CASE STUDY: COTE TOP TEN WINNERS
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, which led the design of Nueva School’s Hillside Learning Complex, saw the project as more than just an addition. They saw it as an opportunity to create a front door and a town square for the school, which serves 400 high-achieving children from prekindergarten through eighth grade. “We wanted to use the project to stitch together the campus,” says William Leddy. The project opened for classes in September 2007 and recently earned a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
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The Hillside Learning Complex replaced a parking lot on Nueva’s 33-acre campus in suburban Hillsborough, California, about 15 miles south of San Francisco. The largest building, at 16,000 square feet on two stories, houses seven classrooms, as well as administrative offices and a laboratory for science and art projects. The complex also includes a 7,000-square-foot library and media center and a 4,000-square-foot student center and café. Outdoor spaces include a plaza and an amphitheater.
The classroom and library buildings, which face one another across the central plaza, are aligned along a northeast-southwest axis, which isn’t ideal for daylighting but made sense for other reasons. “The buildings really wanted to organize themselves along the line of the ridge to minimize earthwork and to connect the scheme more closely to the land,” says Leddy. The project’s large windows, tall ceilings, and narrow floorplates allow daylight to reach 90 percent of interior spaces, and outdoor walkways and wood screens on the southeastern side of the classroom building shield the interior from unwanted sun.
The north-south orientation was also beneficial because it “put the buildings broadside to the prevailing winds,” says Leddy. The classroom building takes advantage of easterly summer winds, and the library “hunkers into the earth,” deflecting westerly winter winds above the plaza. Pulling corridors and stairs outside and designing the student center with a glass wall that opens onto the amphitheater allowed the project team to minimize conditioned space. Operable windows, ceiling fans, and passive turbine ventilators allow 85 percent of the project to be naturally ventilated and cooled; only the media lab has mechanical cooling. Other energy-efficient strategies include tankless water heaters and radiant hydronic heating. The team expected the project to use 30 percent less energy than a comparable school designed in minimal compliance with California’s Title 24 standards. A 30-kW photovoltaic system on top of the classroom building provides about a fourth of the project’s electricity needs.
Green roofs on the library and student center capture stormwater while reducing the project’s contribution to the urban heat-island effect. The library roof features a range of species, and the student-center roof replicates a native California grassland; together, they provide 10,000 square feet of habitat for native birds and insects, including the endangered Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly. The site’s native drought-tolerant landscaping and drip-irrigation system combined with waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets, and other low-flow fixtures reduce the project’s use of potable water by half.
The project site originally included a forest of mature, non-native cypress trees that had to be cleared to make way for the student center. The students were devastated and organized a petition to save the trees. “Kindergarteners came to see me with their arms folded,” says Diane Rosenberg, executive director of the school. Leddy remembers wondering, “How are we going to make lemonade out of this one?” In the end, the team left some of the best trees standing and had the rest milled for use as screens, benches, and decks. The team also sought student input in siting new native trees. The students were thrilled with the solution, and today the cypress finishes are among the project’s most popular features.
From the beginning of the design process, Nueva’s teachers wove the project into the curriculum. Fifth-graders designed their own ideal project. “They were given the square footage, the design objectives, and a budget,” says Rosenberg. The students interviewed teachers as well as members of the design team. Students researched and tested various furniture options and voted on the final selections. They also toured the site throughout construction and got regular updates from the site supervisor. “The kids’ excitement was palpable,” says Rosenberg.
Today, a monitoring system tracks everything from solar electricity production and energy use to the temperature, humidity, and soil moisture of the green roofs. Students will soon be able to monitor the data in real time. Rosenberg says that green design was always a priority for the project. “It’s the right message for the kids,” she says. Leddy echoes this sentiment: “Schools can really be a seed planted in the minds of the young—and also of their parents and the faculty—to start thinking differently about how we engage the world. That is a fundamental architectural agenda.”
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