How a Building Can Be "Alive" with Oliver Silberstein 18F

THE R. W. KERN CENTER - What is a "Living Building" and how can it be "alive"? Well, Oliver Silberstein 18F, a second-year Hampshire College student studying environmental science will explain exactly what this term means. Spending their time at the R. W. Kern Center as an intern, Oliver manages various tasks to promote and regulate this living building. Delve into Oliver's conversation below about the Kern Center's basement marvels along with the experiences that come with being an intern and student at Hampshire College.

What interested you in pursuing environmental science?

I’m appreciative of [environmental science] because Hampshire offers me the opportunity to work on specific projects. While other schools make you feel you’re learning about what’s wrong with the world, at Hampshire I get to design my own projects and integrate myself with what I think makes the world a better place.  I get to apply my thoughts to actual projects. Most colleges doing internships would make studies harder while at Hampshire my internship [with the Kern Center] fits with my education. That’s really valuable to me. 

Tell me about your role with the R. W. Kern Center and why you have chosen this internship?

My job with the Kern Center involves research, community outreach, and communications. And my favorite part about getting to work here is because I feel like I’m part of the community that works towards a goal.  You might not see this from the Hampshire campus, but the Living Building community is a cooperative community that expands mostly across the United States and also internationally.  To all the people that work in that field, the Kern Center is an example of what our building environment can be. When I’m at the Kern Center working I feel like I’m part of that community. 

What’s the best part about working at the Kern Center? 

It’s probably the opportunity to work on research that is my own.  It’s not something I saw myself doing before I came to Hampshire. It wasn’t as interested in science and research.  The Kern gives me the opportunity to work on research projects that are some of my own and that are exciting from someone who didn’t come from a background in science. 

Tell me something the Kern deserves more recognition for? 

The Kern Center is one of the first buildings of this quality in the world.  It is able to produce more drinking water and energy than it uses; treat its own water on site; and is constructed from non-hazardous and non-carbon materials. 

Now shifting to your life, what do you hope to accomplish this semester?

I hope I can get my paper about rain water, at least to a final draft form.  It’s about the public health of non-chemically treated rain water. This is one of the big projects I worked on this summer for the Kern.

And tell me about your experience, in general this past spring semester?

It was stressful.  There were upsides and downsides.  For the downside it felt like it hurt to talk about Hampshire.  It always felt like there was an elephant in the room and for that reason it was stressful leaving social bubbles.  You didn’t know how other people felt or what your position was. But I say there is another side that brought out the best of Hampshire students.  No one knew how much Hampshire students cared about their college and to fight for their education. It was exciting to see this huge community join together across so many different walks of life. 

Finally, what do you see in Hampshire’s future? 

I think we are going to be an independent college moving forward.  I think our method of financial sustainability needs to change. I think we need to be moving forward to continue to be a school that doesn’t base its ability to stay alive on accumulating on large sums of wealth.  It looks like we are going to be fine. 

The Process

Below are a series of images showing some of the the Kern Center's processes for filtering rainwater and grey water.

The R. W. Kern Center is featured with its rainwater collection chamber on the bottom right with pipes connecting from the roof into it.
The rainwater collection chamber

1. The Kern Center filters its own rainwater straight off its roof into drinking water. Pictured left, this chamber is the first stage of the filtration process. The rainwater then travels underground to the treatment room where it is treated and filtered into drinking water without the use of chemicals, but instead with UV light. Once the pumps kick into gear, the water moves through the intricate filters pictured below in less than fifteen seconds. Extra steps have even been taken to insure the cleanest and safest drinking water.

The R. W. Kern Center's rainwater filtration room is pictured with pipes covering two walls.
The R. W. Kern Center's rainwater filtration room

The R. W. Kern Center's waste collection bins are pictured, one center and one center right which hold the final step for waste filtration from the building. Both are black and occupy space from the floor to the ceiling.
The R. W. Kern Center's final stage for waste filtration

2-3. Two black bins on the right are the final stage of the waste filtration process from the composting toilets. First, the human waste goes into a reciprocal which removes all of its moisture and foul smell. Called leachate, this foal-smelling substance is further progressed through pumps where a septic company collects the hazardous remains. Remaining non-hazardous nutrients are finally stored in these two bins. Mixed with sawdust, the final product acts as an organic mulch, pictured below.

Oliver opens the waste bin which has organic mulch recycled from the composting toilets.  At this stage it is just nutrients remaining from the waste.
Organic mulch

The R. W. Kern Center's grew water room with a sink pictured to the right.

4-6. The grey water treatment room is where used water, from the café kitchen for example, is treated. The filters removes all pollutants before being deposited back into earth, insuring the the water is at its cleanest. They even take advantage of the extra supply to water their flower beds!

The R. W. Kern Center's grey water room is pictured with two large, white bins, bottom right, with pipes attached to their sides that come from the ceiling.
The R. W. Kern Center's grey water room

The various systems of the Kern.

The R. W. Kern Center is the 17th certified Living Building in the world, meeting the standards for the Living Building Challenge requires it to obtain 100% of its energy though onsite renewable sources. Because the Kern Center has developed the highest-standard water filtration systems, state regulators had to update their own drinking water guidelines for the college to follow. Furthermore, the Kern has achieved 100% carbon-neutrality by using local materials and designing unique, architectural features such as large, glass windows to minimize its local environmental impact. Along with its advanced filtration systems, the Kern is also home to the college's Admissions and Financial Aid offices, holds classrooms, features its very own cafe and most importantly acts as a student center. Not only is the Kern an example of Hampshire's commitment to protecting the environemnt, but an example of what we, as humans, can do for our planet.


18F: At Hampshire College, the year and semester a student starts is used first instead of the traditional graduating year. 18F means fall of 2018 or class of 2022.







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