Part of the River Natural Science School in the Niagara escarpment region, the building was used for giving classes and demonstrations to the children who stayed in the nearby school buildings. It relied heavily on passive heating and cooling while drew electrical power from a wind machine, solar panels and a micro hydro generator (depending on the season). Sewage and waste water were treated naturally. It had a 16-sided near circular plan, an earth roof made of the excavated soil during construction, and it was half-buried in the earth. Both roof and the uninsulated basement acted as heat sinks. The building materials were mostly natural and non-toxic, with minimal finishes and often from a local source.
Over 5,000 children came to the school to study the ecology of the region every year and the institution’s mission was to instill in them the idea that a man-made structure can be a self-sustaining part of nature. Students could gather around a central hearth in the evening, have access to panoramic views, see through glazed windows the available renewable power stored in the building’s batteries, while elements such as the water and sewage treatment facility, which was called the “Living Machine”, were architecturally celebrated. The latter was designed to recycle 800 gallons of water per day that ran through 17 cylindrical canisters, ending up in an indoor pond with fish and plant life. However, the water was never reused as there were no funds to test its purity.
The project had been financed by the Toronto Board of Education.
It closed in 2003 due to budget cuts and fell into disrepair.