Atherton Civic Center Master Plan and Design

Located between San Francisco and San Jose, Atherton is celebrated for its residential character and small-town feel, marked by an abundance of trees, including oaks, bays, redwoods, cedars, and pines. Planning around these trees, retains historic oaks and was critical to the campus approach. The Public Library, City Hall services, and landscaped community spaces advances Atherton’s strong sense of place—its quiet beauty and connection to nature—to provide residents and town stewards with a new place to gather, learn, play, and engage in civic work. The program includes a Community Library and the City Hall, which houses city administration, public works, post office, community meeting spaces, and a police facilities, ancillary spaces and the Council Chambers. The multifaceted project serves its primary tenants, the Town of Atherton and San Mateo County Libraries, responding to separate funding streams and aesthetic guidelines. A highly engaged public outreach process required many months of finely-tuned community workshops and collaborative sessions to address the concerns and aspirations the Town’s stakeholders. A core challenge was to preserve the Town’s local charm while creating a 21st century place that accommodates the changing demands of current and future generations.

The Master Plan threads an historic building—the existing Town Hall—with 3 new buildings. As an all-electric campus, one of very few in the country, the buildings and campus are Net Zero Energy read and support the Town’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. With respect for the past and an eye on the future, design strikes a delicate balance between Spanish Mission-style architecture and warm, human-scale modernism.  Sensitive integration of architecture with site design, landscaped space, and the natural environment drove planning and design. The site is organized so that the buildings relate to one another as well as the existing mature oak trees which help anchor the campus. The trees are both a meaningful symbol for the Town of Atherton and an ecological resource for migratory birds; the Atherton Coastal Mountain Ridgeline is the only place on the San Francisco Peninsula that connects the coastal wetlands to the ocean. The Atherton Library and Civic Center highlights the mature oaks that help make up the canopy connections of this habitat corridor, using sustainable design to reinforce an authentic sense of place. A distributed stormwater approach helps reduce impacts to local infrastructure, while serving as a visible community resource for how to handle site water and regional landscape.

The 10,000 square foot Library connects to the existing Town Hall through a large outdoor patio, envisioned as a welcoming front porch for the community. Reflecting the changing role of the library as a community asset for all ages and interest levels, and a resource for lifelong learning, the library includes a diverse program: public meeting rooms, a children’s reading area, maker spaces, senior resource rooms, community work rooms, a touchdown café, and quiet reading rooms with adjacent outdoor spaces. The library’s modern aesthetic contrasts respectfully with the existing historic structure; complimentary material selections, like rammed earth, help position the addition as an organic, background building molded around the historic trees. Design of the Library reflects current research about how this type of civic offering best serves our communities now and into the future. Its flexible design will adapt to community needs as technology and learn/work modes evolve.

The two-story, 28,575 square foot City Hall brings together the Post Office, Planning and Building Department, the Police Department, and other town resources. These services were previously housed in separate facilities that inconvenienced citizens and led to operational inefficiencies. The L-shaped building has two wings which join to create a public living room. The new Council Chamber, with seating for 50, allows for greater attendance and will flex to function as a meeting room, conference facility, and augmented emergency center if needed.

Integrated sustainable design strategies underscore the Town’s commitment to offering its citizens and employees with a place that elicits great civic pride while doing good for the environment. The Net Zero Energy Masterplan provides strategies and infrastructure for the phased addition of photovoltaics. Ceiling fans, operable windows and materials selected with the aid of Environmental Product Declarations support a focus on occupant comfort and health. The library’s underfloor air system supports good air quality strategies and flexibility. Natural materials like the rammed earth wall and wood windows bring biophilic principles inside the building. WRNS Studio worked with both the Town of Atherton and San Mateo County Libraries in the selection of furniture that meets current and future needs. The Atherton Civic Center is targeting LEED Platinum.

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