Fine Arts Building at the College of Marin

The College of Marin Fine Arts Building is the result of the designers effort to satisfy a collection of disparate programmatic, environmental, and budgetary demands on the building. The campus layout meant the building needed to accommodate a central lawn to the east and a vehicular road to the north, while preserving an existing redwood grove to the south. Sustainability objectives mandated an optimal solar orientation for passive energy efficiency, while drawing studio spaces warranted extensive views and daylighting. Finally the campus location in the verdant Marin headlands offered an opportunity for dramatic views of Mt. Tam.

The designers accommodated these myriad concerns by organizing the building into two major elements: A solid ground floor wing containing offices, storage space, and industrial studios is oriented North-South to create one side of a planned campus Arts Courtyard. A second, perpendicular bar crosses above this one to hold the studios and lecture rooms in an East-West orientation, giving panoramic views of Mt. Tam as well as soft north light.

Thanks to the areas mild climate, the architects were able to rely on exterior hallways for circulation, keeping programmed square footage up while giving studios access to windows on at least two sides. With ample daylighting from either side, the studios are bright and cheery, while exterior sunshades and the optimal cross-ventilation keep temperatures moderate in the summer.

Innovation in Design Sustainability:

In designing the facility, the architects shared the colleges commitment to making the building as sustainable as possible while still satisfying programmatic needs as well as strict state guidelines for safety and building size. In addition to providing ecological benefits, sustainability strategies for the Fine Arts Building were selected for high cost savings and durability. In the recession construction climate, it was essential that the college be able to maintain the building inexpensively under heavy usage by students and faculty for years to come.

The combination of natural lighting and ventilation achieved through the buildings carefully calibrated massing and technical innovations like state-of-the-art evaporative HVAC systems keep air fresh and temperatures moderate without heavy energy usage. High-efficiency light fixtures in the building use daylight sensors to dim lights when possible and occupancy sensors to deactivate them when not in use. The “living roof” garden on top of the first floor wing provides additional outdoor space to complement the arts plaza below, while also insulating the building envelope in the winter and reducing the heat island effect in the summer. Native, drought-resistant plants were specified for additional ecological and monetary savings. Upward-acting doors at the ground floor studios enhance natural ventilation, while ground source heat pumps provide quiet, non-intrusive heating without relying on fossil fuels.

The designers also used an innovative Trespa Meteon facade system for the building. These breathable panels are highly durable and resistant to dirt and impact, and are breathable to avoid moisture retention. Galvanized metal exterior hardware and sun shades were used throughout the project for their extreme durability.

The buildings innovative features like its living roof plaza and solar orientation, and its achievements in indoor air quality and energy and water efficiency ultimately earned a LEED Gold rating, while the significant energy savings earned the college a monetary rebate through Pacific Gas Electrics Savings By Design program.

Construction Craftsmanship

As a major arts and education facility for a public community college campus, the design and construction of the Fine Arts building involved a complex and multi-layered stakeholder review process. This already-complex design review process was complicated by the arrival of the recession in 2007-2008, requiring an additional round of design modifications to help bring the project back within the colleges adjusted budget. Throughout all this, the designers, contractors, and engineers were extremely diligent in attending to the numerous modifications to this programmatically diverse facility which includes a range of studio spaces, industrial shops, digital and media labs, offices, and classroom spaces, as well as a significant exterior plaza/green roof space.

Function Aesthetic Quality

Aesthetically, the buildings simple material palette and geometric layout help make it a fitting expression of the creative activities it is designed to contain. The central courtyard houses pottery kilns and foundry facilities under a durable galvanized canopy, while ground floor studios feature upward-acting doors to allow ventilation as well as access for bulky tools and materials. Materials throughout the project were chosen equally on the basis of durability and environmental impact, pairing low VOC paints, recycled carpet and tile, and sustainably harvested wood with functional features like custom non-slip steel floor gratings and galvanized sun screens along the south-facing exterior walkways.

The existing redwood grove on the buildings south side and the ample landscaping throughout the site help it to blend with the wooded campus, while the second story green roof carries the theme onto the structure itself.

The tightness of the projects programmatic space requirements, sustainability goals, and modest budget meant that optimization of design features was particularly crucial. The studio wings elevation off of the ground provides overhanging entry points for car access, and gives the impression of a building that rests lightly upon the landscape. The sweeping arc of the semicircular central courtyard creates a smooth transition into the rolling bike paths that crisscross the campus, and helps integrate the building into the existing patterns of circulation.


Project Type


Kentfield, 94904,