Exploring Sustainable Design in St. John – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Exploring Sustainable Design in St. John

For three HWS students who spent eight weeks on the U.S. Virgin Islands, the appeal of the popular vacation destination was not in the pristine beaches or picturesque landscapes, but in the world-renowned eco-tourism industry. John Darby ’14, Frances Gross ’14 and Mattie Mead ’13  completed an internship on sustainable building and design at the Concordia Eco-Resort on the island of St. John. 

Concordia Eco-Resort is an eco-tourist destination surrounded by the U.S. Virgin Island National Park. With summer as the off-season, the resort takes advantage of the time to complete major renovations, improvements, and other maintenance. Assistant Professors of Architectural Studies Kirin Makker and Jeffrey Blankenship have traveled to the resort multiple times for a volunteer program, and encourage students to take advantage of the internship opportunities offered by Concordia.

The internship provided the three students with different experiences, as they were able to make decisions about which tasks they wanted to pursue. Gross and Darby spent a large portion of the internship creating marketing materials for the eco tents. They produced system maps for maintenance and tutorials for guests, and worked on branding the new studios with individualized logos.

Darby chose to take this a step further and map out the water systems of the entire property. “I learned a great deal about sustainable systems for water and electrical conservation and distribution,” Darby says. The two were also tasked with breaking down the eco studios in preparation for their restoration.

In addition, Gross and Darby had to meet certain requirements in order to earn course credit for the internship. This included keeping a sketchbook and photography file in which they explored the building technologies of the resort and compiled a collection of visual notes and drawings. Upon their return to HWS, they  each gave a presentation of their work to either an HWS architecture class or an audience at the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center.

As a recent graduate, Mead’s experience was unique. “I ended up making my experience different than the other two students,” Mead says. “Instead of drawing and design work, I was actually building the eco tents with the construction crew and working with my hands. I was in a beautiful, amazing place, learning practical skills that can be applied anywhere in the world.”

The internship also allowed students to take advantage of its pristine setting. The students were able to go snorkeling with sea turtles and sharks in Salt Pond Bay, explore the British Virgin Islands by catamaran, and hike to remote beaches all over St. John.

Amidst these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, Darby, Gross, and Mead also gained a new appreciation for their lifestyles back home. “We learned that the lifestyle that we have adapted here is more necessity than it is a choice. Despite the sustainable efforts, the highest utility cost is water. We have a new appreciation for the cost of living and the value of clean water.”

Though Concordia is making significant efforts to create a sustainable eco-resort, Mead says they went there thinking it was one of the most “effective, cheap, and green ways to build,” but then realized there was a lot that could still be done.

Pursuing this idea, Mead is working to apply what he learned at the internship to a much more urban environment – New York City.

“Power is expensive in St. John, so simple things like turning the lights off are really important and can make a huge difference,” Mead says. “Working in St. John and seeing what a difference these things could make made me want to apply it in the setting of the New York City metropolitan area.”

Mead is also pursuing different entrepreneurship opportunities, including the start-up company, Hempitecture, which he presented last year at the Centennial Center for Leadership’s entrepreneurial competition, The Pitch.