2023 Groundbreaker Awards Nominee: Swarthmore College Dining and Commons

Posted September 25, 2023

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Image Credit: Robert Benson Photography
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Image Credit: Robert Benson Photography
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project Info

Swarthmore College Dining & Community Commons Addition

508 Field House Lane, Swarthmore PA, 19081

Sustainable New Development or Renovation


Project Team

Architect/Designer: DLR Group, RWL Architecture & Planning

Contractor: Warfel Construction Company

Engineer: Langan

Owner: Swarthmore College


Project Description

The Dining and Community Commons is an ambitious, net-zero dining facility utilizing mass-timber construction and high-efficiency systems to create a uniquely welcoming, beautiful, and sustainable gathering space at Swarthmore College. The centerpiece of the project is a 42,000 square foot mass timber dining addition, thoughtfully conceived to support Swarthmore’s mission to deliver a transformative learning experience founded in stewardship, innovation, inclusion, equity, and diversity. The project is a major step forward in Swarthmore’s ‘To Zero By Thirty Five’ (20X35) plan for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. High-performance building envelope and systems combine with carbon conscious, healthy materials and biophilic influences to form a holistically sustainable project. To ensure and prove effectiveness, Swarthmore is pursuing Living Building Challenge Petal Certification through the International Living Future Institute. Some exciting features of this project include:

  • Extensive campus engagement, consisting of over 55 meetings and 500 individual interviews, provided a strong framework for project design.


  • A basement beneath the dining addition is prepared to house Swarthmore’s future central geothermal plant, a critical component in Swarthmore’s 20X35 plan. 


  • A hybrid structure of sustainably harvested mass timber and steel pays intentional homage to the existing Sharples Hall structure while advancing goals for carbon footprint reduction.


  • 400kW of roof-mounted solar panels combine with off-site solar development to achieve a project imperative to offset 105% of energy use with renewable energy sources. 


  • A high efficiency mechanical system that utilizes DOAS units, water-source heat pumps, ducted VAV, radiant ceilings and floors, and operable windows.


  • Achieves 85kBtu/SF energy efficiency versus typical dining facilities which average 550kBtu/SF. 

In addition, nearly 17,000 face square-feet of natural building stone is sourced from a local, Avondale quarry. Additionally, stone for gabion walls was carefully salvaged from an existing building on the project site. Carefully detailed facades, bird-safe Ornilux glazing, and green roofs combined to preserve campus wildlife and enhance habitat. Existing arboretum specimens throughout the site were methodically protected and monitored throughout construction. Plant selections were carefully evaluated for native pedigree and contributing value to the Arboretum. Portions of removed trees were sawn, dried, and utilized to adorn interior conference spaces. Construction commenced in June of 2020 with extensive utility relocation to make way for the dining addition. Mass timber structure was topped out in Fall of 2021, and the addition was completed in October of 2022. The subsequent Commons renovation phase is underway and projected to reach completion in Spring 2024.

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