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Solar-powered, ‘greenest hotel in the country’ opens in Ohio

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The Hotel at Oberlin, powered by solar arrays and geothermal wells, lives up to the progressive politics of the college where it stands

At the intersection of College and Main streets, near the campus of Ohio’s famously progressive Oberlin College, a hotel has stood for decades, welcoming visitors to the school and the city. But earlier this summer, as befitting the school’s guiding philosophy, the older building was replaced by a new symbol of the area’s growing commitment to sustainability.

The newly opened Hotel at Oberlin would make any environmental studies major proud. The only LEED Platinum certified hotel owned by a U.S. college, the 70-room building is entirely powered by an on-site solar array and uses geothermal power for heating and cooling, aided by a radiant temperature control system with metal ceiling panels that dramatically increases efficiency. It even boasts locally sourced material, including wood panels from a nearby 19th century barn, that wind around a central staircase.

But ask the architect, and the rationale, in part, comes down to dollars and sense.

"In terms of operation, you need to look at this on the on the short and long terms," says Jim Curtain, of Chicago-based SCB. "What’s the highest value for the expense?"

Developed by SMART Hotels and run by the Olympia Companies, the hotel exudes sustainability (and long-term savings) throughout, from the choice of materials to the service, which includes a farm-to-table restaurant on site (1833) and environmentally minded coffee service. The multi-colored glass facade, lofted over the main space in a shape that recalls midcentury modern home, offers an open entrance and an atrium view towards the city. A play off mesa and treehouses, the building's layout creates a warm, streamlined interior, a welcoming addition to school’s modern architectural landscape.

"With Oberlin’s rich architectural campus, we wanted to present a building of today, one that represents the materials of today that you couldn’t have done 20 years ago," says Curtain.

This fall, a jazz club will open on site, and a permanent three-part art installation in the lobby by Ohio-born artist Maya Lin (Vietnam Veterans Memorial), is slated for completion in the next few months. But the most exciting part of the hotel’s future is its role as anchor of the city’s growing Green Arts District, a joint project between town and gownmeant to showcase environmentally aware economic development. The vision of professor David Orr, it’s a test case for a sustainable economy, funded in part by the Clinton Global Initiative, that makes this new building much more than merely a place to stay.

"Building a hotel like this is emblematic," says Curtain. "It’s a great place to have these discussions about sustainability, and a great way to move forward. It’s a realistic step forward in thinking globally about global warming."

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