Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild & Commons  


General Information

Building Name: Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild & Commons
Building Location: Santa Rosa, California, United States
Project Size: 19,500SF
Market Sector: Private
Building Type: Academic
Delivery Method: Design Bid-Build
Project Completion Date / Date Building Occupied: Substantial completion Fall 2017 with the building being occupied September 2017. Final construction completed February 2018.

Project Team

WRNS Studio
501 2nd Street, #402
San Francisco, California 94107

Mechanical Engineer (Mechanical, Plumbing, Energy Modeling)
Interface Engineering
717 Market Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, California 94103

Electrical Engineer
Integral Group
75 E. Santa Clara Street
San Jose, California 95113

Project Management
XL Construction
851 Buckeye Court
Milpitas, California 95035

XL Construction
851 Buckeye Court
Milpitas, California 95035

Commissioning Authority
Interface Engineering
717 Market Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, California 94103

Green Building Consultant
WRNS Studio
501 2nd Street #402
San Francisco, California 94107

Authority Having Jurisdiction
City of Santa Rosa

Structural Engineer
Mar Structural Design
2629 7th Street, Suite C
Berkeley, California 94710

Landscape and Garden Architect
RHAA Landscape Architects
323 Geary Street, Suite 602
San Francisco, California 94102

Green Roof
Rana Creek Design
27875 Berwick Drive, Suite A
Carmel California 93923


Since its inception, Sonoma Academy recognized the opportunity to connect resiliency, circular economy, resource efficiencies, and social justice. For their new Janet Durgin Guild and Commons project—a two-story, 19,500 sf learning facility with maker spaces, cooking lab, cafeteria, and indoor/outdoor classrooms—the Academy employed a nature-and-human-centered design approach focused on fresh air, daylighting, sustainable systems, healthy material selection, and local resources.

Sited at the base of Taylor Mountain in Northern California, the Y-shaped building draws inspiration from the surrounding landscape. The upper floor stretches to the horizon while the lower one nestles into the hillside with arms open to the productive garden. At the project's heart is a central courtyard that invites students to wander about. Visible from both levels, the quad is connected by meandering pathways, smaller gardens that flow into terraced learning environments, and a living roof with cascading planters that capture and filter stormwater for reuse.

Site plan of Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons

Site plan

Biophilic principles provided guidance for planning and material selection. Operable windows, coiling doors, and deep overhangs, erase walls. Adjustable louvers, sliding screens, and trellised roofs play with shadow, filtering in sunlight to control glare and temperature. Regional and reclaimed materials pair with locally-made furnishings.

Throughout, spaces blend the benefits of nature with the comforts of shelter with a design that strengthens the strong sense of place apparent in the school and tells the story of the region's architecture, landscape, people, sustainability, and everyday life.

The projects seek LEED v3 Platinum, Living Building Challenge, and WELL Building Standard Education Pilot. It's the first project in Sonoma County and one of only a few to simultaneously use these benchmarks.

exterior of Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons at dusk

Photo Credit: Michael David Rose


Sonoma Academy understood that nature was an asset to learning. For the design of their new campus, the client wanted a regionally-specific facility that would preserve and enhance the natural habitats, operate as a sustainable ecosystem, and be in dialogue with its surroundings. Approaching the project through the lens of Sonoma Academy's guiding principles of creativity, inclusive community, exploration, and innovation they embraced a connection to nature, daylighting, and mountain breezes, and a commitment to local resources. A design was enacted that led with human comfort and natural beauty, and sought out creative solutions to meet the client's strict sustainability and energy efficiency objectives.

Secure/Safe Goal: The school is bounded by natural borders, set back from major thoroughfares, and designed to ensure good indoor air quality—material selection was guided by LBC Materials Petal with the entire project meeting ILFI's Red List imperative. The project relied on resilient, durable, long-lasting materials that could withstand the elements and be a safe haven for the community during times of natural and manmade disasters. In 2017, the region experienced its wettest recorded year since 1902 and was a few miles from the Northern California Firestorm where it provided refuge for firefighters. Rain gardens abound and are designed to handle storms while infiltrating all storm water.

