The Ocean Adventure Lab
David Heath The Ocean Adventure Lab

Each summer, a village of palatial playhouses materializes in southern California. Teams of architects, engineers, and product manufacturers donate their time and resources to Project Playhouse, a fundraiser that benefits HomeAid Orange County, a nonprofit organization that builds and renovates shelters for the homeless.

The playhouses are predictably small, each with an 8-foot-by-10-foot footprint, but they are more intricately detailed than most full-sized homes. Each of the seven playhouses on view at the Irvine Spectrum Center this year featured a theme, chosen by the design teams, from a firehouse and a Craftsman-style home to a Nantucket beach house. The Ocean Adventure Lab stood out as the lone modern design. It also was crafted to be a sustainable, net-zero showcase.

Project team membersTurner Construction Co., LPA, ProRepro, and Tangram Interiorsall share a sustainable mindset. Working off of this commonality, they partnered with the Ocean Institutea nonprofit organization based in Dana Point, Calif., that is dedicated to ocean preservation through educationto create an environment to teach kids of all ages about oceanography and green building principles.

Since all materials were donated, the resulting color palette was eclectic, which was fitting for a playhouse promoting adventure, explains LPA team member Keith Hempel. The exterior is clad in durable Trespa Meteon panels in ochre, silver, and wood tones, as well as blue plexiglass panels and Trex Accents siding. The “truth wall,” an interior wall covered in acrylic instead of gypsum board, reveals the playhouse’s construction, including 100 percent natural wool insulation and a wood structure. Large sliding doors make up two walls, providing natural ventilation and daylight.

Other sustainable features of the playhouse include salvaged materials and those made from recycled content, such as Extira panels for millwork and IceStone countertops, as well as native and water-efficient vegetation on the viewing deck and around the playhouse, energy efficient LED lighting, and Suntech Black Label photovoltaic solar modules, which can be viewed up close from the roof deck. As Project Playhouse’s first net-zero playhouse in its 19-year history, the Ocean Adventure Lab received an honorary certification from the USGBC’s Orange County chapter.

In addition to learning about sustainable design, visitors to the Lab also were invited to experiment with a wave-generating tank and play the role of oceanographer using microscopes, lab coats, and books provided by the Ocean Institute. It’s obvious that visitors and team members alike were entertainedLPA even created its own mockumentary of the design and construction process. (View it below.)

Following the summer exhibition, the playhouses were auctioned off, with proceeds of the auction going to HomeAid.

This net-zero playhouse is serious about the environment.

Ocean Adventure Lab Mocumentary: Big Plans