Sonoma Academy’s Janet Durgin Guild & Commons

Architect: WRNS Studio

Owner: Sonoma Academy

Location: Santa Rosa, California

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Education – K-12 School

Embedded with maker/digital classrooms, productive gardens, offices and a full dining/kitchen, Sonoma Academy’s guiding principles of equity, community, and exploration inspired the Guild & Commons two sweeping floors, which stretch to views and integrate into the land. Sliding screens, automated shades, deep overhangs relay how the building responds to climate. Regionally sourced low carbon block, ceramic tiles, reclaimed beams, exterior and interior siding, pair with regionally made lamps and furniture to celebrate community. The living roof attracts pollinators, houses photovoltaics, and connects to tiered planters that filter greywater and stormwater for reuse. The project seeks LEED, ZNE, WELL, LBC certification.

"This project demonstrates that, even with an energy-heavy program that includes a commercial kitchen, a fully integrated and dedicated design team can produce a beautiful and extremely well-performing building." ~ Jury statement

Aerial rendering of the new two-level Guild & Commons building at Sonoma Academy highlighting the connectivity to nature. Image: WRNS Studio

A place to be loud and not heard, a nook to reflect, a place that explains, expresses and transforms. Sonoma Academy created guiding principles that spoke to equity, community and exploration. The building and site attempts to stretch out and reflect the site and community. Sited at the base of Taylor Mountains, the landscape rushes down the hill and over the building. It integrates into the land and contributes back in native plantings that invite pollinators. The dining rooms open to the hill and city, with deep overhangs providing shading and intimate in-between spaces. The dining room is for gathering and meeting and one-on-one connecting. Big farm tables made locally provide collaboration space while bar height counters provide an option for much needed focus. The teaching kitchen doubles as classroom, meeting room and event spaces – with views to the west. Maker spaces open out to the productive garden for extended classroom space. The garden acts as classroom, park and gallery. Making with tools, making with food, and making with technology blend at the garden.  The beauty of the site inspired the organization of two sweeping floors that stretch to views, grab onto the hillside and work to blend this campus with many levels. With the open sliding doors, students are encouraged to wander in and through, making this building a part of everyday pathways. Exposing the materials, the radiant manifolds, the structure and the systems, invites the user into the daily functions of the building. Biophilic principles providing guidance for planning and material selection – everything was thought of as a critical piece of the story.  The resultant design 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.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2016

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 19,000 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 22,000 sq ft

Number of stories: 2

Project Climate Zone: ASHRAE 3C

Annual hours of operation: 2,860

Site area: 1,481,040 sq ft

Project site context/setting: rural

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $17 million

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 350

Project Team

Acoustician: Salter

Architect and Interiors: WRNS Studio

Commissioning: Interface Engineering

Contractor: XL Construction

Design Landscape and Garden Architect: RHAA Landscape Architects

Engineer - Civil: Sherwood Design

Engineer - Electrical, PV Design, Daylighting: Integral Group

Engineer - MEP: Interface Engineering

Engineer - Structural: Mar Structural  

Green Roof: Rana Creek

Kitchen Design: Vision Builders


Michelle Addington, Dean, University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, Austin, Texas

Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, FAIA, EHDD. San Francisco

Kevin Schorn, AIA, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, New York

Julie V. Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich, Minneapolis

M. Susan Ubbelohde, LOISOS + UBBELOHDE, Alameda, California

Jury comments

This project demonstrates that, even with an energy-heavy program that includes a commercial kitchen, a fully integrated and dedicated design team can produce a beautiful and extremely well-performing building.

The team designed ground source heat pumps with radiant heating and cooling, coupled with a fully electric kitchen powered by a large PV array, enabling the team to predict a net zero energy performance. Other passive design strategies, such as the extensive covered exterior space, also demonstrate an intelligent holistic design approach. Terraced rain garden and gravity based filtration deliver captured storm water to a 5,000-gallon cistern for reuse in non-potable demands. The project has also engaged local regulatory agencies to lobby for implementing advanced sustainable systems that are not yet commonplace. This is a project that sits on the leading edge of sustainable design.

The restrained palette of steel structure and wood enclosure and outdoor circulation offers students a diversity of spaces. The sloping site, at the core of the campus, is navigated via an upper terrace and lower garden, collecting and using water in an efficient and effective system.

Image credits


Celso Rojas


WRNS Studio

Sonoma Academy_Measure2_Community

WRNS Studio


Celso Rojas


Celso Rojas


Celso Rojas


Celso Rojas


Jeremy Bittermann