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Francis Parker School

Lake|Flato Architects

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Francis Parker School


  • General Contractor: HR Weatherford Co.
  • Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers
  • Electrical Engineer: ILA Zammit Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineer: SC Engineering
  • Civil Engineer: RBF Consulting
  • Landscape Architect: Ivy Landscape Architects
  • Schirmer Engineering Corp.

Project Status


Year Completed



122,000 sq. feet

Construction Cost




View all (10) images

Project Description

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.
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