November 10, 2003

Environmentalist Speaks On Green Architecture

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Prof. David Orr, environmental studies, Oberlin College, who has devoted his career to environmental education and more recently green architecture, spoke on campus last Thursday about his ecological work.

Completed at Oberlin in the summer of 1999, the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, which Orr designed, serves as an example of the type of architecture that he showed can be used to create a more sustainable world. Reflecting on the present interest in the environment, Orr observed, “This is the time when we make or break the human condition.”

Orr’s ecological building was constructed with recycled steel and locally produced brick, includes its own waste water treatment modeled on a wetland system, makes use of natural lighting, uses photovoltaic cells to capture solar energy and produces very little effects in the natural world around it. With all of its energy-saving techniques, Orr’s green building uses less than a fifth of the energy that average office buildings use.

Orr stressed the importance of the replication of such ecological architecture on his predominately student audience: “If we [continue to] build buildings that are inefficient, we will cast a long shadow over your future.”

Not only is the Lewis Center unique in its design, but it also captures Orr’s foremost desire: to educate people about the environment through higher education. Orr believes that the environmental changes that need to occur will begin on college campuses. He related the story of the inspiration for the Lewis Center — a student. In 1998, this student expressed the aspiration to boost downtown Oberlin’s economy while retaining a green approach. Then a senior, the undergraduate created the Cleveland Green Building Coalition, which eventually bought and transformed an entire part of downtown Oberlin, both reviving its economy and its beneficial effects on the environment.

This student initiative only strengthened Orr’s confidence that change will be implemented first on campuses. Calling for students to take similar action in environmental issues, Orr pointed out, “You can do anything at 21. You don’t have to be 55 to do significant things in the world. The future is abstract until you make an investment in it.”

Orr’s presentation was sponsored in part by the C.U. Renewable Energy Society and Kyoto Now!, two groups at Cornell which work to cut down energy costs and usage on campus.

Archived article by Gretchen Heckman