October 25, 2007
An extreme engineering challenge in Kirkland
By JIM OLSEN
Now, I know that with the right motivation, it’s very possible.
When I was contacted by GMS Architectural Group and asked to contribute our engineering, landscape architecture and surveying services to the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Kirkland project, I enthusiastically said “yes.”
I’m a fan of the show and thought this would be a great chance to see how monumental projects are put together in such a short time. I also couldn’t pass up the chance to take on an extreme engineering challenge, the solution of which would help a deserving local family Connie Chapin and her children. Plus, Doyle Custom Homes was committed to making this a highly rated green project.
So, help a great family in need of some innovation in a very short time-frame within the highest standards of green development? That’s my kind of challenge.
When the project first started, we guessed we would be putting together a set of plans and submitting them as usual. The beauty of the Extreme Makeover project, however, was that the typically well-defined roles of each consultant and contractor are less clear cut. This meant you essentially were able to define your role to be the most effective.
I was more than the project engineer designing grades on paper; I was out there moving the dirt myself. Our landscape architects did more than lay out the plantings on their computers; they were actually on site selecting, moving and placing the plants and other landscaping features.
It was this teamwork and the willingness to go beyond the expected from all of the partners, contributors and the city of Kirkland that made this enormous project possible. There were hundreds of people who were all working towards the same goal and all were constrained by the same hyper-shortened time-frame. It was amazing to see every one of them step up to the plate as the site began to take shape, some working throughout the day and into the night with little or no sleep.
It was also amazing to see things happening on site that you wouldn’t normally see. How often do you get to see demolition and earthwork happening at the same time? Not very often, I’d guess.
Because of the accelerated time frame, you lose the luxury of having months to make design changes. Revisions were ongoing throughout the process and drawings were updated every day. However, even with the compressed time schedule, we were allowed total creative license with the design. Since most of the materials were donated and the product is a showpiece fit for national television, no constraints were put on our use of high-end materials and design features.
The best examples of this creative freedom were the various low-impact development elements that were incorporated into the designs. Pervious pavers were added for the driveway and patio so stormwater will filter through the soil and be cleansed before entering the local waterways. Also, existing native vegetation was preserved off-site and replanted along with drought-resistant plantings instead of a grass lawn. These types of plants reduce the need for watering and energy consumption for yard care.
The design also included a rain garden and rain barrel for the site. The rain garden is designed as a small-scale type of bio-retention system using a soil and plant mix to promote on site infiltration while providing temporary storage during major rainstorms. Stormwater from the roof is collected in the rain barrel and then is either used for irrigation or directed to the rain garden, where it is stored temporarily to allow time for the ground to absorb it. In addition, the design called for topsoil from the site to be removed, amended with compost material and then replaced. This amended soil allows for better storage of stormwater.
Everyone jumped on the low-impact development bandwagon, aiming for the highest standards of green certification under the direction of local consultant Pam Worner of Green Dog Enterprises. The enthusiasm for the green elements at the Chapin home really underscored the current interest in low-impact development in the building community. This project will serve as a great example of how sustainable design can easily be incorporated into single-family homes and larger-scale site designs.
It’s also a great example of how our industry can be motivated to take on an extreme challenge and quickly work out a solution for a great cause.
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