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2a. Topography

Does the design of the school pay attention to the landscape or ignore it?

William Leddy of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects explains, "I think the Nueva School officials were really taken by the fact that we designed the buildings to really respect the site and weave them into the character of the landscape." Stairs connect the upper level of the site - containing the library and the classroom building (seen on the left) - with the lower level which contains the cafeteria / student center.

Constructed on a site that once contained a parking lot surrounded by a forest of native oak trees and cypress trees, the new buildings at the Nueva School were designed to work with the natural landscape, while also providing views to the San Francisco Bay in the distance.

The curved back wall of the cafeteria / student center fits into the steepest part of the landscape.

The simple shape of the library building was kept low to the ground and partially constructed in the existing hillside. The green roof includes plants native to San Francisco region which attracts native birds and butterflies.

Although some large native oak trees and the tall non native cypress trees (seen on the right) on the site had to be removed to make room for the new buildings, as many trees as possible were protected. Those trees that had to be cut down were milled and reused on the buildings as wooden screens, benches, and decks.

How does topography influence a building's design?

Rearranging or moving earth on a building site is expensive and also uses a lot of resources, so Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects were careful to work with the natural slope of the site. This set of stairs connects the new buildings (used primarily by the 5th - 8th graders) at the upper part of the site with an existing historic structure (used as a classroom building by the 1st - 4th graders). A gentle sloping ramp curves its way around the hillside to provide access for wheelchairs.

This hand sketch of the landscape from early in the site design process, illustrates how the architects are thinking about ways to fit the new buildings into the existing topography, or shape of the land. The numbers indicate the elevation or height above sea level, and each contour line and shade of green shows a different elevation point. The closer the lines are together, the steeper the slope. Lines further apart show a more gradual slope.

This longitudinal, or lengthwise, section drawing illustrates the two main levels on the site of the Nueva School. The classroom building on the left (2), along with the library building not shown, is at the highest point of the site. An outdoor amphitheater (3) and the cafeteria / student center (4) were constructed at the lower part of the site. Note how the roof of the cafeteria was designed to have a slope similar to the natural topography of the site.

The gentle slope of the topography on the lower part of the site creates seating for an outdoor amphitheater space, similar to the stepped seating in a stadium or theater. Students and teachers use the amphitheater in warm weather as an outdoor classroom space or for musical presentations.

This cross section drawing illustrates the buildings and land viewed as if cut through the width of the site. The classroom building (1) on the left and the library building (8) on the right face a central courtyard space. Because of the slope of the site, only the top of the roof of the cafeteria / student center (5 and 7) can be seen in the distance.

A digital model shows a similar view to the previous cross section drawing, where the cafeteria / student center can be seen beyond the central courtyard. Two sets of stairs connect the upper and lower portions of the site. An elevator in the classroom building on the left allows handicap accessibility to cafeteria building below.