Home   >   Case Studies   >   The Branson Commons

The Branson Commons

The Branson School is an independent high school occupying seventeen acres of hilly terrain in the residential community of Ross, California, north of San Francisco. The new 7,550 s.f. Student Commons building is located in a narrow glen in the center of the campus, along the pedestrian path between the upper and lower campuses. The central gable and large window wall front onto an inviting terrace and lawn while the flanking support wings, sheltered under green roofs, connect to the adjacent hillsides with board-form concrete walls. Sited to take advantage of the sunny southern exposure, the new building features large over head doors that open on to a generous plaza for dining, meeting and outdoor learning. By providing spaces for gathering and socializing throughout the day, the Student Commons serves as the heart of campus activity. The building is LEED Platinum certified and features many sustainable strategies, including a living roof, radiant heating, natural ventilation, photovoltaic panels, and pervious paving.


The design approach of the Branson Student Commons reflects the school’s mission to promote “responsible leadership in the global community.” The client, committed to promoting personal and intellectual integrity for its students, prioritized a holistic environmental approach to the project. Through a collaborative process between the client, consultants, and the Branson community, we created a site-specific building that minimizes environmental impact, and maximizes energy-saving technologies. The process included a fluid dynamic model that optimized natural ventilation by studying different window sizes and locations, a solar study charting the path and depth of sunlight penetration into the building during different times of day and year, and a simulation of energy consumption and building performance based on actual weather and operational conditions.


This process and holistic approach led to the LEED Platinum certification of the Branson Commons, and the following features and metrics:

  • The Branson Commons performs 47.5% better than ASHRAE 90.1-2004.
  • During construction, 98% of waste was diverted from going to the landfill.
  • RAP, a recycled concrete aggregate, reinforces the soil for concrete grade beams.
  • 90% of precipitation is managed on site.
  • Stormwater discharge quantity and peak rate for the post-development conditions does not exceed the discharge quantity and rate for pre-development conditions.
  • The photovoltaic system produces 44640 Kwh/year of renewable energy.
  • The building is conditioned by a radiant floor, and passively cooled.
  • The building has multiple radiant heating zones. Rooms have separate thermostats to control the heating zones.
  • 90% of the building can be ventilated or cooled with operable windows.
  • 80% of the total building area is daylit.
  • 96% of its regularly occupied space has access to views.
  • Occupants have access to all controls that are available. Each space has a minimum of bi-level lighting control.
  • Water usage is reduced by over 50% by using water-less urinals, dual flush toilets, and low consumption faucets and lavatories
  • A Lucid Dashboard was implemented to obtain empirical monitored data about system and building performance.

Notable Accomplishments

  • The Branson Commons performs 47.5% better than ASHRAE 90.1-2004
  • The photovoltaic system produces 44640 Kwh/year of renewable energy
  • 80% of the total building area is daylit

Award Credit

Fratessa Forbes Wong
Mike Forbes
487 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607-3936
Landscape Architect
The Landscape Office/Sasaki
Christian Lemon
181 Third Street, Suite 250
San Rafael, CA 94901
General Contractor
Herrero Contractors, Inc.
JD Ahearn
2100 Oakdale Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124
Electrical & Lighting Designer
O’Mahony & Myer
Civil Engineer
Sherwood Design Engineers
Energy Science Consultant
Loisos and Ubbelohde
David Wakely
Mary Griffin


Edward Dean, AIA, LEED-AP
Harley Ellis Devereaux
San Francisco, CA

Dean is director of the San Francisco office of Harley Ellis Devereaux, which is committed to a low-energy design approach, or a zero net energy approach when possible, for every project undertaken by this branch office. Before joining the firm in 2008, he was lead designer for major projects at a number of leading California design firms, including Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis (EHDD), Zimmer Gunsul Frasca and NBBJ Architects.

Projects include the addition to the Main Library at UC Berkeley (early example of a living roof) and, currently, a zero net energy public library for the City of Berkeley. His involvement in low energy building design has been consistent throughout his professional career, starting as a regular member of the design faculty in the Department of Architecture at UC Berkeley for ten years.

His special interest is in daylighting design; in 2006, he was a presenter at the Greenbuild Conference in Denver for a major session entitled Daylighting Intensive.

Larry Hoeksema, AIA
Architects Mosher Drew
San Diego, CA

Hoeksema is President (since 1997) of Architects Mosher Drew in San Diego, having joined the firm in 1979. Beginning his higher education experience in Civil Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he completed his formal training, receiving his Bachelor of Architecture, at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

He is active in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) having served in various Board Positions and as President of the San Diego Chapter in 1995. Statewide he has served on the Board of Directors for the AIA, California Council for five years and as served Advisor to the Academy of Emerging Professionals for three years.

He currently serves as President of the San Diego Architectural Foundation and on the NewSchool of Architecture and Design’s, Advisory Board.

Jason A. Silva, AIA, LEED AP
Partner, Design Principal
Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects
Sacramento, CA

Silva is a partner and design principal with Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects in Sacramento, California, focusing on civic, higher education and arts-related projects. Licensed in California with over 15 years of experience, he has overseen the design and construction of major projects throughout northern California.

Jason is active in the American Institute of Architects at the state level as board member of the Academy of Emerging Professionals (AEP) and nationally, as Regional Director for Young Architects Forum (YAF). Locally, with the Central Valley chapter of the AIA, Jason is involved in media and outreach, and sits on the Design Competition Committee.

He is a graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and attended Virginia Tech’s Washington Alexandria Architecture Consortium.

Peter Barsuk, AIA, LEED AP
Studio Leader, Project Manager, and LEED expert
Santa Monica, CA

Barsuk brings almost 20 years of experience in the design industry as an architect and green building expert. He has been involved in a wide variety of project types including commercial, education, civic architecture, health care and entertainment.

A Studio Leader, Project Manager, and LEED expert at Gensler, Peter often gets called in to assist clients with LEED certification and documentation processes for various project types.

As a leader in Sustainable Development, Peter continues to serve as a board member for the USGBC Los Angeles Chapter and educate his colleagues at Gensler on the LEED rating system and the practices of sustainable design.

Comments are closed.