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Studio E Architects - High Tech High Chula Vista in Chula Vista, California Print E-mail
Thursday, 02 June 2011 10:20

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The high school and elementary school design focuses on the experiential quality of architecture as an essential ingredient for meaningful learning. The design reinterprets the original character of th...

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-9Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography Recently selected as one of the 2011 COTE Top Ten Green Projects by the American Institute of Architects, the High Tech High Chula Vista is a public charter school serving 550 students in grades 9 to 12 with an approach rooted in project-based learning. Owned and occupied by HTH Learning, a nonprofit corporation, the school fosters student engagement by knowing students well, tapping into student experience and interests, and building a strong sense of community. Through internships and projects based in the community, students collaborate with adults on work with meaning that extends well beyond the school walls.

Located in Chula Vista, California, High Tech High is at the center of one of the most economically and culturally diverse zones in the United States, just seven miles south of downtown San Diego and seven miles north of the US/Mexico border's busiest port of entry. The school takes advantage of this unique context to randomly select students in a way that ensures diversity. Coupled with a lack of ability groupings within the school, it is both diverse and integrated.
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Edited by Lynda Waggoner


High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-1The prefab classroom components contrast with the site-built screened studios under hovering metal roofs
Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography
The facilities are designed to help each student do well, support each family to lead healthier lives, and provide increased opportunities for everyone to participate. High Tech High demands that a school be safe, but not in a way that feels like a prison. Schools should be healthy, but not in a way that feels sanitized. Schools should be cost-effective to operate, but not at the expense of discomfort or functionality.

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Aerial-RenderingStudio E Architects
The project is intended to blur the line between indoor and outdoor space and offer opportunities for students and staff to connect to nature. The design is porous and open in character, while being easily managed and maintained by teachers and staff. This design is also intended to develop multiple intelligences by offering direct visual access to the outdoors from every learning space, and direct physical access to the outdoors from all project workspaces.

Site Description

The High Tech High site is situated at the edge of the land mesa overlooking the Otay River Valley to the south. The site and the surrounding land historically had been grazed with livestock, which denuded the land of native vegetation. The site design of the school addresses this condition by layering development to decrease intensity of use as one moves south towards the mesa edge.

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Site-ContextStudio E Architects

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Site-PlanStudio E Architects

From north (towards existing development) to south (towards the mesa edge) the site is layered with parking and circulation first, buildings second, playing fields third, and finally, a re-vegetated slope with native plantings that blends into the natural terrain. The entire open-space system, from medians in the parking area to courtyards in the school to the playing field, are designed as bioswales to capture, absorb, and filter all site water before it can reach the river valley and hillsides to the south.

This strategy of pulling the buildings up toward other development emphasizes the importance of the open-space system of the river valley and expresses a responsible relationship between the developed city and the natural systems. The landscape palette of native species infuses the developed portions of the site with the plantings of the river valley, emphasizing the school's insistence on responsible integration of the man-made with the natural world.

Community :

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-7Seminar rooms are complemented by "Exploratories" like the one in this photo, which are suited to specific disciplines. These vary from engineering to environmental science rooms and have large roll-up doors to allow for outdoors work space.
Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography
The school serves a regional population and does not offer busing. To reduce the number of cars driving through the community to the school and the number of cars needing to park on the site, the school chose a site near mass transit nodes and established a comprehensive Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Program. The program works on both the supply-side and the demand-side of the parking equation. The design provided dedicated carpool and active-loading parking, and minimize stall counts overall, it adjusted walking and bike paths to reflect changing student traffic patterns, and added bike racks at convenient and safe locations.

Site Design:

The key environmental issues were related to reducing energy consumption while capturing energy available on site. In San Diego County's temperate climate, this primarily meant capturing sunlight for daylighting and power. The design reflects these goals by arranging south-facing roofs for placement of photovoltaics and breaking the building into smaller parts with internal courtyards.

An early design decision to incorporate prefabricated construction techniques encouraged the design team to focus on connecting circulation spaces culturally and technologically. The prefabricated system is made of adaptable elements and conditioned space. The circulation system between them connects the conditioned spaces to the natural world with transitions that foster an appreciation of student work, a sense of community, and an understanding of nature. This systems approach resulted in a highly parallel design and construction approach that increased the quality of construction while compressing the overall schedule and constraining costs and reducing project risk.
High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Studio-E-Architects-2Modular building section being set by crane over the concrete, conditioned crawlspace. The infrastructure was pre-run through the crawlspace to allow future modification.
Photo credit : Christopher Gerber
Modular building components were constructed in tightly controlled factory conditions while site work and foundations were prepared concurrently. The prefabricated modules were craned onto the concrete and conditioned, with crawl spaces added, in a matter of days. The clean, insulated crawl spaces contain the major building infrastructure, protecting systems during and after construction and facilitating access for ongoing maintenance and long-term renewal.

