Science and Environmental Center

Architecture Firm: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Owner: Nueva School

Location: Hillsborough, Calif.

Project site: Previously developed land

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 center supports the independent 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 zero net carbon Science and Environmental Center embodies The Nueva School’s mission to inspire passion for lifelong learning, foster social acuity and environmental citizenship, and develop the child's imaginative mind, enabling students to learn how to make choices that will benefit the world. Founded in 1967, The Nueva School is an independent school, with the Hillsborough campus serving over 500 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. The 33-acre campus, located in the semi-rural coastal hills of the San Francisco Peninsula, features a thriving coastal live oak woodland ecosystem, a variety of dispersed structures, and dramatic views of San Francisco Bay.

Ecology of learning

The new Science and Environmental Center supports the school’s evolving mission of sustainability and environmental stewardship as a foundational pillar of student education. It provides a new home for the school’s environmental citizenship program with eight science labs and associated support spaces that bring together pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade classes to explore the interconnectedness of humans and the natural environment. Linked indoor and outdoor learning spaces create an “ecology of learning” where students practice sustainability, conduct environmental and social studies, and debate solutions to a broad range of environmental challenges.

Weaving together

The design integrates straightforward, appropriate, and cost-effective sustainable design solutions that provide practical and poetic connections between people and the natural world. The building shape echoes the landform, following the topography of the hillside to minimize excavation and maximize outdoor education space that extend ground-floor classrooms. The narrow floor plate minimizes impacts on the site’s existing natural features while maximizing daylighting and natural ventilation within the classrooms, two passive strategies that connect students to the seasonal rhythms of the site while reducing energy loads in the building.

The Canopy Walk provides a universally accessible journey through the forest that connects the new Environmental Center with the existing Hillside Learning Complex. The previously disturbed landscape in this area was restored to an oak woodland habitat with native and adapted planting to promote biodiversity. This heightened beauty and presence of the native ecology further grounds us to place, reminding students and visitors of the active role we must take in conservation and stewardship. The project includes eight classrooms and support spaces that provide a variety of innovative educational environments that connect students and faculty to the world around them, promoting environmental stewardship and lifelong learning daily.

Through a variety of simple, observable systems and strategies, the project is designed to be zero net energy/zero net carbon—an all-electric building that models a resilient, low-carbon future. Energy-efficient building systems combined with a high-performance building envelope reduce building EUI to 23, a 71% reduction from baseline. A 100 kW photovoltaic array provides energy production to offset the building’s anticipated annual energy use. As climate change continues to impact California’s potable water supply, the project takes an active role in reducing potable water use by 89% below baseline.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2018

Year of substantial project completion: 2021

Gross conditioned floor area: 8,630 sq. ft.

Number of stories the building has: two

Project site: previously developed land

Project site context/setting: suburban

Annual hours of operation: 1,575

Site area: 37,115 sq. ft.

Total annual users: 168

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


Katie Ackerly, AIA, Chair, David Baker, Oakland, Calif.

Julian Owens, Assoc. AIA, Jacobs, Arlington, Va.

Seonhee Kim, AIA, Design Collective, Baltimore

Avinash Rajagopal, Metropolis, New York

Image credits

Flexible outdoor learning spaces along the west elevation engage the hillside.


Aerial view of the Science and Environmental Center with exterior Canopy Walk  connecting to the Hillside Learning Complex.

©W.L. Butler Construction, Inc

Typical classroom with flexible overhead power supply, ceiling fans for increased ventilation, and windows that provide ample daylight and views.


Exterior circulation along the west elevation connects the classrooms while providing framed views to the forest beyond.


Outdoor learning spaces and an exterior canopy walk integrate the building with the restored oak woodland ecology.

©Bruce Damonte