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Sarah Rich, 3 Jan 06

We talk a lot about community at Worldchanging, and have recently asked you to tell us about some of your favorite local epicenters, where members of a community can share space and establish social connections.

The concept of a community epicenter has been heartily embraced by Boston non-profit, Artists for Humanity (not to be confused with our own Cameron Sinclair's Architecture for Humanity). The organization operates a range of micro-enterprise programs employing inner-city teen artists in paid apprenticeship and entrepreneurial opportunities. Recently, they have a new home, aptly named the EpiCenter, which enjoys the achievement of being Boston's first Platinum Level LEED certified building. AFH's new home was designed by Arrowstreet Architects, who in addition to attaining Platinum status, also outfitted the building with Boston's largest photovoltaic roof array.

As Gretchen Hooker says on Inhabitat:

Funded in part by grant support from Boston's Green Building Task Force and the forward-thinking Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the 23,500 square foot facility boasts many of the usual cost-efficient and sustainable design features. It has passive solar heating, aggressive insulation, and a greywater recycling system, in addition to some creative materials re-use. Lending an industrial flavor to the building, recycled materials, such as railroad rails and car windshields, are featured in the gallery mezzanine's railing. The bathroom furnishings, designed by a local artist, utilize materials leftover from the building's own construction. And, in fact, more than 80 percent of the construction debris was collected and recycled, keeping it out of landfills.

Artists for Humanity was founded on a small business model and its approach to creating the EpiCenter reflects that industrious sensibility. In addition to housing AFH's offices, and professionally equipped studios, the building features a spacious multi-level gallery. Offered as an assembly space to rent for private and corporate events, the gallery area provides both public exposure and sales opportunities to AFH's student artists, while the rental incomes support the organization's programs. Moreover, with their rooftop solar array designed to produce in excess of 150% of needed power, they're also able to generate funds by selling energy back to the utility company.

This project is groundbreaking not only in terms of the physical characteristics and environmental benefits of the building itself, but also because it demonstrates increasing accessibility of green building to community organizations and less well-funded groups. While LEED status has been within the reach of major corporations for some time now, it's only recently that non-profits like AFH can build facilities that align with their principles and add value to the services they offer the community.

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