A popular rendering of the AJLC at Oberlin College, showing an unbuilt shading trellis. This picture can still be found displayed on the architects’ website.
The Adam Joseph Lewis Center is the Environmental Studies building at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Designed by William McDonough & Partners, it was mostly completed in January of 2000, occupied in August of 2000, and fully completed in January 2001. In the following years, its energy and water systems were heavily monitored and analyzed, which uncovered some significant problems in the actual performance of the building compared to the projections of its designers. The question that I sought to answer, however, was whether any monitoring or analysis of occupant comfort variables had occurred in the building since its opening.
I spent 4 years working and learning in the AJLC, and had significant anecdotal evidence that the building is not very comfortable for its occupants. But during my time there, issues of occupant comfort were not directly addressed. One of my roles in the building at the time was to handle the scheduling of classrooms in the building, and we had multiple classes move mid-semester to other buildings, because it was too cold in the rooms, and once because of glare issues.
In looking for this information, I first looked in the informational website that has been developed for the AJLC, and the architect’s own website. These are listed below, but I found no information on the state of the building in terms of thermal or visual comfort, nor any signs that any improvements had been made since my experiences from ’00-’04. Next, I looked to a very comprehensive NREL report that was done on the results of the energy performance research that was done in the building, but again, no discussion about comfort. There was, interestingly, an appendix to that report which stated the design goals of the project, and noticeably absent was any mention of comfort. Next, against my better judgment, I read through David Orr’s book Design on the Edge, about the AJLC and its design and impacts. Again, no news or analysis or information about occupant comfort.
I did finally find some information that reported on occupant comfort in the building, in an article by Kathryn Janda, a professor who had taught building science in the building during my time as a student there. It was noted that it had been uncomfortably cold for at least one winter, and too hot in the building’s large atrium during the summer, but that there had been no measures of occupant comfort or specific research done to evaluate comfort levels in the building. The article was also useful in summarizing the research that has been done to date on the building, which brought me to the conclusion that no further research had been done in this area, nor had it been a part of any previous research. Ultimately, it remains disappointing to me that this aspect of the building hasn’t been addressed directly through research or monitoring, as it seems to be the largest remaining issue of performance for the building, which has done so well otherwise.
Official AJLC website: http://www.oberlin.edu/ajlc/edu_2.html
Wm. McDonough & Partners: http://www.mcdonoughpartners.com/projects/oberlin
Pless, S.; Torcellini, P. (2005). Energy Performance Evaluation of a Low-Energy Academic Building— Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Technical Report NREL/TP-550-33180. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 150 pp.
Orr, David W. Design on the Edge: The Making of a High-Performance Building. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006.
Janda, Kathryn and Alexandra von Meier. “Theory, Practice and Proof.” Sustainable Architectures. Eds. Steven Moore and Simon Guy. New York: Spon Press, 2005.