Looking back, looking forward: We celebrate Oberlin’s Lewis Center and the college’s continued leadership

Last week, Oberlin College, inspired by Professor David Orr, held a celebration to mark the tenth anniversary of the completion of the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, a William McDonough + Partners design. The event commemorated a project full of “firsts” which exports solar energy and renews its water among numerous other cradle to cradle characteristics.

Wendy Schmidt, board chair of the new Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, gave the closing address on the positive future of human enterprise at Oberlin College. The two-day celebration also featured a keynote by Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, a discussion by Dr. David Orr, Assistant to the President, Paul Sears, and Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, and William McDonough, architect and co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Discussion and panels delved into topics like moving from greener buildings to sustainable communities and “The Oberlin Project,” a joint College/City collaboration to create a prosperous model of sustainable development applicable throughout the upper Midwest and beyond.

“The Adam Joseph Lewis Center was designed with David Orr’s leadership, and with a process full of determination, humility, generosity, hope and intention,” McDonough said.

Since construction began on the project in 1999, the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies has been heralded for its innovative design and environmental influence. The building’s architects received awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Chicago Athenaeum. In 2002, the AIA Committee on the Environment recognized the building as one of its Top 10 Green Projects. In 2001, the National Convention of the Associated Contractors of America awarded the Lewis Center a Build America award. A year earlier, the Associated Contractors of Ohio gave the center its Build Ohio award. The latest honor came in August 2010, when an Architect magazine survey of leaders in the field named the Lewis Center the most important green building constructed in the last 30 years.

The design started with a conversation between Bill McDonough and David Orr all the way back in 1992. The design team that created the project was operating in a very different space—very much “pre-LEED”—at that time.

Bill McDonough and the William McDonough + Partners team is very proud to have been involved with David Orr and the first project of his ambitious goals for Oberlin. As those goals now expand into The Oberlin Project, involving many other firms and thought leaders in the green design community, William McDonough + Partners toasts Orr and the Project. We look forward to future collaborations to advance their goals and their leadership in positive sustainable design. We are hopeful that in another seventeen years the world will be healthier and better as a result of the continuing efforts of the numerous people and firms who have joined the sustainability movement.

“We know that Oberlin will continue in its leadership in Cradle to Cradle thinking and action by manifesting projects that 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,” McDonough said.