Renovated Kellogg house reopens


The sustainable Kellogg House, home to the College’s environmental programs, has mounts for solar panels which will be installed.
The sustainable Kellogg House, home to the College’s environmental programs, has mounts for solar panels which will be installed. – Jerry Li/Photo Editor

The Center for Environmental Studies (CES) and the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives moved into the renovated Kellogg House on Feb. 3. Construction on the building, however, remains unfinished.

Kellogg is still over a year away from meeting the most ambitious goal of its renovation. The College hopes that Kellogg will achieve status as the world’s sixth Living Building. To earn this certification, Kellogg must conform to an expansive set of performance criteria set forth by the International Living Future Institute for one year. The rules are strict and range from the quantifiable, such as net positive water, energy and waste consumption, to the subjective. Institutions whose buildings are undergoing certification must submit a “One-page illustrative narrative describing how the project … promotes culture and interaction among people and the community,” according to the Living Building documentation requirements.

“It’s a work in progress in that we will be learning how to live in it,” Professor Ralph Bradburd, chair of CES, said. “We don’t even know yet how we will have to adjust our usual habits in order to succeed.”

Built in 1794, Kellogg has been moved three times, served as a home for the first four college presidents and several faculty and survived an apparent arson attempt in 1873, according to the College’s archives.

“We wanted to build the greenest building we could build,” Sarah Gardner, the associate director of the CES, said. Gardner has sat on three building committees for Kellogg over the last decade. In this case, “greenest” signifies an ongoing performance standard intended to foster constant awareness among occupants about the environmental impacts of their actions in the building.

“We want people to get on board and be empowered by [the idea that] collectively we can do this together,” Mike Evans, assistant director of the Zilkha Center, said. “We want this to happen, but it’s up to everyone. It’s not like this is imposed.”

Most of the pieces needed to make Kellogg a Living Building are in place. Every bathroom contains composting toilets that use only three ounces of water per flush and feed into an odor-free bin in the basement that resembles a giant litter box. Every office contains its own thermostat, which only operates within a 69-77 degree range and resets itself if a user tries to move the temperature more than two degrees in any direction. Every new bit of wood and steel encircling the building is thoughtfully and, in most cases, locally sourced, one of the requirements of the Living Building challenge.

However, because Kellog’s solar panels have not been installed yet, the College has not started the certification procedures.

Kellogg is a functioning office space and is open to students at all hours, which has the potential to hinder Kellogg’s Living Building quest. “There’s this X-factor of how it’s going to be used,” Evans said. “If [Kellogg] is such a popular place that people are cooking here all the time, then we may use more energy than is allowed to be certified.” The more popular the building becomes, the more difficult it will be for it to meet the Living Building requirements.

To help tackle this problem, in August, Associate Professor of Computer Science Jeannie Albrecht obtained a National Science Foundation grant to investigate the optimal means for monitoring and displaying energy uses throughout the building. Among the students working with Albrecht is Sarah Abramson ’15, whose senior thesis focuses partly on developing ambient hardware that relies on audiovisual cues to apprise occupants of individual appliance use.

“We’d like to be able to tell the toaster from the microwave [in displays],” Abramson said. The goal is to balance the whistles and bells with educational function. The optimal display will make it so that “you can get that gut instinct of, ‘I’m using more [energy] than I was a second ago,’ but also be interesting enough to hold your full attention for some amount of time. They’re also supposed to be very visually appealing and enjoyable to look at.”

“The point is to show that being green is attractive,” Gardner added.