Located in the hills southwest of San Francisco, the Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex in Hillsborough, California is an independent school for 5th - 8th grade students. Three new buildings were constructed on an existing campus that already contained several smaller buildings and student classrooms inside a nearby historic home.
The new school includes three buildings - a library, a cafeteria / student center, and classroom building with administrative offices, seven classrooms, and a hands-on research and development lab - all of which are organized around a central plaza.
The San Francisco architecture firm of Leddy Maytum Stacy won the commmission for the project as part of a 2004 competition held by the Nueva School. The school was named a Top Ten Green Projectby the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2008. It also earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification from the US Green Building Council.
The Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex
The Nueva School
Hillsborough, CA (outside San Francisco)
School is for grades K - 8, but these new buildings serve just grades 5 - 8
Number of students
27,000 square feet total (2,510 square meters); comprised of three 2-story buildings (library = 6,960 square feet; cafeteria = 3,940 square feet; classrooms = 16,100 square feet)
Previously on this site
an 18,000 square foot parking lot within the school's 33-acre campus
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, Inc. San Francisco, CA
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
Timeline / Project schedule
Competition, September 2004
Schematic Design, May - August 2005
Design Development, August - November 2005
Construction Documents, November 2005 - May 2006
Construction, June 2006 - August 2007
Ribbon Cutting, September 4, 20007
Define The Problem
In 2004, the Nueva School held a competition for a new school building for 200 5th - 8th grade students to be built on the 33-acre site they owned. The school's competition guidelines called for a new building that would, "connect with nature, be a teaching tool, foster community and collaboration, and be accessible to all."
Several architecture firms from around the San Francisco area were invited to enter the competition. Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects were eventually chosen as the winner.
The site for the proposed new school buildings was located off an existing circular driveway.
Existing Parking Lot
An existing parking lot was relocated, but one goal of the architects was to preserve as many native trees as possible.
Another challenging aspect of the site was the steep slope down to an existing historic home used for elementary classrooms.
To gather information on the project, the architects at Leddy Maytum Stacy spent some time walking around the site, which originally contained an 18,000 square foot parking lot. They read the guidelines for the competition which included information on: the number of students needed to be served by the new building, types of rooms required, and the budget.
Site diagrams documented the path of the sun in the sky, the direction of the wind, the views, noise from the freeway, and access to exiting buildings and parking. Only after collecting this information did the architects begin working on early ideas for the new building.
Architects also met with and interview teachers and students to learn about their needs and wants for a new school building. Their photos help to record the existing conditions on the site: tall native oak and cypress trees, a sloping site, and a view to the San Francisco Bay in the distance.
Existing Site Info
Before any buildings are designed, architects collect information about the existing site: sun path, views, access, noise.
The existing Nueva School classroom buildings were organized around a central space popular with the students.
Once the project team had gathered information and visited the site, design principal in charge of the firm, William Leddy, began by making small sketches and diagrams that show the basic scheme or concept for the architectural design.
These quick sketches helped the architects document their ideas as these solutions change over time. The design was not final yet, but the big idea has been established.
Early on in the process, the diagrams show that the architects are considering several smaller buildings to be constructed on the site instead of one large building.
Architect William Leddy's sketches show he investigated several possible solutions for the arrangement of buildings on the site.
The architects also analyzed the path of the sun and the natural air circulation around the proposed buildings.
To develop these various solutions, the architects created a series of more refined diagrams and sketches called schematic drawings which were included on the competition boards they submitted to the Nueva School for review.
They also built several physical models to show how the new building would sit on the site and relate to the existing school buildings. Once a preliminary solution is chosen, these schematic drawings helped the architects and clients determine the pros and cons of each idea and how the new building might serve the needs of the students and teachers.
Not every part of the building is figured out at this stage of the design process. Detailed construction drawings of floor plans, sections, and details, for example, are not part of this step.
In this early computer rendering for the competition, the architects proposed a metal gateway at the entrance to the courtyard.
Student Drop Off
The new entrance provided a drop-off point for students, while also connecting the library with the classroom building.
A physical model constructed by the architects showed how the three new buildings would be built into the hillside.
After several weeks of collecting information, brainstorming and analyzing ideas, and developing solutions, Leddy Maytum Stacy architects presented their ideas to the Nueva School. The back and forth conversations between the architect and the client was an ongoing process, even after the the firm had won the competition.
Over the next year the architecture firm worked with school officials to refine the original design. Based on an analysis of cost vs. needs they reviewed original solutions and made decisions on which features remained, which were redesigned, and which were eliminated.
The firm worked closely with the general contractor responsible for constructing the building. Other collaborators - such as structural engineers, mechanical / plumbing engineers, acoustical engineers, lighting designers, civil engineers, landscape architects, electrical engineers, an advisor on green roofs, a food service consultant, and a project manager - were brought into the process and hired for their expertise.
The precise details of the building were determined during the 7 months that the firm developed a set of construction drawings and specifications - called construction documents. These documents were part of the legal contract between the architect and client, and used by the contractor to build the school.
The new entrance provides a common "front door" and arrival point for visitors to the school.
The library building (left) and two-story classroom building (right) sit at the upper level of the site.
Gold Rating Certification
The school earned a gold rating certification from the US Green Building Council.
For 14 months, the general contractor was responsible for constructing the building. Using the construction documents drawn by the architect and the various project consultants, the building slowly came together. Several cypress trees that were cut down are taken to a nearby lumber mill where the wood will be sawn into benches and wooden trellis screens for the new school. Native plants will be used throughout the site and on the two new green roofs.
July 2007. All the wooden trellises and benches are built from the recycled cypress trees that once stood on the site.
Meet the Architects
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, Inc. began in San Francisco in 1982 and is led by three partners: William Leddy, Marsha Maytum, Richard Stacy.
Typical projects for the firm include:community buildings, educational buildings, multi-family housing, single-family housing, and commercial buildings.