NURTURE: Lehigh Living Cultural Center


NURTURE: Lehigh Living Cultural Center


Kurt G. Kimsey & Matthew Wieber
Marywood University


Miguel Calvo Salve & Russell B. Roberts
Marywood University



This comprehensive project displays a solid grasp of the ten measures. The design is strong and pragmatic, with good understanding of passive design in this climate. The solar-powered thermal wall is a thought-provoking design choice. The project is using the site to its full advantage while engaging the local community.



NURTURE is a foundation (LLCC) and cultural center dedicated to supporting and cultivating the people and city of Bethlehem Pennsylvania. Situated on Sand Island bounded by the Lehigh River and Canal, the site previously lacked identity and access to the River. The Lehigh Living Cultural Center (LLCC) seeks to renew the social and environmental ecologies of the city and its people.

The LLCC incorporates art and educational facilities, a lecture hall, and offices for the foundation headquarters, along with recreation areas. 4932 sf of art studios and galleries focus on sculptural and biophilic art, relating to nature and are paired with art therapy studios. The education facilities and classrooms account for 4078 sf and provide hands-on learning about water conservation and sustainable practices. The lecture hall (2000 sf) ­provides a flexible environment for events, lectures and communal gatherings to unfold. The foundation headquarters (7075 sf) contain offices and conference rooms for administration as well as areas for community outreach and volunteer opportunities. The recreation program is 4350 sf and contains kayak and bike storage along with water access and viewing pavilions. The remaining square footage contains concourse and gallery space for events and social interaction to unfold. The square footage of the building totals 30,278 sf.

MEASURE 1 Design and Innovation

The center establishes a place and framework for active and communal interactions to take place. The new foundation facilitates the growth of the city incorporating sustainable strategies and involving communal outreach programs. The increased activity and flexibility on site provides a variety of programs for visitors, generating a more collaborative environment, while involving local organizations, government officials, schools and businesses.

To deal with flood problems, the building is raised 4 feet off the existing ground out of the flood plain. A raised pathway runs through the site starting at the parking, leading towards the building and eventually ending at the river access. The pathway narrates the events that unfold on site while also drawing visitors to wander through the site immersing themselves not only with the environment but also with people.

The project provides the ability for chance encounters and social collaboration, prioritizing people as the most sustainable solution. The project not only focuses on “environmental sustainability” but also targets a social sustainability. The restoration of Bethlehem’s identity will be cultivated first hand through its citizens. This project seeks to nurture its future citizens into a green lifestyle, ultimately facilitating a positive growth for the future of Bethlehem.

MEASURE 2 Regional and Community Design

The site is located within a 1/2-mile radius of the downtown historic district of Bethlehem. This close proximity emphasizes a walkable connection between our site and the pedestrian downtown. The site adds to the cultural and economic revival of the city, incorporating local schools, universities, businesses, artists, and municipalities into the activities on site such as lecture series, community events and artistic installations. The facility will add an environmentally and socially focused program to the rich history and local culture of Bethlehem. The foundation will regulate and implement green practices and infrastructure promoting an active relationship with the city’s built and natural contexts. The community involvement with the foundation will provide the opportunity for people to influence the development and growth of their city. The green practices on-site will be understood and learned through visitors, and planned and incorporated into the city’s context.

MEASURE 3 Land Use and Site Ecology 

The site is located between the Lehigh River and Lehigh Canal in the Lehigh Valley Watershed. The existing site was used for parking and boat access to the river. Located in a deciduous based region the site is populated with some trees lining the river and canal banks. Along the canal runs a bike path, which is the most heavily used part of the site. Besides the edges near the river and canal, most of the site is open without tree cover, covered with mostly gravel and old concrete pad.

The project rids the site of the impermeable surfaces that covered the site adding more vegetation and trees, reducing the heat island effect. The elevated path allows vegetation to grow underneath, aiding in stormwater management and helping reduce the building’s footprint on-site. The raised pathway leads the visitors through the site ending at the water access point. The pathway bifurcates at the intersection of the building offering a path back towards the landscape and eventually connecting back to the existing bike trail. The path and building circulation run parallel to one another striving to merge to interior and exterior conditions bringing the sense of nature inside to the building occupants.

MEASURE 4 Bioclimatic Design

According to ASHRAE, Bethlehem is located in climate zone 5a, which is a cool-humid mild zone. Due to the mild climate, lack of tree cover on-site, the exposure to the sun and lack of shade, our building runs east-west on site with the south façade incorporating a solar shading screen and triple glazing to protect against high solar gain. Raising the building four feet out of the flood plain allowed us to use vents in the floor to aid in displacement ventilation and cool the building in the summer months. The thermal mass wall contains coils from hot water solar collectors heating and cooling the building through the year, to deal with the hot summers and cold winters. The horizontality of the building aids in blending the interior with the landscape while maximizing views to the river and day lighting inside. The passive systems and siting of the building add to the flexibility of the buildings adaptive response to the changing climate.

