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The Children’s Center at Caltech
Pasadena, CA


Julie Smith-Clementi
Jennifer Schab
Jon Black
Tom Myers
Mike Tramutola
Sabrina Schmidt-Wetekam


At the heart of Caltech’s LEED-Gold-certified childcare center lies the arroyo, a dry streambed carved into the site’s sloping contours. The arroyo is designed to support and expand the school's educational mission of encouraging children to play, explore, discover, and engage with the world. Filled with local granite, native grasses, bugs, birds, and lizards, the arroyo acts as a bioswale, filtering and dispersing rainwater collected onsite and stored in large cisterns.

Through observation and play, the children learn about the preciousness of water in California’s arid climate. The arroyo links and divides the play yards into discrete areas for children of each age group.
Three separate buildings distributed around the play yard contain the classrooms and administrative programs. Infant rooms are located in the quiet and lowest, southern end of the site, far from the adjacent tennis courts and buffered from parking lots by administrative and service wings. Toddlers congregate in the center of campus between the youngest and oldest residents. Pre-schoolers occupy the highest point, at the northern end of campus.

From the colorful furniture to the whimsical animal graphics to the low toilets in the bathrooms, everything about the facilities and landscape is scaled for kids aged 6 months to 6 years.  Dutch doors open at the top and the bottom; windows set at a knee-high eye level allow children to look in, look out, and discover.