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“A Green Performance” Performing Arts Center
Portola Valley, CA


How do you balance a premier private school’s desire to enhance its music and drama curriculum with a respect for its gorgeous natural setting and the sensitivities of neighbors? This top-performing college preparatory school set out to create a state-of-the-art performing arts center that would do just that. Situated at the entrance of the campus, the center needed to be a welcoming focal point to students, faculty, and visitors alike. Its location in a semi-rural residential community and the school’s commitment to environmental stewardship demanded that the center fit gently into the landscape with minimal disruption to the neighborhood.


Working with teachers, students and neighbors, MKThink tested various site plans and building configurations to minimize the mass of the building, provide a campus-like feel and attractive entry experience, and low impact on the natural environment. MKThink explored and implemented designs to minimize visual impact from nearby residents in conjunction with environmentally beneficial strategies.


MKThink created an award-winning, LEED-registered complex of three structures clustered around an open plaza. The center includes a flexible 400-seat performance auditorium, with retractable seating, a black box drama theater, professional grade set production shop, and chorus and orchestra classrooms. The central plaza serves as an outdoor living room, providing an alternative space for congregation, learning, and performance, while also defining the primary campus entrance. Contemporary yet contextual, the center places a high priority on sustainable measures, most notably a 9,500 square foot “living” roof of flowering sedum. This roof provides several financial and environmental benefits: Lowered energy consumption by reduction in heat gain/loss Increased insulation value improving indoor thermal comfort Storm water runoff diversion Increased habitat for the local ecosystem Reduced visual impact by blending with the natural setting. By designing three smaller buildings instead of one large structure, HVAC systems were optimized for each building’s energy usage type, resulting in further energy savings. Interiors were fitted out with low-VOC paints and finishes to improve indoor air quality, and ultra-low/no-water consumption plumbing fixtures to reduce demand on natural resources and lower water usage. Additionally, through careful building orientation, existing stands of redwoods and oaks were preserved, offering natural shading benefits while further screening the new structures from the surrounding neighborhood.