Green Building for Arts Center receives LEED Certification

Micheal Rengers and Monika Heimbold

The Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College has won a Top Ten Green Projects Award from the American Institute of Architects it was announced today, Earth Day. In addition, the award-winning building has recently been designated LEED® certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The new center is the first college or university visual arts building to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification ( and the only visual arts building to receive the AIA designation in the 9 years since the award has been given. (

Both the AIA award and LEED certification are especially significant for the field of visual arts, believe officials at Sarah Lawrence, a small liberal arts college well known for incorporating the arts into the curriculum. “The visual arts present a not-so-obvious challenge to being green,” says Micheal Rengers, Director of Facilities and Operations. The toxicity of visual arts materials is not as apparent as in other curricular areas such as the sciences, he says. “People do not generally think of the arts as environmentally unfriendly,” says Rengers. “But many materials used in the making of art are potentially hazardous. There is much that can be done to reduce toxicity and improve air quality.

“For example, the welding of sculptures can produce highly toxic gasses that require high-powered ventilation,” says Rengers. Such systems are part of the Heimbold Visual Arts Center’s air quality controls. Inks used in printmaking are generally toxic and the College has introduced new techniques, researched by faculty, to significantly reduce those elements of printmaking. Photography requires constant venting of the chemicals even when the building is unoccupied.

“The Heimbold Visual Arts Center is a very unique LEED project,” said Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC President, CEO & Founding Chair. “The Center found that the LEED green building rating system was a highly effective tool for addressing the Center’s very specific needs, such as reducing off gassing of art materials. LEED enabled the Heimbold Visual Arts Center arts center to create a healthy indoor environment in which its students can learn and reach their creative potential.”

As an AIA COTE (Committee on the Environment) Top Ten Green Project, the Heimbold Visual Arts Center is seen as “an exemplar of the standards and goals for sustainable design and construction.”

In its announcement the AIA recognized that the College “sought a leadership role in creating a building that is rooted in the fundamental principles of sustainable design.” Describing the attributes of the building the AIA statement continues: “To reduce the impact to the site and blur the distinction between exterior and interior, the new building is integrated into the topography of the existing hilltop. To fulfill the programmatic needs, given the constraints of the site, more than one-third of the total building area is embedded in the ground. Photography labs and other studios that do not lend themselves to daylight are located below-grade. A stepped, grass-covered green roof reduces the building's overall impact on the natural environment and controls stormwater runoff.”

To receive LEED certification, a building must receive credits for sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design/build process. The Heimbold Center has been constructed and furnished with such elements as recycled materials, including rock excavated from the site and auditorium seats made of recycled plastic bottles, certified wood, cork floors, an abundance of natural light, a grass covered or “green roof” for a large part of the building that is subterranean, and geothermal heating and cooling.

“If this building were not a green building, it would be off the charts in terms of energy consumption,” said Rengers, noting that energy use is expected to be reduced by about 40% as a result of the geothermal heating and cooling system, based on eight wells, and passive lighting systems.

Susan T. Rodriguez of Polshek Partnership Architects, designed the $25 million Heimbold Visual Arts Center, made possible by a lead donation from Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold Jr. “Sarah Lawrence's campus, characterized by its undulating topography, dramatic rock outcroppings and dense foliage, offered an inspiring location in which to realize a building rooted in the fundamental principles of sustainable design. The new Heimbold Center establishes a dynamic center for the arts on campus, while blurring the distinction between interior and exterior space,” said Rodriguez.

Building green has pervaded every aspect of the Center’s development since Josephine A. Merck took the lead with a major donation to create an environmentally sensitive building. Other donors whose gifts were specifically earmarked for the “green challenge” included actors Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, Vivian and Strachan Donnelley.Barbara B. and Bertram J. Cohn, Margaret P. Parker, Edith Cowles Poor and Charles Lane Poor, and the Marilyn M. Simpson Charitable Trust.

The Heimbold Visual Arts Center is massive in scope (61,000sf) yet modest in silhouette, fitting in between buildings and under old trees minimizing its impact on its surroundings. It rises just two stories above street level with more than half its space underground.