Jury: “It is clearly a project designed around use for the students and that is very compelling. They would enjoy learning and it would be enriching for them. The student experience is very positive. The honest relationship between the architecture, landscape, nature, and the garden—that’s genuine.”

Architect: “The challenge was to make a space that allowed the students to move through a range of activities on a compact site. It’s been great to see the project grow with the students’ use. The students have built a living machine and a cob oven. ” —Alec Holser, AIA, partner at Opsis Architecture

Situated adjacent to Hood River Middle School's historic main building in Hood River, Ore., the school’s new Music and Science Building had two goals: to fuse sustainable design with sustainability curriculum in a public building, and to  carefully integrate the new facility into the school’s existing National Historic Landmark site. The curriculum of the building centers on an outdoor classroom project that is based on the principles of permaculture. In lessons students combine classroom learning with hands-on activities such as growing food in a garden, harvesting and cooking the food, and selling it at an open-market on site. The building also includes a greenhouse an adjacent student garden, a music room, practice rooms, teacher offices, a science lab, and a greenhouse.

The Music and Science building replaced a 1940s bus storage barn that was previously on site. Opsis Architecture deconstructed and salvaged materials for use in the new structure (accounting for 8 percent of the new building’s materials). The new structure is a net-zero-energy building thanks to well-insulated walls, triple-glazed windows, and detailing that prevents thermal bridging. The main entrance is purposefully sited at the inside corner of the building so that the mass of the concrete walls and a concrete slab shelter the entrance against winds from the Columbia Gorge. The thermal mass also buffers the interior spaces against seasonal temperature swings. Also contributing the net-zero-energy status is a tight envelope, a geothermal heating system, heat-exchange recovery ventilators, a radiant-heating system in the slab, and a 35-kilowatt solar PV system on the roof.

Daylight and occupancy sensors adjust mechanical systems, including lighting, as needed, and the building occupants are employed to increased performance: A series of red and green light indicators show when it is favorable to open windows to create natural cross and stack ventilation via the façade windows, clerestory windows, and rooftop ventilators.

The project originally targeted net-zero-water use and wastewater, but was unable to achieve it due to regulatory barriers. Still, all stormwater runoff is collected and treated on site in a new bioswale. Rainwater is harvested, collected, and stored in a 14,000-gallon underground cistern, and then reused for irrigation in the student garden. This, combined with water from a nearby stream eliminates the use of potable water in irrigation and saves more than 123,000 gallons annually.

Since the building opened, energy data has been tracked and reported for a state incentive program. Twelve sub-meters collect detailed data on electricity and water use, production, and collection. This information is then made available to students on a building dashboard that is connected to the controls systems.

The building is planned for flexibility to ensure a long life: The greenhouse was assembled on site and can be disassembled and moved if needed for future expansion. Likewise, a wood-frame recycling and bicycle storage building adjacent to the classroom building can also be disassembled and moved if needed.

Building gross floor area: 7,200 square feet
Estimated percent of occupants using public transit, cycling, or walking: 60
Percent of daylight at levels that allow lights to be off during daylight hours: 96
Percent of views to the outdoors: 94
Percent of spaces within 15 feet of an operable window: 54
Percent reduction of regulated potable water: 89
Is potable water used for irrigation: No
Percent of rainwater from maximum anticipated 24-hour, two-year storm event that can be managed onsite: 100
Total EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): 24.4
Net EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): -0.5
Percent reduction from national average EUI for building type: 100
Lighting power density (watts per square foot): 0.64
LEED rating: Platinum, LEED for Schools 2007
Other ratings: Currently pursuing Living Future Institute Net Zero Energy Building Certification
Total project cost at time of completion, land excluded: $2.3 million

Data and project information provided by architecture firm via AIA COTE Top Ten entry documents.

For an extended view into Opsis's philsophies on sustainable design as well as a showcase of the firm's other green projects, click here. For more information on each project, as well as a database of past Top Ten projects, visit aiatopten.org.