Sidwell Friends School Photography: ©  Peter Aaron/ESTO

Sidwell Friends School Photography: © Peter Aaron/ESTO

Article taken from Architectural Record

Sidwell Friends Middle School

Washington, DC

The master plan for this pre-K-through-12 Quaker independent school focused on meeting the programmatic needs of two separate campuses in Washington, DC, and Bethesda, MD. The plan seeks to unify the campuses through the development of coherent landscapes and improved pedestrian circulation and vehicular access.  Seven distinct building projects are planned for the two campuses. Principles of sustainable design guided the preliminary design of the building projects and the campus landscapes as a formal demonstration of the school’s commitment to Quaker values.

The Middle School renovation and addition transforms a fifty-year-old facility into an exterior and interior teaching landscape. The landscape and building exist within a broader network of systems, and represent those systems at the same time. Human systems-our relationships with natural resources-are embodied by the landscape and building as natural systems. The building has been awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating, the highest level of certification attainable, from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). It is the first K-12 school to achieve Platinum certification.

Several design factors contribute to the building’s energy economy.  Siting and orientation of the building optimize the use of daylight. Solar chimneys are designed for mechanically assisted natural ventilation to minimize the need for artificial cooling. South-facing glazing at the tops of the shafts heat the air within, creating a convection current which draws cooler air in through north-facing open windows. Classrooms were designed to optimize natural lighting as the primary daytime illumination source. A constructed wetland at the campus-side entry forecourt treats and recycles all building wastewater for gray water use within the building. The collection and diversion of rainwater through the vegetated roof demonstrate the interconnection and complexity of the natural watershed. A series of scuppers, open downspouts and gutters, flow forms and spillways direct rainwater to a biology pond, which supports the native habitat. Building materials are reused, recycled, rapidly renewable and/or regionally acquired, including reclaimed wood for the façade.

Formal name of project: Middle School, Sidwell Friends School

Location: Washington, DC

Gross square footage: 72,500 GSF (39,000 addition, plus 33,500 renovation)

Total construction cost: $28.5 Million

Owner: Sidwell Friends School


KieranTimberlake Associates LLP

420 North 20th, Philadelphia, PA 19130

V  215-922-6600

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Published: Thursday, October 12, 1995

This surreptitious biological sewage system is not legal inside single-family homes yet (and it’s doubtful snails will ever replace Sani-Flush). But in these ecologically trying times, perhaps no design problem is as poignant as the quest for the perfect toilet.

Around the country, homeowners and communities fed up with overdevelopment, contaminated ground water and overflowing septic tanks are turning to novel solutions to dispose of waste ecologically. Although their numbers remain small, they are growing, as more stringent laws proliferate, like Title 5 in Massachusetts, which requires homeowners with on-site septic systems to meet new environmental and public health standards before building an addition or selling a house.

Those in search of the trenches of eco-design need look no further than the constructed wetlands that are popping up in hundreds of backyards across the country, among people who wouldn’t previously have considered themselves “green.” In place of conventional drain or leach fields, wetland plants like cattails, reeds and bamboo are sprouting. Unlike a conventional septic system, the water is not destined simply to go into the ground, but rather to be absorbed by the roots of plants.

Others are turning to composting toilets, which use peat moss and sawdust in place of water. In Taos, N.M., one group has even begun marketing a build-it-yourself solar toilet. They have borrowed the motto of the Starship Enterprise: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

“We have to get beyond flush-and-forget technology,” said Sim Van der Ryn, founder of the nonprofit Ecological Design Institute in Sausalito, Calif., and author of “The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water.”

“The main bent is to deal with one’s own waste as close to the source as possible,” Mr. Van der Ryn said.

At Sam and Wendy Hitt’s house in Santa Fe, N.M., on a patch of semiarid land once farmed by the Anasazi Indians, the sight of cattails and bulrushes amid the wild sage and chamisa “does stand out,” Ms. Hitt said. She and her husband, the director of Forest Guardians, a forest conservation organization, moved into a house with what she called a terrible septic system and drain field. “We wanted to try something different that had less impact on the land,” she said.

