If you don't have a subscription to the DJC or don't click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.
Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month's excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year's coverage.
In it, you'll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called "Watch out for 'greenwashing' by service providers." Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification. Interesting item to bring up.
There's this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called "Two Seattle projects set 'net-zero' water goals," which looks at the region's water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School's Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog) that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.
Then there's this article by Elizabeth Powers at O'Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I'll let you read the article to learn more.
The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city's role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.
So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!
One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.
My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that
The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.
That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.
Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.
According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).
By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.
I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.
If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?
For those of you that don't live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is in the process of being redeveloped.
District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.
But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.
Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!
The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what's more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city's green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.
The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario...?!)
Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.'s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.
The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.
The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I'm sure there's a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.
It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.
Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County's $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.
What do you think?
P.S. Like me on Facebook for regular updates on blog posts and similar green building information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Katie-Zemtseff/301025823604
A few years ago during an interview, I spoke with a source who told me about something called "passivhaus." I remember listening attentively and I remember being surprised and impressed with the ideas behind the method, specifically the tight, efficient envelope it supports. I can't recall who my source was. But I do remember getting this Feb. 2009 notice that the Passive House Institute U.S. was going to be speaking in Seattle. In fact, I was registered but did not attend.
Now, almost two years later, the first passive houses are completing construction. One of them is currently located in a very public space - at the parking lot of the Phinney Neighborhood Center. TheJohnson Braund Design Group. Turns out Joe was at that passive house meeting and was so inspired, he became a passive house consultant. Then, he chose to build mini-b as a demonstration project to show others just how cool the system is.
Mini-B is a 300-square-foot dwelling designed to meet the city's requirements for a backyard cottage on a single-family lot. It has a bathroom, kitchenette and sleeping area. The project will have a grand opening at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15. Then, it will be open for weekend open houses starting the weekend of Jan. 29 and lasting for six months. After that, it will be sold. Partners in the project include South Seattle Community College and the Phinney Neighborhood Center. After paying back development costs, any profits will go to those partners and to a nonprofit housing organization, Giampietro said. The goal is provide exposure for the method. Giampietro thinks similar units could be developed for $80,000 each and thinks it has potential for affordable housing units. Weekday tours will be available by appointment.
Giampietro said there another passive house in South Seattle is nearing completion, and that there are 12 others in the works in the area. He said there are about 40 passive house consultants in the area. There's also this organization - Passive House Northwest - which holds really fascinating conferences from time to time on the passive house method.
In the fallout from the recession, I'm hearing a little bit here and a little bit there about green housing projects. But what I seem to be hearing a lot about is prefabricated, modular projects or buildings constructed of pieces made at a factory. Whether cottage dwellings to go in a backyard or totally separate houses, this field seems to have an underlying invigorating energy, leaving me to wonder if it's the next big thing?GreenFab- Johnny Hartsfield and Swen Grau - about their very first modular housing project in Jackson Place, pictured at left. GreenFab's overarching goal is to revolutionize housing. But it plans to start now by building well-designed, sustainable, affordable modular projects, or by consulting for others who want to do the same thing. Look for a story soon on this company in the DJC.
You might remember my mentioning GreenFab in a post from last summer here (as a disclaimer from that post, GreenFab's projects will likely not pursue the Living Building Challenge now, though Hartsfield plans to do so in the future). The project is targeting LEED platinum certification.
The other company, Backyard Box, was founded by Seattle green developer Sloan Ritchie. This concept is focused more on backyard cottages. Customers select a design they want with a set price, can choose to payhere.
Then there was June's Backyard Cottage Design Challenge Showcase, hosted by Method Homes (another local developer of prefab projects) and Infiniti RED. The challenge showcased the work of 35 local architects and designers who submitted prefab friendly backyard cottage designs. That showcase can be viewed here. Ideabox of Salem, Ore., is yet another regional prefab company.
On the less-local front, Charles Redell at Sustainable Industries wrote a piece here on August 19 called "Modular Could Lead Commercial Construction Market." In it, he discusses a new partnership between YKK AP America, a manufacturer of building components, and Project FROG, a panelized modular building company. In it, Oliver Stepe of YKK says his company is repositioning towards the next innovation of the built environment.
Then there's this article by Dave Walsh from last October that discusses modular buildings' growth in Holland. If it's growing in Holland, you know there's a chance it will catch on here: http://www.djc.com/news/ae/12011276.
If you've been paying attention, you know 2010 has been a pivotal year for Seattle's waterfront.
In March, the city awarded a contract for seawall work, worth about $18 million, to a multi-disciplinary team led by TetraTech. At the same time, it sped up the schedule to redesign and redevelop its Central Waterfront Project
Wednesday was the RFQ deadline for central waterfront work. A team is expected to be chosen by the end of September. The budget for design work over the first two years is expected to be about $6 million while the estimated budget for planning and design of the entire project is between $50 and $70 million. It got 30 proposals on the urban design/public space side.
Not to mention the process (or sometimes lack thereof) for the replacement on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is crucial to how the city's waterfront will be opened up.
Make no mistake about it, these projects combined will totally reshape our downtown. However, in all the hustle and bustle, it can be really hard to imagine just what that end result will be. Or what it is Seattleites want it to be.
If the city proceeds with the deep bore tunnel option, the goal is for the seawall to be done by the time the bored tunnel is complete, currently scheduled for 2016. Construction on the waterfront work could begin this same year.
The seawall may seem like the smallest of the three but how it is designed and managed will be incredibly important to the foundation of the other two projects. One big push is to create places along the waterfront for the public - for you and I - to interact with the water. Places that aren't separated by physical walls but allow us to connect with water, the cultural backbone of our city.
