Three buildings—a town hall, a community hall, and a library—make up the new Portola Valley Town Center, a sustainable civic center for a small town south of San Francisco. Green measures include solar panels on the south-facing roof slopes of two of the buildings and a maintenance shed. Together they form a 76-kilowatt array that will help ease the energy load of the complex.
Each of the canted roofs of the three main structures is engineered to have one low point where rainwater will run off. Chain rainwater leaders take the place of gutters and manage the water runoff, which the architects hope will soon be able to be collected and diverted to a cistern. The rainwater would then be used to irrigate the playing fields and performance lawn, which will need ample water in a drought-prone region.
All three main buildings incorporate sunshades composed of 2x6 boards of reclaimed Alaskan yellow cedar from a salvage yard in the Pacific Northwest. The wood was chosen specifically because over time it will fade to a silver-gray color that will help reflect more light into the buildings’ interiors. The other timber sourced for the project, including 6x10 horizontal beams reclaimed from the school that used to occupy the site and redwood cladding from McMullin Sawmill in Crescent City, Calif.—milled from dead and downed and beach-salvaged trees—will weather darker.
The reading room that holds the main collection of the Portola Valley Library is an airy and light-filled space thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights. The wall paneling and ceiling slats—elements that appear in all three main buildings—are made from milled Douglas fir roof decking salvaged from the dismantled school.
The community room in the town center's community hall is a multipurpose space designed to allow for meetings, parties, and other events. Supporting the roof is a tree column—an unusual construction that wraps a steel-pipe support with the split trunk of one of the trees felled to make way for the complex's sports fields. Multiple doors and windows can be opened to make the room an indoor/outdoor space during the milder months.
A room was set aside in the library for children's books and activities. The low slope of the roof creates an intimate environment, welcoming to Portola Valley's smaller denizens. Thick Douglas fir walls help to visually divide the space and absorb sound to prevent disturbance in the nearby main reading room.