Waste water is piped from the Hitts’ conventional septic tank to a specially designed lined bed layered with water, gravel and vegetation. As it moves slowly through this wetland, chemical reactions and microbial activity in the plants absorb and assimilate harmful substances, including nitrogen and phosphorous compounds that can cause rampant algae growth and might otherwise be pollutants. Solids remain in the septic tank. The system is designed so that the waste water remains underground during the weeklong process, without providing malodorous competition to the intoxicating scent of Santa Fe pinon. Once the water is purified (recyclable but not drinkable), it meanders on to the Hitts’ drip-water irrigation system that nourishes the squaw bush and ponderosa pines they have planted as a windbreak.

In places like Taos County, where uncontrolled growth has resulted in ground water pollution from septic tanks, the backyard wetland trend is in its infancy, but “growing rapidly,” said Alfred Krause, a water expert with the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago. Current estimates range from 800 to 3,000 individual systems nationwide, most in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, states that have detailed guidelines. Between 400 and 500 communities have built wetlands on a broader scale as a more natural alternative to conventional sewage treatment plants, he said.

At the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary in Northern California, residents in 1986 inaugurated their new sewage system, which is ringed with bird watchers with spotting scopes on busy days, by holding a Flush With Pride festival.

One problem with individual, backyard wetlands is cost, at least initially. Morton Nilssen, a residential specialist with the Southwest Wetlands Group in Santa Fe, said a backyard wetland is about two and a half times as expensive to set up as a traditional septic system. Wetlands also need nurturing, preferably by a specialist trained to guide a natural system.

The advantages may be greater for a small community. In a study of 30 ecological treatment plants, construction costs were from 10 to 50 percent lower than for a conventional sewage treatment plant, Mr. Krause said. They are also easier to operate and do not require tons of concrete and large amounts of chemicals.

In Indiana, the state’s Department of Health has classified backyard wetlands as experimental systems that must be monitored by county health departments. The LaGrange County Department of Public Health began a constructed-wetland program for single-family homes last month, spurred by a public health crisis from contaminated ground water that has caused upper respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders in the county. Septic tank technology invented in 1874 has been stretched beyond the limit as the population expands, said Bill Grant, the county administrator.

His department now provides homeowners with blueprints. A wetland for a typical three-bedroom house would be about 14 feet by 25 or 30 feet, about the size of the floor space in a two-car garage.

“Constructed wetlands are probably not the last word, but we’ve got to start someplace,” Mr. Grant said.

An impediment to this and other unconventional approaches has been what he calls a “by-the-book mentality,” a Catch-22 patchwork of regulations, which vary from county to county.

But the problem remains this, Mr. Krause said: “Every day, under the best of circumstances, we use 1.6 gallons of drinking water to flush half a pint of waste.”

Ultimately, Mr. Krause said, economics, including the phasing out of Federal construction grants for local waste-water treatment, may force Americans to consider the alternatives. These include composting toilets, which allow bacteria and fungi to break down waste to humus, and are harvested about once a year. Composting toilet enthusiasts number only in the thousands.

David Del Porto, founder of Sustainable Strategies, a Concord, Mass., ecological engineering firm, calls composting toilets “the natural cycle, writ small.”

The grandmother of composting toilets is the Clivus Multrum (a Latin-Swedish amalgam that means “inclining compost room”), developed in Sweden in the 1930’s. The Clivus is distributed in the United States by a company run by Abby Rockefeller, David Rockefeller’s daughter.

Many of the compact toilets look like glorified potties. There are other psychological hurdles, even among former hippies like J. Baldwin, a senior editor of The Whole Earth Review in Sausalito, who has lived in a converted chicken coop. “If you can’t get your teen-ager to clean up his or her own room, what is going to happen with the composting toilet?” he asked.

John Douglas and Joan Waltermire, a graphic designer and museum curator in Vershire, Vt., who have had a Norwegian composting toilet for 10 years, remember the first time they emptied it, with a shovel and much trepidation. “It smelled like forest soil!” he said. “The only problem was, the instructions were in Norwegian.”

