Letting Nature Lead Learning
Located in Cupertino, California, the McClellen Ranch Preserve sits on an 18-acre farmstead that dates back to the 1860s.
Home to the city’s environmental education program, the building’s form and color palette connects it to its agrarian heritage and vernacular architecture, while its thoughtful design, outstanding performance and energy efficiency root it firmly in the present.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that in a part of the country synonymous with technology, Bay Area-based architect Henry Siegel, principal of Siegel & Strain Architects, leveraged the firm’s 20-plus years of forward-thinking sustainable design to build this LEED Gold facility. Although McClellen Ranch Preserve is not a passive building per se, in order to maximize views, ventilation and natural light while minimizing heat gain, Siegel approached the project as if it were.
“We think very carefully about passive design,” said Siegel. “A very important part of reducing the thermal loads on a building is through window design, window placement and window shading so that it works for natural ventilation and daylighting.”
In a region that enjoys over 265 days of sunshine a year and summertime temperatures that routinely soar into the 90s, minimizing the impact of direct sunlight was crucial to create a comfortable, energy efficient environment suitable for learning.
The West-facing porch is a great example of how Siegel was challenged by the building’s orientation to design a solution that mitigates unwanted heat gain. Instead of leaving the porch open and exposed, Siegel designed the roof to block the scorching afternoon sun. A Marvin Signature Collection Ultimate Bi-Fold Door that spans the entire width of the opening seamlessly connects the interior classrooms to the porch. When the door is open it allows ample natural light and fresh air to flow freely in and makes the porch feel like a natural extension of the classroom. Instead of dividing the two spaces like a wall would, the bi-fold door unites them.
Given the building’s educational purpose, Siegel wanted there to be a big view of the meadow—where students collect specimens and perform experiments from the North-facing classrooms. Siegel used a large gathering of casement and hopper windows to open the classroom to the vast 18-acre preserve beyond. This large cluster of operable windows provides a strong visual connection to the land and allows fresh air into the classrooms—which reduces the need for constant air conditioning, even in the summer.
Beyond smartly using the building’s orientation and shading to maximize its efficiency, Siegel further minimized the building’s impact on the environment in a more literal way. Because the preserve is home to many birds, Siegel worked with Marvin on special-patterned glass to reduce the incidence of fatal bird strikes without affecting performance.
Given McClellen Ranch Preserve’s purpose as an environmental education center, it’s no wonder Siegel sought to minimize the building’s impact on it. By applying the principals of passive design, Siegel has created an extremely energy efficient building that is both deeply connected to its site and sure to connect generations of students to the natural world in meaningful, lasting ways.
McClellan Ranch Preserve was named the “Best Commercial” winner in the 2017 Marvin Architects Challenge.