In celebration of Earth Day 20014, the American Institute of Architects and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) has published its annual Top Ten Green Projects list. And as usual, it’s a truly mixed bag in the best way possible.
While last year’s jury-selected assemblage of leading “sustainable architecture and ecological design projects that protect and enhance the environment” was somewhat heavy on residential buildings compared to previous years, this year’s selection is a wildly motley crew with a strong showing of institutional and educational projects: Among them are a green-roofed waterfront park building in Brooklyn; a LEED Platinum educational center for the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; a super-efficient health services center on the campus of Arizona State University; a net-zero energy overhaul of a historic federal building and courthouse in Grand Junction, Colo; and a deep green “interactive, interpretive and gathering facility” located deep in the wilderness of West Virginia’s Summit Bechtel Reserve.
Only one entry in the 2014 COTE Top Ten Green list falls under the residential category (technically, mixed-use/multi-family residential) and it’s one that’s very much deserves a closer look, and not just because of its beautiful looks and impressive performance specs. It’s a mission of putting an end to homelessness in Portland, Ore. that truly sets the project in question, Holst Architecture’s Bud Clark Commons, apart. In fact, this eight-story building that aims to “deinstitutionalize services and housing for the most vulnerable in our population" is named in honor of a former —and rather colorful — Portland mayor who, in addition to helping make Portland the bike-utopia it is today, dedicated much of his energy to bringing issues of homelessness to the front of the city's agenda.
Described as “the centerpiece of Portland’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness," Bud Clark Commons is a LEED Platinum transitional housing and support community complete with a 90-bed temporary men’s shelter; a multi-faceted walk-in day center with a public courtyard and numerous services and amenities including job training and drug and alcohol counseling; and, last but not least, 130 furnished studio apartment units reserved for at-risk residents who are seeking affordable housing that offers both stability and permanence. Nine of the 352-square-foot studios were designed for the physical impaired and each has its own fully-equipped kitchen, bathroom, and bicycle storage area. Balconies and a host of communal facilities complement the units.
Built as a brownfield project along the Willamette River in Northwest Portland's Old Town/Chinatown district on a site that once housed a gas station and parking lot, this Housing Authority of Portland-managed complex features an array of intriguing sustainable design elements, most of which are normally associated with high-end luxury developments, not SROs. Perhaps most notable is the use of Passive House design principles on the residential floors to help drive down annual energy costs to a bare minimum. In fact, annual estimated savings due to the building's energy-efficient technologies are in the ballpark of $60,000.
In the small residential units, refrigerators and the body heat of the occupants provide most of the needed warmth, and electric valence heaters make up the difference. Heat-recovery units circulate fresh air into each apartment (a key strategy in tuberculosis control), and sensors automatically shut off heaters when occupants open windows. Ample daylighting allows the building’s fluorescent and LED lighting to be turned off 55 percent of the time.
Holst Architecture also placed a significant emphasis on building materials. In addition to opting for locally and sustainably sourced items, Holst gravitated toward materials known for their "ability to optimize the health of residents, many of whom suffer from illnesses; durability and maintenance; and energy use, given the public nature of the project and its need for cost savings." And as a "100-year building," durability was key in the design of the concrete structure. Instead of relying on cheap and inflexible options, the Holst Team embraced a "long life, loose fit" ethos — while built-to-last, the BCC also includes many flexible features such as windows that can be easily swapped out over time. And while purpose-built as a day center/shelter/supportive housing complex for the homeless, the building could also potentially be repurposed as senior or student housing.
The AIA has much more on the myriad green specs incorporated into the BCC by Holst Architecture along with additional imagery and charts. Dwell also published a profile of the building back in 2012 (the building itself was completed in June 2011) including some nice words from Portland Commissioner Nick Fish:
When people step foot inside Bud Clark Commons, they feel valued, they feel affirmed. Part of what we’re trying to do is give people a sense that this community really cares about them and their progress. It’s no Taj Mahal, but it is scaled to the neighborhood, it’s warm and inviting, and in addition to being functional, it’s beautiful.
Emphasized a jury member: "This building is more than an institution. Considering the homelessness initiative — most homeless projects seem institutionalized and one dimensional, but this is not stigmatized, it is thoughtful and brings a new way of thinking about how these facilities should be done. It is a gorgeous project. This approach should be imitated."
And Bud Clark Commons wasn't the only Portland project to be honored as one of 2014's top green buildings: The Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building Project, a LEED Platinum overhaul of an outdated and inefficient 70's-era downtown office building, was also named a winner.
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