Because the school produces energy from sun and earth, uses natural breezes for ventilation, and provides healthy food through its own gardens (the harvest supplements the lunch menu), it is projected to maintain function without utility power for three days.

Sustainable Goal: The project blended biophilic design principles with active and passive energy strategies: green roof filters storm and rainwater for non-potable use; geo-exchange and radiant systems drive down energy and water demand; watershed block made with local soil is an environmental alternative to cement; productive gardens supplement the lunch menu; an all-electric, Energy Star-rated kitchen and photovoltaic panels ensure net positivity; and sourcing regional materials supported the local economy and transportation reduction. The project is seeking LEED v3 Platinum, ZNE, WELL Education Pilot, and Living Building Challenge certifications and is on pace to earn LBC Material and Energy Petals; expected 2019. It is projected to achieve a net positive EUI of -4.85kBTU/sf/year.

Functional Goal: The overall philosophy is, all rooms should serve many functions and the building is to remain relevant and flexible in future years. As a result, the building meshes nature and technology, and invites movement and interaction. Dynamically designed, major spaces have movable walls that can adapt to new programs / classes. North exterior sliding doors spill onto decks, expanding learning areas as classroom needs change. The Guild (lower level), houses wood and metal shops, a robotics lab, classrooms, and mixed media labs accessed through folding partitions that open to the quad. It is equipped for energy-heavy tools. The Commons (upper level) boasts an open floor plan equipped with commercial and teaching kitchens. It serves as a collaboration hub with moveable tables and distributed data and power that allow for endless configurations and uses. Because the building is zoned for commercial cooking and equipped for high energy loads, it is future-ready, lending itself to new uses.

exterior of Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons with geo-exchange system

Photo Credit: Michael David Rose

In addition to investing in a flexible, functional floor plan, the school invested in a geo-exchange system that allows for space to provide additional PVs in the future to support other energy use on campus. The geo-exchange system not only reduces the PV costs, but also reduces the annual operating cost in perpetuity after the system is paid off. Geo-exchange systems are ground loop piping with a lifespan of well over 50 years.

Lower floor plan of Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons
Upper floor plan of Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons

Lower floor plan.

Upper floor plan,

Accessible Goal: Following LBC's Equity Petal, the building fosters an inclusive sense of community. The design welcomes you from the moment you approach the campus. Natural pathways guide you past flourishing gardens and generous doorways. The butterflied roofline invites all to wander in. Deep overhangs, exterior blinds, and manual wooden shades control glare and pull in fresh air and diffused light, making it pleasant for all occupants. With its sliding doors, people are encouraged to wander in and through, making this building a part of everyday pathways for all who visit.

Aesthetic Goal: Surrounded by grassy knolls, the project is a place of attraction and beauty. The beauty of the site inspired the organization of two floors that stretch to views, grab onto the hillside, and work to blend the campus with many levels. Careful planning ensured that no view is compromised: 90% of regularly occupied spaces are naturally lit with panoramas synchronizing the interiors with the outdoors. Natural beauty harmoniously coexists with the manmade: exposing the materials, the radiant manifolds, the structure and the systems invite users into the daily functions of the building, while natural forms, light and shadow, views and vistas, materials and textures, connect occupants to nature.

Cost-Effective Goal: The project folded in cost-effective sustainable design strategies. Geo-exchange and radiant systems drive down energy and water demand—expected to provide 10–15% of the annual cooling demand. The geo-exchange system, when analyzed against additional PVs and campus constraints resulted in a 7.5 year payback, even with a small kBTU reduction. Utilizing regional resources contributed reduced carbon tied to transporting of certain goods. A water recycling system resulted in 88% of the total non-potable water demand, offsetting approximately 180,000 gallons of municipal water use per year. While specifying induction cooktops cost more than traditional gas / electric ranges; in the long-term, it is more energy and cost efficient. Reclaimed exterior siding resulted in a 25% cost reduction from the originally fresh cut. Use of FSC-wood tables by local craftsmen resulted in a 40% furniture budget savings and transportation savings. With healthy materials in mind, and ILFI's Red List, a reductive approach to materials resulted in a tighter palette, and a tighter cleaning regimen.

