Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin College Oberlin, Ohio


Described by The New York Times as ‘the most remarkable of a new generation of college buildings” and by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of the 30 ‘milestone’ buildings of the 20th century, William McDonough + Partner’s design for The Lewis Center aspires to be as bountiful and effective as a tree.

By reconsidering design assumptions for the future, the building operates on three fundamental principles of nature—eliminate the concept of waste, rely on natural energy flows, and honor diversity. The Center’s disposition of spaces derives from an integration of natural energy flows and the building’s energy needs, its use as teaching and public space, and the desire to blur the distinction between indoors and out. The light-drenched two-story atrium serves as the primary organizing space while acting as the southern campus’s town hall, or public square. Daylighting and natural ventilation enhance the atrium’s feeling of an outdoor room, as well as its role as the building’s physical and social center. In 2006, the site became a net energy exporter, producing 30 percent more energy than it needs to operate and sharing this excess energy with the community.

“We wanted a building that was not just energy efficient and powered by sunlight, but also one that was a great place in which to work. We got it.”

– Dr. David Orr, Director, Environmental Studies, Adam Joseph Lewis Center, Oberlin College


Classrooms, offices, atrium, & auditorium


13,600 square feet


Completed January 2001


William McDonough + Partners, Design architect
Andropogon Associates, Landscape architect
Lev Zetlin Associates, MEP / Structural engineers
Loisos + Ubbelohde, Daylighting and energy consultants
Living Technologies, Wastewater consultant
Steven Winters Associates, Building systems consultants
CT Consultants, Civil engineer
Mosser Construction, Contractor


AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Buildings, 2002
Build America Award, 2001
Green Building Challenge Award Winner, 2000
Build Ohio Award, 2000
AIA Committee on Architecture for Education, Honor Award 1999
The Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award, 1999
U.S. Department of Energy, One of 30 Milestone Buildings of the 20th Century