environmental design

pla | Phillip Lehn Architect

800 Main Street

Amherst, Massachusetts 1973

A proposal for what may have been the nation's first public solar heated and cooled building  

Conceived and developed months before the Arab's surprise October 1973 oil embargo, 800 Main Street may have been the nation's first proposal for a public solar heated and cooled building. Developed by Fred Boyajian and designed by Phillip Lehn in collaboration with Brink Thorne, Mary and Allan Dietz, Nick Dines, Ahmed Dadi, project mechanical engineer for Louis Kahn's Exeter Academy Library and the Salk Institute, and Sean Wellesley-Miller and Day Chahroudi, the two Co-Directors of MIT's Solar Energy Lab, the proposed, passive and active solar heated and cooled mixed-use town center included a dinner theater~performing arts center, restaurant and coffee house, shopping bazaar, offices, health club with swimming pool and a sub grade thermal storage facility to store coolness as well as heat. Computer modeling of the building's anticipated performance indicated it would have saved more than 70% of the energy required by a more conventionally designed and code compliant building.


While the project won a rare and difficult to obtain zoning variance in a well attended and contested public hearing and was featured on the front pages of two local newspapers, the widespread economic depression that followed in the wake of the Arab's oil embargo ironically undermined the project's financial viability. Despite its failure to obtain construction financing, not all was lost. In addition to promoting conservation and demonstrating the commercial viability of solar energy throughout New England, the project also helped promote and pass a new zoning code that concentrates Amherst's growth near its historic centers to minimize increases in infrastructural and commuting costs while perserving outlying family farms and native open spaces.

In houses that look toward the south, the sun penetrates the portico in winter,

while in summer the path of the sun is right over our heads and

above the roof so there is shade.



Main Floor Plan

Site Plan 

Main Floor Plan

Sustainable Design Features

Health Club

Performing Arts Theater


pla | Phillip Lehn Architect © 2016

Mary Dietz

Nick Dines

Jean Nietupski

Jean Nietupski

Health Club