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Omega Center For Sustainable Living May Be World’s First Living Building Certified Structure

by The Author last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:10 AM
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by The Author last modified Jul 15, 2009

A good example of what a truly sustainable or green structure can and should be (ideally speaking) is having its opening day tomorrow July 16th in Rhinebeck, New York. It's called The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) and it's design and construction are about as close one can get to a zero-impact building without living in a shack in the woods.




I talk a lot about about green building and sustainable development on this blog for two reasons. The first, and most obvious reason, is it’s what my company mainly deals with on a day to day basis. The second, and more important reason, is sustainability in the building construction and operation sector is the fastest and most effective way at solving a large portion of our self-induced environmental woes.

While the consortium of self-proclaimed ‘green builders’ and ’sustainably designed projects’ grows ever larger by the day, many of these companies and projects purportedly to better serve the environment often times do so in a minimal way. Though budgets and market appeal are almost always the main culprits for these projects’ ‘eco-shortcomings’, the fact remains that the majority of green-built structures today could be much more environmentally benign than they are.

The Future Of Green Building

A good example of what a truly sustainable or green structure can and should be (ideally speaking) is having its opening day tomorrow July 16th in Rhinebeck, New York. It’s called The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) and it’s design and construction are about as close one can get to a zero-impact building without living in a shack in the woods. Already LEED Platinum certified, the center is also on it’s way to becoming the world’s first Living Building Certified structure, which is a program aimed at encouraging the construction of buildings that take nothing from the environment.

The OCSL will serve as an educational and event center hosting workshops, classes, and other sustainability-minded programs. From the OCSL website:

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) is a state-of-the art education center and natural wastewater treatment facility. A model of sustainable architecture, the OCSL is a pioneering project in the Living Building Challenge and is expected to be the first building in the United States to receive the Living Building designation in addition to receiving LEEDPlatinum certification.

For more than 30 years, Omega has worked to bring holistic ideas and programs into the mainstream in order to help individuals and society heal, grow, and thrive. The Omega Center for Sustainable Living continues this tradition. With indoor and outdoor classrooms, a living machine called the Eco Machine™, and one of the greenest buildings in the world, the OCSLmodels a new way of being in relationship to each other and our precious planet.

What’s Under The Roof (And Over It)

The OCSL has everything one would expect from a structure whose entire purpose is to inspire sustainability. Some of the features include:

  • Solar photovoltaic array that provides the structure with a net zero energy footprint
  • Green roof
  • Eco Machine natural wastewater treatment (more about this below)
  • Net zero water consumption
  • Automatic windows that allow for passive ventilation
  • Geothermal HVAC
  • All building materials are FSC-certified, locally sourced or do not contain any chemicals listed on the Living Building Challenge’s “Red List”
  • Constructed wetlands
  • Rainscreens
  • Recycled steel
  • High fly ash concrete

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living

The Eco Machine: Greenest Of The Green

The OCSL itself is definitely a model for what a truly sustainable structure can be. The green centerpiece to this hub of environmental consciousness is the 100% natural wastewater treatment system called the Eco Machine housed in a 6500 sqft greenhouse. Designed by John Todd, a pioneer in the field of ecological design, the Eco Machine is the latest in what’s known as living machine technology which essentially uses natural system processes of plants and organisms to clean wastewater. Again from OCSL’s site:

Wastewater comes into the Eco Machine and is run through various treatment zones where all major forms of life are represented, including microscopic algae, fungi, bacteria, plants, snails, and fishes. This natural wastewater treatment is a robust ecosystem that cleans the water without the need for hazardous chemicals.

The size and components of a living machine depends on how much water the system will process. Omega’s Eco Machine can process up to 52,000 gallons a day and includes anoxic tanks, constructed wetlands, the Eco Machine lagoons, sand filters, and large dispersal fields. Much of the Eco Machine’s natural wastewater treatment process is gravity fed, decreasing the amount of energy needed to operate the system. Omega plans to eventually use the purified and sterilized water from the OCSL for irrigation and in toilets throughout its campus.

Eco Machineeco-machine-7eco-machine-10may-june-01eco-machineeco-machine-2

So if you’re ever up in Rhinebeck, New York, take a trip to the Omega Center for Sustainable Living and let me know what the sustainable ‘Shangri-La’ looks like up close.

The Good: A center that not only focuses on and educates others about sustainable living, but the structure itself is a testament to what is really achievable on the hard core side sustainable design, construction, and building operation.

The Bad: The relatively remote location makes it inaccessible to scores of people who would be interested in visiting (counting me as one of them). Structures like this are almost always educational in nature and not built for the private and commercial sector where they are needed most.

The Bottom-Line: A prime example of a relatively benign human built structure that operates in much of the same fashion as the environment that surrounds it.



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