Case Study

Oberlin College’s Lewis Center

The Lewis Center at Oberlin College continues to inspire visitors with its ambitious vision, innovative wastewater system, and inviting interior spaces, amid the ongoing controversy over its often-touted but as-yet-unrealized energy performance goals.

July 1, 2002

The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio opened its doors in January 2000. Designed by William McDonough + Partners with Kevin Burke as project architect and a dream team of consultants, the project was guided by uncompromising goals that emerged from courses and public meetings led by Professor David Orr:

Power a building on current sunlight in a temperate climate (Northern Ohio). Treat a building’s wastewater on-site and reuse that water. Create a building without compromising human and environmental health somewhere else or at some later time.

Now over two years old, the 13,600 ft2 (1,260 m2) building has met and exceeded many of those original goals, is still evolving in pursuit of others, and has been strongly criticized for claims that were made regarding one goal it has not yet achieved—that of producing more energy than it consumes.