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King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex Wins 2022 COTE® Top Ten Award for Sustainable Design Excellence. Award honors exceptional designs addressing climate change.

King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex aerial photo courtesy of Sophia Panova.

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is pleased to announce that the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex has won the 2022 COTE® Top Ten Award for their significant achievements in advancing climate action from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE).

Each year, AIA chooses the 10 most sustainable buildings of the year, recognizing the innovative projects for their integration of design excellence with environmental performance.

Designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. with Arrowstreet Architecture & Design, the 273,000 square foot facility at 850 Cambridge Street was completed in August 2019 and houses the King Open School (JK-5), Cambridge Street Upper Schools (6-8), Cambridge Public Schools Administration, King Open Preschool, King Open Extended Day (KOED), Community Schools, the Gold Star Mothers Pools and the Valente Library.

This school was the first in Massachusetts designed for net zero emissions, using 44% less energy than a typical school in the state. Solar panels on the roof and facade help power the building, along with 190 geothermal wells to reduce heating and cooling loads. Students can track energy use on dashboards. Ample windows fill the space with light. The building is also designed for resilience as the climate changes, with an elevated first floor to protect against flooding.

The City of Cambridge had two key goals for the project: to be the first net zero emissions building in the city demonstrating a new net zero mandate; and to address the climate risks outlined in the vulnerability assessment. The project meets those goals while creating a healthy, equitable environment for the community. The result is a learning lab for sustainability, wellness, and resiliency.

Through months of community engagement, the design team heard two needs: the importance of open space in this dense urban neighborhood; and Cambridge’s commitment to inclusion, community, and lifelong learning. The building program elements were designed to create a complex that is the heart of the neighborhood and welcomes all. The project increases the green open space by almost an acre. The building is organized into two wings reducing the overall scale of the complex while creating a civic plaza along Cambridge Street and around a beloved centuries-old sycamore tree. The two wings create a green spine through the block, providing a connection to the fields beyond. The massing significantly reduces energy use by grouping programs by operational hours, allowing for system setback for different areas.

The project is a vital resource to address increased heat and economic vulnerability identified in the city’s climate assessment by providing a pool, splash pad, and shade trees. Five distinct outdoor play spaces with seating are provided on the site to accommodate all ages. A bocce court, basketball courts, a reading garden, and reflection spaces support physical and emotional wellness. The building is open and airy, creating inviting, light-filled spaces. Separate entrances for each of the program elements give each program a unique identity. Natural materials, bright colors, fun patterns, community commissioned art, interactive displays, and signage all create a joyous place for all ages.

“We are committed to creating a sustainable and resilient community and nowhere is that more evident than at the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex,” said Louis A. DePasquale. “This 21st Century learning environment that serves our children and the community, is the result of an important collaboration between the City administration, City Council, School administration and School Committee that began in 2011 with an investment of over $500 million for the construction of three new school facilities.

“This community complex sets a new standard for green buildings and energy-efficient schools in Massachusetts and beyond,” says Cliff Gayley, design Principal for William Rawn Associates. “In the design, it was important that this project not only meet–but exceeds–the sustainability goals laid out by the City of Cambridge. The process itself and the completed building actively engage the community and knits the neighborhood together.”

“The COTE award recognizes that the building is operating to Net Zero, acknowledges the incorporation of health and wellness elements in the building design, and highlights the diversity, equity, and inclusion of the design. The building is an exciting opportunity to engage students and their families with the importance of sustainability and building performance in their education and daily activities,” says Larry Spang from Arrowstreet.

The King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex has received 21 local and national awards to date. Other awards include:

• 2021 AIA/ALA Library Building Excellence Award
• 2021 Chicago Athanaeum Green Good Design Architecture Award
• 2020 BSA Design Excellence Honor Award
• 2020 BSA Sustainable Design Honor Award
• 2020 Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award
• 2020 Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award
• 2020 Engineering News Record New England Best K-12 Education Project
• 2019 USGBC Massachusetts Green Building of the Year

These awards in different fields reinforce the success of this building as a model for sustainability, as a civic anchor, and as an educational facility.

Photos:
King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex aerial photo courtesy of Sophia Panova.
King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex photo courtesy of Benson Photography.