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Brutalist building a good green retrofit

The Waldorf Schools (a.k.a. Rudolf Steiner schools, of which more than 1,000 exist globally) teach by a method called anthroposophy, an integrated approach to learning that incorporates nature, free play and the role of imagination. So it might surprise some that the San Francisco Waldorf High School is located in a 1970s building that is easily categorized in the Brutalist movement, generally regarded for its emphasis on hulking slabs of concrete.

But to be clear, the poured-in-place, 4,800-square-foot structure was retrofit in 2010 under a design by 450 Architects (San Francisco), who achieved LEED Gold status with the building. It helps that the northern California climate does not require air conditioning, but what enables the building to be so green is that those thick concrete walls are surprisingly good at temperature control 12 months out of the year. My article on the retrofit in Green Building & Design magazine details how the former call center was transformed into a place of learning that is bright and conducive to discovery, with operable windows that allow the scent of eucalyptus trees to waft inside.

At a time when Brutalist structures are under attack – the Goshen, N.Y. county government building designed by acclaimed modernist Paul Rudolph was among several that fell in 2015 – one hopes that preservationists can identify functional as well as aesthetic merit in such structures, long enough for future generations to see what this movement was all about. The Waldorf School experience offers further reason to consider saving and repurposing these solid (even if sometimes leaky) structures.

Russ Klettke loves a good retrofit, as it really helps illustrate the innovative nature of adaptation while preserving historic ideas of design. As a business and sustainability communicator, he also writes about the law, finance, wellness (fitness, nutrition, mind-body), manufacturing and business services. Contact him to discuss your communications programs and needs.

Waldorf students spend about an hour every day, rain or shine, learning in the outdoors. The Bay-area climate provides great advantages to students and teachers alike in this regard, as do the native flora and fauna. New fenestrations, the use of wood and curved walls soften the interior for the portion of the day when students are indoors.

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Russ Klettke

Business Writer

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