America's First Zero-Impact Living Building

Fast Company July/August 2009

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living is a $3.2 million "living building" in Rhinebeck, New York, the first of its kind to have no detrimental environmental effects. The main component of the design is a system that will clean 5 million gallons of wastewater a year. What other elements make this a supergreen building? Jump below to find out...

1. Holding Cell: a 10,000-gallon oxygen-free tank collects all wastewater from the 195-acre Omega Institute campus, an educational nonprofit that promotes "holistic living" (think yoga and meditation). The tank is placed so that water can flow downward as it's being cleaned, so there's no need to use pumps.

2. The Wetlands: The designers, Missouri-based BNIM, designed artificial wetlands to be the second stage of the treatment process. Water flows from the tank into gravel-filled cells filled with bulrush and cattail which ingest nitrates and other impurities.

3. Green Lagoon: From the wetlands, the water moves inside the building into two lagoons divided into cells. Calla lily and giant papyrus hover just above water level. The roots of these plants, along with a menagerie of fungi, microbes, algae, and snails, all work to clean the water as it passes through. The final, cleanes cell holds Koi.

4. Natural Light: Skylights let in sunshine to nourish the plants, which is monitored by a solar-tracking system.

5. The Sandpit: Clear water flows back from the lagoons into a filter of sand and gravel. Microorganisms living in the sand devour residual waste before the cleaned water is piped to flush toilets and irrigate the land.

6. Roof Garden: A green roof collects and cleans rainwater before diverting it to a cistern.

7. Air Supply: The lower windows on the east side and the upper ones on the west were designed to follow wind patterns to open and cool the building in the summer.

8. The Shield: Reclaimed cypress from a Pennsylvania mushroom farm were constructed around the building to prevent moisture buildup and provide extra insulation.

9. Powering: Photovoltaic collectors enable the building to be entirely off-grid.

10. In Session: Eco-focused lectures and talks are held on campus.

See more at Fast Company.

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