Stanford University, Denning House

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Stanford University, Denning House

The Denning House creates a new home for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program at Stanford University that supports the program’s goal to build a graduate scholarship and education program that will prepare leaders in the 21st century and beyond.

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We thought of Denning House like a treehouse, a special retreat hidden away in the trees, but actually very much at the center of campus, and campus life.

Richard Olcott, Design Partner
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Denning House is a gathering place at the center of campus, a hub for the scholars of the Knight Hennessy program. At the same time it is a place apart, a quiet refuge from the hubbub of the surrounding university. The House is meant to be a daily touchstone for scholars, a place for them to develop as leaders, a hub for interdisciplinary exchange and a home for experiences that will influence their lives.

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The site, at the edge of Lake Lagunita, is an unusual one: formerly a parking lot, it is surrounded by a dense forested landscape of California oaks, more like the original landscape here than the current manicured Stanford campus.

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A gently curving, floating boardwalk delivers one to a “front porch” and lobby space. From here, one slowly ascends a gracious shallow stair, which gradually reveals the expansive view, until now totally hidden. A gently sloping ceiling rises up towards the lake, creating a continuous flowing space with major spaces arrayed along the arcing façade, and out to a continuous deck along the lake.

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The building’s design takes advantage of this site condition by inverting the program, placing the large public spaces including dining, classroom and lounges, on the second floor, where they take full advantage of the spectacular view. These surmount the administration, conference, and back-of-house facilities on the ground floor.

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Through these devices, and the use of Douglas fir wood structure and surfaces throughout the interior and cypress cladding on the exterior, the building feels like a treehouse, far removed from the campus around it, hidden in the trees but looking out at the iconic California landscape beyond, for which Stanford is famous. In this way it is a different kind of building for Stanford, but very much of its place.

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Denning House reflects the Knight-Hennessy mission to effect large-scale positive impact in the world by integrating sustainable design strategies throughout the building. Nestled within a mature grove of live oak trees, the building form employs recessed footings to conserve and intensify native vegetation, restoring the habitat. A natural ventilation strategy is implemented on the upper floor to reduce the building’s carbon footprint and maximize both energy effectiveness and user-comfort. Acknowledging the site as a major bird habitat, bird-friendly glass spans across on the south-side of the building along the deck to minimize bird collisions and improve solar performance.

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Stanford, CA
18,000 GSF
Classrooms, Lounges, Administration Spaces, Conference Space, Offices, Shared Public Space


Ennead Design Team
Richard Olcott, Timothy Hartung, Emily Kirkland, Margarita Calero, Charles Wolf, Ann Wright, Haitao Zhou
Landscape Architects
Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Tim Griffith for Ennead Architects