Tarbut V’Torah expansion

Architect: LPA,  Inc.

Owner: Tarbut V'Torah

Location: Irvine, California

Category: Design excellence

Through the use of timeless materials such as brushed metal and glass, the new buildings present a new identity in line with the school’s pursuit of educational excellence.

This expansion of a private K-12 school in Irvine, California, reinforces the school’s efforts to provide 21st century learning opportunities and provide spaces that support the whole student. Three new buildings—a maker building, a STEAM building, and a fitness building—provide spaces that promote critical thinking, creativity, and balanced lifestyles while representing the school’s invigorated approach to education.  

In 2013, Tarbut V’Torah found itself at risk of losing its accreditation and facing a slew of significant issues, from declining enrollment and operational deficits to a less-than-stellar reputation. To combat this, the trustees developed a new strategic vision that laid out clear goals to grow the student body and re-establish Tarbut V’Torah as a premier independent school. The design team was engaged early in the process to co-develop a program to respond to the vision, create a school site master plan, and create future-ready learning environments.

“When threatened with closure, they re-thought community and education to set the stage for their future. The result is a vibrant, inclusive, and thriving school!” - Jury comment

Tarbut V’Torah’s campus was designed in the early 1990s, when the school served a strictly Jewish population. The materials used throughout, such as Jerusalem stone and sand-colored plaster, carried with them specific religious and regional connotations that didn’t mesh with the school’s revamped mission of diversity and inclusion. The new buildings fit into the existing campus’ context but, through the use of timeless materials such as brushed metal and glass, present a new identity in line with the school’s pursuit of educational excellence.

The new buildings are split between the lower campus, which serves grades K-5, and the upper campus, serving grades 6-12. The STEAM building sits on the upper campus and frames a new quad for the older students. It also helps define a campus entry from an adjacent community center.

On the lower campus, the maker building occupies a site that previously held underused planters and sits adjacent to classrooms and the school’s library. The learning environment inside is organized around a shared commons and teaming room and focuses on project-based learning and design thinking. Tucked into a landscaped slope leading to the upper campus, the fitness building can be accessed by stairs or a pair of sliding boards that deliver students to its entrance. The displaced landscape lives on as a green roof and demonstration garden that captures direct water runoff. In all three buildings, the team took advantage of Southern California’s mild climate and proximity to the ocean to maximize ventilation and indoor/outdoor spaces, sustainable concepts that further reinforce modern learning environments.

Since the buildings opened in 2017, they have helped Tarbut V’Torah flourish to the tune of 120 new students. In 2018, the school’s kindergarten enjoyed the most robust enrollment in its history. The new facilities have been so well received that the curriculum has been expanded to include more time in them for K-5 students.

Additional information

Project team

Contractor: DPR

Design Principal: LPA, Inc.

Interior Design: LPA, Inc.

Landscape Design: LPA, Inc.

Project Design: LPA, Inc.


Judith P. Hoskens, Assoc. AIA, (Chair), Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.  

Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture

Dina Sorensen, Assoc. AIA, Learning Environment Project Designer & Research Liaison

Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, Page Southerland Page, Inc.

Amy Yurko, AIA, BrainSpaces Inc.

Image credits

Fitness building

Costea Photography, Inc.


Costea Photography, Inc.

maker building

Costea Photography, Inc.

huddle furniture

Costea Photography, Inc.

STEAM building

Costea Photography, Inc.