NBBJ has announced a net-zero school in Encino, California, intending to transform the educational experience for neurodiverse pupils through a focus on nature. The term “neurodiversity” is used to describe the varied ways in which each person’s brain functions. Although everyone’s brain develops similarly, no two brains work the same. If your brain functions differently from the average or “neurotypical” person’s, you are said to be neurodivergent. In response to the severe situation facing American kids, where 2.3 million received a diagnosis of a learning difference between 2019 and 2020, the new campus, dubbed “Westmark Lower School,” will encourage an inclusive and engaging learning environment for both students and teachers. To make the Westmark School’s Lower School campus a comfortable place for kids with special needs, acoustic technology and natural materials will be used in the design.

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Use of Natural Materials_©NBBJ

The current educational system only supports neurotypical pupils, oblivious to neurodiversity, which may impact how much information is retained by those with varied learning needs. The brand-new campus will have an exceptional net zero-carbon architecture that blends with nature, furthering the development of zero-energy educational buildings, which have increased by more than double in the United States since 2014. Replacing the old modular structures from the 1950s with new dynamic spaces will also include an indoor-outdoor, community-focused approach.

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Community focused approach_©NBBJ

To guarantee that the school is community-driven and meets its needs, the community was actively involved in the design process through workshops and models. The facility will serve as a “restorative haven,” concentrating on acoustical design principles to provide a more welcoming environment for young pupils who struggle with concentration. Each classroom incorporates a variety of learning zones, such as reading nooks and creative labs, to give kids a variety of adaptable and choice-driven learning settings. The campus will promote a continuum of care thanks to a centrally located network of programs, including theater, school counseling, occupational and speech therapy, and other services.

The Lower School offers a variety of adaptable, choice-driven zones to accommodate different types of learning, from independent and focused to more communal and active. For instance, the design prioritizes special acoustical strategies to promote quiet study. These features embody Westmark School’s highly specialized education and individualized instruction model. While highly adaptable classrooms offer a variety of unique learning modes, from group work to personalized learning and everything in between, the indoor-outdoor environment places nature at the center. To provide an experience that is truly supportive of neurodiversity, the design integrates the most recent advancements in sustainability and neuroscience research. To give children a variety of personalized and choice-driven study locations, various learning zones, such as creative labs and reading nooks, will be established within each classroom.

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Various activities for better understanding_©NBBJ

The project’s central theme will be sustainability. The school will use classrooms directly connected to the outdoors and have plenty of natural light as part of its “learning outside” strategy. These classrooms are oriented in a pinwheel formation to delight students’ senses and provide frequent opportunities for them to engage with the powerful advantages of outdoor learning outside of the typical classroom setting. There will be interactive gathering areas, a sensory garden, and a sculpture play area in the courtyard and the surrounding landscaping. The designers used calming natural elements to create a bright and interesting setting, such as pre-fabricated mass lumber and stone. To illustrate how the structure was constructed, the school’s structural components are left visible. To underline the significance of inclusive learning settings, there will also be a research and training institute for teachers and researchers. By partnering with Los Angeles public and private schools and forming partnerships with universities across the United States, these new institutes will provide training and evaluation facilities that assess students with speech-based learning differences. They also hope to further advance the integration of neuroscientific research into educational practices.

Connection of the classroom with the courtyard_©NBBJ

Several solar panels, mass timber, rooftop gardens that offer access to nature, a central sycamore tree that houses a rainwater collection basin, and deep overhangs that shade openings while allowing soft natural light to brighten the classrooms are all included in the project’s green features. All circulation routes are outside to promote healthy activity, and learning is conducted outside on magnificent patios and in a sensory garden to enhance tactile exploration. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, worked with NBBJ and Westmark to incorporate the latest neurology findings into the design’s specific elements that emphasize nature. Each classroom will have wide hangar doors that open to the surrounding woods as one of these features. Characteristics made of mass lumber will support the project’s sustainable elements and environment-friendly vibe. The ceilings and flooring of the classrooms will be covered with it. With spaces for outdoor learning and a higher emphasis on air quality and ventilation, NBBJ highlighted that the design is “well-suited to pandemic needs.” The project, led by NBBJ, aims to achieve LEED Gold and Zero Carbon accreditation from the International Living Future Institute.


NBBJ is Designing a Nature-Immersed Net Zero School in California for Neurodiverse Students,ArchDaily.Available at:https://www.archdaily.com/979838/nbbj-is-designing-a-nature-immersed-net-zero-school-in-california-for-neurodiverse-students [Accessed: February 4, 2023].


Hetvi Jadia is an architecture student and a dancer, born and brought up in Surat, Gujarat. She started developing interest in writing since a long time.