There are a lot of different approaches to making buildings more efficient with finite resources, and some of them have been highlighted in this series. Strategies like green roofs, passive heating and cooling, as well as more advanced technologies like newer materials to fabricate solar panels, are all important developments. And as we have seen, different architects and designers have deployed these strategies successfully. Most often, however, these strategies are just applied to a single building. It’s rare that an entire campus will be built using multiple strategies that try to re-use, preserve, and even incorporate such approaches into the curriculum.
Enter Muse, located in Calabasas, California. The brainchild of actress Suzy Amis Cameron and rebuilt by Ecovations, a design/construction/consulting firm, the school exemplifies a sustainable approach on a grander scale.
First, the entire school is built on the campus of a former summer camp. And all the materials used for that site were re¬used to build the current school. That means that every building was meticulously disassembled and then reassembled according to the current design. Thus, for example, each board was examined for its utility and then either reapplied in the current design, or, if the materials could not be used, they were recycled. But it isn’t just the buildings, even the furniture is comprised of reclaimed materials. Everything down to the desks and shelving units have been designed and constructed by Ecovations of recycled wood and other materials.
The design of the campus itself combines passive and higher technologies. Passive daylighting and skylighting, and strategic shading, are paired with higher technologies like radiant heating and cooling to provide lighting, heating, and cooling. Rather than walking into a classroom or office that has forced air blasting through vents, these buildings are meant to promote environmental comfort that is efficient, sustainable, and also quiet. Another extremely interesting innovation is in the conference building which is outfitted by a monitor that tracks energy usage. By providing such information, the device allows those inside the building to decide whether they can lower their energy consumption and still be comfortable, making the entire building itself extremely responsive and efficient, in a way a living building.
From a design perspective, the campus’s buildings aim towards zero-net energy, where energy production and consumption are equal, and zero-emissions, where the buildings “produce no carbon footprint.” The entire campus is designed to achieve the goal of the Living Building Challenge, which exceeds the highest LEED standard.
But this is not simply about a campus of buildings that, once being built, can be both a source of pride (“We built a sustainable campus”) and then subsequently forgotten about because of its sustainable pedigree. Instead, the school incorporates design into a larger vision of citizenship and pedagogy. In one very basic sense, this is a living campus. And with the help of Ecovations, the lessons about renewing, reusing, and recycling are integrated into the school’s curriculum. Food served at the school provides another good example. It is based on the seed-to-table model in which children help grow and maintain plants that are later used for the food they will help prepare and eat. Composting is part of that cycle, and the students will not only participate in that process, but Ecovations has also helped devise projects using compost as its starting point.
Renewal, reuse and sustainability are clearly important goals, and they are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the architecture industry. What Muse school has done is taken these goals and applied them on a much larger scale, an example that will hopefully provide a blueprint for future architecture and design projects.