Tuesday, September 30, 2008

zHome: The first zero-energy development in the nation.

Building Green is gaining much momentum these days in the industry, and is becoming common place in the Pacific Northwest. From LEED standards, to new marketplace products, to actual developments, we are becoming much more advanced and responsible in our practice. Often times though, you'll find just some basic tweaks to a project so that the builder can claim "building green". This is obviously not the case with LEED standards, as they review and investigate in order to reward a project with a certain level (gold, platinum, etc.) of certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. Developed by USGBC, LEED addresses all building types and emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality. LEED is a practical rating tool for green building design and construction that provides immediate and measurable results for building owners and occupants.

One project that is not simply making small claims but really reaching to achieve a high set of standards, is zHome (zero energy homes) with their development in Issaquah. The force behind this project is Howland Homes, Port Blakely Communities, King County, the City of Issaquah, and various other partners. The below picture shows the design, depicting many advanced features that will seriously raise the building green bar.

A excerpt from the City of Issaquah website regarding this project follows:
"Construction starts today on the first multifamily, production housing project in the nation to use no more energy than it generates during the course of a year, resulting in a carbon neutral development. Located in the City of Issaquah, zHome will consist of 10 attached townhomes that use zero net energy, 60 percent less water, have clean indoor air and use only low-toxicity materials. zHome’s purpose is to demonstrate that homes that offer these types of cutting- edge environmental building principles are possible and scalable for mainstream housing production."

Take a look at the project website to learn what's possible these days...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Residential Style in Tower Form

Skipped a day of work recently during a perfect Seattle summer week and biked around the city. I had in mind my previous post, "Stuff I'm Digging (and not) ... Condo Tower Designs" regarding how a fair share of the new condo developments downtown are looking more like office buildings than residences. So as a quick follow up to the previous post I thought I'd add another project, one that I feel is very successful at creating the residential feel.

In the core of the city is rising the Escala condominium project. This tower is being developed by Lexas Companies of Seattle, and was designed by Thoryk Architecture of San Diego. Escala has been in the makings/construction for a long time. Perhaps due to the tight lot size being fully maximized, existing buildings in close proximity, and the extremely deep parking garage they had to dig and shore. They're now at the phase of the construction when the building shoots up quickly, that being the floors above the foundation and the retail - where each level repeats itself. The first thing you notice when you are at street level is the intimacy being created for the pedestrian. With the base is still covered in scaffolding, you can already start to feel the details and gathering spaces develop a sense of welcome. The picture shown here depicts a wide open space in front of the building, but in reality it's a fairly dense block and a relatively narrow street. Which I think makes the pedestrian consideration even more important to ground the building at street level and create a neighborhood feel (being that there are 30 plus stories looming above).

The other aspect of the design helping to create the residential feel is the footprint of the building. Lots of balconies, curving faces, angled corners, and other details not found on office buildings. The building speaks residential. Hopefully they will tuck some cafes in the nooks and provide areas for outside eating. I found an old 2003 article written about urban living in Vancouver, Canada, detailing how the successful approach in the developments there was soon going to be adopted in US cities. We're now 5 years later, and certainly Seattle is benefiting from the lessons taught by Vancouver. Take a look at the article here. And please be sure to let me know your opinion about this post and the related previous... perhaps leave me a comment! Agree or disagree?