Text description provided by the architects. The exterior design embodies seemingly contradictory missions: creating an arresting presence to beckon visitors, while simultaneously not upstaging the building’s pristine environs at the periphery of an independent school’s campus. Sited at the bottom of a sloping landscape, between woods and wetlands on one side and a golf course on the other, the building presents a low and undulating profile. The 16,500-square-foot structure is capped by a vegetated roof that is the color of surrounding flora, helping it harmonize further with the landscape – almost disappearing from some vantage points.
Viewed from the campus, across a state road, the rhythmic façade might harbor any number of likely functions, perhaps a museum, classroom, or laboratory. It houses, in fact, gritty infrastructure: a biomass facility that burns sustainably harvested woodchips to heat the Hotchkiss School with its more than 600 residents and 85 buildings that total 1.2 million square feet. Designated a carbon neutral fuel by the International Panel on Climate Change, the locally sourced wood chips are the byproduct of sustainably managed forests; they replace some 150,000 gallons of imported fuel oil per year, cutting emissions overall, most dramatically sulfur dioxide by more than 90 percent. Waste ash is collected for use as fertilizer for vegetable gardens tended by the students. The biomass facility is an integral part of the school’s commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral campus by 2020.
Centerbrook Architects, led by Partner Jefferson. B. Riley, FAIA, determined with the client that infrastructure need not be dreary, inside or out. This furnace dwelling was designed to do double duty as a living classroom. It exposes ecologically friendly technologies and sustainable construction materials to touring students and community groups. Along the mezzanine walkway, which overlooks and circumnavigates the boiler room, an informal exhibit displays explanatory charts and maps, while a series of interactive computer consoles track performance metrics.
The exhibit also highlights various wood products, locally abundant and renewable building materials that were used throughout for framing, trusses, railings, veneer, and wood composite boards. Forest Stewardship Council certified wood or indigenous timber was used whenever feasible; for example, the railings were harvested, milled, kiln-dried, and fabricated locally. The building’s trusses are glue-laminated timber, which optimizes the structural values of this renewable resource. Glulam has less embodied energy than reinforced concrete or steel and can be used for much longer spans, heavier loads, and complex shapes. Outside, visitors can follow a nature path that affords views of the green roof, which absorbs and filters rainwater runoff; they also can observe a rain garden, bioswales, and nearby wetlands.
The building is slated for LEED certification for conservation features that include a renewable, laminated wood structural system; water-conserving plumbing fixtures; use of local materials with a high recycled content; an abundance of daylight inside; and highly efficient mechanical systems, lighting, and exterior skin.