Heron's Head Living Classroom

San Francisco, California

Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) is a non-profit youth empowerment and environmental justice education organization based in the Bayview Community of San Francisco. LEJ, in conjunction with the Port of San Francisco, hired Van der Ryn Architects to facilitate a community design process and provide architectural services for the new “Living Classroom” Building.

The Living Classroom will be a LEED rated, model sustainable building and educational facility on a restored site serving the Bayview/Hunter’s Point community and San Francisco. Using natural, recycled and local materials, the building will be an off-the-grid example of energy, material and water efficiency and community-based participatory design.

The Living Classroom features include passive solar design, natural ventilation, solar photovoltaic and wind power generation, solar hot water, rainwater catchment, a Living Machine for processing wastewater on-site, strawbale construction, community art and an interpretive trail experience.

Design Charette

This community-based participatory design project involves youth and adults in project-based learning programs throughout the design and construction phases, including design workshops in which community members and student groups explored their ideal learning environment, oriented the building, and drew floor plans and concepts for the Living Classroom.

Hands-on learning programs enable students and community members to explore challenging social and environmental issues while they learn that they can do something to improve our world right now. And, in this case, the community design process allows stakeholders to be connected to the Living Classroom from its inception.