It must be daunting to design a school. Think about it: many will treat your project as a second home — at such a young age, their environment is bound to shape them. For the rest of their lives.
It’s an interesting challenge for architects. How do you create a space that is inviting, friendly, and conducive to learning? A place that will leave a positive impact?
Chad Hamilton, principal architect at Hamilton + Aitken Architecture (H+AA), has been grappling with this challenge for over 25 years. Based in San Francisco, Hamilton and his firm have produced over a dozen remarkable designs for educational spaces — some libraries, some tech labs, others entire campuses.
Hamilton in his office in San Francisco, CA.
Hamilton's most recent project was the Burlingame Intermediate School. H+AA designed a new classroom building that serves as a link between upper and lower campus. Hamilton worked closely with the school board to deliver a 21st century classroom building.
We spoke with Hamilton in San Francisco about the project. See what he had to say in this video:
Hamilton talks a lot about lighting, because good lighting — which concerns a lot more than just expelling darkness, let’s be clear — transforms a space into something much more positive. Like he said: “It’s been demonstrated that students learn better and faster in spaces with natural daylighting, so we like to bring as much natural daylighting as we can.”
You can see this in practice all over the Burlingame Intermediate School, with windows positioned toward the sun, large skylights, installations that minimize glare and heat from the sun; even the roof overhangs that form strategic shade are indicative of Hamilton’s marriage with effective natural lighting.
Hamilton discussing lighting at the Burlingame Intermediate School.
It's not just their designs that are sustainable — the H+AA office itself preaches sustainability. Employees are encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit to work, reducing gas emissions. They teach staff about recycling and sustainable practices. They’re undergoing certification to become a San Francisco Green Business.
For Hamilton, it's more of a mindset than a practice, which he instilled into the Burlingame Intermediate School. The goal is to educate students on the benefits of environmental sustainability.
"When it rains," Hamilton explained on H+AA's website, "some of the runoff flows into this runnel, which goes down the hill into a planter that treats the water before it percolates into the soil."
He explained that, when designing the school, he had to consider its curriculum, which includes a lot of outdoor learning. H+AA was sure to include new trees for shade and dozens of seats and spaces for socializing.