Sonoma Academy Janet Durgin Guild & Commons: A Story of Community, Sustainability, and Place

Sonoma Academy Janet Durgin Guild & Commons: A Story of Community, Sustainability, and Place

At its core, the Sonoma Academy Janet Durgin Guild & Commons building is a story of community, sustainability, and place. Recognizing the positive impact nature has on health and wellbeing, the design team crafted a dynamic learning environment that will prepare students to become creative, ethical, and engaged leaders. This new 19,500-square-foot facility helps distinguish Sonoma Academy as a new kind of educational experience, with every aspect of the building and its landscape offering an opportunity to learn.

Multidisciplinary and cutting-edge, Sonoma Academy gives students the ability to ask hard questions, and the tools to answer them. This is especially evident in the new Janet Durgin Guild & Commons, which houses maker and digital media studios, student support services, indoor-outdoor dining, an all-electric 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 was 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 siding pair 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 (all but Water). Sonoma Academy is one of the first schools to engage three benchmark systems that target Transparency, Resiliency, Health, and Community Wellness.

Janet 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 campus is situated at the base of Taylor Mountain, a prominent regional park and preserve, distinguished by grassy hillsides, oak woodlands, and creeks.

The design team addressed core values of engagement, wellness, inclusivity, and sustainability by embedding indoor/outdoor learning into the DNA of the new building. An exterior that opens up and responds to climate and program is a key principle at the Commons. Operable windows and sliding glass doors bring in sunlight and fresh air, while encouraging students to wander under the patio’s trellised cover. The Guild’s large garage doors extend the Maker classroom space onto a productive garden, which doubles as a meeting space, refuge, and gallery.

The building illustrates the symbiosis between the school community, the natural environment, and the regional economy. 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 and the environmental impacts of food production and distribution within the regional economy while providing healthy meals.

With drought as a long-term reality in California, particular attention was paid to finding innovative methods to conserve and manage water in ways that allow design systems to double as teaching tools. Runoff is captured from the hardscape and the green roof and routed through a series of terraced rain gardens. Additional filtration is provided by a gravity-based filtration unit that directs the water into a 5,000-gallon cistern, located at the front of the campus entrance—a daily reminder of the water’s scarcity and value. Stored water is pumped to the building where it is further treated for toilet flushing, offsetting approximately 180,000 gallons of municipal water use per year and resulting in 88% of the total non-potable water demand. The new system is configured to tie into a future theater building and blackwater system, allowing for additional offset of municipal water use.

The design team also employed an aggressive approach to energy conservation and efficiency. Taking advantage of the Bay Area’s mild climate, natural ventilation and ceiling fans are used throughout the warmer seasons, providing user control and passive cooling. Radiant heat and cooling, provided by geo-exchange ground source heat pumps are used during colder months. As food service programs often have an EUI above 300, the team worked to tune equipment, food choices, and use schedules, resulting in aggressive load reductions in food service equipment, allowing for ZNE. The kitchen facility is 100% electric, including induction cooktops, reducing the projects carbon footprint.

Connection to nature, daylighting, and natural ventilation dictated the building’s design—80% of the project is naturally lit. A performative envelope dominates, with operable windows, sliding wood slats, and coiling doors, opening to gardens. Radiant flooring, rain chains that celebrate water, and stepped planters that facilitate stormwater infiltration and evapotranspiration, are integrated into the design.


Relaying simplicity, honesty, beauty, and transparency, a reductive material palette supports durability, longevity, and ease of maintenance. All of the wood came from reclaimed sources or responsibly managed forests and are 100% FSC-certified. Materials were vetted for ingredient disclosure and health through multiple screenings including the LBC Material Petal.

Janet Durgin Guild & Commons is 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.

This project also received a California ZNE School Award for Team ZNE Leadership; Building Design + Construction magazine’s Building Team Awards, Honorable Mention; was named a 2018 Acterra BEA finalist; and was presented at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo.

Additional Juror Comments

“This project demonstrates that, even with an energy-heavy program that includes a commercial kitchen, a fully integrated and dedicated design team can produce a beautiful and extremely well-performing building.” 

“The team designed ground source heat pumps with radiant heating and cooling, coupled with a fully electric kitchen powered by a large PV array, enabling the team to predict a net zero energy performance. Other passive design strategies, such as the extensive covered exterior space, also demonstrate an intelligent holistic design approach. Terraced rain garden and gravity based filtration deliver captured storm water to a 5,000-gallon cistern for reuse in non-potable demands. The project has also engaged local regulatory agencies to lobby for implementing advanced sustainable systems that are not yet commonplace. This is a project that sits on the leading edge of sustainable design.”

“The restrained palette of steel structure and wood enclosure and outdoor circulation offers students a diversity of spaces. The sloping site, at the core of the campus, is navigated via an upper terrace and lower garden, collecting and using water in an efficient and effective system.”