Skip To Main Content

Sustainable Classroom

Situated behind Susan Colgate Cleveland Library and to the left of the permaculture garden, Colby-Sawyer’s free-standing Sustainable Classroom can be found. This 36’ x 40’ timber frame structure, better known as the Sunshack, was designed and built by students and remains one of the most compelling and visible examples of the college’s effort to cultivate a culture of environmental awareness and action.

Students received guidance for this project from Professors Steven Whitman and Bryan Felice who taught three shelter and sustainability courses starting in 2012. The classes covered all aspects of the design-build process including building science and performance, natural materials, and construction planning, all of which gave students the information and inspiration they needed to turn their sustainable vision into reality.

Felice described the classroom as a way to “link the old, traditional [18th-century] vernacular” style in which it was built with “new 21st-century technologies and techniques.” One student, Jenisha Shrestha ‘14, an environmental studies major, said, “Participating in the creation of such an innovative and sustainable structure that is used by the entire campus was a great experience.”


The Sunshack is the first commercial building in N.H. to integrate a straw-bale wall system. Each wall consists of various insulation methods: twelve inches of straw-clay mixture in the south wall; twelve to fifteen inches of dense-packed cellulose in the east and west walls; and eighteen inches of straw-bale plus six inches of dense-packed cellulose in the north wall.


Eleven low-emissivity (low-E) windows set in a convex south-facing wall allow the indoor temperature to change naturally. Heat is trapped in the concrete floor and cob benches during the day, keeping the room cool, then released at night to make the room warm. These same windows illuminate the room without artificial light use during the day.


The building features a timber frame structure made from eastern white pine, yellow birch, and black cherry trees, all native to New London and Andover. Choosing locally-sourced materials reduces carbon emissions and contributes to a vibrant economy. Lumber scraps were reused in the garden or burned in Sue’s Sugar House to avoid landfills.


The Sustainable Classroom was designed and built by over 100 Colby-Sawyer students. From construction-planning to plastering and painting the interior, the students led this amazing project and presented it to the Town of New London for permitting. Others who made this effort possible include Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (MACP), Professor Leon-C. Malan, former Director of Sustainability & Innovation Jennifer White '90, and countless local residents.