Pitzer College Robert Redford Conservancy Certified Zero Energy Building

In The News |

Earlier this year, the Robert Redford Conservancy at Pitzer College became the 1st Higher Education building certified Zero Energy in California by International Living Future Institute (ILFI), 15th ILFI Zero Energy certified project in California, and 4th Higher Education building in the world to achieve ILFI Zero Energy or Energy Petal.

Located on 12-acres across the main campus of Pitzer College, the former infirmary building has been renovated and repurposed as the Robert Redford Conservancy (RRC) – an environmentally sustainable academic facility containing science classrooms, offices, laboratories, meeting rooms, and an art studio.

Social sustainability is the cornerstone of the conservancy’s mission and a fundamental premise of the project’s design. Ecological sustainability was paramount in the design approach. Careful consideration was taken into the development of the program planning with an emphasis on natural and low impact design. The design team emphasized the desire to reach far beyond just the metrics of energy and water in order to reach the full potential of this project. A summary of key points are noted below:


  1. Design for Ecology
  • 72 mature trees were protected. 10.8 acres of habitat were protected/restored using native plants grown for genetic compatibility.
  • Building’s adaptive reuse conserved its embodied energy. Materials used for more than one purpose (structure/enclosure/finish) at classrooms.
  • Outdoor classrooms and driveway placed in disturbed site areas to minimize loss of natural habitat.
  • Minimum sized fire/service access road footprint constructed of organically patterned porous paving enhances site’s natural character.
  • Sanitary sewer construction minimized (650’ reduction) and routed to avoid existing tree root zones.


  1. Design for Water
  • Potable water usage minimized (35.6% reduction below code) by use of low-flow fixtures.
  • Outdoor classroom roof runoff is collected and stored (1,120 g) for hand watering. Main building roof runoff directly irrigates adjacent mature trees.
  • 100% of new plants are native species (drought tolerant) that require only temporary irrigation until established.
  • Porous vehicular paving approach, detention basins, roof gutter/downspouts absorb 100% of on-site storm-water runoff (eliminated need for municipal storm sewer connection & filtration).


  1. Design for Energy
  • Energy consumption minimized by thermally upgrading the building envelope (insulating low-e glazing, attic venting, thermally-broken wall/ceiling assemblies).
  • Embraced passive cooling design (cross-ventilation, thermal chimneys, night-time air flushing).
  • Minimal electricity driven HVAC equipment via mixed mode VRF system and large diameter low energy ceiling fans. No fossil fuel usage!
  • LED fixtures, occupancy sensors, and photo-cells are used along with glare-controlled daylighting to greatly reduce lighting power demands.
  • The two rooftop photovoltaic arrays shade the outdoor classroom roofs and generated 82,995 kWh during the 1styear of building operation.
  • Monthly energy monitoring showed that the renewable energy production was 168% of annual energy usage.


With its inherently passive design and extensive natural landscape, the RRC is a destination which recognizes the past, educates about the present, and fosters collaborative learning across disciplines in a dynamic space for the future.