Brighouse Elementary School

Samuel Brighouse Elementary School is a replacement K-7 school located in a single-family
neighbourhood in Richmond, BC. Construction of the new school followed a seismic analysis of the existing structure, which determined that upgrading to current code standards was not economically feasible and that deconstruction of all but the gymnasium was the most practical approach to renewal. Accommodating an enrolment of 505 students, the two-storey 4,777-square-metre structure includes classrooms, administration space, a library, community space, and a renovated gymnasium.

By Robert Drew

Student-Centred Design

The design of the school is the result of a consultant-led collaborative design process that involved school district and city staff, parents, and neighbours. A critical additional voice was also heard: that of the students.
Through charettes, illustrations, and videos that captured the qualities they wanted in their school, field trips through the construction site, and a project blog that kept the community up-to-date, the students offered the design team informed, dynamic, and environmentally progressive input.
This input inspired the playful roof form and was used to substantiate many design decisions, such as the provision for touch-screen technology and lots of windows and colour. This inclusive process has instilled a sense of ownership into all those involved and was so successful the process is expected to be repeated for all future school design across the district.

Creating Connections

The design supports the school district’s goal of transparency, collaborative learning, and connecting to nature and the community. Creating flexible and adaptable learning environments, the design includes indoor collaborative project areas and outdoor courtyards, low ‘peek’ windows that connect even the youngest students to nature, and a shared community garden.
Additionally, a Neighbourhood Learning Centre has been integrated into the design, which will house community-based organizations offering adult literacy courses, and will extend the school’s operating hours into the evenings, weekends, and summer.

Education through Demonstration

The school was identified early on by the district as an opportunity to demonstrate its environmental stewardship policy and use the building as a teaching tool. Furthermore, the students made it clear that sustainability was important to them.
The design pursued a wide range of environmental design strategies, including displacement ventilation, daylight harvesting combined with solar shading, and use of a well-insulated building envelope, fibreglass frame, triple-glazed classroom windows, and VOC-free interior finishes.
Heating and cooling energy comes from a geo-exchange system while domestic hot water is heated by solar collectors. Overall energy consumption is predicted to be 57% below that of a model building under MNECB, and on several occasions the school has operated entirely without consuming fossil fuels. We believe this makes it one of the most energy-efficient schools in Canada.
Water conservation and storm water management is achieved through the use of low-flow fixtures and a green roof that directs run off to a constructed wetland. Site landscaping uses native plants to eliminate the need for irrigation.

Wood Expression

Locally-harvested wood is the primary building material and was used for the post-and-beam structure of the building [which is visually expressed], wall framing, wood roof decking, millwork, interior doors as well as the protective wall panels. Its visual presence also contributes to a warm, supportive and inspiring learning environment.
Transformed into an evocative architectural gesture, the undulating atrium wood roof—constructed from typical 2×4s and steel v-shaped king-posts—is the signature architectural feature of the school and demonstrates the beauty and capacity of dimensional wood. Much of the roof and post-and-beam structure uses locally-harvested wood, including mountain pine beetle wood, which, with its distinctive blue colouring, provides an additional teaching element and supports an important sector of the regional economy.

The choice to use wood was not only environmental—it sequesters carbon—but practical, the prefabrication of the roof elements allowed for an accelerated construction schedule that resulted in the school opening four months early.
The choice to use wood is also one of compliance.  British Columbia’s Wood First Act was enacted in 2009 to “facilitate a culture of wood by requiring the use of wood as the primary building material in all new provincially-funded buildings, in a manner consistent with the British Columbia Building Code”.
While trees were harvested to construct the building, some 90 trees were also planted on the new school grounds to provide shade for the students and habitat for birds and other critters.
This project exemplifies an approach to design that is founded on the belief that learning is fostered in every facet of a student’s education including, not only the people they interact with, but the structures that make up their physical environment as well.
Accordingly, students are encouraged to interact with the building and with the outdoor environment and learn from their natural surroundings.


  • Client School District 38 Richmond
  • Architect Perkins+Will Canada
  • Joint Venture Architect Perkins+Will Los Angeles Office
  • Structural Engineer Fast + Epp
  • Mechanical Engineer Cobalt Engineering
  • Electrical Engineer Acumen Consulting Engineers
  • Technology Consultant Acumen Consulting Engineers
  • Landscape Architect Durante Kreuk Ltd.
  • Civil Engineer Hub Engineering
  • Code Consultant CFT Engineering
  • Quantity Surveyor Jim Bush
  • Ecologist Raincoast Applied Ecology
  • Building Envelope Consultant Morrison Hershfield
  • Acoustical Consultant BKL
  • Geotechnical Engineer Trow
  • Transportation Consultant Bunt & Associates
  • Construction Manager EllisDon


  • - Glulam beams by Western Archrib , structural steel framing, fibre cement siding, vegetated roof; triple-glazed fibreglass frame windows by Cascadia Windows , aluminum curtain wall
    - Fiberglass and urethane foam insulated building envelope, and VOC-free interior finishes, CertainTeed Proroc drywall
    - Heating and cooling energy comes from a ground-source geothermal system, water- to- air heat pumps and water-to-water heat pumps, water coil in exhaust air stream runs to heat pumps in parallel with geothermal system, hot water heated by solar collectors.


  • - Potable water consumption = 3,640 litres/occupant/year
    - Potable water consumption savings relative to model building = 49%
    - Regionally-sourced materials [800km radius] by value = 20%
    - Recycled materials by value = minimum 15%  [still in progress]
    - Construction waste management = 94%
    - Resource reuse [reuse building materials] = 1,066 tonnes of existing concrete has been reused on site. Numerous plumbing and electrical fixtures, door hardware and other items such as tack boards were removed from the old school and reused in the new building.
    - Regionally-sourced materials [800km radius] by value = 20%

Robert Drew, Architect AAA, MAIBC, MRAIC, LEED® AP is Associate Principal, with Perkins+Will Canada, vancouver.

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