Healdsburg High School Modernization / Basalt and Ice in a Drought-Tolerant Landscape
The recent modernization of Healdsburg High School illustrates design and construction ingenuity in drought-tolerant, accessible and educational landscapes. QKA, the architects, retained Carducci Associates to collaborate on a renovation of the school’s interior and exterior architecture, infrastructure and landscape. Carducci’s focus on Phase 2 saw the radical demolition of several building wings transform the school’s drop-off area into a sweeping plaza.
With an opportunity of this magnitude, Principal Vince Lattanzio and Senior Associate Tim Skinner (bios here) proposed a grand yet simple gesture. The administration desired an outdoor classroom with seating and gathering opportunities. As a response, the formal orchard layout of fruitless olive trees reflects the surrounding agricultural land of Sonoma County and blends harmoniously with the open plaza concept. Large freeform areas of synthetic turf soften the space and, along with neutral concrete paving, provide universal access to the entire plaza and outdoor classroom. The synthetic turf is also desirable from an educational program and maintenance perspective: it does not require irrigation or air- and noise-polluting mowers.
Basalt stone provides a sophisticated and natural seating opportunity, which creates a unique atmosphere at half the cost of cast-in-place concrete benches. The basalt sits directly on the synthetic turf, which has a deepened aggregate base to displace the weight and avoid expensive footings. The contractor had an ingenious method for craning the pieces into place and extracting their sling from under the stone without tearing the turf: ice. The crane set each piece of basalt in a super-elevated position on ice, and then removed the sling. As the ice melted, the stones eventually came to sit in their permanent spot. The students and staff alike fondly refer to the plaza as ‘their Stonehenge’.