Discovery: The new building includes 38 classrooms, a flexible cafeteria and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Brynn Shaffer

It was with great fanfare the local school district announced the opening of Samohi’s latest campus project — known as the Discovery Building — last fall and now, close to one year out, administrators are shining a spotlight on numerous awards and commendations the state-of-the-art structure has attained.

During the most recent meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education, staff agendized an item to recognize the Samohi Discovery Building having received “local, regional, national and international attention in the form of awards and recognitions for its innovative and flexible design that can adapt to evolving and changing teaching and learning methods.”

The $196 million new build, paid for with money from 2012’s $385 million voter-approved bond Measure ES, brought additional car parking, an upgraded Olympic-size pool, 38 classrooms (including a rooftop STEAM classroom) and other amenities to campus including large flexible common areas and a full-service kitchen. (That $196 million price tag includes construction as well as “soft costs” like design, insurance and furniture.)

Awards include a leadership award from Green California Schools Summit in 2021 and an Honor Design Award, school category, from Westside Urban Forum in 2022. Samohi is also now a finalist for two international awards: the World Architectural Festival awards, education category, planned for November 2022, and the International Architecture Awards set for Athens in September 2022.

“What’s being noted on these awards, particularly the international awards, is how the building is both adapting to changes in education — how it’s working with educators now and in this moment, but also how it is built to change and adapt to education over time,” SMMUSD Chief Facilities Officer Carey Upton said at the July 21 School Board meeting. “So, the entire structure of the building is this idea that says we can move things around and change the walls and reconfigure over the 100-year life of this building to adjust to how education is changing. And that’s what’s really being noted.”

The Discovery Building has also been featured in publications including Architectural Record and Fast Company, which the SMMUSD cited as examples of recognitions during the meeting.

According to the January 2022 article “Discovery Building at Santa Monica High School by Moore Ruble Yudell and HED,” published in Architectural Record, the 260,000 square foot Discovery Building is the first example of an “Open Building” educational facility in the United States. This means it was constructed “for nimble adaptability of architecture,” or what local school administrators more often refer to as flexible spaces.

“All the detailed design features in the building — from the walls, the doors, the finishes and furniture — they were all strategically selected with the educational impact in mind,” incoming Samohi Principal Marae Cruce said during the meeting. “For example, the floor-to-ceiling writable spaces have energized students to brainstorm and build off of each other’s ideas. The furniture is easy to move … to allow for our teachers to structure their lessons and various seating arrangements and grouping sizes. The doors open — and sometimes the whole wall — to allow the classrooms to expand and spill out into the common areas. The flexible common areas have allowed for more collaborative learning.”

The Discovery Building was just the latest in a full campus plan update including 2015’s Innovation Building ($55 million) and the now-under-construction Exploration Building and Gold Gym ($120 million), on track to break ground in late August, with expected occupancy by fall 2024.