Founded in 1898 by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Sacred Heart Preparatory is a 550-student co-educational high school located on the 64-acre campus of the K-12 Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, California. The historic red brick Main Building, built at the school's founding, still dominates the center of campus. The school's mission is to provide an integrated approach to learning, which is spiritually nurturing and academically challenging, producing students who are "committed to social justice, respectful of creation and prepared to be stewards of the earth's resources."
Michael J. Homer was an early Silicon Valley pioneer who played an important role in the development of the personal computer, the Internet, and the hand-held digital device. In honor of Mr. Homer and as a reflection of the innovative Silicon Valley culture he helped to create, the Homer Center brings together Science, Community and Nature in one unique educational environment. The 44,109-square foot building incorporates an unusual hybrid program of eight sophisticated science classrooms, a 700-seat auditorium, a 350-seat dining hall with full commercial kitchen, and administrative offices in spaces that inspire scientific inquiry, foster a strong learning community and promote environmental stewardship.
Photographs by Tim Griffith
As one of the winners of the AIA 2010 COTE Top Ten Green Projects, the Homer Center supports Sacred Heart Schools' educational mission, inspiring respect for creation and teaching eco-literacy by offering a variety of integrated educational environments that connect students and faculty to the natural world on a daily basis. The design encourages scientific inquiry, linking the school's science curriculum to the building's functions throughout the seasons—how it breathes, resists gravity, conserves precious resources and generates energy. It respects the unique character of its place by weaving the new building into the history and culture of the site. It honors the land by preserving and restoring native landscapes, fostering biodiversity and creating new habitats for native species that can be observed by the students.
Through a variety of simple, observable strategies, the project models advanced resource efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction, reducing site energy use by 69% from the national average for schools and exceeding the goal set for the 2030 Challenge. Potable water use is reduced by over 50%, teaching students to value this increasingly precious resource. Finally, the building expresses advanced resource conservation through simple, compact building forms, efficient structural systems, sophisticated composting and waste management programs, and the intensive use of recycled, renewable and regional materials.
The site is located near the center of the 64-acre campus, which in turn is located in a suburban residential neighborhood. As a result, the project addresses community design issues at both ends of the contextual scale: the region and the school campus.
The design connects to the regional community by serving as a model of sustainable architecture, addressing common concerns such as advanced energy-efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction, water conservation, biodiversity preservation and resource efficiency. It reinforces the character of the existing campus, placing science and student life facilities at the heart of the school community and creating a new quadrangle that provides inviting outdoor spaces and stronger links to other school buildings. Through proportion, texture and color, the new building offers a contemporary dialogue with the historic Main Building nearby.
The architects also focused on the site ecology. The site is a former grass playing field surrounded by groves of native oaks, redwoods and other mature tree species. The project replaces the playing field while preserving and enhancing the native ecosystems and habitats of the site and region. It preserves the surrounding woodlands, building around one heritage oak to create a new courtyard and protecting other trees nearby. Non-native, water-intensive grass lawns were significantly reduced, while an area equivalent to 182% of the building footprint has been restored using native, draught-tolerant plantings.
The living roof above the Great Hall and a stormwater treatment rain garden located south of the building combine to create 11,500 sq. ft. of new habitat for indigenous wildlife. Located just outside the biology classrooms to invite direct observation, the shaded, north-facing living roof replicates a native redwood understory habitat. The rain garden is planted with a variety of water-loving native grasses creating a seasonal wetland habitat common throughout California. Student-cultivated gardens receive Kitchen and Dining Hall compost, providing organic produce back to the Dining Hall while connecting students to the rhythms of the earth.
The site is located in the warm, marine climate of the Northern California inland coastal region. The building is sited to optimize the passive benefits of daylighting, solar control, natural ventilation and cooling, and outdoor living and learning. The building is organized on an east-west axis, with the two-story Classroom mass to the south and the Auditorium, Oak Court and Offices organized against it to the north. This strategy provides for excellent classroom orientation at the second floor as well as enhanced daylighting and a continuum of indoor / outdoor gathering spaces at the first floor, from the sunny southern Dining Patio, to the shady northern Oak Court.
Waterless urinals, super-low flow dual-flush toilets and other water-saving fixtures reduce water consumption by 51% from baseline for non-kitchen uses. The commercial kitchen utilizes water-saving commercial dishwashers and faucets to reduce kitchen water use.
Reduced lawn areas, draught-tolerant native landscaping and drip irrigation systems reduce landscape water use by 52.5% from baseline.
Irrigation water use was optimized in the design by accommodating hydrozones and climate exposure, and by utilizing advanced, weather-based irrigation controllers.
The high-performance building envelope integrates added insulation, active and passive sun shading, cool roof, high performance glazing and daylighting to reduce the need for artificial heating, cooling, and lighting. Space heating is further reduced with high efficiency gas-fired boilers serving in-floor hydronic heating and Kitchen waste heat recovered for water and space heating. Water efficient fixtures further reduce water heating requirements. Energy-efficient lighting is operated by occupancy sensors, timers and daylight dimming systems.
Materials were selected for economy, durability, and resource efficiency. Over 30% of all building materials are recycled, including 50% fly ash content in foundation concrete and floor slabs, carpet, aluminum, countertops made from recycled paper, and steel. 25% of all materials were regionally harvested and manufactured to reduce embodied energy and carbon footprint by reducing shipping. 75% of all wood products are salvaged or FSC-certified. Rapidly renewable materials include bamboo flooring, benches and paneling, cotton insulation, rubber flooring and base, linoleum flooring, and agrifiber door cores.
Project name:Sacred Heart Schools Michael J. Homer Science and Student Life Center
(Homer Science & Student Life Center)
Building type(s): Assembly, K-12 education
Owner: Sacred Heart Schools
Occupancy: Typically occupied by 650 people, 20 hours per person per week; and 50 visitors per week, 1 hour per visitor per week
Location: Atherton, CA
Area: 44,100 ft2 (4,100 m2)
Completed in August 2009