Sited on the decommissioned Fort Ord military base in Seaside, Calif., the Chartwell Campus is composed of multiple buildings and connecting outdoor spaces overlooking Monterey Bay. Many students commute long distances to attend this K–8 school for its specialized education for children with learning differences, including dyslexia. “The idea was to create an exceptionally high-performance learning environment to give these students every possible advantage as they learn to overcome their dyslexia and return to their mainstream schools,” explains Scott Shell, principal of San Francisco–based EHDD Architecture. While there is no evidence that children with learning differences have special lighting needs, “daylighting is an essential nutrient for all students,” says James R. Benya, architectural lighting designer and collaborating daylighting consultant for the project. (Benya also is an editor at large for ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING.)

From the beginning, a key goal of the project was to create a design that would use daylight to illuminate 100 percent of the interior. In theory, this eliminates lighting loads during the day and provides a pleasant atmosphere that strives to improve learning rates. “The daylighting is what primarily shaped the architecture, with large north-facing glazing, and clerestories or skylights on the opposite side of the room to balance the daylight and control glare,” Shell says. Many spaces feature glazing on as many as three different exposures to allow natural light into the spaces, a technique Benya describes as “layered daylighting.” In addition to providing excellent illumination and natural ventilation, the location and size of the glazing fosters a connection to the outdoors, optimizing views of the magnificent landscape, including its native coastal oak trees.

The Chartwell School's daylighting is so successful that supplemental lighting rarely is needed. A minimal, superefficient electric lighting system is in place for those times when it is. “Designing a building to be net zero means that you must reduce, conserve, and use as little as possible,” Benya explains. “Nothing is wasted or gratuitous.” To achieve this goal, the classrooms use an integrated lighting system, which combines high-performance direct-indirect pendant-mounted luminaires with high-efficiency super T8 lamps and electronic dimming ballasts. State-of-the-art lighting controls and photo sensors limit fixture output based on the amount of available daylight in the space, and roof-mounted photovoltaic panels generate electricity on-site to offset the remaining electrical demand. The efficient lighting design strategy is a huge success, providing the campus with a 57 percent lighting energy reduction from California Title 24 standards.

Commissioning is a critical stage in the design process for a net zero energy building, necessary to foresee any issues and ensure optimal building function. Despite the elaborate planning that went into the design of the Chartwell Campus, post-occupancy data collected by a Web-based energy monitoring system revealed that the school was not meeting its goal of net zero energy. The culprit? Areas of excess load that had not been factored into the original energy models, such as site lighting that was being left on all night. (This issue was subsequently addressed by instituting a “dark school” strategy to ensure lights are turned off unless absolutely needed for a night event.)

Chartwell's campus was awarded LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council and was chosen as an AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Project for 2009. But the biggest reward comes from the glowing reports of the school's students, teachers, and administrators. While the principles of daylighting used here may be elementary, the project definitely is at the top of its class.

Project The Chartwell School, Seaside, Calif.

Design Team EHDD Architecture, San Francisco (architect); Benya Lighting Design, West Linn, Ore. (lighting design and collaborating daylighting consultant); Loisos + Ubbelohde Associates, Alameda, Calif. (daylighting consultant); GLS, San Francisco (landscape architect); Sherwood Design Engineers, San Francisco (civil engineer); Taylor Engineering, Alameda, Calif. (mechanical engineer and commissioning agent); Tipping Mar + Associates, Berkeley, Calif. (structural engineer)

Photographer Michael David Rose, San Francisco

Project Cost $9.2 million

Project Size 21,000 square feet

Manufacturers Bega, Finelite, Greenlee, Halo, Lightolier, Lutron, Shaper