King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex wins the 2022 COTE® Top Ten Award for Outstanding Sustainable Design. Award recognizes exceptional designs that address climate change.


Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is pleased to announce that King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex has received the 2022 COTE® Top Ten Award for their significant achievements in advancing climate action from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee have won for the environment (COTE).

Each year, AIA selects the 10 most sustainable buildings of the year, recognizing the innovative projects for their integration of design excellence and environmental performance.

Designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. with Arrowstreet Architecture & Design, the 273,000 square foot facility at 850 Cambridge Street was completed in August 2019 and is home to the King Open School (JK-5), Cambridge Street Upper Schools (6th -8 ), Cambridge Public Schools Administration, King Open Preschool, King Open Extended Day (KOED), Community Schools, the Gold Star Mothers Pools and the Valente Library.

This school was the first in Massachusetts to be net-zero emissions, using 44% less energy than a typical state school. Solar panels on the roof and facade help power the building, along with 190 geothermal wells to reduce heating and cooling loads. Students can track energy usage on dashboards. Large windows fill the room with light. The building is also designed for resilience to climate change, with a raised ground floor to protect against flooding.

The City of Cambridge had two main goals for the project: to be the first net-zero emissions building in the city to demonstrate a new net-zero mandate; and address the climate risks outlined in the vulnerability assessment. The project meets these goals while creating a healthy, just environment for the community. The result is a learning laboratory for sustainability, wellness and resilience.

Through months of community engagement, the design team recognized two needs: the importance of open space in this dense urban neighborhood; and Cambridge’s commitment to inclusion, community and lifelong learning. The elements of the building program have been designed to create a complex that is the heart of the neighborhood and welcomes everyone. The project increases the green open space by almost one hectare. The building is divided into two wings, reducing the overall size of the complex while creating a civic square along Cambridge Street and around a popular centuries-old plane tree. The two wings form a green spine through the block and connect to the fields behind. Massing significantly reduces energy consumption by grouping programs by hours of operation, allowing system reset for different areas.

The project is an important resource to address the increased heat and economic vulnerability identified in the city’s climate assessment by providing a pool, wading pool and shade trees. Five different outdoor playgrounds with seating for all ages are available on the premises. A bocce court, basketball courts, a reading garden and reflection rooms support physical and emotional well-being. The building is open and airy, creating welcoming, light-filled spaces. Separate inputs for each of the program elements give each program a unique identity. Natural materials, bright colors, fun patterns, community-commissioned art, interactive displays and signage create a fun place for all ages.

“We are committed to creating a sustainable and resilient community, and nowhere is that more evident than at the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex,” said Louis A. DePasquale. “This 21st-century learning environment that serves our children and the community is the result of an important collaboration between the city government, city council, school administrators and school board, which resulted in a 2011 investment of over $500 million for construction of three started new school facilities.

“This community complex is setting a new standard for green buildings and energy efficient schools in Massachusetts and beyond,” said Cliff Gayley, chief design officer at William Rawn Associates. “In terms of design, it was important that this project not only meets, but exceeds the sustainability goals set by the City of Cambridge. The process itself and the completed building actively engages the community and brings the neighborhood closer together.”

“The COTE award recognizes that the building operates Net Zero, recognizes the incorporation of health and wellness elements into the building design and highlights the diversity, equity and inclusiveness of the design. The building is an exciting opportunity to engage students and their families in the importance of sustainability and building performance in their education and daily activities,” said Larry Spang of Arrowstreet.

The King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex has received 21 local and national awards to date. Other awards are:

• 2021 AIA/ALA Library Building Excellence Awards
• 2021 Chicago Athanaeum Green Good Design Architecture Award
• 2020 BSA Design Excellence Honors Award
• 2020 BSA Honorary Sustainable Design Award
• 2020 Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Awards
• 2020 Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award
• 2020 Engineering News record New England Best K-12 Education Project
• 2019 USGBC Massachusetts Green Building of the Year

These awards in different areas underpin the success of this building as a model for sustainability, as a civic anchor and as an educational institution.

King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex aerial view courtesy of Sophia Panova.
King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex Photo courtesy of Benson Photography.


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