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The State Architect's Corner

Photos of State Architect, Chester A. Widom, FAIA

California is a model for resource conservation. Solar panels now provide energy for many of the state's residents. Grocery stores in more and more areas no longer provide free single-use bags. Children remind adults to turn off the faucet. Homeowners let their lawns go brown. Although the rains this winter have eased the drought, many have finally realized that our resources are precious and limited, so we all need to do what we can to live sustainably.

In partnership with the American Institute of Architects California Council and the California Energy Commission, DSA developed the 7x7x7: Design Energy Water initiative as a catalyst for change. Constructing a new green school is relatively easy. Improving the energy and water efficiency of existing facilities is much more challenging. How can California's 1,022 public K-12 school districts and 72 community college districts work with their existing stock of facilities—more than 10,500 campuses—to ensure that our 8.3 million school children attend sustainable, energy- and water-efficient schools?

In this initiative, DSA engaged seven noted architectural firms to develop innovative, sustainable design concepts for real-world, existing schools in California. The case study schools were selected to serve as representative examples of the school campuses found across the state. They are real schools located in urban and suburban environments throughout the state, including construction from the historic 1920s to the 1980s. The project teams faced challenges posed by historical buildings, desert climates, and multi-story facilities.

Each team introduced a variety of ideas, from improving the building envelope, to implementing strategies to bring more natural daylight into the classrooms and collecting rain water for campus gardens. With their innovations also came plans on how the knowledge will be passed on by the teachers and students, who will be the caretakers of sustainable design features after the architect's work is done. These case studies were presented with the intention of inspiring real-life adaptation at our schools, to encourage school districts and community colleges statewide to master plan their facilities to eventually attain zero net energy.

Of course, 7x7x7 is not DSA's only recent involvement in encouraging environmental sustainability. Last year, and in collaboration with the Building Standards Commission and the Department of Water Resources, DSA developed the first statewide regulations to reduce outdoor water use in school districts and community colleges, helping to conserve a limited and essential resource.

Additionally, DSA recently took an important step toward paperless plan reviews by launching electronic back check services at all regional offices. I encourage you to try DSA's new, optional electronic back check process, which offers enhanced efficiency, is more environmentally sustainable, and will help you prepare for the mandatory process later this year.

I ask for your help to change the conversation so that a more sustainable future is reflected in our decision-making today. Together, we can continue the statewide conversation about reimagining school facilities to reduce energy and water usage and create great opportunities for education. By ensuring that California's school facilities incorporate sustainable practices and features, we facilitate increased learning and knowledge sharing that extends far beyond the walls of the classroom..

Chester A. Widom, FAIA
State Architect


Digital Signature of State Architect, Chester A. Widom, FAIA