Mr. Krause of the E.P.A. said, “Some composting toilets work marvelously, some abominably.” In an ideal world, he said, composting collectors would be as ubiquitous as garbage collectors. But he wondered, “Is America ready for the Good Humus man?”

At the least, homeowners can consider replacing old plumbing fixtures with low-flow toilets and shower heads, as was done citywide in San Simeon, Calif., where water use was cut by 50 percent, he said.

A poetic alternative is the “living machine” concept pioneered by John Todd, a Massachusetts biologist and an advocate of living more lightly on the land.

At Corkscrew Swamp, a National Audubon Society sanctuary near Naples, Fla., visitors can experience a living machine. To get to the bathroom, they walk through an aluminum screened enclosure into what seems to be a garden, a space with plastic tanks and lined trenches brimming with native marsh plants and species. These natural decomposers — what Jan Beyea, an Audubon senior scientist, calls “nature’s wonderful garbage men” — purify the waste water, 90 percent of which is then recycled for yet another flush.

The E.P.A., which has financed four living-machine demonstration projects across the country, awaits results of an independent study to determine whether their performance is “sustainable over the years,” said Robert Bastian, a senior environmental scientist with the E.P.A.

But the living machine already has its passionate adherents, including the cartoonist Jim Davis of “Garfield the Cat” fame, who has installed a Solar Aquatic system, a type of living machine, in a large greenhouse in Indiana on the property of his studio, Paws Inc. It is operated by a full-time horticulturist, Russ Vernon, who describes his job as “taking care of Garfield’s litter box.”

His system, designed by Ecological Engineering Associates of Marion, Mass., uses photosynthesis to speed the purification process by holding artificial ponds and marshes in translucent solar tanks. The constant flow keeps show-quality orchids blooming.

Because the technology is still considered experimental, Mr. Davis ran the risk of being shut down by the state if clean water requirements were not met. But so far, he said, “it’s performed like a champion.”

He added: “The only thing that’s stopping the growth of this kind of operation is tradi tional thinking.”

Omega Center for Sustainable Living courtesy of the Omega Institute

Omega Center for Sustainable Living courtesy of the Omega Institute

Article is taken from the Omega Institute at

RHINEBECK, NY – Omega Institute today announced that construction of their much anticipated Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) is underway; Omega has laid the foundation for the building and will soon begin erecting its steel frame and flooring. Once completed, the OCSL is expected to be the first certified “Living Building” in the United States; in addition to being self-sustaining in terms of water and energy usage, the OCSL will raise the bar in green building by using the best and most comprehensive sustainable building practices available today.

The cutting edge technology of the OCSL brings together wastewater recycling, clean energy, green architecture, and other sustainability elements that can be replicated locally and globally. The center will also include a classroom and laboratory for educational programs.

“The OCSL represents Omega’s 30+ year commitment to modeling an integrated way of looking at the world and our place in it,” said Skip Backus, Executive Director at Omega Institute. “Each year more than 18,000 people visit Omega’s Rhinebeck campus and many more thousands visit our website. As an environmental steward, Omega has a real opportunity to educate the public about sustainable living – from the food that we serve, to 100% of the campus electricity coming from wind and solar technology, to the OCSL itself,” concluded Backus.

At the Greenbuild 2007 conference the OCSL was the sole winner of the Living Building ChallengeTM “On the Boards Award” for a building in the design process which achieves the highest level of environmental performance. The OCSL was also a topic of panel discussion at the Greenbuild 2008 conference.

“Despite the huge growth of green building, we still have a long way to go to reduce the environmental impact of buildings and building operations,” said Jason F. McLennan, CEO of Cascadia Region Green Building Council and founder of the Living Building Challenge. “The OCSL is a beautiful example of the transformation that needs to take place in architecture-good design coupled with a deep green philosophy. It gives me hope for the buildings of the future,” stated McLennan. McLennan was a keynote speaker, along side Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Maude Barlow, and Dr. John Todd at Omega’s recent Water of Life conference.

