Hitchcock Center for the Environment

Amherst, MA, US

Founded in 1962, the Hitchcock Center for the Environment is a ground-breaking, net zero energy Living Building and education center. Serving over 30 communities and hosting 50 schools a year, the original site was stretched for space, which motivated the design for a new structure nearly twice its size.

Buro Happold provided MEP engineering, energy modelling and sustainability consulting for the project’s expansion. Working closely with the Hitchcock Center team, our experts developed strategies that adhered to the most stringent sustainability standards and harmonized with the building’s natural surroundings.

Living Buildings produce more energy than they use and collect and treat all water on site. To meet these imperatives the site harvests and recycles its own rainwater, uses composting toilets and is constructed with responsibly sourced, non-toxic materials. The 9,000ft site incorporates classroom spaces, a resource center, demonstration gardens, teaching pavilions and trail systems that all celebrate a deep connection with the natural world.

Aerial shot of the Hitchcock Centre in its green surroundings, with saplings planted out the front
The Hitchcock Center is a working, breathing example of how we can provide self-sufficient energy for decades to come. Image: Peter Vanderwarker


The Hitchcock Centre aspires to meet Living Building ChallengeTM. (LBC) accreditation, the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. Living Buildings give more than they take, functioning cleanly and efficiently. They are also teaching tools and sources of inspiration.

Hitchcock Centre pictured with its green surroundings
To meet its Living Building criteria the Hitchcock Center works as cleanly and efficiently as its natural surroundings. Image: Peter Vanderwarker


Achieving the most advanced sustainability standards, our team of experts adopted innovative design strategies. This included a seven-filtered water system – only the second such system permitted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The filter system permits the building to achieve the net-zero water requirement of the LBC. Rainwater that falls on the site stays on site, as it would if it were an intact, undisturbed natural ecosystem. Designed to prevent unnecessary storm water run-off and to conserve water through landscaping, rain gardens and bioswales support a diverse array of plant and animal life, as well as naturally recharge underground water reserves.

Interior view of the Hitchcock Centre library and reception
Hope for the future: an educational hub that hosts 50 schools a year. Image: Peter Vanderwarker

Natural ventilation inside the building is maximized using environmentally-friendly, locally-sourced materials. Heat pumps cool and heat the space, delivering one-and-a-half to three times more heat energy than the electrical energy they consume.

The Center has been designed with many windows to take advantage of natural daylight and energy is derived from solar roof panels. Waste is significantly mitigated through composting throughout the site.

Exterior view of the Hitchcock Centre, warm light can be seen in the windows
The Center embodies an holistic ethos, connecting all its visitors to air, light, nature and the surrounding community. Image: Peter Vanderwarker


Our experts’ advice and sustainable strategies allow the Hitchcock Center for the Environment to meet LBC targets. This unique project is an educational exemplar of how rather than just working with nature, we can engineer buildings and sites to emulate nature.

Exterior view of the Hitchcock Centre in daylight
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