WHEN GREG PAPAY first saw the Francis Parker School's upper school campus in San Diego in 2002, he saw a collection of disparate buildings that had accrued organically over 40-odd years. Today Lake|Flato Architects' new middle and upper school campus for this K–12 independent institution interweaves indoor and outdoor spaces in a celebration of nature.

“It was criminal in San Diego that they were not taking advantage of the weather,” says Papay, Lake|Flato partner and the design architect of the three-phase, 122,000-square-foot project. “With the new campus, the school wanted something environmentally appropriate.”

The master plan for the 20-acre site includes six classroom buildings, a science center, a commons building, a library, a lecture hall, and administration, arts, and music buildings. The design capitalizes on the climate and the irregularities of the site by integrating four courtyards into the built campus.

The new campus for San Diego's Francis Parker School takes advantage of the warm climate with outdoor quads, open-air circulation, and lots of operable windows—so when the students do have to be indoors, they can still have access to natural light and breezes. View additional images in a larger format.

The classroom design invites the outside in. Inspired by the lower school campus a few miles away—a 1912 Craftsman-style complex—the new spaces are quite ethereal in contrast, but they do pick up some of the vocabulary of the founding structures. Expansive pocket doors, for instance, slide open 15 feet, inviting students to look outside. “The school's philosophy of education is such that the teachers aren't freaked out if the kids are not looking directly ahead,” Papay says.

While not LEED certified, the new buildings reflect this progressive school's belief in sustainability and are a model for energy savings. Aggressive ventilation, the use of tilt-wall construction with 2 percent flyash content, and extensive daylight modeling enabled the design team to create a complex that bests California's Title 24 energy performance requirements by 33 percent. For the first two phases, this resulted in the very tangible reward of more than $45,000 from the local utility. Ongoing savings are much more substantial, with estimates at more than $250,000 or $300,000 over the first decade for the project's initial two phases. The third and final phase is currently under construction.

Large and strategically placed windows capture natural breezes. The school opted to include air conditioning at the last minute—when the construction documents were almost complete—but rarely chooses to use it and the complex largely functions through passive sources. The thickness of the tilt walls—7 to 9 inches of concrete—creates a heat damper, delaying the effects of both hot and cold.

Overhangs and sunshades diminish the heat impact in the classroom buildings, yet, because they are single-loaded, light still penetrates a full 15 feet on either side. The architects also convinced the skeptical client to built to two stories to gain more natural light and ventilation.

Stacking the classrooms this way also enabled them to use less land, much of which was steep or oddly shaped, so every bit counted. In addition to landscaping along pathways, the school created demonstration gardens to teach the kids about agriculture, and to grow food for their cafeteria. Experientially, it is not the energy savings, the use of recycled materials, or the farm-to-table approach that is striking, but the overall embrace of the natural landscape.

Project Credits

Project Francis Parker School, San Diego
Client Francis Parker School
Architect Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio, Texas—Greg Papay (design partner); Joe Farren, Brandi Rickels (project managers); Tana Anderson, Betsy Holt Johnson, Laura Kaupp, Lewis McNeel, Kristin Wiese, Vicki Yuan (project team)
Construction Manager
HR Weatherford Co.
General Contractor Rudolph & Sletten
Structural Engineer
KPFF Consulting Engineers
Electrical Engineer
ILA Zammit Engineering
Mechanical Engineer
SC Engineering
Civil Engineer
RBF Consulting
Landscape Architect
Ivy Landscape Architects
Code Consultants
Schirmer Engineering Corp.
122,000 square feet (all three phases)
$48.8 million (all three phases)


Tilt-Wall Concrete Panels
Vulcan Materials
Locally sourced cement and aggregate contribute to the rich colors of the tilt-up concrete panels. Contractor Rudolph & Sletten performed the panel forming, concrete placement, and panel lifting and setting.

Recycled Glass
American Specialty Glass
Recycled glass was integrated into the project in three areas: as “aggregate” in select areas of the tilt-up concrete panels, where the glass was ground smooth like terrazzo; as a lens, wrapped in a stainless steel mesh, hanging directly underneath industrial fluorescent fixtures; and as a canopy at the entry to the science gallery.

Brazilian Redwood Siding
The buildings' redwood siding comes from a sustainably managed forest in Brazil. It visually recalls the redwood and western red cedar that clads so many coastal California structures, with the added benefit of exceptional durability. The siding is eight times harder than redwood or western red cedar, important for a school environment. It is also decay, insect, and fire resistant.

Aluminum Sliding and Pocketing Doors
Lake|Flato incorporated sliding and pocketing door systems in all 43 classrooms and labs. The doors promote natural ventilation, allow views out, and admit daylight. The school's original 1912 classroom structures also used pocket doors to take advantage of San Diego's benevolent climate.

Ceiling Panels
Hunter Douglas
Hunter Douglas' large-scale Techstyle ceiling panels float between exposed steel beams in the classrooms, adding to the clean, loftlike look of the spaces. They have strong light reflection and acoustical properties, allowing the ceiling to diffuse both reflected daylight and indirect artificial illumination.