Water Conservation and Use

Annual rainfall is less than ten inches in this desert microclimate. When it does rain, it can rain heavily. The project includes vegetated swales and detention basins to regulate flows and reduce runoff rates below pre-development conditions. To ensure the basins are not breeding grounds for insects, the basins are designed to not allow standing water for more than 72 hours, and to maximize infiltration within the technical limitations inherent in the site.
High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-4Exterior spaces adjacent to classrooms are used as workshop spaces in the project-based learning environment Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural PhotographyWith such a scarcity of water in the region, water demand is minimized on the site and within the building. The building management system (BMS) includes a weather station and water management controls to respond to changing weather conditions by adjusting the irrigation schedule in real time. Flow sensors and motorized valves are able to turn off zones immediately in the event of a broken head or line, and the BMS sends an alert to groundskeepers to eliminate wasted water and erosion. Reclaimed water is used for 100% of the site’s irrigation needs.

Within the building, every fixture was selected to reduce water use, maximize durability, and ensure sanitary conditions. Due to the waterless urinals, faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads, and low-flow water closets, the project demands 52% less water than the EPAct-1992 baseline. This equates to a savings of $5,000 per year in operating costs.


High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-8Canopies like the one seen here are optimized as shade-giving photovoltaic arraysm, which produce 80% of the school's electrical needs on an annualized basis.
Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography

The project minimizes energy demand through compact planning, natural ventilation, daylighting, and an efficient envelope and fixtures. At the same time, the roof canopy integrates a photovoltaic array, which generates nearly 80% of the project’s demanded energy on an annualized basis. The compact plan has three interior courtyards and large-screened shade canopies to harvest natural light and ventilation. Sunlight is the primary lighting source for all circulation and occupied areas, and the building envelope includes diffuse clerestory lighting panels, exterior view glazing, and skylights.

Though all occupied areas have air conditioning for extreme weather days, all classrooms have operable windows for natural ventilation. Break-out spaces (called studios) between classrooms and hallways are passively conditioned. A large, photovoltaic-covered canopy shades these areas, and the areas are enclosed with an aluminum storefront system with screen mesh in the upper panels and glass in the lower panels. This allows heat to rise and escape, and moderates the occupant-level temperatures.

The building management system (BMS) integrates a weather station, and monitors and controls the lighting and mechanical systems, in addition to the irrigation and domestic water systems. This optimizes thermal comfort, indoor air quality, and lighting levels and helps conserve energy and water.
High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Sustainability-DiagramStudio E Architects

Bioclimatic Design

The site is ten miles inland of the Pacific Ocean, and has a semi-arid warm steppe climate. Daily and seasonal weather are quite different from coastal weather; temperatures can be 20 degrees cooler at night and 20 degrees warmer during the day than temperatures on the coast. Solar access is high and readily available. Prevailing breezes are generally flowing onshore from the west over the ocean. The project climatic response was to break the building into discrete parts with internal courtyard spaces between them, a conditioned crawlspace below, and a broad solar canopy above. The courtyard strategy allowed for every space to have access to light and air on at least two sides. Venting skylights fully balance the lighting.
High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-2The main commons, pictured in this photo, is surrounded with polycarbonate glazing on all four sides to provide a gathering space bathed in controlled daylight.
Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography

Materials & Resources

High Tech High was constructed with a mix of both custom factory-built components and more traditional onsite components. By using repetitive parts that are based on industry standard sizing and using assembly-line production, construction waste was dramatically reduced, and construction quality was greatly increased. The assembly-line technique allowed cost-effective and schedule-efficient integration of all building systems, which saved on construction labor and the cutting, fitting, and patching so necessary in traditional wood-framed construction.

