FOR ALMOST TWO DECADES, Boston-based nonprofit Artists for Humanity has worked with the city’s underprivileged youth. The brainchild of Founder and Executive/Artistic Director Susan Rodgerson, the organization provides art education and community involvement, as well as an opportunity for young adults to generate income from their skills and talents. After spending much of its life in an old, turn-of-the-century brick warehouse complete with leaky ceiling and broken windows, the group decided it was time to move to a new home. Not just any building would do, however; AFH wanted to be an example to the very community to which its youth and adult staff are so committed. The new space had to provide a healthy environment inside and out.
Years of planning, fundraising and dedication to the cause produced the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter, which achieved a LEED Platinum rating from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council. Located in a traditionally industrial part of Boston, the building's aesthetic intimates the historic neighborhood while clearly expressing its artistic, green sensibility.
The project required and inspired a true group effort. AFH's staff and students were very active in the design process. “Most of our employees and artists are creative people, so this was a great opportunity to flex our creative urges and design a space that serves our purposes and needs,” Rodgerson explains. “We were thrilled to find an architect who was not just open, but interested in that process. They were excited that we were totally committed to building the most sustainable building we possibly could.” Somerville, Mass.-based design firm Arrowstreet came onto the project in 2001. “Sustainability was an important goal from the beginning,” recalls Jim Batchelor, FAIA, LEED AP, and a principal at Arrowstreet.
“It ties back to the real purposes of the program, which include increasing the individual’s sense that he or she can affect and change the world. Being responsible for one’s environment was something the students took very seriously. It became a mission that was as important as producing art.” The team was able to to achieve its green goals with a limited budget. The building features natural ventilation, daylighting, rainwater catchment and photovoltaic panels. Because the organization does not have a single large donor, the only money the team could spend was the money that Rodgerson and her group was able to raise through their efforts in the community. “I think one of the things that’s interesting about this project is that sustainable design on a LEED Platinum project doesn’t have to be expensive,” asserts Patricia Cornelison, AIA, LEED AP, and a principal at Arrowstreet. “Everything we’ve done here is very low-tech and inexpensive and achieves project goals without exotic equipment.”