Historic Preservation Goal: The preservation goal was twofold: preserve the landscape ecology and celebrate the rich cultural history. Located adjacent to Taylor Mountain Regional Park, in a transitional zone between the garden landscape and the grassland / oak woodland plant communities, native pollinators find a host of plants that provide habitat and food sources year round. Using this planting analogy on the building's green roof, the garden respects the local ecology while enhancing the biodiversity of the school landscape and the efficiency of the PV arrays.

A dedication to preserving the local culture further establishes the building's sense of place. Reused, reclaimed, and regional materials reflect history and memory. Ceramic tiles, dining tables, and special lighting were made from local talent including students of Sonoma Academy. Exterior wood siding and beams from a house in Marin County and a tunnel in the Northwest provide authenticity. Locally sourced reclaimed wood is integrated throughout and all other wood is 100% of FSC-certified. Plus, as if birthed directly from the site, earth block made from regional soils highlight local creativity, reduced carbon sourcing, and specifics of place.

Productive / Healthy Goal: Sonoma Academy recognized that nature has a positive impact on people's mental and physical health and well-being. Focusing on fresh air, daylight, and a connection to nature, biophilic principles were adopted to create a healthy haven. The design team pushed for transparency, natural systems, healthy materials, and Energy Star-rated products. They adhered to ILFI's Red List, avoiding harmful chemical usage throughout design and construction. With an eye towards a positive experience, every aspect of the project is an opportunity to promote well-being. The building asks visitors to understand how the day feels or how the water sounds as it moves down rain chains. Every surface has a story connected to the region. Repurposed siding, regional earth block, artisan tiles, and student-made lamps, celebrate community health while helping achieve energy goals—a win-win. Gardens, in view from any space, double as learning area, and allow students to experience the changing colors of the seasons. In sum, the project showcases how architecture can make nature part of the classroom experience and immerse an occupant into the natural setting, weaving them between indoors and out.

Open modern dining commons space for the students at Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons
Student space at Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons with automatic exterior shades on the south and movable wooden screens to the north and west

Open modern dining commons space for the students.
Photo Credit: Celso Rojas

The Guild & Commons Buildings feature a building envelope that responds to the climate with automatic exterior shades on the south and movable wooden screens to the north and west.
Photo Credit: Celso Rojas

Other Significant Aspects of the Project: The building envelope responds to the climate with automatic exterior shades on the south, movable wooden screens to the north and west, and rain chains throughout. The design celebrates the beauty of the location, creates a healthy and safe environment for the students, and supports the local community.

Classroom cross section of Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons

Classroom cross section


The project team took an integrated approach every step of the design-build-post-occupancy process, including educating the community, empowering stakeholders and policy makers, and challenging their own industries to target multiple benchmarks. The design team worked with the school on the building's operational strategies and construction program, and implemented a robust communications strategy. These efforts helped reduce overall costs by 15–30%.

The integrated approach allowed the project to be right-sized for ZNE from the early design stages through the final and critical stages of construction. Innovative strategies were incorporated to reach targets and a design that reduces high-energy-component demand by 75+% all while connecting students with nature was created. Features include:

  • Generous windows and sliding doors pull in sunlight and fresh air with 80% of the building being naturally lit, reducing the need for artificial light.
  • Regional resources (reclaimed FSC-certified wood siding / beams, local tiles) support transportation reduction and the local economy.
  • Red List filters were used for all materials ensuring healthy selection—the General Contractor tracked materials, including glues and substrates, to make sure they didn't have any of the 815 harmful chemicals listed on ILFI's Red List. They also tracked waste management of the project early on.
  • The 100% electric kitchen boasts induction cooktops and Energy Star-rated appliances.
  • Dimmable lights reduce wattage.
  • South exterior sun shades tune for exposure and wind helping to reduce energy consumption.
  • Clean onsite generation aligns with microgram aspirations.
  • Geo-exchange and radiant systems drive down energy and water demand.
  • Gardens flourish with productive plants while the roof's native plants support local pollinators, provide insulation and keep PV undersides cool.
  • Flexible indoor-outdoor spaces optimize floor space making sure everything does at least double duty.
  • The food program, a partnership with nearby farms / ranches for healthy meals, educates students about the economy-environment-equity relationship.


