Environmental Nature Center Preschool

Architect:    LPA Design Studios

Owner:  Environmental  Nature Center / Bo Glover

Location: Newport Beach, California

Category: Design Excellence

This addition to the Environmental Nature Center’s Newport Beach, California, campus supports the nonprofit organization’s mission of providing nature-based education for young people. Developed through the vision of educators, the community, and the center’s leadership, the LEED Platinum-certified preschool mirrors the existing facility in its ability to blend indoor and outdoor spaces, instilling an intuitive understanding of the natural world in children ages 2.5 to 5.

The center was constructed in 2008 to serve as the organization’s headquarters. It inspires and educates visitors by highlighting green strategies focused on sustainable practices and environmental education. The 10,380-square-foot preschool opened in 2019 and quickly became a natural extension of the center’s sustainable goals and educational ambitions through hands-on experience.

“This space is well integrated and serves a hugely impactful mission. This project is both a dynamic learning center and an example of the sustainable values it teaches.”- Jury comment

“This project is an excellent example of how to apply the Framework for Design Excellence to a small space. The jury valued the incorporation of biophilia and children-centered spaces that support play-based and hands-on learning,” said the jury. “This space is well integrated and serves a hugely impactful mission. This project is both a dynamic learning center and an example of the sustainable values it teaches.”

Challenged to develop a premier green building on a tight budget, the team focused on cost-effective passive controls. The school building’s north-south orientation controls solar heat gain and glare. Natural ventilation encourages ocean breezes to pass through low intake windows along the school’s south side. Hot air rises across the sloped ceiling where it is eventually expelled through operable windows on the north side. The school’s footprint encompasses an already disturbed area that housed temporary buildings and a parking lot, a strategy that maintained open space and allowed the school to exist harmoniously within the existing cultivated habitats.

Mixing free play and nature into its daily curriculum, the school fosters an ideal atmosphere to encourage early brain development and an appreciation for nature. The interior program includes three learning studios, space for staff and administrative support, and a kitchen supported by an adjacent children’s garden. The classroom spaces are open, flexible, and flow into the outdoors, encouraging students to explore the world on their terms. This freedom is essential to the school’s pedagogy, and the school’s green features help root students in ecological responsibility at a very early age.

Currently, the school is pursuing certification through the Living Building Challenge. When it receives it, the school will be among the first projects in Orange County to achieve such a high level of sustainability.

Additional information

Engineer - Civil:  LPA, Inc.

Engineer - MEP:  LPA, Inc.

Engineer - Structural:  LPA, Inc.

Landscape Architect:  LPA, Inc.  

General Contractor:  Consolidated Contracting Services


Olivia Graf Doyle, Assoc. AIA (Chair), Architecture for Education, Inc, Los Angeles, CA

Angela Freeman, Reynolds School District, Portland, Oregon

Evie Klein, Assoc. AIA, Pratt Institute, New York, NY

Mathew Ryan Lowe, DLA Architects,  Itasca, Illinois  

Image credits

Preschool entry view from Dover Drive

Cris Costea

View of Preschool Playground

Cris Costea

View of Preschool Playground from from slide

Cris Costea

Environmental Nature Center Preschool-06

Cris Costea

Environmental Nature Center Preschool-07

Cris Costea