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Renowned architecture practice Studio Gang to design Stanford Sustainability Commons

Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice known for its material research and experimentation, collaboration across disciplines, and focus on sustainability. The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s Sustainability Commons will promote collaboration and serve a wide range of uses.

This aerial view of the Stanford campus shows where the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s Sustainability Commons will be built. (Image courtesy of Stanford University)

The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability has selected Studio Gang as the architect for its Sustainability Commons on the west side of campus. The studio will design the ambitious project, whose new buildings and series of outdoor spaces will become a home for Stanford’s first new school in 75 years. The school will welcome all those at Stanford with an interest in sustainability, regardless of their academic focus, as well as partners in government, industry, and other outside entities working to drive policy and technology solutions to advance the long-term prosperity of the planet.

Founded and led by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice based in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Paris. Known for a design process that emphasizes research, experimentation, and collaboration inside and outside of traditional design fields, Studio Gang creates places that bring about measurable positive change for their users, communities, and natural environment – a mission they refer to as “actionable idealism.” Their diverse portfolio ranges from cultural institutions and community centers to skyscrapers, urban framework plans, and academic buildings. Most recently, the studio completed the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, a significant addition to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The firm’s numerous awards include the National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Architizer’s A+ Firm of the Year, a Progressive Architecture Award from Architect Magazine, and ULI Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development for founder Jeanne Gang.

“The studio convinced us through our interview and workshop process that they weren't just out to build a new piece of architecture, they were out to do a lot more,” said David Lenox, university architect and executive director of campus planning and design. “In addition to designing world-class facilities that support collaboration for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research and scholarship, Studio Gang will also focus on creating opportunities to proactively heal the environment, such as having places for bees to pollinate and for birds to land on their migratory routes.”

The new buildings are planned for the west side of campus near the Science and Engineering Quad, and will eventually replace the Mitchell Earth Sciences Building, one of four spaces currently housing the school. The project will also connect the new buildings with the school’s other spaces: the Green Earth Sciences Building, the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2), the Braun Building (GeoCorner), and the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm.

“The climate crisis is the most urgent challenge facing our world today,” said Jeanne Gang, founding principal and partner of Studio Gang. “We are going to be working with Stanford to design a home for the Doerr School of Sustainability that can support the cross-disciplinary collaboration needed for generating climate solutions in all industries. At the same time, we are excited to model ways for the built environment to address this challenge head on.”

Studio Gang’s team, which also includes landscape architect SCAPE and sustainability consultant Atelier Ten, was enthusiastically chosen from among 13 top-tier firms by a faculty committee led by Senior Associate Dean for Integrative Initiatives Scott Fendorf and Senior Associate Dean for Education Lynn Hildemann based on the firm’s experience, qualifications, use of sustainable materials, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We were excited by Studio Gang’s strong commitment to designing for sustainability and the fresh ideas they bring,” Hildemann said. “They care about designing outdoor connections between the Doerr School buildings that will also become popular gathering places.”

The project is a massive undertaking, underscored by the fact that it will be designed as the school is still forming its identity. The buildings will align with the university’s leadership in sustainability and goals to achieve zero waste by 2030 and net-zero Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gases by 2050. “To date, Stanford has set one of the highest bars for any university in the country, and as this project evolves, we plan to use that bar as the baseline to achieve even more aspirational goals for energy use, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, waste management, and Scope 3 emissions,” Lenox said.

The Doerr School of Sustainability launched in September 2022 with the mission to create a future where humans and nature thrive in concert and in perpetuity. In addition to the growth of its Sustainability Accelerator and the future launch of an Institute for Sustainable Societies, the school will be hiring an additional 60 faculty over 10 years to provide strength and breadth across its areas of scholarship. Construction of the Sustainability Commons is expected to begin by late 2026.

“There needs to be a buzz that reflects the energy it’s going to take to solve the world’s problems – and buildings can do that,” Lenox said. “While the charge to design a facility that exemplifies sustainability is important, the buildings and commons’ true objective is to support the exceptional scholarship and research that will impact the world.”

The project will be focused on the efficient use of built space that promotes collaboration and serves a wide range of uses, from social connections to quiet and focused research. The vision process, which was led by Gehl design consultancy and begun in 2021, revealed six design principles based on stakeholder engagement and research: organize around interdisciplinary communities, make common spaces the best spaces, equip the outdoors for learning and socializing, take good care of all people, reflect the people of the planet in equitable design, and create well-used, sustainable spaces that adapt over time.

“Culture doesn’t just happen; you need to nurture it from multiple different directions,” Lenox said. “One of the things we talked about is creating a welcoming environment – guests feel invited and welcome by the use of natural materials and a relaxed, intuitive, and adaptable environment.” 

The spaces aim to welcome a local and global network of academic, business, technology, and policy partners, along with those most affected by climate change, from neighbors in Silicon Valley to Indigenous communities from around the world. Shared common spaces will include intentional settings for small groups, known as homebases, hubs for interdisciplinary research, and atria for community gathering, celebrations, announcements, and more. 

In addition to its focus on hospitality, the Sustainability Commons will be normalizing the idea of shared spaces, Lenox said. The designers will be seeking to maximize the use of offices and classrooms so they are occupied as much as possible, setting new standards for operational efficiency on campus. The project will also involve a strong component of landscape architecture to create transitions from the built spaces to the surrounding scenery, with an emphasis on the natural environment.

“The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability site offers such a rich opportunity,” Lenox said. “It will be situated at the transition where drifts of oak trees and natural landscape filter in from the foothills and Lake Lagunita, through Windhover and the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, to meet the dense development of our campus core.

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