Hidden Villa is an environmental education organization sited on a bucolic 1,650-acre farm and wilderness preserve in the coastal hills between San Francisco and San Jose. For the past 75 years, the organization has engaged visitors in innovative, hands-on outdoor education programs, including a demonstration organic farm, a summer camp, and a youth hostel since 1937 (the oldest hostel west of the Mississippi). The new hostel facility brings the playful, educative, community-oriented spirit of Hidden Villa to structures that harmonize with the site's agrarian precedent.
Constrained in a narrow canyon by the sacred "Climbing Tree" to the west and existing cabins to the east, the new structures hug the northern slope, maximizing winter solar exposure and re-establishing the visual connection up-canyon through a series of loosely defined courtyards.
The dining hall—the literal and figurative heart of both programs—can expand into the screen porch via large bi-fold doors that incorporate distinctive windows and doors reused from the original hostel. A large dormer captures low winter sun while natural ventilation, concrete floors, and a rammed-earth wall along the north mediate extreme temperatures as well as heat from the kitchen. A ground-source geothermal heat pump provides heat to the radiant-floor system as well as hot water for the facility.
Riding a delicate balance between the simplicity of a barn, the sophistication of careful energy modeling, and a tumble of ad-hoc shacks that typify summer camps, the visitors and staff alike express delight with the new facility. A threshold between the natural and built environment, the facility demonstrates first-hand how one's living affects nature: the buildings have become part of the educational experience at Hidden Villa.