San Francisco’s Golden Bridges School cultivates kids’ personal growth while tending to the earth at the same time. On a concealed lot at 203 Cotter Street in the heart of the city’s Mission Terrace neighborhood, the school uses a progressive Waldorf Education curriculum to teach children practical skills like farming and cooking hand-in-hand with moral and social values, always emphasizing the human connection to the environment. So far, Golden Bridges has sustained 55 elementary school students with no buildings on site, using tents when the weather mandates cover. Now, architect Stanley Saitowitz of Natoma Architects has released designs for an innovative building to provide more ample shelter while still wholeheartedly serving the school’s ecologically-oriented ethos.
70% of the lot will be left as open space, including both wild terrain and a cultivated farm and orchards. Occupying the remaining 30%, a low-lying building will house classrooms and other gathering spaces. Unlike an ordinary campus construction, however, the “living building” will be fully integrated into the landscape, with no green space lost in the process. A sloped and plant-covered front façade will disguise the structure like a natural hill, and the greenery will extend up to cover the roof, maintaining pollinators’ natural habitats and allowing for water retention and insulation.
Though the outside will be blanketed in foliage, the inside will be made mostly of wood to match the Waldorf philosophy’s preference for warm and textured natural materials. South-facing glass windows will welcome abundant sunlight into study spaces while also minimizing the need for electricity. In a visual testament to the school’s name, a golden bridge will run through the building’s center to link separate classrooms and courtyards together. At the entrance, a traffic roundabout will provide temporary parking for student drop-off and pick-up on weekdays, while hosting farmer’s markets and other community events on weekends—and, like the outer architecture, its pavement will be a permeable surface, catching rainwater in cisterns beneath the ground to recycle for the farm’s irrigation.
The final design is slated for construction between February 2017 and March 2018, with the school admitting around 80 students in grades K-3 in September 2017. It seems to follow in the footsteps of other groundbreaking schools like Nursery Fields Forever and Farming Kindergarten, planting early seeds of environmental awareness in the minds of urban children who might not otherwise be so tapped into the wonders of the great outdoors. For adults, Golden Bridges represents a reminder that elegant human design need not contradict our organic surroundings—in fact, farming and architecture might function best in collaboration.
All images via Natoma Architects and Golden Bridges School.