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Environmental Nature Center Preschool: A Living Building

The Environmental Nature Preschool is designed to achieve the standards of the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, the world’s most ambitious, advanced, and holistic performance program for green, resilient, and healthy buildings.

The Living Building Challenge pushes designers to do better. The built environment can have a positive effect. Our work can create healthier spaces that connect to nature and make the world a better place.

The net-positive-energy Environmental Nature Center Preschool earned the Living Building Challenge’s Petal Certification, one of only a handful of projects in California to achieve the standard. The certification recognizes the preschool’s uplifting impact on the health, happiness and equity of the local environment and community.



The Preschool

The ENC Preschool seamlessly blends indoor and outdoor learning environments to provide children with an intuitive understanding of the natural world. Developed in collaboration with educators, the community and the Environmental Nature Center, the preschool is designed to spark creativity, cooperative learning and imagination.

Classrooms open to a courtyard, which connects to the nature learning center through a covered breezeway. The naturally ventilated classrooms are open and flexible, with movable walls that allow indoor spaces to blend with the outdoors.

Outdoor learning and play spaces are divided into three distinct zones—Sequoia, Joshua Tree and Yosemite – connected with a tricycle path. Students grow their own food in an organic garden. The landscape plants are native to California and do not require irrigation, fertilizer, or pesticide.

Rooftop photovoltaic panels produce more renewable energy on a net annual basis than the facility requires to operate.

“It was extremely important for the design to mirror our sensibilities on sustainability and energy efficiency” — Bo Glover, Executive Director, ENC

The Challenge

The Living Building Challenge spurs projects to move beyond merely being less bad and to become truly regenerative. The standard changes the discussion from energy performance to, “can this building make the world a better place?”

“Living Buildings” are:

  • Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site.
  • Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

The Challenge’s standards are based on actual, rather than modeled or anticipated, performance. Projects must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to audit. All Living Building Challenge projects must be holistic, addressing the program’s core imperatives.



The Challenge asks us to “imagine a building that is as efficient as a flower.” Performance areas are organized around seven “petals.”

The ENC Preschool project has met the full requirements of three Living Building Challenge Petals --- Energy, Health + Happiness, and Beauty --- along with additional Imperatives in both the Place and Equity Petals. In total, the project achieved 9 of the 20 overall LBC Imperatives, as well as aspects of many other measures and imperatives promoted by the Living Building Challenge.

Place Petal

Realign how people understand and relate to the natural environment that sustains us. The built environment must reconnect with the ecology of place and the unique characteristics found in every community so that story can be honored, protected and enhanced.


The project supports and emulates a natural setting appropriate for the climate, context and location of the building, as well for the education and play of children attending the school.

The site and landscape improvements consist of native plants intended to grow, mature, and evolve while supporting habitat for local birds and insects. The building is designed to designed to support pedestrians, cycling, and other low impact transit to the greatest extent possible within the context of the neighborhood and location.


Energy Petal

Treat energy as a precious resource and minimize energy-related carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.


The ENC Preschool was designed and is being operated as a net-positive energy facility with on-site renewable energy systems offsetting more than the school’s annual energy consumption. A 32-KW rooftop photovoltaic system offsets all of the energy use of the facility on an annual basis --- including the consumption of three electric vehicle charging stations. The siting and architecture of the building was shaped to accommodate the photovoltaic system at an optimal tilt and in the sunniest corner of the site.

Since January 2021, the ENC Preschool has been tracking net positive energy on an annual basis. The on-site renewable energy system is offsetting approximately 130% of facility energy, after discounting energy used for electric vehicle charging, and approximately 110% of total facility energy use, inclusive of EV charging.


Heath + Happiness Petal

Create healthy spaces that allow all species to thrive by connecting people to nature and ensuring that our indoor spaces have healthy air and natural daylight.


The Environmental Nature Center Preschool was inspired by nature, built in and around nature and teaches nature to the hundreds of children who visit and attend school each year. It is designed and operated to nurture the innate human/nature connection for children, staff, and visitors. Abundant natural elements, connections, and references foster love of nature and emulate natural environments. Natural ventilation and daylight are plentiful in every regularly occupied indoor space.


Elevate equity as a project goal, and to transform developments to foster a just and inclusive community that enables all people to participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.


The ENC preschool was designed and constructed such that the project does not diminish the quality of fresh air, sunlight, and natural waterways for neighboring homes, buildings, or sites. The preschool has no on-site emissions, does not block views from or cast shadows on adjacent sites, and is developed to support natural drainage flows in the neighborhood. The facility was designed to preserve mature shade trees both on and adjacent to the project site, with the preschool building and photovoltaic system located in the least shaded area of the property in order to maintain the existing shade trees without limiting photovoltaic energy generation.



Recognize the need for beauty and the connection to nature as a precursor to caring enough to preserve, conserve, and serve the greater good.


The ENC Preschool is a celebration of the spirit of learning through nature and nature play.

With hands-on daily experiences children acquire a deep intuitive understanding of nature and the natural world. Engagement in the environment and with others is where real learning occurs. The project integrates public art and design elements intended solely for the delight and education of children, staff, and the community. The Environmental Nature Center and the ENC Preschool provide regular and abundant outreach and education to the community in order to promote love of nature, green practices, and how individuals can make a positive contribution to the environment.

ENC Preschool 3


Realign how people value water; to address the energy and chemicals involved in transporting, purifying and pumping water; and to redefine “wastewater” as a precious nutrient and resource.

Site drainage relies on infiltration and natural water flows. The landscape at the ENC Preschool is not dependent on irrigation systems, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The Preschool includes water systems, plumbing fixtures, water heating, laundry appliances that support the health and hygiene of the young students while exceeding state and federal water efficiency standards.

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Create a materials economy that is non-toxic, ecologically restorative, and transparent. Throughout their life cycle, building materials are responsible for many adverse environmental issues, including personal illness, habitat and species loss, pollution, and resource depletion.

The ENC Preschool was designed and built to use healthy and environmentally products and materials to the greatest extent feasible — while leaving out unnecessary materials by keeping floors and ceilings open and exposed.

ENC Preschool 8