Project Description

A Teaching Tool for STEM and
Inquiry-based Learning

Town School for Boys Building Facade

Town School for Boys

How do you transform an outdated school building on a constrained urban site into a dynamic 21st-century teaching tool?

MKThink was charged with turning the Town School for Boys’ outdated, space-constrained school building in San Francisco into a series of open, interrelated indoor and outdoor spaces that weave together collaboration, critical thinking, integrity, empathy, and creativity — core tenets of the school’s educational philosophy.

Instead of diving right into design solutions, MKThink engaged in an intensive discovery and master planning study, working in step with teachers, administrators, and board members. The study combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of teaching modalities, room scheduling and usage with extensive faculty interviews and participatory design sessions with the school community. Environmental analysis of the site informed green building strategies.

Today, boys conduct experiments on gravity from the heights of the central atrium and then move the rest of class into their new STEM center. The new rooftop garden is their living lab to learn about plant life cycles. With sliding partitions and flexible furniture, teachers configure classrooms for demonstrations, lectures, or small group inquiries. The central staircase and common areas create lively forums for informal exchanges between students and teachers alike. The new 420-seat Dolby Theater is host to theatrical performances and all-school assembles and converts into a full-court gym for athletic classes and events.

Getting there wasn’t easy. MKThink renovated 70,000 SF over summer months and added 20,300 SF by excavating 35 feet under the school site. 12,000 SF was recaptured by optimizing scheduling and rightsizing classrooms, which increased utilization by 30%. The building’s sustainable features include natural ventilation, daylight harvesting, and FSC-certified wood and cradle-to-cradle carpet.

The building goes beyond a teaching tool; it is a teacher in its own right.

Project name

Building as a Teaching Tool


San Francisco, CA


2010 – 2018




90,000 SF   |   70,000 SF renovation   |   20,300 SF added


Town School for Boys