A4LE Southwest Region Monarch Award

The Southwest Region Board announced the Claire Lilienthal K-8 School in the San Francisco Unified School District as the recipient of the Region 2020 Monarch Award  for planning and design excellence. The jury’s comments highlighted the outstanding planning process, creative solutions to the challenging site, and overall design excellence.

Minimum Space, Maximum Impact

Every school revitalization project presents a laundry list of design challenges, but in San Francisco’s urban environment, revitalizing an existing campus presents an even more challenging set of constraints: compact sites, established neighborhoods with deep roots and design aesthetics, construction staging and interim housing…just to name a few. San Francisco Unified School District’s Claire Lilienthal K-8 School was no exception. With a desire to replace existing portable classrooms with a new, permanent two-story classroom building and add a new gymnasium to accommodate middle school programs which were previously housed on a different campus, the team set out to design a solution which would address these programmatic needs within the 1.44 acre site, while maintaining the Marina neighborhood’s design aesthetic.

Planning Process

A robust planning process included both site-level committee meetings with faculty and staff, as well as Town Hall-style meetings with community members. Community stakeholders were extremely supportive of the removal of the existing portables to better complement the existing historic classroom building and neighborhood context but had concerns about the proposed two-story replacement building. Many homes adjacent to the school boast views of the Palace of Fine Arts, so maintaining their views and developing a contextually-sensitive design were key design drivers. As a magnet school whose vision is to create integrated learning opportunities, faculty and staff envisioned flexible, technology-rich classrooms and labs to foster collaboration and hands-on learning.

Learning Environment & Design

The primary goal was to leverage the portable replacement into new, innovative spaces that were simply impossible to integrate into the existing historical building. Today, a fitness studio (adjacent to the new gym) supports the physical education program and a flexible wet lab supports the arts and sciences. An Innovation Lab functions as both maker space and technology hub, promoting hands-on learning, exploration and collaboration. The design team also created the furniture package for the project, ensuring that the furnishings, fixtures and equipment would support and enhance the nextGEN learning environment that stakeholders envisioned for Claire Lilienthal K-8 School.

With the addition, a new courtyard was created, providing ample opportunity to enhance indoor-outdoor connections with roll-up garage doors in the fitness studio and wet lab, expanding the learning environment while taking advantage of the temperate Bay Area climate. On the courtyard side—the campus face—a playful façade infuses the campus with colors reminiscent of the ocean that is just a few blocks away. Inside, design inspiration around the “Wave of Learning” draws upon the marina environment indoors with a palette of blues and yellows. The curve of ocean waves is captured in the flooring, and in the soft and flexible furnishings which make the wide hallways and stairwells, classrooms and labs natural spaces for gathering, collaborating and studying.

Thank you to all our colleagues who worked on this project with us to bring the design to life and congratulations to the San Francisco Unified School District! Enjoy the photo gallery below with more views of this exciting campus addition project.