Overview of Process

The process started with the sustainable mission of the school, using it as a guiding principle for extension into the building system strategies and material selections. This allowed the community to be motivated to embrace greener approaches to school building programs by aligning LEED, LBC, ZNE, WELL, and Petal benchmark systems with the school's vision of an inclusive, collaborative space for making, creating, and dining. From the onset, it was illustrated that sustainability is a local responsibility, with schools having a leadership role in the broader urban development plan. As a result, the project sought innovative design solutions at an economical cost.

Pre-Design/Planning Activities
The project began with detailed program visioning exercises among teachers and students, followed by "neighborhood coffee chats" with community members. Driving towards deep sustainable thinking, the team met with regulatory agencies to explore policy changes on reclaimed water strategies, nontraditional materials, and alternative energy sources. Continued discussions around community health, reduced carbon, and regenerative strategies opened avenues for acceptance of reclaimed materials and local resources.

Design Activities
Leading with comfort, the focus was on health and beauty strategies, emphasizing the importance of biophilia, gardening, carbon reduction, regional business support, daylight / thermal autonomy. The sustainable drive changed the mindset of stakeholders to adopt a design focused on human comfort, natural ventilation, and daylighting optimization, and to accept nontraditional sustainable practices, including an induction cooktop in the commercial kitchen (not the norm for schools) and using earth block as an alternative to cement.

Construction Activities
The integrated approach and push for material transparency was carried through construction. The construction process was driven by a modest budget and the school's commitment to passive strategies. The General Contractor (GC) set up bidding and construction strategies, incentivizing sub-trades to achieve targets and maximize success in a saturated bidding climate. The GC also educated themselves on the project's sustainability elements and goals, and shared that knowledge and process with the larger subcontractor community, who ensured that the Red List imperative was met. Additionally, rain-filled construction schedules were met with lean construction techniques, positive attitudes, and a drive that spoke to the significance of the project for the community.

Operations/Maintenance Activities
The team worked with the Academy on operational strategies and provided training and graphics to assist on the building management systems.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation Activities
The building opened in the 2017-2018 school year. Final construction was completed in February 2018 and there had not yet been an opportunity for formal post occupancy evaluation. However, the team has engaged CBE to help the school with the anticipated POE for distribution. To date, positive feedback has been received from students, teachers, faculty, and visitors through informal surveys and comments relayed to the school. Additionally, an informal evaluation was conducted, turning to the school's social media. Sonoma Academy's Facebook page, Instagram account, and website show how students are engaging with the building. Sixty-six Sonoma Academy Facebook fans liked the cover photo dated 9/17/18, which shows the new building, compared to 8 likes from the cover photo posted a year earlier, on 9/18/17.


In a building with an energy-heavy program (commercial kitchen, maker studios, productive garden), an integrated design approach was taken, including evaluating daylighting, temperature, and energy consumption studies to fine tune the program. As a result, an all-electric kitchen was proposed and the team worked with food service providers and the school to tune choices and detail use schedules, resulting in aggressive load reductions in the food service equipment in order to get to ZNE.

Design Software: Revit, Rhino

Energy Simulation Software: IES-VE

Benchmarking Software / Methodology: IES-VE was used to predict annual energy consumption and required renewable energy capacity to achieve Zero Net Energy.

Other Tools: Revit and Rhino helped centralize all the information and documentation. It allowed us to produce drawings and models, giving insight into how the building would perform. Ultimately, they were used to develop and fine tune the project design to achieve maximum performance.


Early on, the team collaborated on how place-based relationships could inform the system selection, building materials and products, planning, and details. Sustainability goals were met with creative design and engineering solutions that leveraged material transparency for high-performance.

Natural Systems—Comfort drove the design with connection to nature, daylighting and mountain breezes. Flexible indoor/outdoor areas optimize space. Green roof attracts pollinators. Natural lighting and ventilation reduced costs and energy loads while improving indoor environmental quality.

