Notes from the Field Station: Visiting the Omega Institute

3 Oct

On Friday the 23rd, CEEDS hosted a field trip to the Omega Institute for Sustainable Living and Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, NY. The trip consisted of a mix of students from different academic backgrounds, including Architecture, Engineering, and Landscape Studies.

The morning began with a tour of Omega Institute’s newly constructed wastewater treatment system and classroom space, perhaps a traditionally unlikely pair, but one that proves extremely innovative and effective. As the facility at Omega had grown over the years, it became obvious that the number of visitors was outgrowing the capacity of the original septic system. In response to this increased wastewater volume and to allow for the institute to continue to grow in the future, Omega set out with a mission to construct a wastewater treatment facility on-site that was low-energy, low-chemicals, and educational.

To achieve this, Omega’s design team set about proposing a natural wastewater reclamation system that would mimic ecological processes, also know as an eco-machine. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) was just getting off the ground at the time, and approached Omega to use this building as a case study for the new green building rating system. Already having intended on achieving LEED certification, Omega took a step further and committed to attempt the LBC. Ultimately, the building received both Living Building certification and the LEED Platinum award, the only building in world to have done so.

The eco-machine as it exists currently consists of six stages:

  1. Solid Settling Tanks
  2. Equalization Tanks
  3.  Anoxic (low-oxygen) Tanks
  4. Aerated Lagoons
  5. Constructed Wetlands
  6. Sand Filter

This closed hydrological loop produces immaculately cleaned water, allowing all of the water used at Omega to return to the earth and recharge aquifers. Furthermore, this treatment process is achieved completely without chemicals, using native plants, microorganisms, and the sun to eliminate all pathogens and filtrates. In accordance with LBC regulations, all energy required to run the building and treatment facility are produced from 3 photovoltaic arrays. In addition to the aforementioned challenges, throughout the building process Omega was also obliged to pay close attention to threats to endangered species, “red-listed” chemicals or materials, and the use of salvaged materials. The extraordinary building created as a result exhibits many ecologically brilliant innovations, including rainwater collection, smart motion and ambient light sensors, and passive solar design including solar tracking skylights.

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This link will take you to Omega’s Vimeo account. They have hundreds of videos, a few of which pertain directly to the building and it use of water, energy, and other resources.

The Omega Institute is currently constructing a website devoted to the stunning complexity of this project, due to be up and running by January 2012. In the mean time be sure to visit the Omega website for more information.

Stay tuned later this week to learn more about Smith’s Living Building design for the Bechtel Environmental Classroom.

-Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern

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