First in Class

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Introducing the first zero-energy classroom in north America

The Marin Country Day School (MCDS) is the first zero-energy classroom building in North America. “Zero energy” – meaning it consumes less energy than it produces – is the new benchmark for energy performance. The project received LEED® Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in April 2010, and now has 2013 AIACC Merit Award as well.

Life at MCDS is close to nature; the entire campus is located within its own watershed. Students walk outside from building to building and the school’s iconic image is a pair of colorful galoshes kindergartners use to tromp through the stream that runs alongside the campus. The new buildings, inseparable from their landscape, hold close to these campus traditions. The library and classrooms are integrally connected to outdoor learning spaces and fit within the existing campus footprint to preserve natural surroundings. The courtyards, including the terraced Step-Up courtyard, bring this landscape into the heart of the campus. A restored stream returns the east edge of the campus to a more natural state.

MCDS’s vision was to create a library and classrooms that would not simply be a structure for learning, but also become an integrated part of the curriculum. These buildings connect to the ecology of their place; the same bioswales that provide Upper School students with a quiet retreat into the landscape also filter the sediments from surface runoff, cleansing the water, recharging the aquifer and reducing pollutants reaching San Francisco Bay.

Rainwater that falls on the roofs is collected and stored in an underground cistern that feeds grey water to toilets and acts as a heat sink to cool the building. Strategically located overhangs shade the buildings, while thoughtful building orientation and operable windows enable the building to be naturally ventilated and passively cooled. All these natural systems are the result of careful engineering to provide exceptional comfort while maintaining connection to the outdoors.
Energy use may be computer-monitored in real time to both improve building operation and provide students with information on their own environmental footprint. Exceptional day lighting, natural ventilation, and healthy indoor air quality all help create a high performance learning environment in support of the educational mission of MCDS.

Project lead Scott Shell, FAIA, LEED® AP, BD+C is a nationally recognized expert on high-performance buildings and sustainable design, and has written and lectured widely on these topics. He emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to design to create beautiful, comfortable, and healthy spaces with excellent natural lighting, thermal comfort, and indoor air quality. Learn more at


Jennifer Kennedy

Making pictures gives me endless opportunities to see the world in a new way. I love both the process and the people I meet along the way. I consider photography a dance between me and my subject and in the end, it's the subtle, almost indescribable details that move the viewer

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