November 08, 2018, BY Matt Hughes

From the Iroquois creation story to Walden, the work of poets, novelists, philosophers and other humanists have for centuries informed and enriched mankind's efforts to shape, understand and commune with the natural world.

This tradition is alive and well at Bucknell, where the University's recently launched Humanities Center and the building it calls home are each advancing the dialogue between humanity and nature. This October, the U.S. Green Building Council recognized the latter by awarding its Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification to Hildreth-Mirza Hall.

Take a 360 video tour of Hildreth-Mirza Hall.

Professor James Mark Shields, the center's inaugural director, said the accolade befits his initiative's mission, noting that the center selected "Humanizing Sustainability" as its first annual programming theme, and that a recent grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation challenges humanities professors to design curricula to confront "confounding" contemporary problems, including climate change.

"We envision the humanities, among other things, as a locus for the development of skills and values appropriate to facing the principle challenges of the 21st-century world," said Shields, a professor of comparative humanities & Asian thought. "The LEED Silver certification is not simply an accolade, but a spur to even greater commitments on the part of the faculty, staff and students doing humanities work at Bucknell."

A new central atrium is home to a living wall and bathes the building in natural light. Photo by Gordon Wenzel

The certification recognizes the holistic set of sustainable features and construction practices employed in Hildreth-Mirza Hall — not the least of which is its repurposing of a building that originally opened in 1941 as a fraternity house. Expanded with a new wing and open interior, the hall now boasts a host of modern sustainability-focused features, including room occupancy sensors, air quality monitors and automated ventilation systems, while maintaining its historic charm. Together, these measures reduce the building's energy consumption by 35 percent.

Architects Buchart Horn (formerly Celli-Flynn Brennan) also included numerous nods to the natural world for the building's tenants, which also include the Bucknell University Press and the Griot Institute for Africana Studies. Among these amenities are a living wall of succulent plants, accessible green roof, central atrium that bathes the hall's interior in natural light and an exterior "Shakespeare garden" of native plant species that require no artificial irrigation.

The hall's great room has already hosted numerous events, including a guest lecture by documentarian Ken Burns. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

"The architect worked hard to bring lots of natural light into this building," said Amy Smalt, campus planner for Bucknell Facilities and a LEED-accredited professional. "Opening up the building with a skylight leading to a three-story atrium allows light to travel all the way through the building and creates pleasant open spaces in which occupants can work or study. Visual connections to exterior green spaces like the garden and green roof are also present throughout the building."

The project was also recognized in late August by the council's Central Pennsylvania chapter with its Rise to the Challenge award. Hildreth-Mirza Hall is the 14th building on Bucknell's campus to attain LEED certification. All but one of the structures have garnered the more difficult-to-attain LEED Silver status, and the four-building South Campus Apartments and adjacent MacDonald Commons were certified at the Gold level. Academic East, a 78,000-square-foot laboratory and classroom center now under construction behind Hildreth-Mirza Hall, is also being built in accordance with LEED Gold standards.