Celebrating: Oberlin’s Building Like a Tree is 10 years old!

Tomorrow, Wendy Schmidt, Chair of the new Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, will give a very important address about the positive future of the human enterprise at Oberlin College.

Oberlin College, inspired by Professor David Orr, will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the completion of the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies that my architectural firm designed there; a project full of “firsts” which exports solar energy and renews its water among a litany of other notable cradle to cradle characteristics. It was designed with Dr. Orr’s leadership, the Lewis family and other enabler’s commitments and with a process full of determination, humility, generosity, hope and intention.

Oberlin will continue in its leadership in Cradle to Cradle thinking and action by manifesting a new project which will take the ideas inherent in the design of this building–for a delightful, abundant world full of safe and meaningful employment–and apply them to the college, its city and its region. This is most exciting; especially when we remember that Oberlin has some other “firsts” in its history as Dr. Orr reminds us: the first U.S. college to accept women and the first US college to accept African Americans and it served as the hub of the Underground Railroad allowing slaves being hunted to escape to Canada in the 1800s.

As I became more and more excited about this delightful memorial moment coming up tomorrow and Tuesday, I reflected that my first visit to Oberlin in the early nineties was to inaugurate David Orr’s Environmental Literacy course with a talk I had entitled “A Building Like a Tree”. Now, some seventeen years later, the building is a decade old and thriving thanks to the college’s hands, minds and hearts and the one thing, the ONE thing, we were not sure human artifice could do like a tree…after absorbing solar income, purifying water, creating habitat for hundreds of species, creating oxygen, fixing nitrogen, absorbing carbon, creating microclimates, being delightful, changing color with the seasons…the ONE thing was…self-replicating. Now, here it is, it has arrived with Oberlin’s new initiative; the building like a tree’s seeds are in the wind, the soil is fertile awaiting more carbon and growth will be good, not just less bad. Growth can now be celebrated and not feared.

Congratulations to Oberlin, to David Orr, to the Lewis family, to Wendy Schmidt and to all the people of goodwill everywhere who, like them, wage peace fiercely.

Learn more about Oberlin’s celebration here.