Sonoma Academy Janet Durgin Guild & Commons

The Sonoma Academy educational experience is grounded in a rigorous college preparatory framework, but it goes much further. Multidisciplinary and cutting-edge, Sonoma Academy gives students the ability to ask the hard questions, and the tools to answer them. This is especially evident in the new Janet Durgin Guild & Commons building, which houses maker and digital media studios, student support services, indoor / outdoor dining, an all induction commercial kitchen, and a teaching kitchen / meeting room that overlooks the school’s productive gardens and the maker classroom patio. Sonoma Academy’s guiding principles of creativity, inclusive community, exploration, and innovation, coupled with a humanistic approach to education, were the inspiration for the two sweeping floors that begin in the heart of the campus and face the horizon with amazing views of Santa Rosa. Sliding screens, automated shades, visible radiant system controls, and deep overhangs relay how the building responds to climate. Regionally-sourced low carbon block, ceramic tiles, reclaimed beams, and exterior and interior sliding are paired with regionally-made lamps and furniture to celebrate community. The living roof attracts pollinators, houses photovoltaics, and connects to tiered planters that filter greywater and stormwater for reuse. The project is seeking LEED Platinum, ZNE, WELL Education Pilot, and LBC Petal certification.

WRNS Studio was engaged by Sonoma Academy to update their master plan and to design the second phase of development and the 19,500 sq ft Janet Durgin Guild & Commons. The campus is situated at the base of Taylor Mountain, a prominent regional park and open space preserve distinguished by grassy hillsides, oak woodlands, and creeks. At two-stories, the y-shaped Durgin Guild & Commons nestles into the hillside, utilizing the slope to form clear programmatic levels while framing views to downtown Santa Rosa. The landscape supports pathways and habitats by flowing over and around the terraced learning environment.

In two sweeping floors, Durgin Guild & Commons provides the tools for students to become innovators and invites the community to participate in the academic process. The Guild, on the lower level, blends a mix of maker spaces — wood assembly, metal shop, digital media, and robotics — into an innovation space designed to adapt over time. The Commons, on the upper floor, serves as a multi-use dining and events center, hosting daily lunches and academy events for students to dine, socialize, or spend a quiet moment alone.

The design team addressed Sonoma Academy’s core values of engagement, wellness, inclusivity, and sustainability by embedding indoor / outdoor learning into the DNA of the new building. The Commons’ generous operable windows pull in sunlight and fresh air while sliding doors allow for the students to spill outside under the patio’s slatted roofs. The lower level Guild incorporates large garage doors opening out onto a patio, garden, and surrounding outdoor teaching areas. The garden acts as classroom, park and gallery in which making with tools, nature, and technology blend. Further reinforcing a nature connection, locally sourced reclaimed wood is integrated throughout — interior walls, farm tables, benches — with more than 80% of the interior spaces having natural light.

Janet Durgin Guild & Commons demonstrates the symbiosis between the school community, the natural environment, and the regional economy. Highly engaged parents and stakeholders led “coffee chats,” driving the conversation about sustainable goals and issues of equality. Sonoma County-based craftspeople provided much of the materials, reducing material transportation costs while demonstrating local resourcefulness in the use of low-carbon earth blocks. A farm-to-table program is part of the curriculum and daily life — educating students about equity issues and the environmental impacts of food production and distribution within the regional economy while providing them with healthy meals. Janet Durgin Guild & Commons is designed to be a literal representation of the school’s mission, underscoring the belief that schools can be incubators for unbridled inventiveness and pathways to a more sustainable future.

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