Projects / Educational      Saco, Maine

The Ecology School at River Bend Farm


  • 2022 AIA Maine Honor Award
  • 2022 Rethinking the Future First Award - Sustainable Project of the Year
  • 2022 Rethinking the Future Second Award - Institutional
  • 2021 MEREDA Magnificent Seven - Honorable Mention
  • MEEA 2018 Environmental Ally of the Year


  • Decor Maine


In a four-firm collaboration with Simons Architects, Briburn, and Richardson & Associates, we endeavored to design The Ecology School’s new campus as the world’s first Living Community.

The School brings students from across New England to participate in field trips and residential overnight programs where they will engage in hands-on field ecology and science experiences focused on environmental stewardship, resiliency, and the joy of getting outdoors.

In 2017, after years of renting a property, the School was able to plant permanent roots with the purchase of Riverbend Farm, a 105-acre working farm along the mighty Saco River. Located almost entirely within a conservation easement, the site demanded a design that embraced its existing ecology. The School accepted this challenge, aspiring to build one of the greenest residential environmental learning centers in the country.

Our team partnered with consultants and landscape ecologists to understand the site’s potential and successfully design the world’s first Living Community Compliant Master Plan within it.


Mindfully developed on only 8.2 acres, The Ecology School’s campus introduces a minimal built footprint to nurture its programs and exemplify its pedagogy of regenerative human-nature relationships. A new Dining Commons featuring an innovative all-electric commercial kitchen and a trio of interconnected Dormitories containing 144 beds supplement the farm’s existing historic infrastructure. The greater property serves as an expansive outdoor classroom to anchor lessons and engage the community in connecting with the environment.

Per the requirements of a Living Community, the campus achieves both Net Positive Energy (generates more energy than it consumes) and Net Positive Water (water leaves the site cleaner than it entered). Two onsite photovoltaic arrays meet approximately 105% of the School’s energy demands without the use of combustion or fossil fuels. A closed loop system extracts potable water from a well and uses activated carbon filters and UV light to treat wastewater without the use of chemicals. Captured storm- and rainwater nourish the fields and gardens, which in turn grow nutritious produce for the Dining Commons.

All project materials are free of Red List chemicals, come from responsibly managed industries, and are sourced locally whenever possible. The buildings are PVC-free, constructed with exclusively FSC-certified lumber, and built to Passive House-quality air tightness standards.

The design and mission of River Bend Farm link human and natural systems through a fully immersive learning experience. Science literacy gained through this direct experience will teach visitors not just how the natural world works, but also our place within it. Will any of The Ecology School’s students grow up to be green architects one day? We sure hope so.


  • Year Completed

  • Cost

  • Partners

    Simons Architects
    Richardson & Associates
    Integrated Eco Strategies
    Zachau Construction

Sustainability Achievements


  • Living Community Challenge registered
  • Sustainable landscape
  • Edible landscape
  • Native plantings
  • Renovation required minimal site disturbance
  • Bike racks onsite
  • Reused materials from the site
  • Ecological Stormwater Management
  • Resilient landscape design


  • Living Community Challenge registered
  • Uses recycled or reclaimed materials
  • Uses locally-sourced materials
  • Designed for durability
  • Designed for low maintenance
  • Designed for minimal embodied energy
  • Low global warming potential insulation


  • Living Community Challenge registered
  • Optimized for daylighting
  • Fresh air ventilation system for indoor air quality
  • Visual connection to the outdoors
  • Low-VOC finishes
  • Formaldehyde-free building
  • Living Building Challenge Red List compliant
  • Health Product Declarations compliant
  • Contains no EPA chemicals of concern


  • Living Community Challenge registered
  • Rainwater capturing system
  • Low-flow fixtures
  • Designed to maintain natural drainage patterns
  • Landscaping requires little irrigation


  • Living Community Challenge registered
  • Fossil fuel-free building
  • Uses renewable energy systems
  • Uses passive design strategies
  • Net zero
  • Has an integrated energy monitoring system
  • Fresh air ventilation system with heat recovery
  • Super-insulated
  • Triple-glazed windows
  • High Quality Air-tight construction
  • Drainwater heat recovery system
  • Electric vehicle charging integration