Redefining Building and Landscape Beauty

By:  Kayleen Glaser, LEED Tools, Processes, and University Standards Intern

On Monday of this week, your lovely interns took a trip to Louisville, KY to visit the University of Louisville’s Office of Sustainability.  As the resident LEED intern for the Office of Sustainability, I enjoyed walking around campus, listening to tales of LEED building certification and green building construction.  Our guides told us humorous stories about unidentified solar panels and building mishaps.  I learned that currently U of L is home to six LEED buildings: 3 Gold certified and 3 Silver certified.  While this part of the trip to Louisville was fun and informative, my favorite part of the trip was our stop at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

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For those of you that have never heard of Burnheim Arboretum and Research, it is a privately held land trust of more than 15,000 acres.  It was established by Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929 with the intent that the property “further the love of the beautiful in nature and in art, and in kindred cultural subjects.”

When we first arrived at Bernheim, we were greeted by Claude, a fascinating man who would also be our tour guide.  He started our tour by showing off the Bernheim Forest Visitor Center:

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The Bernheim Forest Visitor Center was the first LEED Platinum Certified building in the state of Kentucky.  But that is not the true wonder of the building.  For me, the true wonder of the building comes from how seamlessly it has been incorporated into its natural environment.  Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, about this building has been designed to make as little impact as possible.  For this building, the LEED certification was a camouflage in some sense, helping the building blend into the pre-existing environment.

So what is so wonderful about the building?  The building was designed with a cradle-to-cradle life cycle in mind, meaning that when the building has served its purpose, it can be deconstructed and reused or returned to the natural environment with little negative impact.  The building was constructed in a way that during the summer, when the sun is highest in the sky, the external overhangs block all but 1 inch of direct sunlight from entering the building, keeping the building cool, but well-lit; on the flip side of that, during the winter, when the sun is at its lowest, natural sunlight floods the entire building and helps add natural heating.  The building is heated by a geothermal system; has its own peat-based septic system that filters septic water so efficiently that humans could swim in it; has a rain water collection system which supplies the toilets with water; and has a living, green roof, which helps insulate the building, as well as add some fun plant life to look at.  I could go on and on about Bernheim’s Visitor Center….but I won’t.

So what’s the point of all of this?  Bernheim shifted its thinking about buildings to construct the Visitor Center.  Instead of deciding the perfect place to construct, they looked for the perfect place to construct — a place where the natural landscape would add energy efficiencies and beauty.  Bernheim adopted this mentality to every aspect of building construction.

So the moral of the story is progressive building design is focused on buildings adapting to the natural world, not adapting the natural world to our buildings. I hope that we can adopt this vision at Indiana University and challenge our architects, contractors, and consultants to let the natural world take a leading role in our construction and design processes.


3 thoughts on “Redefining Building and Landscape Beauty

  1. This is wonderful and I’m sad that I missed the trip! I agree that the mindset of adapting ourselves is a much needed way to approach development. One of the key ways that citizens can impact their own environments is to get involved in urban planning – it’s crucial for everyone to get their voice out and make sure that we’re speaking for the natural world!

  2. What a beautiful building! I’m glad you decided to blog about it! And I like the moral of your story. We need to stop expecting nature to adapt to our built environment, and start building within the ecological boundaries of our natural environment.

  3. I am so happy that we were able to visit such a beautiful place that has mad it its mission to educate the public on LEED certified buildings, and how to incorporate nature into a building design. The cradle-to-cradle life cycle that Bernheim has incorporated into their building is a goal that all building designers should strive for. Designers should start embracing nature and making it apart of their building, like you stated in the moral of your story for progressive building designs.

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