AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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High Tech High Chula Vista
(High Tech High Chula Vista)

The prefab classroom components contrast with the site-built screened studios under hovering metal roofs seen in this photo.
Photo credit: Jim Brady Architectural Photography


  • Location: Chula Vista, California
  • Building type(s): K-12 education
  • New construction
  • 44,400 ft2 (4,120 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Suburban setting
  • Completed March 2009
  • Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Schools 2.0 (2007)--Level: Gold
    Rating: • Collaborative for High Performance Schools --Level: Verified
    Rating: EPA Energy Star --Level: 94

High Tech High Chula Vista is a public charter school serving 550 students in grades 9 to 12 with an approach rooted in project-based learning. The school fosters student engagement by knowing students well, tapping into student experience and interests, and building a strong sense of community. Through internships and projects based in the community, students collaborate with adults on work with meaning that extends well beyond the school walls.

Located in Chula Vista, California, High Tech High is at the center of one of the most economically and culturally diverse zones in the United States, just seven miles south of downtown San Diego and seven miles north of the US/Mexico border's busiest port of entry. The school takes advantage of this unique context to draw students from a non-meritocratic, zip-code based lottery to randomly select students in a way that ensures diversity. Coupled with a lack of ability groupings within the school, it is both diverse and integrated.

The facilities reflect the school's guiding principles of personalization, adult-world connection, and common intellectual mission. These principles permeate every aspect of life at HTH: the small school and class sizes, the openness and transparency, sustainable design attributes, and showcasing of student work in progress.

Environmental Aspects

The facilities are designed to help each student do well, support each family to lead healthier lives, and provide increased opportunities for everyone to participate. High Tech High demands that a school be safe, but not in a way that feels like a prison. Schools should be healthy, but not in a way that feels sanitized. Schools should be cost-effective to operate, but not at the expense of discomfort or functionality.

A participatory decision-making approach ensured the design team understood High Tech High's aspirations, and helped the team develop three core design principles to frame every decision. The framing ideas:

  • Toxicity: Strive for a learning environment free of toxic substances.
  • Resources: Use resources sustainably and cost-effectively.
  • Learning: Teach, learn, and engage at every opportunity.

These framing ideas were expressed in the design through adaptable learning spaces that foster team-teaching; control of natural and artificial lighting and ventilation; public spaces that promote personalization and exhibitions of student work; and an atmosphere of "visible learning" through transparency between spaces.

The key environmental issues were related to reducing energy consumption while capturing energy available on site. In San Diego County's temperate climate, this primarily meant capturing sunlight for daylighting and power. The design reflects these goals by arranging south-facing roofs for placement of photovoltaics and breaking the building into smaller parts with internal courtyards.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by HTH Learning, Corporation, nonprofit
  • Typically occupied by 585 people, 35 hours per person per week; and 30 visitors per week, 2 hours per visitor per week
  • Expected Building Service Life: 100 years

Public Charter School serving 550 students in grades 9 to 12.

Building Programs

Indoor Spaces:

Classroom (55%), Circulation (27%), Office (7%), Public assembly (4%), Lobby/reception (3%), Restrooms (3%), Conference (1%)

Outdoor Spaces:

Restored landscape (65%), Pedestrian/non-motorized vehicle path (16%), Drives/roadway (11%), Parking (8%)


Integrated team, Commissioning, Operations and maintenance, Efficient irrigation, Drought-tolerant landscaping, Massing and orientation, Insulation levels, Glazing, Passive solar, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, On-site renewable electricity, Adaptable design, Durability, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Thermal comfort, Noise control, Low-emitting materials

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Last updated: 4/14/2011

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

For more information about the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects, contact AIA/COTE. For help on how to use this Web site, contact .

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