NBBJ create net zero nature-immersed school in Encino, California

The Westmark Lower School’s campus aims to combine environmental stewardship and education

by Séan Thurgood 01 December 2022

Westmark School’s instruction model focuses on recognising differences and providing adaptable choices to accommodate different learning styles. The design of the new 15,500 sq ft Lower School campus reflects the school’s principles and creates an environment designed to encourage learning.

Acoustic strategies were employed to promote quiet study with the designers selecting various sound absorbing materials, creating quiet reading nooks and other spaces which support creative learning. In addition, spaces for occupational and speech therapy, theatre, and counselling have been created to serve and support the Lower School. 

According to neuroscience research, nature improves cognition, creativity, emotional and physical wellness, and learning. To help support this, the spaces were designed in partnership with molecular biologist Dr. John Medina that utilised green space and natural materials. Classrooms utilise large hangar doors with access to the landscapes, while timber and other organic materials are used throughout to improve the learning environment.

The project is also targeting the green credentials of ILFI Zero Carbon Certification and LEED Gold. A central sycamore tree features a rainwater harvesting basin and the exposed timber elements create a soft natural light that enhances learning. The building also features an improved natural ventilation system which provides healthy indoor air, and solar panels to utilise the sunlight.

The community were consulted directly during the design process by using full-scale cardboard mockups to help imagine the space and how best to thrive within it.

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