O’Reilly Talbot & Okun Associates, Inc. participated as a sponsor in the Net Positive Symposium for Higher Education, held at one of our recently completed projects, the R.W. Kern Center on the beautiful Hampshire College campus in Amherst, Massachusetts.  The R.W. Kern Center   is Living Certified by the International Living Future Institute, meaning that:

  • The building includes regenerative spaces that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community;
  • The building is self-sufficient and remains within the resource limits of the site. A “Living Building” produces more energy than it uses, and collects and treat water on site; and
  • The building is healthy and beautiful.

You can read more about the R.W. Kern Center in the certified case study here.  The building contains a number of features to meet the “imperatives” of each of performance areas.  The building includes composting toilets and treats all its grey water on site via filtering through indoor planters in the building’s common space, and through an onsite wetland.  Thermal efficiency and a rooftop solar array are included in a net-zero energy demand for the building.  Biophilic design elements mimic the beauty of the college campus, and exposed structure and systems allow visitors to see components of the building typically covered behind ceilings and walls (who knew piping systems could be so elegant?).  Materials used in the building are locally sourced and any materials that have adverse effects on human health and the environment are avoided.

The symposium was held over two days, and included tours of the Kern Center and the Hitchcock Center (another Living Building in Amherst, Massachusetts).  The symposium highlighted projects at Hampshire College, Smith College, and Williams College, and their approach to sustainable, resilient, healthy, innovative, and equitable design.  On the 2nd day, a variety of small group lectures were held throughout the day covering many aspects of sustainable design and education, as well as design, development, implementation, and construction aspects of the Kern Center and other Living Building Certified projects.   Attendees included sustainability directors, faculty/educators, students operations staff, and design and construction professionals, and many others.

OTO was fortunate to be a part of the design, construction and commissioning teams for both the R.W. Kern Center and the Hitchcock Center.  OTO provided both environmental and geotechnical engineering services, as well and indoor air quality testing services during commissioning and certifications.  We would like to thank our clients (Hampshire College and Hitchcock Center for the Environment) and other members of the team, most notably Bruner/Cott & Associates, Inc. (architects for Kern Building) and designLAB architects, inc., (architects for Hitchcock Center), and Wright Builders (General Contractor).

OTO is a proud sponsor of the International Living Future Institute and we look forward to more Living Building Projects in the northeast.

Felt at Kern
Photograph of artwork by artist Janice Arnold (JA Felt) which includes 100 feet of dyed felt cloth hung above the staircase at the R. W. Kern Center.




My name is Jhonatan Escobar and I joined O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates, Inc. (OTO) after obtaining my BS in Civil Engineering in 2017.  Working as a full time field engineer represents a lifetime milestone for me..  This achievement was greatly facilitated by Western New England University (WNEU) and the extracurricular activities that were available to me while working towards my BS in Civil Engineering.  The most rewarding activity was the 2015 Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean.

The Solar Decathlon (https://www.solardecathlon.gov/) is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and has expanded to include worldwide competitions. The events involve college teams designing solar powered houses. The goal of the competition is to explore sustainable engineering and new technologies while keeping the importance of a well-designed and attractive house.  Each house is judged based on affordability, attractiveness, comfortability, and functionality.

In November 2015, I traveled with a small group of WNEU students and faculty to Cali, Colombia, where we teamed with students from the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá for the first Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean   The concept behind our solar decathlon design was constructing the energy-efficient house from four recycled cargo shipping containers. The house was equipped with solar thermal collectors, a water reuse system, and phytoremediation for humidity control, temperature and CO2.

Solar house

Construction of our solar-powered house was delayed by a week due to complications with the border patrol in Colombia. The Solar Decathalon committee would not extend the construction deadline, so we had to work very quickly as soon as the containers arrived on site.   The team worked 18 to 20 hour shifts for one week straight to meet the completion deadline.  The house was completed on the last available date, and was opened for visitor and judge showings.  Our solar powered house was awarded first place in energy efficiency and third place in electrical energy balance.


Jhon 1

WNE team photo

This experience was very rewarding and I suggest civil engineering students look into finding an opportunity to compete in a Solar Decathlon, or another field related competition.  Having to work the long shifts due to a situation that was out of the team’s control taught me the importance of being able to adjust to situations quickly.  I also gained experience in working as part of a teams, and learned a lot about sustainable design.  I look forward to applying these skills as I work with the geotechnical and environmental teams here at OTO.

Students from Western New England University are now competing in the Solar Decathlon China, and the next Solar Decathlon Latin America will be in 2019.