In June, Bob Chandler, city program manager for the viaduct and seawall replacement, said the city is looking for a seawall that supports the waterfront while providing habitat value and creating space for people to interact with the water. “We have an opportunity,” he said. “We need to come up with an approach here that provides protection in a seismic event but that doesn't necessarily mean this is a 35-foot high straight wall. It doesn't mean that at all.”
My question is - how do you envision this?
What should it look like? How do you want to interact with the water, related to the seawall? Once the seawall is complete, what would your optimal redeveloped waterfront look like? Sustainably, what should its function really be?
I recently spent my honeymoon in Greece and Turkey. In each city I visited on the water, there were vibrant spaces located along its edge. I couldn't help wondering what it would take to create the same kind of energy in our city: a bustling mix of tourists and locals that waxes on until the early hours of the morning every day. In Greece and Turkey, the answer is built on history, combined with making these spaces centers of tourism and city life.
These are a lot of questions, often without answer. Part of the point of the design process is to come up with that answer, and there will be a number of opportunities to participate in the formal process. One will be a meeting with teams shortlisted for the central waterfront design work at Benaroya Hall on Sept. 15 - mark your calendar. For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
This week, Dan Bertolet published a great post titled simply 'McNeighborhood,' over at Publicola. The post discusses a project called The Corydon Apartments/Merril Gardens, located a few blocks north of University Village. Bertolet characterizes the project (which is pretty giant at two city blocks long) as a McNeighborhood and has this to say about its design:
"The overall effect is, well, just fine, I guess. Pleasant, though not inspiring. Sort of like the Pottery Barn aesthetic writ large—it looks good on a superficial level, but the soul is missing."
I read the post with interest, then I read the comments. Many are quite positive. Commenter Cook says: "The building is actually quite nice compared to what could have gone in there." Commenter Gomez said the design criticism has weight but the project is better than what was on site before -- nothing.
Commenter giffy says: "I'd say this is exactly the kind of development we need more of in this city. And
Taken together, I think the post and comments pose an interesting question: just how much should we require of design? Should this project be commended for being better than what previously existed or should it be penalized (in our opinion) for not being as good as it could be?
In the interest of total disclosure, I'll tell you that I grew up in this neighborhood and now live in it, so I've watched this site change and develop over a period of many, many years. Yes, the Corydon/Merrill Gardens is a big, big development for the area. But at street level, it is less jarring than a number of other nearby projects. Additionally, the storefronts are filling up with (mostly) local, user friendly shops. A liquor store, a clothing boutique, a Peet's Coffee and a Japanese restaurant.
The new project is also a lot better than the burned out husk of an Italian restaurant that used to be there (Ciao Bella, though in all fairness, the space wasn't a husk for too long and was renovated following the fire in 2003).
So here's my question: just how ugly is this building? Is it an example of poor design? Or is it pretty darn good for the area it is in. What do you think? To see more pictures, click on the link to Bertolet's post above or click on the link to Corydon.
I'm back in Seattle and the haziness of the Globe Conference (so many conference sessions on giant, world changing ideas!) is finally lifting from my head.
However, I must return to a theme I explored last week in this post about whether Vancouver or Seattle is greener. In that post's comments, Mhays said Seattle needs to encourage density to really be the greenest it can be. "We’re doing a good job in many ways, but way behind Vancouver," he said.
After spending some time there and paying particular attention to the density issue, I couldn't agree more. Sure, Vancouver has its problems. In one session at Globe, Peter Busby explored one of these saying people in Vancouver that live near the center of the city have lower greenhouse gas emissions than those who live further out. To counter this, he proposes creating density nodes throughout the rest of the city that would allow people to live, work and play in their neighborhoods rather than having to go downtown. (More on Vancouver's stance on density here).
But when you look at the variety of housing types in Vancouver's downtown, it just blows Seattle out of the park. Basically, in Seattle, you can live downtown if you want to - or can afford - a condo. In Vancouver however, you don't have to be confined to a condo to live downtown. They have - gasp! - row houses!
Here are a few images of downtown housing types. They are just a small tidbit of the many varieties of styles I saw:
The pictures don't show the difference as clearly as you would see with your own eyes. But basically, in parts of Vancouver's downtown, you can live in units that are much more like townhouses than they are condos. This row-housing type is shown in the first image and last image. If you look closely, you can also see this type of housing at the base of the second image.
The variety of housing types is sure to attract different kind of people. Not everyone wants to live downtown in a condo... but if you could live downtown in something resembling a townhouse with a bit more private space, suddenly you attract a whole other market.
So... why can't Seattle do this? Why can't we bring other housing types downtown? What stops us from having that variety? And is there anything we could do now to encourage it?
Busby had an interesting observation. As cities grow, he said, many new inhabitants will be immigrants from Africa and other areas that are already used to living densely. Generally, he said they are used to small living areas and to lots of walking. We can take advantage of this influx, he said, to "change the pattern of organization" in cities.
Now, I don't mean to knock Seattle. We have a great city that is moving forward on a number of fronts. But as far as diversifying housing use in downtown... it seems like the same old same old. (And by diversifying, by the way, I mean doing so for different price points as well as in unit styles).
Even in Vancouver, these things aren't easy. But the important thing is to keep improving. Mayor Gregor Robertson said, "There's angst about the transition here and potential political disaster associated with that but in Vancouver, we see huge opportunities for change."
P.S. Nick Christensen of OregonLive.com has an interesting article from January on a similar topic here.