Friends School

The new 80,000-square-foot San Francisco Friends School turned an old jeans factory into a sustainable learning environment for children.

The San Francisco Friends School is located in a largely residential area in the Mission District. The building is fronted by a play yard that is fenced in from the street and has a basketball court, a playground, and bleacher seating for outdoor assemblies.

The first-floor commons is a central gathering space for the kindergarten, first, and second grade classes-who are required by law to be on the ground floor. "They have their own little universe down there," Pfau says. All classrooms and a music room open onto the commons, which also features an exhibit on the history of the building and its use as a denim manufacturing plant.

Seismic bracing was added to bring the building up to code. But instead of hiding the bracing, the architects left it exposed in common spaces, hallways, and even classrooms. The goal was to be transparent about the renovations made to the building, so the design can be a learning tool to educate the students about design and engineering.

On the second floor, clerestory windows were installed in every classroom wall to allow natural light from outside to come through to the corridors. The wood floors in this space are the same floors that Levi Strauss had his workers install to avoid being laid off during the Great Depression, when jeans manufacturing was down. The staining and scarring on the wood has been preserved so students can see where the production line machinery sat when the building was an active factory.

The meeting room is a place where the students and faculty come to engage in the Quaker tradition of silent reflection.  Located at the center of the second floor of the three-story building, the room actually has skylights because the roof of this central section is over the second story; windows on the doughnut-shaped third floor look down onto this lower roof.  The skylights had been covered when the factory was still in operation, but they were restored and upgraded to flood the room with light. Now each skylight is fitted with a mechanism that is connected to the building's direct digital-control building management system, and the skylights authomatically open and close to regulate temperature and draw air through the space. Interior windows on the perimeter of the room bring additional daylight to the second-floor corridors.

The second-floor library is a good example of the school’s overall materials palette. Walls are painted in Chantilly Lace, an off-white low-VOC paint from Benjamin Moore. Light wood furniture from Community Playthings and maple shelving (a collaboration with Ross McDonald & Co.) allow for a neutral and focused study environment, and direct/indirect P-60 linear light fixtures from Prudential Ltg. supplement natural daylight.

The thermal towers are the core of the natural ventilation system for the San Francisco Friends School.

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