inc, New Bedford, MA. Architectural plans for a new Welcome Center at the Lloyd Center embrace the original vision of Mrs. Lloyd and adhere to the rigorous standards of the internationally renowned Living Building Challenge™ (LBC™). Currently, there are only 11 buildings in the world that are certified as conforming to the LBC™ standards.
In terms of a Welcome Center and the building site, Ms. Duff describes, “There are 20 imperatives that must be met, and they are dispersed among seven categories referred to as petals. Like the petals of a flower, each petal becomes part of the holistic function and beauty of a living building. You can’t remove one petal and still maintain the balance of the whole system.”
1. The Place petal addresses the civil engineering aspect of the building. Where is the building located? How is it going to impact the site? As Ms. Duff explains, “Place focuses on habitat exchange and the need for restoration where wildlife is being dispersed or displaced.”
2. The Water petal addresses the imperative of net positive water. “The bottom line,” Duff continues, “is that you can’t tie into a utility water supply system, and you have to generate your own water and disperse it on the site.” At the Lloyd Center, water comes from a well supply. In addition, rain that runs off the building will be collected in the ground within the footprint of the building, adding to the ground water and therefore, the well. There has been soils testing and sufficient engineering to insure that none of the water is thrown off-site. ‘Grey water’ (sink and water fountain run-off) from within the building itself will go into a ‘treatment garden’ on site and will be treated using plant material. Toilets will use a teaspoon of liquid foam instead of a tank of water, thereby creating a composting system to liquefy the waste. Later, this ‘black water’ will get pumped into a tank and taken off-site for treatment by the Town of Dartmouth.
3. The Energy petal requires net positive energy and is achieved by allowing no fossil fuel combustion in the building. Duff clarifies, “The Lloyd Center plans on doing this with a large solar array on top of the building, which will generate energy and store it in a Tesla Power Wall.” Because the building is designed to many of the standards of the International Passive House requirements, it will have triple pane windows (R9), as well as reclaimed insulation for the roof (R60), walls (R40), and floor (R30). This makes it so energy efficient that the water for hand washing and drinking will not freeze.
4. The Health and Happiness petal takes the worldly view that unless structures are built which are healthy, accessible to everyone, and generate a spirit of human happiness, people will not be as content in them. So the LBC™ challenges the designer and builder to construct a building that incorporates what is called ‘Biophilic Design,’ namely, that it celebrates the environment, embodies the environment, and most importantly, is healthy to humans.” For instance, there is a requirement in the design that every room must have natural light and natural ventilation. The design must also conform to the human scale, “In this way humans feel connected with nature; and, since the Lloyd Center is all about the environment, it is a very easy requirement.”
5. The Materials petal is described by Duff as, “Probably the hardest one to achieve. All of the materials being used are vetted: there can’t be any red list materials such as PVC’s, and further, materials must not be transported from far away because we’re trying to minimize the carbon footprint. We’re also trying to sustain local economies by purchasing or using locally sourced materials. To that end, I would say that the Welcome Center is doing a great job because we harvested a lot of oak trees from the site. Some of the trees are being harvested into mulch for use on our trails, and there is a mountain of it at the Lloyd Center; while hardwood trees that are straight, like the oaks, are being harvested into planking to be used inside the building. And then, the smaller tree limbs will be used to line the trails or left to decay to create wildlife habitat sanctuaries.”
6. The Equity petal is based on providing the benefits of a building to all who use it. For example, if the building provides sunlight and ventilation, it has to provide it to all the people using the building, thereby creating a sense of equitability and accessibility. In addition, LBC™ certification requires that materials be purchased from organizations certified as JUST Organizations, meaning that they have not been found guilty of breaking child labor laws, illegal trafficking of materials, or violation of international procurement practices.
7. The Beauty petal requires that there are two pieces: the building has to be beautiful, and it has to be inspired. It has to inspire others to learn more about the environment and become part of a community. Duff recounts, “One of the earliest conversations we had with the Lloyd Center Staff and the Design Team involved kids in an education program who had an ‘aha moment’ when they arrived and became immersed in the forest floor where the building site is located. They learned how the forest floor changes and evolves with the seasons in New England: the beauty of the leafing out in the spring and the articulating of leaves in autumn, which fall to the ground and contribute to the decomposed matter and DNA of the forest floor. This is what the students would then dig up, research, and assess. “And out of that early conversation came this beautiful image of the roof as this articulating leaf falling from the tree toward the forest floor. And that essentially captures the idea of the building. From there we worked on articulating the roof and orienting the building to meet the other petals. Wherever you stand outside the Welcome Center, you will always be cognizant of this oversized roof, which is over articulated at the edges and resembles the shape of a super sized leaf; and inside the Center we have patterned that roofline in order that when you look up, you’ll see all the different patterns of cedar planks that create beautiful linear patterns, like the underside of a leaf. When you look down, you will see leaf patterns in the floor. So, in our design, we never lost the idea of this articulating leaf falling down to the forest floor.”
“Who has been involved?” I ask. Duff smiles: “We have students involved in both the design and, of course, the building of it; and the Lloyd Center Staff has been integral to the whole effort and process from the beginning. We’ve also had two volunteer students from Harvard: one who is in the Sustainability Extension Program, and the other is an undergraduate at Harvard; they, too, have been involved in the project from the beginning. I say to all of them: You are creating a piece of environmental sustainability. You are designing it, you’re building it, you’re going to help it grow, you’re going to help it function, and you are going to use it to teach others. This is the result of your efforts.”
She finishes with these words:
“For the people who come to the Welcome Center for the first time to just pop in, grab a trail map, or use the restroom, they will have an opportunity to experience this building, and, in the process, learn about what makes it a truly sustainable, living building. For example, we’re going to have our Tesla Power Wall exposed, so you will see what a battery looks like that stores energy coming from the solar panels. Now won’t it be great to have an exhibit where you can actually see energy being generated in real time? The idea is that we want to plant a seed so visitors keep coming back to learn more about the building and engage in other programs at the Lloyd Center. It will continue to evolve in their memory, their curiosity, and their knowledge about a living building. We see this building as an inviting place. Hence, it is the Welcome Center.”