Sustainable, Regional Resources: Healthy, nontoxic chemicals were used in the project. Repurposed and FSC-wood was sourced locally for their aesthetics, transportation cost savings, and sustainability.

Healthy Material Selection: A reductive material palette—timber, steel, earth block, concrete, glass—was the foundation, relaying simplicity, durability, honesty, and transparency. LBC Material Petal guided selection with the GC tracking materials.

Material Innovation: Constructed from local soil, compressed earth blocks produce low carbon emissions and are energy efficient, naturally heat-regulating, and water-resistant.

Acoustics: Minimized flooring coupled with acoustic decking make for acoustically comfortable dining and teaching spaces, and healthier, less expensive cleaning.

Garden Ecotone: Visually dynamic gardens that flower at different times throughout the year within the matrix of the site's grassland/meadow mix, respect the local ecology while enhancing the biodiversity of the Academy landscape. Native rooftop plants support local pollinators, provide insulation, and keep the undersides of photovoltaic arrays cool.

Rooftop PV and plantings at Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons

PV and plantings.
Photo Credit: Celso Rojas

Renewable Energy: PV arrays provide onsite energy generation.

Heating and Cooling Systems: Taking advantage of the mild climate, natural ventilation and ceiling fans are used throughout the shoulder season, providing user control, passive cooling, and a high degree of user adjustability. During extreme months, geo-exchange and radiant systems drive down energy and water demand. The mechanical system captures waste heat from the ventilation air and refrigeration system in the commercial kitchen, and uses it for space heating and domestic hot water production.

Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons geothermal heating and cooling diagram

Geothermal heating and cooling diagram

Water Efficiency: A waste water system accounts for 88% of the building's total non-potable water demand. Runoff is captured from the hardscape and green roof, and filtered and reused.

Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons water diagram

Water diagram


Energy Use Description
Passive design strategies drove the project. Natural ventilation can be supplemented by ceiling fans and geo-exchange and radiant heat and cooling systems. With 80% of the project naturally lit, the need for artificial light is reduced. For energy efficiency and passive solar gain, high-performance, low-e glazing and naturally heat-regulating compressed earth blocks were used. The building's EUI dropped to a projected -4.85 kBTU/ft2 thanks in part to the 143.28 kW PV System installed on the roof. Plus, conservation is being taught holistically and through the everyday experience.

Annual Energy Use by Fuel
Electricity: 210,645 kWh
Total: 210,645 KWh

Annual Energy by End Use
Heating: 54,221 kBTU
Cooling: 48,976 kBTU
Fans & Pumps: 31,495 kBTU
Lighting: 60,478 kBTU
Domestic Hot Water: 77,551 kBTU
Plug Loads & Equipment: 147,421 kBTU
Other End Use: Kitchen equipment and refrigeration—298,792 kBTU

Annual On-Site Renewable Generation
PV: 210,646 kWh
Total: 210,646 kWh

Peak Use
Peak Electricity Demand: 155 KW

Data Sources and Reliability
Based on simulation? Yes
IES-VE Based on utility bills?

Comment on Data Sources and Reliability
Detailed energy models were iterated throughout the design process to evaluate equipment selections, operational modes, and energy conservation measures.


Indoor Environment Approach
Good indoor air quality is critical to learning environments. Connection to nature, daylight, and natural ventilation dictated the building's design. A transparent performative skin dominates—operable windows and coiling doors open to gardens; and sliding wood louvers provide shade and intimate space. South exterior blinds tune for exposure and wind, managing sunlight and heat. The entire building has access to natural light and views, reinforcing the importance of connection to the site. Classrooms are multipurpose and are organized around outdoor teaching, learning, and garden areas.

LEED, WELL, and LBC were used to ensure good indoor environmental quality. Material selection was guided by LBC Materials Petal focusing on health and transparency. Materials with low-VOC, and in compliance with CDPH Standard Method v1.1–2010, were sourced. Materials were cross-referenced and none of the 815 harmful chemicals on ILFI's Red List went into the building.

Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild and Commons materials diagram

Materials diagram


Project and Community Resilience Goals

A reductive material palette was the foundation for the project. Materials were chosen for their beauty, durability, longevity, and ease-of-maintenance. Glass, earth block, timber, and steel relay the project's simplicity and honesty. Radiant concrete floors cover the building. Regional, CDPH, EPD, HPD, and Red List were filters for all material considerations. Regional resources were utilized to reduce environmental impacts of transportation and to help the local economy. Ceramic tiles from nearby companies were selected to support the local economy. Locally-crafted earth block made from regional soils highlight the area's innovativeness and creativity and addresses the project's reduced carbon goals. Locally-sourced reclaimed wood highlights specifics of place, putting on display the community's environmental commitment. The school building is also a place for community—it provided shelter for firemen during the 2017 Northern California Firestorm—and is a place that promotes community engagement.


Accessible: By making pathways part of the everyday experience, students, visitors, and faculty equally experience the benefit of nature the moment they approach.

Aesthetics: Folding in biophilia and direct experiences with nature, while putting systems on display, not only reduces energy loads and costs, but also creates an attractive building. Exposed wood soffits extend to outdoor learning environments and play with shadow, providing shelter and refuge. Exterior blinds and wooden shades control glare and light. A 5,000 gallon rainwater cistern located at the front of the campus celebrates water. The green roof overlays photovoltaics with plantings and is experienced as you enter the school and view it from the upper campus—relaying the complex interplay of technology and nature, energy and water.

Cost-Effective: Utilizing nature—mountain breezes and daylighting—proved good for ROI. Sourcing local materials reduced material transportation costs. Sustainable strategies, where payback fit the budget, were beneficial for cost-savings.

Functional / Operational: Focusing on daylight autonomy led to thoughtful placement of windows, skylights, operable doors, and screens, and an envelope that acts in concert with weather and times of day—modulating temperature and light to accommodate various program uses. Moveable walls double as white board for ultimate flexibility and function.

Historic Preservation: Sonoma County-based craftspeople provided much of the materials, demonstrating that local resourcefulness is a good preservation factor.

Productive / Healthy: Designing for the occupants by bringing human factors into sustainable design is as beneficial as lessening the building's carbon footprint. Getting subcontractor buy-in into sustainable practices was critical to the success of the project. They ensured that all materials, including glues and substrates, were vetted against ILFI's Red List of harmful chemicals and toxins.

Secure / Safe: Sizing the PV 10% over the expected demand ensures the building can maintain function should utility power fail.

Sustainable: Maintaining a ZNE building target meant creating target energy budgets for equipment and uses. As a result, signage, usage schedules, and equipment purchase protocols, were institutionalized in order to make sure of ZNE targets. To achieve sustainability goals, the high energy program component was reduced (i.e. an all-electric commercial kitchen resulted in an estimated kitchen of 90 kBtu/sf versus the typical 250-400 kBtu/sf demand), working with the users to develop an operational energy budget, and selecting smart strategies before PVs were added.


Passive strategies dictated the design with the emphasis on sunlight, fresh air, and connection to nature. Shaped by the curriculum, this nature-inspired design engages the students and has impacted the classroom experience with the building being monitored and analyzed. Engineers are collecting actual performance data and will analyze based on net-zero, indoor air quality and occupant satisfaction. Since the project will go through a few reviews with LEED, LBC (all but Water) and WELL, the project is expecting to have multiple opportunities to gather data on perceptions and systems stats. Currently, an onsite energy monitor and dashboard captures total energy performance and is visible to occupants in real-time.


A challenge with biophilic implementation, which the project focused on, was integrating the elements and attributes in a technologically-based, equipment-heavy program (i.e. digital media labs, recording studios, testing kitchen). These programs do not inherently perform well with daylight and a connection to varied conditions. While integration of color or material and easy access to gardens provide some connection, the rooms were designed to be more controlled due to technological requirements.


The AEC team, collectively and individually are leaders in ZNE and ultra low-energy projects. Each discipline focuses on sustainable, efficient solutions that reduce demand on natural resources and minimize environmental impact. An integrated approach was taken during every step, including educating the community, empowering stakeholders and policy makers, and challenging industries to target multiple benchmarks. As a result, the team was able to right-size for ZNE during the entire process.

A positive aspect of the process was that everyone shared the same vision of sustainability, making it easy to collaborate to implement all certification targets.

