Omega Center for Sustainable Living Construction Photo Tour | Omega

Constructing a Building for the Future

Constructing a Building for the Future
A Photo Tour of the Construction of the OCSL

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living is an environmental education center and natural water reclamation facility built to meet the highest standards available in sustainable architecture. This slideshow offers a look into the construction of this pioneering project. 


  • "The OCSL is a dynamic, living and breathing demonstration of how interconnected we all are with the world around us. Our goal is to help people reexamine how they relate to the world by showing them what's possible in terms of environmental sustainability, green energy, and regenerative design." —Skip Backus, CEO of Omega

  • This early diagram illustrates some of the major components of the building and the Eco-Machine that processes Omega's wastewater in seven stages: 1) Solid settlement tanks, 2) Equalization tanks, 3) Anaerobic tanks, 4) Constructed wetlands, 5) Aerated lagoons, 6) Recirculating sand filter, and 7) Dispersion fields.

  • The building took five years from conception to completion. BNIM Architects of Kansas City, Missouri, designed the building, and John Todd Ecological Design designed the Eco-Machine. Other firms involved in the project include: Natural Systems International, Conservation Design Forum for Landscape Architecture, Tipping Mar + associates for structural engineering, BGR Engineers, The Chazen Companies, and Dave Sember Construction.

  • Three stages of the Eco Machine are represented in this photo. In the foreground is an anaerobic tank. In the middle of the photo are what will become the constructed wetlands. In the background is the area that will become the sand filter.

  • There are four constructed wetlands. Each is three feet deep, lined with rubber (visible in this photo), and filled with gravel. They will be planted with native plants, like cattails and bulrushes, that help clean wastewater.

  • Finished wetlands are planted with plugs of native plants. The roots of the plants will remove nitrates and reduce the biological oxygen demand.

  • Staff participated in planting the plugs in the constructed wetlands on Earth Day in 2009. 

  • Once the plants grow and the Eco Machine begins operating, the water level will be a few inches below the gravel surface. 

  • Inside the building are aerated lagoons that will house tropical plants. Each lagoon is ten feet deep and will receive water pumped in from the constructed wetlands. At this point in the process the water will not appear dirty, but is still unsafe to touch.

  • Wire racks are bolted into each lagoon. The racks will support plants, which will "float" on the surface of thw water. No soil is used—instead, the roots will dangle in the water, in some cases to a depth of five feet.

  • This planting diagram shows some of the plants used in the lagoons. The plants, along with fungi, algae, snails, and microorganisms in the aerated lagoons, convert nitrates and toxins into harmless base elements.

  • Not long after planting, the plants begin to grow. 

  • Today the lagoons resemble nothing less than a lush tropical greenhouse. Pam Vitarius, Omega's head gardener, tends the plants indoors and out. 

  • The sand filter is the second to last stage of water processing. This deep tank is filled with different layers of material.

  • In the sand filter, any remaining organic compounds in the water are removed by microorganisms living on and between the grains of sand. The water is "polished" here befoe it is fed back into the aquifer via a dispersal field.

  • When clean water exits the Eco Machine, it is returned to the aquifer via a subsurface dispersal field under part of Omega's parking lot. In subsequent development, this water will be used to irrigate gardens throughout the campus.

  • One section of the roof of the OCSL is a green roof, which was planted with various Sedum species. The green roof will help reduce runoff and reduce energy use.

  • The green roof sits atop the entrance of the OCSL. To the right you can see the lush plants in the aerated lagoons. The skylights atop the roof help collect and reflect light into room with the lagoons so plants get the light they need during the short days of winter in New York. 

© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies


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