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-6Seminar rooms are complemented by "Exploratories", which are suited to specific disciplines. These vary from engineering to environmental science rooms and have large roll-up doors to allow for outdoors work space.
Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography
The school layout was developed with known modules and delivered to the site ready to be assembled into whole building wings in a matter of days, drastically reducing on-site construction time and the air, noise, and stormwater pollution associated with on-site construction activities. In addition, these modules can be easily disassembled, relocated, and reused in the future.

All construction materials were selected for their overall environmental and health performance. Products with wood, lead, and mercury were banned from the project’s structure. Pest and mold resistance were addressed through a monolithic foam-over-metal-deck roof, steel moment-frame and metal stud infill structure, metal deck and exposed concrete floors over an insulated concrete crawlspace, and fiber-cement siding. The project is designed for a life cycle of 100 years or more.


As part of the integrated design approach, the owner's representative advised the design-build team on lessons learned from existing schools and encouraged best practices gleaned from learning environments around the world. The project incorporates least-toxic materials not only in the construction elements but also in the instructional equipment (for example, through a ban on mercury-containing devices) and the custodial program (for example, through elimination of heavy-metal floor finishes). Identifying least-toxic alternatives for integrated pest management, housekeeping, groundskeeping, and ongoing maintenance ensures a healthier environment for staff, students, and visitors.
High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-5This photo shows students working in small groups in a typical paired classroom with the movable wall open. The teacher offices penetrate into the space to facilitate constant access between the students and faculty.
Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography
High Tech High has implemented numerous feedback loops to improve the learning and working environment and better fulfill its mission. Recognizing the excellent work implemented in other High Tech High schools, the project team used post-occupancy evaluations to inform decisions on macro-issues such as school culture, and micro-issues such as classroom light levels.

As a functioning learning environment, the school is a system continually responding to weather, use patterns, and user needs. As part of the commissioning process, all systems were reviewed to ensure they functioned as intended, and ongoing school-level processes were developed to ensure long-term viability. The design and construction team collaborated with staff and students on a "School as a Learning Tool" system, complete with a school sustainability program, waste and recycling management program, integrated pest management program, transportation demand management program, and periodic evaluation guides for thermal comfort, custodial effectiveness, and energy audits. These programs are ongoing processes that directly respond to student and staff needs, ensuring goals are realized, successes are celebrated, and ideas live beyond any particular leader or committee.

High-Tech-High-Chula-Vista_Jim-Brady-3Floating canopies for all circulation and common spaces, contrast in character and form with the prefab components of the facility. Photo credit : Jim Brady Architectural Photography

The facilities reflect the school's guiding principles of personalization, adult-world connection, and common intellectual mission. These principles permeate every aspect of life at HTH: the small school and class sizes, the openness and transparency, sustainable design attributes, and showcasing of student work in progress.

Project details :

Location: Chula Vista, California
Building type(s): K-12 education
New construction
Lot size: 350,111 ft2 (Previously undeveloped land)
Total built area: 44,400 ft2 (4,120 m2)
Project scope: a single building
Completed March 2009
Total project cost (land excluded): $11,543,800
Expected Building Service Life: 100 years

Rating: EPA Energy Star --Level: 94
Rating: Collaborative for High Performance Schools --Level: Verified
Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Schools 2.0 (2007)--Level: Gold

Programs :
Indoor Spaces: Classroom (55%), Circulation (27%), Office (7%), Public assembly (4%), Lobby/reception (3%), Restrooms (3%), Conference (1%)
Outdoor Spaces:     Restored landscape (65%), Pedestrian/non-motorized vehicle path (16%), Drives/roadway (11%), Parking (8%)

Project credits :

Owner/developer : Christopher Gerber, HTH Learning San Diego, California
Architect: Eric Naslund, Studio E Architects, San Diego, California
Contractors :
Scott Kaats, Bycor General Contractors, San Diego, California

Jack DiBenedetto,  Williams Scotsman, Inc, Riverside, California
Energy consultant : Beth Brummit, Brummitt Energy Associates, San Diego, California
Landscape Architect : Michael Vail, Ivy Landscape architects, San Diego, California
Mechanical engineer : Brian Schroeder, Mechanical Systems Contractors, San Diego, CA
Electrical engineer: David Aabram, Michael Wall Engineering, San Diego, California
Plumbing engineer : Greg Oakley, Oakley Construction Plumbing Systems, Valley Center, California
Structural engineer: Ralph Tavares, R&S Tavares Associates, San Diego, California
Civil engineer : Kevin Vogelsang, RBF Consulting, San Diego, California

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