School of Thought
New MPC class, sustainable design nonprofit EcoLogic prioritize places of learning.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Lazy Lucy is slumped in a school chair. Her classroom’s air is thick and stuffy. The box-like space lacks natural light. Her cross-multiplication isn’t going so well. She craves escape.
While Lazy Lucy is fictional, her plight is a fact of life that confronts students throughout the state.
That inspired Seaside architect Thomas Rettenwender to focus the efforts of his new nonprofit EcoLogic Design Lab on schools.
“A lack of good design is inhibiting learning, which is counterproductive,” Rettenwender says. “As an architect, my work can influence educational settings.”
He was already leading Monterey Peninsula College’s green building design curriculum, which entails a series of lectures and workshop projects, but it was the shortage of good design that helped precipitate the one-semester-old Green Campus Campaign. As part of the campaign, students select local educational institutions and audit their environments. From there they advocate cost-saving, more functional educational atmospheres. The class provides the theory; the campaign allows them to actualize their own designs. Over the course of the school year, they’ll serve 12 local schools, providing design at no cost.
“The focus on campus sustainability reflects the need to provide a comprehensive response to a critical topic,” says Dr. Douglas Garrison, MPC’s president.
Working in schools also means more dissemination of the ideas behind green design: In each classroom that gets an upgrade, dozens of young minds are exposed to principles of smart design.
“We’re building a template so people can do it in the future,” says Bodhi Kvenild, a contractor and course alum.
“We want to pass on that courage and motivation to be innovative,” Rettenwender says. “We want to teach by example and ensure our children are learning these sustainable concepts.”
Those enrolled in the course represent a diverse cross-section of the community: high school and college students, apprentices, contractors, designers and homeowners. Patty Conklin, a local import-exporter, is one of them.
“Gaining an understanding of how green design functions is something crucial for the future to utilize our natural resources in a sustainable manner,” she says, “which adds to the sustainability of humanity as a whole.”
First, students pick a campus that shows opportunities for improvement, then meet with administrators, teachers, students and builders to collaborate on the kind of environment they’d like to see come alive.
A recent partnership with Carmel Valley’s Tularcitos Elementary School, which was looking to replace two portable classrooms with a permanent structure, presents an example of how it works.
Principal Karen Camilli suggested a classroom for third through fifth graders. Teacher Stacy Williams proposed an interactive design, thinking that children learn best with hands-on activities. A team of four GBD students gathered ideas like these and their own, examining every detail through a sustainable lens. They’ve planned an indoor living wall layered over recycled fly ash cement – spider plants at the base and geraniums and hibiscus higher up – that will offer a handy lab for students to study everything from photosynthesis to plant life cycles. The living wall also enhances air quality.
A living roof – with carrots, yarrow and native plants – will knock down air conditioning costs and storm water runoff and provide food. What water does drain will move into a catchment system, and later be heated and transported through pipes that release heat as part of a new radiant heating system.
Big windows will let in lots of ambient light. Reflective panels will reflect much of that sunlight onto the ceiling to reduce glare. Recyclable waterproof carpet tiles will coat the floors. Walls will be painted with low volatile organic compound (VOC) formulas. Recycled-wood furniture from Habitat for Humanity and older commercial buildings will populate the space.
“Many of our children are learning in substandard buildings, and because they don’t know any better, they assume it’s good or decent design,” says Eefje Theeuws, Rettenwender’s collaborator and owner of Studio Materia Design. “It’s all about providing exposure and experience.”
And giving Lazy Lucy a new lease on learning.
To enroll in the Fall 2011 Green Building Design course, log onto www.mpc.edu. For more information, call 920-8333 or check out www.ecologicdesignlab.com