Taking a page from designer and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Colorado firm Studio B Architects has revamped a nearby children’s community school with details—and energy—inspired by nature. Just eight miles north of the glitzy snowbird paradise of Aspen, Colo., sits the Aspen Community School; a 25-acre property in Woody Creek surrounded on all sides by towering trees and mountains. In a collaborative effort with the master planners at Cuningham Group, Studio B architects designed new school buildings and renovated the campus with eco-friendly details and a layout befitting increased student safety.
With a goal of acquiring a LEED Gold certification for the new K-8 and gym buildings, the designs, materials, and envisioned systems meet the 2030 Challenge goals for energy-use reduction. All spaces are centered on a connection to the outdoors, in addition to having markedly improved thermal comfort and circulation. Each material was chosen for its health benefits, recyclability, renewability, locality, durability, and eco-friendly manufacturing processes.
The Aspen Community School was established in 1970 with the goal of providing an education that is "focused on a diversity of experiences, freedom of expression and trust in a child’s intrinsic curiosity." In the early days, the school occupied a few small, timber-frame buildings. Four decades later came a new master plan, which imagined renovations for the structures already there, and additions for new academic facilities and a gymnasium.
The project wouldn’t come cheap, so the Aspen Community School began fundraising in order to get the money together to renovate failing structures, offer additional support for its educational goals, and work in tandem with natural systems and renewable energies. The school additionally applied for, and was rewarded with, a BEST Grant, which helped complete funding goals for the project.
Today, the Aspen Community School’s new academic building covers a whopping 13,500 square feet and is comprised of three bar-shaped volumes at varying angles that are placed in such a way as to create an enclosed, square student commons area at the center for communal activities, performances, and meetings with curved, amphitheater-style seating around a carpeted center stage.
Inside the building are classrooms, administrative offices, and group study rooms. Clerestories—raised windows extending above the roofline classically used in churches, halls, and temples—bring natural sunlight into the commons, alongside the solar panels that are creating energy for the school. Outside the commons is a small library with plywood bookshelves. Every light fixture at Alpine Community School is now LED, and both buildings utilize heat-recovery units and high-efficiency HVAC systems. The soft lighting, earthy colors and materials, and outdoorsy-inspired design fit in perfectly with the Aspen Community School’s mountainous and woodsy surroundings.
Among the materials used by the architects: Western red cedar siding, rusted metal shingles, fiber-cement board, roof-mounted solar panels, and tons of natural light. Students, administrators, and the community were all invited to share their opinions and ideas throughout the design process.