Recently software manufacturer Adobe Systems Inc. gave a grant to the US Green Building Council (USGBC) to help San Francisco Bay Area schools achieve LEED certification, and the Bessie Carmichael School in the South of Market (SOMA) area was selected to receive an eco-renovation. The original challenge in 2007 was to convert the school’s existing 60-child preschool into a 230 student K-8 school for the Filipino Community. The site had been maintained as a school facility predating the 1906 earthquake and was in serious need of repairs when the San Francisco Unified School District hired Plum Architects to redefine the school structure.

Bessie Carmichael school playground, sustainable design, green design, green architecture, san francisco, soma, green schoolPhotograph by John David Peterson

Restructuring the school included more than just structural upgrades and extended to include smart design solutions that promote creativity, self-discipline, cultural and linguistic sensitivity, and physical and mental health for students within this local community. In an already constrained urban site, this translates into maximum outdoor space with flexible areas, such as a cafeteria that could also function as a gym and multi-purpose space. The four new classrooms and cafeteria, comprising 6800 square feet, have been pushed to the northern most edge of the site, away from the busy street along the south, while maximizing tree-protected southern exposure.

Bessie Carmichael school playground, sustainable design, green design, green architecture, san francisco, soma, green schoolPhotograph by John David Peterson

A 16-foot overhang and walkway ties the classrooms together and provides a cohesive indoor – outdoor space along the courtyard. Benches line the walls inside and out providing various scales of social interaction and flexible use. In addition to the strategic placement and angles of the building proper, all of the materials have been chosen for their performance, raw material strength, and aesthetic. The resulting effort reaches beyond any one design attribute, as the optimized spatial layout and materials palette truly speak to the original design intention – to provide a healthy learning environment for optimized child development and experience.

Initially the project sought LEED certification but ran short of funds in the early stages. Thanks to this grant from Adobe Systems Inc. and the guidance of the USGBC, the school is currently seeking LEED for Existing Building Certification to validate its many green attributes.

+ Bessie Carmichael School

+ Plum Architects

Photographs by John David Peterson