Old School meets New School

Backyard of Junior High School (BEFORE)Great ideas become community at the Smiley Building in Durango, CO.

John and Charles Shaw and Lisa Bodwalk have created something that planners and designers strive for… community.  There are intangibles that can cause designers to struggle with creating community from scratch.   Many lessons can be learned from the Smiley Building transformation in Durango.  People are drawn to creativity and stewardship.  The building is full of artists, craftsman, dancers, designers, and students.  The parking lot behind the building has been converted into a park where weddings are performed and students take recess.  The auditorium has become reinvigorated with dance performances, movies, and concerts.  The success of the Smiley Building is providing that place where people want to come back to day after day, year after year.  This place is a continual evolution – the owners, teachers, and users experiment with the arts, education, and the latest energy efficient technologies. While other institutions and projects continue on a conservative path, the Smiley Building is a proving grounds.  The balance is struck between historic preservation, sustainable technology, and social vitality.  This piece of architecture has been transformed by individuals and ideas into a treasured piece of the Durango community.


Backyard of Junior High School (AFTER)The 45,000-square-foot Smiley Building is a formerly abandoned, Depression-era junior high school transformed over the last decade by a trio of dedicated individuals into an energy efficient solar-powered center for arts, education and creativity located in downtown Durango, Colorado.

In 1997 brothers John and Charles Shaw and his wife Lisa Bodwalk bought the run-down building from the local school district. The historic, yellow-brick, Mission-style structure was extensively renovated and made highly energy efficient. The Smiley Building’s three enthusiastic owners have transformed the junior high school, constructed in 1936, into a hub of community activity– and the meticulously restored historic building into a world-renowned showcase for energy-efficiency and solar power.

Today the hallways and former classrooms of the Smiley Building buzz with activity from dawn until late at night, with classes ranging from dance, music, martial arts, and yoga to ceramics, photography, painting and web design. View images of some of the ongoing activities in the gallery below:

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CONSERVATION FEATURES (Link to article in Solar Today magazine.)

The solar and energy conservation features listed below help make The Smiley Building one of the most energy efficient buildings in the country.

solar panels 2 copySolar Electric (Photovoltaic): 44.6 kilowatt ( or 44,600 watts) photovoltaic system consisting of 279 individual modules. This system provides more than 100% of the building’s electricity needs year around.

Solar Thermal: 1000 sq ft solar thermal system. Provides 30% of the building’s heat in winter and most of the hot water year around. Hot water from the solar is circulated in tubing within the floors.

Efficient Boilers: Four 200,000 BTU 97% efficient natural gas sealed combustion gas boilers and one 100,000 BTU high efficiency cordwood boiler heat the radiators, floors and fan coils.

Heating Controls: Individual Zones and programmable thermostats control heat to individual rooms. Heat is off at night or when the room is not used.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs): The majority of the bulbs in the building were retrofitted with energy saving CFLs. CFLs use 75% less energy than equivalent standard incandescent light bulbs while producing the same amount of light.

Occupancy sensors: save energy when common areas, restrooms, and other spaces are not occupied. Infrared sensors turn the lights out and ventilation off when not needed.

gardenPhotocells: Photocells control lighting in hallways, stairwells and outside lights. They turn off lights when there is sufficient natural light available.

Solar charged battery powered lawn tractor and snowblower: This tractor is completely powered by the sun. It is charged by 216 watts of photovoltaics and can mow all the buildings lawns on one charge. It also clears the snow from the sidewalks and paths around the building. This tractor eliminates the need for small gasoline engines, which are a major factor in urban air quality.

Cooling: The Building is cooled by a combination of evaporative cooling, two stage evaporative cooling as well as natural and mechanical ventilation . There is no air-conditioning in the building.

Hot water heat recovery: Waste heat from some showers and sinks is recovered to pre-heat domestic hot water.

Efficient Appliances: All appliances are energy star rated.

Insulation: Insulation has been added throughout the building where possible to help with heat loss and gain.

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Click on the image to link to the Article in Preservation Magazine


  1. Really amazing, Walker. The town as well as the owners must be very proud to have this piece of history enveloped into the modern-day community. How long did all of this take?

    • It has been about a decade now. That is one of the great things about this place it is an ongoing process. It is not about getting everything done at once. The spaces inside and outside of the building continually adapt to the community’s needs. The latest need of the community is chocolate. Charles just remodeled a space below the old gymnasium, that includes a bank of windows salvaged from another project, for Silverton Chocolates. http://silvertonchocolates.com

      The other thing I forgot to mention was that the owners live in a wonderful space in the building. There may be more residential units in the building in the future… bringing even more activity.

  2. I think it has taken 10 years or so, he just does a little bit at a time. I don’t think Walker mentioned it but our office is located in this building.

  3. It is a great place to work! I went to school here for 8th grade. Its fascinating to see how the the building has evolved to support a variety of uses.

  4. What are the materials for the labyrinth – fun to have that as a part of the urban/building experience

    • It was kind of a fun process to see… it was set up by college students who asked the owner if they could do the installation… they cut the labyrinth pattern out of the lawn in front of the building… then they planted crops for the vertical and left grass for the walking surface… they used corn, beans, perennials, sunflowers… I would say the vertical piece was pretty informal… this fall the groundskeeper raked all the leaves into the bare areas where the crops were… it really highlighted the pattern with the red leaves… it is totally covered in snow right now but I am looking forward to the pattern revealing itself again when the snow starts to melt unevenly… our kids loved running in it and following the pattern to the middle… it is a really interestesting pattern that you see from the sidewalk and tenants see from above…I think it was well received and next year the labyrinth pattern might be planted with flowers only…making it even more visually striking.

  5. I like this article.First time to your blog. Greatful for sharing. I have to subscribe to this website. I was a house decorator for 5 years. Our home decorating tip of the week is: Do not overclutter a home. Spacing is essential. Thank you …

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