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House of Loreto at Chestnut Hill College

Sisters of St. Joseph
Chestnut Hill, PA
586 sf

An unused chapel on the grounds of a small college in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania was renovated as an office for the Director of the Earth Center, the College’s new hub for sustainability. The renovations demonstrate sustainable design and renewable products which complement the college’s goal for integrating practices of and providing courses in sustainability and its connection to spirituality.

Built in 1897 and known as the House of Loreto, the 586 square foot chapel is a replica of the original House of Loreto, which, according to tradition, is the first home where baby Jesus lived with the Virgin Mary and Joseph. It was built to house a relic from the original pilgrimage site in Italy. The most precious pieces of the original chapel are the "reredos" and the Ebony Madonna which are preserved on the wall within the Earth Center. The wooden structure came directly from the original House of Loreto in Italy when it was replaced with a marble one.

The diminutive building provides a place to collect "best practices" in sustainability and to network in the Northwest Philadelphia Community with groups interested in delving more deeply into issues of sustainability and spirituality in the Wissahickon watershed bioregion. It is host to a variety of lectures, conferences, and film festivals, in addition to driving green initiatives on the college’s campus.

In the renovation, the building was given a green makeover, keeping the architectural beauty of the building intact. In addition, the reredos was salvaged, cleaned and relocated to surround the stained glass window which was restored and protected with the addition of an insulating storm panel for double glazing.

The Earth Center itself incorporates many recycled materials and boasts several eco-friendly features that make it a model for green initiatives including geothermal heating, low VOC emitting finishes, rain-gathering columns and storm water gardens. New windows, with argon-filled double glazing, provide views from the mezzanine and natural ventilation. The lighting fixtures use compact fluorescent lamps to save energy. The dual flush toilet and low flow bathroom fixtures conserve water use. The vaulted plaster ceiling was retained, and insulated above with blown-in cellulose insulation. A mezzanine, finished in FSC red oak, was added to provide additional office space. The exterior walls are insulated with soy-based spray foam covered with gypsum board and finished with low VOC emitting paint.

Around the exterior, decorative metal work was in poor condition and several columns had been removed due to deterioration. The columns and bases were replaced with new fiber-reinforced decorative columns on new bases constructed with PVC material. The rain water conductors were routed through the columns to an underground cistern for landscape use. The new roof received a white coating to reduce solar heat gain and a rain garden was designed to collect storm water runoff and recharge the ground water.


Exemplary sustainable design aspects of the project

Sustainable Sites

  • Construction Activity Pollution Prevention Soil Erosion

  • Public Transportation Access

  • Stormwater Design

  • Heat Island Effect – Roof

Water Efficiency

  • Water Use Reduction

  • Water Efficient Landscaping

  • Innovative Wastewater Technologies

Energy & Atmosphere

  • Optimize Energy Performance

  • Green Power

Materials & Resources

  • Building Reuse - Maintain Existing Walls, Floors, Roof and Interior Nonstructural Elements

  • Recycled Content

  • Certified Wood

Indoor Environmental Quality

  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) Control

  • Increased Ventilation

  • Construction Indoor Air Quality Management Plan

  • Low-Emitting Materials

  • Controllability of Systems and thermal comfort

  • Daylight and Views

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