Santa Monica Electric
"Colorado Court was a natural evolution for us," notes Scarpa, "providing us with an exciting and challenging opportunity to put all our principles into action. And for a great, often underrated cause — affordable, sustainable housing."
Building for Longevity and Climate
The building program consists of 44 single-room-occupancy units plus a community room, mailroom, two outdoor common courtyards, bike storage, and a 20-car, below-grade parking garage. The ground floor is constructed of reinforced concrete, which supports a lightweight timber frame for the upper stories.
The second floor exterior courtyard is a concrete slab finished with Dex-O-Tex, a gray waterproof covering. The exterior decks above the second floor have a concrete topping slab. Shade screen walls are clad in galvanized metal, a hardy, inexpensive material that was chosen for its appearance and low maintenance requirements.
Windows of varying sizes and shapes punctuate the sage-colored stucco facade. There are several corner windows, but no consistency in placement. "When designing this project we looked at the building as a whole, not a series of individual apartments pasted together," says project architect Angela Brooks regarding the irregular placement of corner windows. "It gives the building a much more dignified appearance."
Colorado Court is designed to optimize thermal comfort. The building is oriented to the southwest, and vertical arrays of solar panels protect the exterior courtyards from the brunt of offshore wind gusts. The moderated breezes then waft throughout the complex, creating effective natural ventilation. With its breezeway and awnings, the building exploits Santa Monica's mild climate, minimizing the need for air conditioning and heat in the units.
Simple, small, but functional, each of the studios was designed with the tenant's comfort in mind. Each 375-square-foot (35-square-meter) unit boasts a 10-foot (3-meter) high ceiling with ample natural light and operable windows for cross ventilation. Large windows are oriented to the north, and smaller transom windows are located on the south side, above the door.
Green building efforts included the use of recycled, less-polluting materials for the interiors. The firm specified cellulose (newspaper pulp) instead of standard fiberglass insulation and oriented strand board (of recycled wood fibers) instead of plywood. Carpets consist of 20 percent recycled material, and cabinets are constructed of a product made from wood chips, without formaldehyde.
Colorado Court's presence on the street corner is marked by a series of brilliant blue, solar electric panels integrated into the facade and roof. The photovoltaic panels give an interesting aesthetic element to the otherwise monochromatic facade, shielding the exterior stairwell from both gusty breezes and the busy street.
The panels, which release no pollutants, work in conjunction with a natural-gas-powered turbine/ heat recovery system to generate electricity and serve the building's hot water heating and other power needs. The system also captures and uses waste heat for hot water and space heating.
Unused energy stored in the passive panels is returned to the city's energy grid during the day then retrieved at night as needed. This state-of-the-art energy system is designed to pay for itself in less than ten years and is expected to save over $6,000 per year in electricity and natural gas bills.
Energy-efficient appliances and "smart" fluorescent lights that turn off when a room is vacated minimize the potential for waste. Initially, tenants were to receive an energy allowance but this proved difficult to implement. As an alternative, the building was master metered, with CCSM paying any utility bills.
"We have no way to encourage the tenants to conserve now," explained Robin Raida, Project Director, CCSM. "However, since all of the lights and appliances are energy efficient and the units are only studios, we figure that there won't be many ways to waste energy. Master metering makes it easier to utilize the energy generated from the solar panels and microturbine."
An aggressive water reclamation system, located at the low end of an alley, is expected to reclaim nearly 100 percent of the block's stormwater runoff. Although the water is not recycled for other uses, it travels through underground chambers to be slowly reabsorbed into the ground.
Providing a Model for Future Developments
Complying with the strict standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council, PSK enforced a "green addendum" throughout planning and construction. The addendum ensured that contractors would follow specifications that defined the materials to be used, construction methods, and a waste-recycling program. All agencies involved in the project had to adhere to the specifications.
The collaborative efforts of PSK, CCSM and the City of Santa Monica are to be commended in light of the growing severity of California's water and energy troubles. The solutions devised for Colorado Court provide valuable lessons for other cities and will hopefully inspire architects, contractors, and policy-makers to answer the call for more energy-efficient and green buildings.
Allison Milionis is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer with a varied background in the arts and architecture professions. She has been published in several international architecture and design publications and is currently working on her first novel.