MEASURE 5 Light and Air

The project has been designed to maximize the amount of natural daylight that can pass through the building creating a comforting atmospheric condition. This requires an open concept design and a facade system that encourages solar exposure to flood public oriented interior spaces of the cultural center. The organization of large open spaces in the mass wall runs the length of the building, allowing the passage of light and air between programs. This strategy enhances the atmosphere and visibility between programs inside the LLCC and it’s ability to promote social sustainability. Additionally, diffused northern light is used to softly lighten the semi-private and private space that the south facade could not reach.

The open concept strategies used play a key role in the design of the interior air quality. Bio climatic strategies found within the mass wall stabilize the heating and cooling demands of the open public spaces providing consistent comfort. The tall open spaces are provided with floor vents and operable clerestory windows to encourage a passive cycle of air through stack ventilation during hot summer days. The private spaces are provided with operable windows to individually allow for ventilation as needed.

MEASURE 6 Water Cycle

The existing conditions at Sand Island have shown that there is not a very high demand for outdoor irrigation. Annually, the site receives 45.4 in a year totaling 5,502,204 gallons while monthly Sand Island averages 458,517gallons. The water that it receives monthly is more than enough to irrigate and maintain the current and added vegetation without the need of additional irrigation systems. The vegetated areas around the building can be sufficiently irrigated through the rainwater collection / gray water filtration system. Together, with the monthly rainfall and the buildings water collection / reuse system, the LLCC’s additional vegetated areas requires 8, 535 gallons per month landing it 94% below the baseline for the site.

All roofs pitch toward the building catching and storing rainwater. The raised pathway allows vegetation to grow on a continuous surface and act as rain gardens in stormwater management. The gray water is recycled through constructed wetlands roof and released back into the environment through evapotranspiration and ground water infiltration. Some of the water is pumped through the “water steps” underneath the building acting as a cooling feature for the building and an aesthetic feature for visitors.

MEASURE 7 Energy Flows and Energy Future

The project utilizes both passive and active systems to minimize energy usage. The façade incorporates a ceramic louver shading system controlling the light and protecting against solar gain and heat loss from inside. The solar hot water collectors on the roof heat water and run through coils in the wall heating and cooling the buildings temperature. A building energy management system regulates the thermal comfort and automatically adjusts the building systems to help monitor energy usage.

Taking advantage of the canal that runs along the site, there are a series of 4 underground hydroelectric turbines pulling water from the canal, passing through the site, and emptying back into the river. The canal has a head of 12’ above the river allowing the system to be entirely gravity fed, requiring no pumps to move the water. This system is only in operation when there is a substantial volume of water in the canal so the system would not negatively affect its ecology. The four turbines have the potential of generating up to 13% of the buildings total usage. The remaining energy generation is from solar panels located on top of the pavilions adjacent to the pathways.

MEASURE 8 Materials and Construction

Due to Bethlehem’s rich industrial and cultural past and association with the steel industry, most of the materials used are produced locally. The steel, brick and limestone are all abundant materials found and manufactured in the region, which lowers transportation costs and supports the local economy of Bethlehem. The structural frame of the building is steel with the central spine constructed of limestone functioning as a thermal mass. The façade and path utilize reclaimed wood from surrounding abandoned sites and rail yards in Bethlehem. The ceramic louvers on the southern façade are made from reusable waste material, and are integrated with titanium dioxide, which contributes to the abatement of toxins in the atmosphere. The overall material and color palette contain natural and earthy tones helping the building blend into the environment. Striving for a culturally sustainable project, the building’s use of local materials and methods allow it to better situate itself into the rich cultural context of Bethlehem.

MEASURE 9 Long Life, Loose Fit

Designing for long-term flexibility is an important attribute for a project predicated on cultivating social sustainability. Spaces both inside and outside are designed to be adaptable, allowing for diverse use. The LLCC can be used for art and sculpture galleries making use of the concourse space as a place for exhibition, as well as an operable facade system in the art studios allowing the building to open up to the sculpture garden. The lecture hall is populated with removable chairs to adapt to occupant load as well as providing a clear open space for anything from design exhibitions to job fairs. The education facilities are open plan concept and are adaptable to accommodate a variety of groups ranging from young children, to adult night classes, and even handicap classes. At its core, the foundation promotes the growth of its community and the LLCC has been designed to provide a flexible environment for events, lectures and communal gatherings to unfold.

MEASURE 10 Collective Wisdom and Feedback Loops

The project is most successful when the people of Bethlehem are actively using the facility as a resource at their disposal. The diversity of programming spread across the site provides the opportunity for a wide spread range of usage. The flexibility of the building and diverse usage allows the community to be directly involved with the foundation and its efforts to restore the identity of Bethlehem. The green practices on site are used to understand the needs and outcomes of the environment becoming a platform for its integration throughout the city. Therefore the LLCC becomes the active catalyst for natural and social ecologies. This strengthens the ties between the foundation, the city, and its people ensuring a sustainable future for Bethlehem.