News Treehugger Voices New Schools in California Set a High Bar for Future Educational Structures CAW Architects designs schools that do not look like medium-security prisons. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Updated June 17, 2021 10:42PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process The O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm (The Barn). John Sutton Photography Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive The polemicist James Howard Kunstler has often described schools as prisons or insecticide factories: "Look at the schools themselves. We called them “facilities” because they hardly qualify as buildings: sprawling, one-story, tilt-up, flat-roofed boxes isolated among the parking lagoons out on the six-lane highway strip, disconnected from anything civic, isolated archipelagoes where inchoate teenage emotion festers." Compare that to a V2com press release from CAW Architects (CAW), which designs schools in California. “What sets our firm apart is that we fundamentally believe in creating spaces where students can thrive,” said principal Brent McClure, CAW's lead on the design of educational environments. “We know firsthand through our work that spaces can dictate a sense of well-being and inspiration and impact the way students learn and feel about themselves within the educational context.” Contrary to Kunstler, these schools by CAW are figuratively and literally a breath of fresh air, light, and openness. The O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm (The Barn). John Sutton Photography The O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm is not exactly a school building—it is "a working agricultural complex that provides over 15,000 pounds of produce to the campus annually. It acts as a living laboratory where students, faculty, and the community can test ideas about social and environmental aspects of farming and urban agriculture." The O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm (The Barn). John Sutton Photography The Barn is "a large structure with a strong iconic silhouette created by a simple gable roof topped by clerestories that provide light and ventilation." Corte Madera Middle School, Portola Valley School District. CAW Architects Kunstler often describes schools as looking like medium-security prisons. “What message is this sending to the students?” Kunstler asked. “This is a brutal place of humiliation and boredom, and you must have done something terrible to go here?” What would he say about CAW's Corte Madera School in Portola Valley, California? CAW said of the school: "Since the buildings abut natural wetlands, integrating the architecture within the natural site was essential both for water conservation and creating robust teaching experiences within the landscape. Examples of this include classrooms that project over a frog pond, allowing students to wander through the environment in mud boots." CAW Architects Treehugger has long touted the benefits of fresh air, writing "Bring Back the Open-Air School," about the Ecole de Plein Air movement. The late Paul Overy described how architects a hundred years ago "enthusiastically adopted the latest ideas about the hygienic benefits of light and fresh air in educational buildings." What CAW is saying sounds familiar: "It has been well documented that there is a clear link between increased student performance and the environmental quality of the built environment. According to principal Chris Wasney, FAIA, 'Buildings with better indoor air quality, natural daylighting, and other high-performance features generate increased attendance and improve test scores.' He continues, 'We believe that good design is sustainable design, and these practices will directly benefit students.'" Sequoia Union Gymnasium. Bruce Damonte Photography This Sequoia Union Gymnasium in the Bay Area is interesting too, with its clerestory window at the roof ridge. "This allows for daytime use of the gym without any artificial light sources reducing lighting needs by more than 70% in the facility," said CAW in a press release. "The entire roof surface of the building employs a photovoltaic film to generate power from the sun and further offset the energy needs of the building." Sequoia Union Gymnasium. Bruce Damonte Photography We have often discussed how the modern movement was an architectural response to tuberculosis and flu crises after the first World War. We know now fresh air and lots of ventilation are architectural responses to the COVID-19 crisis. These school buildings designed by CAW architects were built before the pandemic, but have all those attributes of light, air, and openness that worked a hundred years ago and can work again now. They also don't look like prisons—I suspect even Kunstler might approve.