AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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Omega Center for Sustainable Living

This photo shows the building's eastern facade.
Photo credit: © Assassi


  • Location: Rhinebeck, NY
  • Building type(s): Interpretive Center, Laboratory
  • 6,200 ft2 (576 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Rural setting
  • Completed May 2009

Founded in 1977, the Omega Institute is the nation's largest holistic learning center. Their mission: "To look everywhere for the most effective strategies and inspiring traditions that might help people bring more meaning and vitality into their lives." In 2006 they set out to develop a new and highly sustainable wastewater filtration facility for their 195-acre campus, which is located within one of the most important watersheds in the world, the 13,400 square-mile Hudson River basin.

The primary goal for this project was to overhaul the organization's current wastewater disposal system by using alternative methods of treatment. As part of a larger effort to educate the client's visitors, staff, and local community on innovative wastewater strategies, they decided to showcase the system in a building that houses both the primary treatment cells as well as a classroom and laboratory. In addition to using the treated water for garden irrigation and in a greywater recovery system, they use both the system and building as a teaching tool in their educational program designed around the ecological impact of their system. These classes are offered to campus visitors, area school children, university students, and other local communities.

Environmental Aspects

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) is a purposeful building and site, designed to clean water, return the clean water to the local systems, and educate users about the process. The design team selected engineered biological wastewater treatment system technologies to clean the water using the earth, plants and sunlight. The entire building and water process use site-harvested renewable energy achieving a net-zero energy system. To achieve this goal the facility had to be free of waste (volume, material, energy), organized, and carefully tuned to harvest solar energy for passive heating and lighting, using the entire mass for thermal comfort. The resultant design's simplicity and elegance suits its purpose well.

Creating an interior environment that is comfortable for people and, at the same time, fertile for the plants was critical. The result is a careful balance of passive (daylight, passive solar heating, natural ventilation) and mechanical (geothermal, fans, electric lighting) comfort systems. Plants growing in the interior lagoons required very precise solar energy levels on both their south and north exposures—the building section, windows, and skylights were carefully designed as an integrated system, meeting those needs while creating a memorable human experience.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned by Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Corporation, nonprofit
  • Typically occupied by 2 people, 20 hours per person per week; and 350 visitors per week, 1 hour per visitor per week


Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Indigenous vegetation, Graywater, Wastewater treatment, Massing and orientation, Passive solar, On-site renewable electricity, Adaptable design, Salvaged materials, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Moisture control

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Last updated: 4/19/2010

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

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