Remember your first off-campus apartment? I do. And it was a dump. My junior year of college, after “graduating” from the dorms on the urban campus of my housing-strapped alma mater, I moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood that I shared with two roommates. Cramped, dark, rodent-infested, overpriced, amenity-less, and boasting a herbal perma-odor that I can thank the bongo-playing Berklee students across the hall for, my first independent digs were a horror show (and how can I forget the night the building caught on fire?).


In the years since my first non-dormitory living arrangements, green on-campus housing has become somewhat de rigeur with many institutions erecting eco-friendly residence halls (here’s a look at an exceptional example) and retrofitting older buildings to become more energy-efficient. Green student housing developments, buildings often notorious for being outdated and inefficient, have begun to bleed off-campus as well.  


It makes sense then that environmentally sustainable student housing will soon arrive in Isla Vista, one of the country’s most densely populated (over 15,000 residents in under .6 square miles!) and party-hearty (Halloween rager, anyone?) student ghettos. Located adjacent to the University of California, Santa Barbara and boasting a median age of 21, Isla Vista’s housing stock may hold endless appeal to the collegiate crowd (who cares what your apartment building looks like when you're a block from the beach?) but it’s also severely outdated having been constructed quickly and for on the cheap in the 1950s and 1960s. Isla Vista has been long been in need of a drastic, eco-minded shake-up.

Well, The Loop Isla Vista is here to shake things up. Due for completion later this summer and ready to take its first batch of new residents at the start of the school year, the Loop is a mixed-use (48 “modern loft” rental units with 8,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor) student housing development with seriously deep green cred. Recently bestowed with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), California’s most prestigious environmental honor, Santa Barbara-based developer Mesa Lane Partners is behind what’s to be the first privately financed LEED certified (the project is aiming for Platinum) student housing development in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties.


What’s more, the 44,994-square-foot structure with net-zero energy aspirations was designed using Passive House building principles by DMA Architecture (principal Edward DeVincente is one of only a handful of Passive House-certified architects in California) along with Frank Gehry protégé Gerhard Mayer of Mayer Architects.


The Loop’s impressive laundry list of green specs are the result of a unique partnership between Mesa Lane Partners — CEO Neil Dipaola, a UCSB grad himself, works alongside local and national nonprofits such as the Environmental Defense CenterCommunity Environmental Council, and the USGBC — and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Designed to use 50 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than buildings of a comparable size, sustainable features of the Loop includes a rooftop solar array, EnergyStar appliances, dual-flush toilets and water-efficient fixtures in all units, LED lighting throughout the building, a vegetated green roof, zero-VOC paints and finishes, drought resistant landscaping, large operable windows in each unit for maximum natural ventilation and daylighting, and the use of recycled and/or locally sourced building materials throughout. Dipaola told me in recent phone conversation that the Loop “optimizes sustainability and energy efficiency at every turn.”


Although residents won't be able to check and tweak the energy usage of their individual units via real-time energy monitoring systems, the entire building's energy performance will be monitored by the folks from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.



Built as an urban infill project on a once-contaminated parcel of land that housed an auto service station, the Loop further emphasizes car-free living in a community already known for bike and pedestrian friendliness: there’s ample on-site secured bike parking and two dedicated car-share spaces in the building’s garage which employs automated robotic parking lifts to squeeze in more cars in less space. According to Dipaola, special permission was granted by the state to include less parking spaces than what normally be required for buildings of this size. And in case you were wondering, the Loop’s Walk Score is 65.


With its striking, modern design — Dipaola call the Loop “the iPhone of buildings” — with a facade that resembles a cluster of small buildings rather than one continuous structure, the development is being built using an integrated project delivery method to keep costs low. Dipaola remarks that the Loop is “the most sustainable project in the world for the price.”


Not-necessarily-green amenities of the Loop sure to appeal to its residents include a location just one block from the UCSB campus (two lecture halls are directly across the street), two 24-hour “laundry lounges,” “screaming fast” wireless internet, Juliet balconies, an outdoor gym, a community fire pit and ping-pong and foosball tables located in the building’s outdoor rooftop lounge, a 24-hour quiet study lounge, soundproof walls (amen!), an online rent and bill-paying system, and optional housekeeping and fluff and fold laundry services. And because this is Isla Vista we’re talking about, there’s optional on-site surfboard storage as well as a stand-up paddleboard rental services.


The pet-friendly units start at between $850 - $1250 per month for a studio. On the higher end, a few tricked-out, fully furnished penthouse units that fit between five and six beds rent between $1,275 and $1,530 per person. And to keep parents of Loop-ers (a gurantor is required in most cases) in the, umm, loop, there’s a Very Important Parent (VIP) program where “parents are treated with special gifts, quarterly newsletters, and are included in events on-site year round.”


Head on over to the Loop homepage or to the development’s Facebook page to read more about this remarkable project which, by the way, is currently leasing. I don't know about you but I'm about ready to pull a Rodney Dangerfield.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The Loop Isla Vista brings green to UCSB student ghetto
In Isla Vista, Calif., an easy-going but architectural outdated beachside college community where the median age is just 21, a new LEED certified student housin