Swift Lee Office’s Net Zero Energy (NZE) High-Performing School Prototype has been successfully built on three sites in California. SLO is now a contender to design and manufacture the prototype classroom buildings for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at various school sites, where it is shifting the discussion on building cost away from the short term to examine sustainability across the building’s life cycle.
The NZE Prototype uses “off-the-shelf” components and modular panels to create a system for solar, acoustic, and environmental control that is tailored to achieve a bespoke climate-responsive solution for each individual site. The project won the LafargeHolcim Awards Silver for North America in 2011, and was praised by the jury for its coherent technical concept that retained spatial and conceptual simplicity – but was put on hold when the LAUSD lost funding in late-2013.
With persistence, the design has since been constructed on three sites: as a 1,142 square-meter single-level version for the Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in San Jose, California. From start to finish, construction took just 14 weeks, and six laborers erected the structural frame in only two days, opening in August 2014. Two more NZE buildings were constructed for the Twin Rivers Charter School near Sacramento, California. A school building with nine classrooms and a gymnasium over 1,770 square meters opened in late 2015; while the 1,950 square-meter elementary school with 12 classrooms, media center and administrative services opened in early 2016.
In an interview with French/English architecture magazine L’Architecture d’Aujhourd’hui (‘A’A’), Gloria Lee confirmed that SLO is currently competing against other modular building firms to design and manufacture the prototype classroom buildings as single or multi‐level configurations at various school sites for the LAUSD.
Gloria Lee summarized SLO’s commitment to sustainable construction: “We have always embraced Buckminster Fuller’s maxim of doing the most with the least, which lies at the core of our practice, and which we view as prerequisite to economical and sustainable design. We remind ourselves that with great challenges there are also significant opportunities for change and innovation that can shape the future,” she explains.
The NZE Prototype is wrapped with a solar skin that creates a double façade for solar, acoustic and environmental control. Consisting of modular panels of different aperture, transparency, profile, and directionality, the solar skin permits the prototype to adapt to fluctuating climatic, solar orientation, and site conditions to optimize energy performance. The solar skin represents the integration of performance, form, and fabrication. Additionally, rooftop photovoltaic panels, skylights, natural daylight and ventilation, and a low-energy heating and cooling system will enable the NZE Prototype to achieve its net zero energy target. The NZE Prototype produces as much energy as it uses on an annual basis, harvests rainwater to offset demand on the municipal system, and incorporates materials that are resource efficient with low life cycle impacts on the environment such as recycled steel and low-carbon or carbon-negative concrete.
The building form and geometry are deliberately simple. The design eschews grand architectural statements and instead focuses on the structural, programmatic and spatial flexibility within the shed-like enclosure. The structures are assembled from pre-fabricated and factory-built components to reduce construction time, cost, and construction-related waste, traffic, and pollution. Factory based production also enables easier and more efficient recycling of surplus construction materials. The building is designed for disassembly (via bolted connections rather than welded, floating concrete slab, minimal finishes, and modular kit of part components) for easy recycling or re-use of the structure at the end of the its useful life.
By focusing the design of the NZE Prototype on systems and performance, the discussion of building cost is shifted away from the short term cost of construction to life cycle cost – providing a much truer measure of value, and a more responsible means of assuring maximum return on investment.See more
The Global Holcim Awards 2012 finalist certificate was presented to architects Nathan Swift and Gloria Lee from Swift Lee Office (SLO) at the offices of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Guests included Krisztina Tokes, Director of Asset Management, LAUSD; Brianna Garcia, Charter School/Prop 39, LAUSD; Kevin Newman, American Institute of Architects (AIA), Senior Design Manager, LAUSD; Nicci Solomons, Hon. AIACC, Executive Director AIA/Los Angeles: a Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and Paul O’Connor, Manager, Marketing Communications, Holcim (US).
The Zero-Net High Performance School Energy Prototype design is the result of an open design competition held by LAUSD. As the second-largest school district in the USA, the selection of the design by Swift Lee Office is a perfect proving ground to test the prototype method and its new technologies for a high performance school building of the future. The design has been completed to the design development phase and is waiting for Measure Q funds (a voter-approved USD 7 billion fund for school repairs) to become available.
Architect and Principal of Swift Lee Office (SLO), Gloria Lee, explained that the LAUSD’s increasing focus on finding a prototype for a sustainable, flexible, easily-reconfigurable and programmatically-diverse learning environment matched the goals the architectural office had set itself. “As we look to the sustainable future, we are challenged to think differently about how we practice sustainable architecture and we saw great potential in customizable prototype design and in solving repetitive problems such as school design,” she said.
The design features an envelope for solar, thermal and acoustic control that enables the structure to achieve net-zero energy usage explained Architect and Principal of Swift Lee Office (SLO), Nathan Swift. “The students will learn something from the building that enhances their lives,” he said.
The construction comprises a “readymade kit-of-parts assembled from off-the-shelf components”, which, in alignment with the prototype character of the concept, can be composed site-specifically. They include modular panels to create a double façade for solar, acoustic, and environmental control to achieve a climate-responsive solution on each site. Additionally, other state-of-the-art features are applied successfully to reach a fully integrated technical system. The pre-fabricated structural system allows a column free interior, supplementing the desired flexibility. Secondly it helps to reduce the duration of construction, traffic, waste, and cost.See more
The projects that received Holcim Awards Gold, Silver, or Bronze in each of the five regions of the world were automatically qualified to compete for the Global Holcim Awards 2012. The more extensive submission on the Zero net energy school building for the global phase of the competition can be found here:
The winners of the 3rd International Holcim Awards competition for sustainable construction projects and visions from North America have been announced. A total of USD 300,000 was presented to ten diverse and innovative projects from Canada and the USA at a ceremony in Washington, DC. The winning projects show how greater levels of sustainability can be reached in building and construction through people-focused designs that include simple adaptation, innovative materials, and clever architecture.Read full media release – Holcim Awards 2011 for North America » Pour en savoir plus (French) »
The jury was impressed by the thoroughly developed and comprehensively presented design, which manages the integration of a coherent technical and structural concept, yet retains spatial and conceptual simplicity. The promising approach for sustainability considers the full life-cycle of the structures including dismantling, and integrates a pragmatic concept for the use of renewable energy sources.
The public school project is designed as a prototype to be built on multiple campuses throughout Los Angeles. Its aim is an economical, flexible and yet, in its spatial concept, ambitious design that can be adjusted to different pedagogical models and learning styles. The two-level building can accommodate up to 500 students and may also be reconfigured for other communal functions. The sustainability concept intends to reach net zero energy building standards, and achieve LEED Platinum rating.Download project entry poster (PDF, 1.54 MB) »
Gloria Lee sees the most exciting element of her zero net energy school building project as the possibilities for …
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