A negative was the attention to detail which added time to the schedule. Tracking all the materials for harmful toxins, sourcing only local and obtaining proper documentation, was tedious but necessary to meet project sustainability goals.


The building's design pushed for transparency, energy-efficient products and systems, and healthy materials. Passive design and daylighting strategies shaped much of the design to achieve ZNE and to connect students with nature. Folding in direct experiences with nature (fresh air and sunlight) aids indoor air quality and student well-being. Designing site-specific with emphasis on flexible indoor-outdoor spaces enriches the learning experience and engages students. Active energy efficient design strategies include:

  1. A geo-exchange system that uses the earth as heat source for the building's heating and cooling
  2. Photovoltaic panel installations to achieve Net Positive energy for the building
  3. A green living roof installed at the roof deck
  4. Rainwater harvesting, grey water collection and treatment systems
  5. Radiant heating and cooling floor and ceiling systems.


Situated at the base of Taylor Mountains, on 34–acres, the site is surrounded by open spaces rich in a mosaic of plant abundance and wildlife habitats. The building draws inspiration from both the natural and campus context and is carefully located to frame natural views, create outdoor learning spaces, and actively engage with its surroundings. The warm but dry climate dictated some of the sustainable strategies including a geo-exchange heating and cooling system, stormwater management, and a photovoltaic roof. Designed around a series of outdoor experiences, two outstretched floors sheathed with an operable, transparent skin and a lattice of wooden slats, blur the lines between indoors and out. A dedication to local resources and regional talent further create a sense of place, cementing the building as an integral part of the community.


The school's vision of a high-performing, inclusive, collaborative space for making, creating, and dining, resonated with the entire team, from client and stakeholders to architect, engineer, builders, subcontractors, and vendors. The term "integrated approach" took on new meaning as the project targeted LEED, LBC, and WELL. Coupled with a fast-tracked deadline—four months of lightning speed design; a rollercoaster permitting timeline of six months; and a year-plus rain-filled construction schedule- every effort was dependent on each other and each effort had to be aligned at every phase to achieve these targets.

Communication of these benchmark systems was key. The team met with school decision makers, community members, and organizations. The team met with regulatory agencies and the community to educate them on their goals and strategies as well as to get feedback. They worked in tandem with the school to finalize design schemes, budgets and schedules. They worked closely with the school on the building's operational strategies and construction program, implementing a robust communications strategy and managing expectations throughout the planning process. Everyone worked tirelessly with each other to make sure targets were being met.

The communication with the client, the learners, the internal teams, and the larger green community about ZNE performance was seen as a strong asset to the design program.


An onsite energy monitor and dashboard is visible to occupants and can be available to view all consumption levels. Data is being complied that is provided by the building management system. The actual performance will be evaluated against the modeled performance data. In addition, a Post-Occupancy Evaluation was developed for distribution after the school has lived with it over several months. Since the project will go through reviews with LEED, LBC, WELL, it is expected that there will be opportunities to gather data on perceptions and systems stats.


In today's techno-centric world, people spend more time looking at their devices than the beauty beyond. The school wanted to have people look up and out, to create a campus heart, and to bring the school and community together through dining and making, all while celebrating the region's talent and beauty. The building achieved this with culture-rich designed classrooms that keep students engaged with their schools, connected with their communities, and aware of their environment. The school's commitment to community and the region's future health, opened avenues for nontraditional building and regenerative strategies that financially benefitted the local community, including a food program—partnerships with local farms and ranches to provide healthy meals. By taking a holistic approach that supports student and teacher wellness, a small carbon footprint, low operating costs, and environmental literacy, the project is helping to advance student learning while benefitting the community.



The project is undergoing the following reviews; expected 2019:

  • LEED v3 Platinum
  • Living Building Challenge (all Petals but water)
  • WELL Building Education Pilot


  • 2018 AIA COTE Top Ten
  • 2018 AIACC Leading Edge Design
  • 2018 AIASF—Architecture Citation
  • 2018 BD+C Team Awards—Honorable Mention
  • 2017 CA ZNE Team Leadership


Building Type: