Science and Environmental Center, Nueva School

Architecture firm: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Owner: Nueva School

Location: Hillsborough, Calif.

Category: Merit

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Education - K-12 school

The new net zero-carbon Science and Environmental Center is the embodiment of The Nueva School’s mission to spark a passion for lifelong learning and foster social acuity and environmental citizenship in the imaginative young minds of its students. The independent school, founded in the late 1960s, serves more than 500 K–8 students on its 33-acre campus in the semi-rural hills of the San Francisco Peninsula. This project concludes the final phase of the school’s hillside learning complex, originally completed in 2008

The center supports the school’s evolving mission that is rooted in sustainability and environmental stewardship as a central tenet of student education. It houses the school’s environmental citizenship program that features eight science labs and associated support spaces that welcome all grades to explore the important connections between humans and the natural environment. Indoor and outdoor learning spaces are linked to shape an “ecology of learning” wherein students practice sustainability, conduct environmental and social studies, and collaboratively explore potential solutions to a broad range of environmental challenges.

“The scale and materials are excellent, and the jury loved how sustainability and resilience are woven into the curriculum. The materials are down to earth, simple, and humble.” - Jury comment

The project began in 2012, when the school embarked on an update to its campus masterplan and held a series of workshops with its community to identify campus opportunities, constraints, and evolving programmatic needs. Several strategic goals, including advancing the school’s leadership in environmental education and a continued commitment to the community and biosphere, emerged from that process and informed the center’s design.

In a region that has experienced more frequent and severe droughts, the building promotes advanced water conservation by harvesting rainwater in a 10,000-gallon cistern. The collected water is held for reuse by the center’s toilets, reducing potable water use by 89% as compared to baseline. Additionally, the building is 100% electric and produces all of the energy it consumes annually. Its narrow floorplate allows for ample daylighting, views, and natural ventilation, serving as an important demonstration of how passive natural systems can significantly reduce energy use.

As a threshold building, the center visually and physically connects the built campus with the forested regional open space that lies beyond. A canopy walk links the center to an existing student center at the heart of the campus, allowing all students, regardless of physical ability, to explore the seasonal rhythms of the restored oak woodland.

“The walkways are engaging and accessible, and the students are living with the surrounding environment. The experience of the location for students is incredible; it initiates a very important conversation about outdoor learning." - Jury comment

The center has been instrumental in the success of the environmental citizenship program, and it supports that mission through its innovative educational environments that help shape a strong community and prompt interdisciplinary interaction. In recognition of the school’s achievement and practice in resource efficiency, health, and environmental and sustainable education, it was named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education last year.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2021

Gross conditioned floor area: 8,630 sq ft

Project team

Commissioning: Red Car Analytics

Engineer - Acoustical:  Charles Salter Associates, Inc.

Engineer - A/V:  The Shalleck Collaborative, Inc.

Engineer - Civil: BKF

Engineer - Dry Utilities:  Urban Design Consulting Engineers

Engineer – MEP Design Assist:  Point Energy Innovations

Engineer - Electrical Design Build: Cupertino

Engineer - MP Design Build: Air Systems

Engineer - Structural: Murphy Burr Curry, Inc.

General Contractor: W.L. Butler

Laboratory Design:  Hera, Inc.

Landscape Architect: CMG Landscape Architecture

Waterproofing: WJE


Diego Barrera, AIA (Chair), Stantec, Plano, Texas

Richey Madison, AIA, SmithGroup, Los Angeles

Xuemei Zhu, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Pam Loeffelman, FAIA, DLR Group, Estes Park, Colo.

Oswaldo Rivera-Ortiz, Assoc. AIA, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas

Image credits

aerial view

W.L. Butler Construction, Inc.

aerial directly overhead

W.L. Butler Construction, Inc

exterior walkwar

Richard Barnes

outdoor learning space

Richard Barnes

interior classroom

Richard Barnes