By Grey Lee

This past Saturday, the USGBC MA Chapter convened a tour of the Bechtel Environmental Center at the Smith College Field Station in Whatley, MA.

Student volunteers from Smith hosted us, first greeting us at the end of a long and winding country road, and then to describe how the College uses the facility for a variety of purposes. It was funded by the S.D Bechtel Jr. Foundation, in case you were wondering.

Shawn Hesse, of emersionDESIGN, a new member of our Board of Directors and long-time Chapter volunteer, is also an Ambassador for the International Living Future Institute. He regularly provides trainings and outreach programs for the Living Building Challenge. The BEC (as it is known) is the fifth Living Building ever certified. We are proud that we can visit, right here in Massachusetts, the result of a lot of hard work under the auspices of the Living Building Challenge!

Below is a map of the area.

 It was quite picturesque.


Attending the tour were over 30 people, including Chapter Programs Manager, Steve Muzzy. The place is set up so you have to take a five-minute stroll (longer in the snow) from the parking area to get to the building. Nice gaiters, Steve!


Once inside, you can enjoy the cozy comfort and real beauty of the design – created by Coldham & Hartman Architects. Nice clerestory!

Shawn Hesse led the discussion – outlining the basic features of the Living Building Challenge and then going into detail on each of the petals.

Here we have the Smith College tour guides explaining how it came to be and how they use the place…including for ski weekend adventures and summer study sessions…


Here we have the speaking crew: Grey Lee, Emmett Wald, Brice Hereford, Julie Graham, & Shawn Hesse.

 I got a chance to plug the Chapter and Brice gave the pitch for the visitors to become part of the West Branch. It was actually interesting how many people – perhaps a dozen – actually came out from the Boston area to see the place. Living Buildings have some real star power!


So cute!

Part of the Living Building Challenge is its petals and one of them is Equity – quite an advanced subject actually, and unfortunate that we have to enshrine it in a reward system like LBC rather than it being a spontaneous manifestation of the built environment. 

And here are the requisite solar panels which enable the facility to achieve net zero energy. Now here are things that manifest rather regularly in the built environment. More every day!

Another petal is Health:


We anticipate returning to the BEC for a summer gathering – perhaps a solar-powered sustainable BBQ of some kind? I have a SolSource parabolic concentrator we could use for a giant pot of vegan chili! 

At any rate, thank you to all the presenters, all the parties involved in the creation of this beautiful Living Building, and to all the attendees who made it through the rough roads and deep snow to visit and learn with us. We look forward to promoting the Living Building Challenge throughout Massachusetts and beyond.

See you next time!

Thank you for additional photos from Shawn Hesse, David Bliss and Chris Farley

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