OCSL – Pre Construction OCSL – Pouring Concrete Walls

The OCSL groundbreaking ceremony was attended by more than 100 leaders from key environmental groups in New York State, local and state governmental officials, the project’s architectural and engineering teams, and influential opinion leaders from the New York City metropolitan area.

The core of the center will be a 4,500-square-foot greenhouse containing a water filtration system called the Eco MachineTM. This living system will use plants, bacteria, algae, snails, and fungi to recycle Omega’s wastewater (approximately 5 million gallons per year) into clean water that will restore the aquifer under Omega’s property. Dr. John Todd, winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge award, and his son Jonathan, are the founders of John Todd Ecological Design, Inc. – responsible for the design of the Eco MachineTM.

“The Omega Center for Sustainable Living will be the first education center of its kind in the United States to combine the latest in green building and wastewater treatment technologies under one roof,” said Dr. John Todd at the groundbreaking ceremony. “It will be built with the most cutting edge technology currently available and will demonstrate how we can live in harmony with nature rather than destroying it.”

A $2.8 million capital campaign is underway to fund the creation of the OCSL. Omega has already received $100,000 from the Dutchess County Industrial Development Authority, among generous donations from others. Omega is seeking $1.7 million to reach their goal.

For more information about the Omega Center for Sustainable Living please visit

Narrative is taken from

The Hippo exhibit at Werribee Zoo has benefited from the addition of a wetland filtration complex which takes nutrient rich water from the enclosure and treats the water prior to recirculation. Australian Ecosystems collaborated with the Werribee Open Plains Zoo and Urban Initiatives PTY LTD in this project. Australian Ecosystems collected seed, propagated, planted and maintained to maturity approximately 70,000 plants for this project, which was awarded the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects Land Management Award in 2007.

From the AILA website –
From theLA Victoria Award for Excellence in Land Management KUBU RIVER HIPPOS’ EXHIBIT, WERRIBEE OPEN RANGE ZOO – Urban Initiatives Pty Ltd

In 2004, Zoo’s Victoria and Werribee Open Range Zoo embarked on an innovative scheme for the Hippo Marsh Exhibit that delivers a unique experience of Hippos in a landscape thematically representing the Okavango Delta of Botswana.The project reflects a new approach in the world of zoological design and includes a unique merging of constructed ecology, engineering and design. Key elements being the exhibit pools, filtration wetlands and treatment systems for Kubu River Hippos’. This significant land management project not only challenged the traditional form of a Hippos exhibit, but the whole way it presents the critical issues to the public, engages with the visitor, cares for it’s constituents, and most importantly establishes a new approach to ‘sustainability’ within the exhibit.

Werribee Open Range Zoo

Werribee Open Range Zoo courtesy of Australian Ecosystems

Tempe Transporation Center

Tempe Transporation Center courtesy

Article is taken from Kontackt mag:

November 6, 2008 by Tyler Hurst

The Tempe Transportation Center is many things. It is the first bike center in Arizona, the first green light rail station and, most importantly, it is the first of many mass-transit hubs built with mixed-use in mind. The center was built around water conservation, and features low-flow fixtures, waterless urinals, a vegetated roof, gray-water harvesting and native plants. Energy conservation features include energy-efficient office equipment, under-floor air supply, shading devices and solar-heated, hot water.

The three-story, 40,000-square-foot building includes a 2000-square-foot conference community room featuring pull down screens, room divider and self-healing bulletin boards. The gold LEED-certified structure also has evaporative cooling, fabric shade canopies and decomposed granite in the parking lot surface. Built to act as a gathering place for light rail riders, the center will offer bike storage, retail, food shops and ticket sales. Memberships and lockers are available for regular commuters.

Tempe Transportation Center’s interior is environmentally conscious throughout. Recycled countertops, low-VOC paint and local or regional materials make up most of the interior, allowing for the entire facility to claim as small a carbon footprint as possible. Similar plans are in the works for a light rail hub in Chandler as part of the design for track expansion in the next few years.

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