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Oberlin College Lewis Center

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Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies--Oberlin College
(Oberlin College Lewis Center)

This is an aerial view of the Oberlin College Lewis Center highlighting the PV arrays.
Photo credit: John Petersen, Oberlin College


  • Location: Oberlin, OH
  • Building type(s): Campus, Higher education, Library, Assembly
  • New construction
  • 13,600 ft2 (1,260 m2)
  • Project scope: 2-story building
  • Other setting
  • Completed January 2000
    Although the building opened for classes in 2000, modifications continue as the energy performance of the building is studied and is better understood. The building is part of an academic program and consequently has experimental aspects to it that are being evaluated. In addition, improvements will be made as new technologies become available.
  • Rating: Green Building Challenge
    Rating: Zero Energy Building

The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies is located on the Oberlin College campus in Oberlin, Ohio. It houses classroom and office space, an auditorium, a small environmental studies library and resource center, a wastewater-purification system in a greenhouse, and an open atrium.

Zero Energy Building

The Lewis Center is an all electric building and was designed with maximum energy efficiency in mind. The Lewis Center generates its own on-site electricity through a roof mounted 60 kW photovoltaic (PV) system and a 100 kW PV system located over the parking lot. Because of this, it is a net zero energy building (ZEB). Specifically, the Lewis Center is a:

  • Site ZEB: Building produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the site. The Lewis Center is an all electric building that produces all energy on-site using PV.
  • Source ZEB: Building produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the source. Because the Lewis Center is an all electric site ZEB it also qualifies as a source ZEB.
  • Emissions ZEB: Building produces at least as much emissions-free renewable energy as it uses from emission-producing energy sources annually. The Lewis Center offsets any emissions for which it is responsible through its PV system which produces electricity with zero emissions.

Environmental Aspects

Upon initiation of the project, Professor David Orr asked three questions that continue to serve as a guiding philosophy for the Lewis Center:

  • Is it possible—even in Ohio—to power buildings by current sunlight?
  • Is it possible to create buildings that purify their own wastewater?
  • Is it possible to build without compromising human or environmental health somewhere else or at some later time?

The hope remains that the building not only serve as a space in which to hold classes, but also, according to Orr, "help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment."

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by Oberlin College, Corporation, nonprofit
  • Typically occupied by 80 people, 60 hours per person per week

A variety of courses both within and outside the Environmental Studies program are taught in the Center's classrooms and auditorium. The building is also used regularly for guest lectures, presentations, banquets, student organization meetings, Quaker meetings, informal gatherings, and study space. Occupancy estimate assumes three classrooms at 25 students for 5 hours per weekday plus use of offices, resource center, auditorium and atrium. Summer use is usually restricted to 10 people for 40 hours per week.

Building Programs

Indoor Spaces:

Public assembly (65%), Lobby/reception (30%), Classroom (30%), Other (10%), Office (10%), Restrooms (5%), Mechanical systems (5%), Electrical systems

Outdoor Spaces:

Interpretive landscape (80%), Restored landscape (50%), Garden—productive (35%), Wildlife habitat (30%), Patio/hardscape (20%), Garden—decorative (15%), Parking (10%), Drives/roadway (5%), Pedestrian/non-motorized vehicle path (5%)


Integrated team, Design charrette, Training, Green framework, Simulation, Green specifications, Contracting, Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Wildlife habitat, Wetlands, Indigenous vegetation, Stormwater management, Water harvesting, Efficient fixtures and appliances, Graywater, Wastewater treatment, Massing and orientation, Insulation levels, Glazing, Passive solar, HVAC, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, On-site renewable electricity, Adaptable design, Durability, Benign materials, Salvaged materials, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, C&D waste management, Occupant recycling, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Ventilation effectiveness, Thermal comfort, Low-emitting materials, Indoor air quality monitoring

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