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Building Green 2004

March 11, 2004

A sustainable seed grows in South Lake Union

  • The Cascade EcoRenovation will serve as a living laboratory for urban sustainable living
    Jones & Jones

    community center
    Photo courtesy of Jones & Jones
    This community center in the Cascade neighborhood will be renovated to meet LEED platinum standards, with passive ventilation, exterior insulation, solar water heating and harvested rain water for the toilets.

    Cascade EcoRenovation is a seed project growing at the south end of Lake Union, just downslope from REI.

    Located at the corner of Cascade Playground, the building is accessible on all sides, a rare feature in the urban environment, allowing fresh air, people and light to enter.

    More precious are the people who have guided transformation of the former Bausch and Lomb warehouse into a community space and educational center for urban sustainability.

    In 1996, the Cascade Neighborhood Council created a set of guidelines for enhancing economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring natural environments.

    Members knew their neighborhood would see extensive redevelopment in the near future, so the community mobilized to supplement design guidelines by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development with resource conservation, efficient energy use and environmental enhancement.

    The principles of the guidelines were seen in the conceptual design of the Cascade EcoRenovation, developed by Environmental Works. A Department of Neighborhoods grant in 2003 permitted the design to be developed through construction documents by Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects.

    One goal for the EcoRenovation is to provide a catalyst for other communities to give their neighborhoods a more sustainable future. The center will serve as a living laboratory for urban sustainable living.

    Collaborative design

    The Jones & Jones team approached design of the EcoRenovation in a collaborative, “around the kitchen table” style, where steering committee members were active participants in the design process.

    Early charettes in programming and schematic design involved all members of the consultant team to maximize the interconnectedness of systems, materials, energy and waste.

    The initial workshop produced principles of striving to do more with less to make an elegantly simple sustainable building. Examples include limiting water consumption, reducing energy load and maintaining existing building mass for passive heating and cooling.

    Another driving principle throughout the project is the value of people, in large groups and small. In parallel to energy, water, waste and light, the renovation will begin to take shape with the most valuable and unlimited resource: imagination.

    A principle of “reduce first” led the team to question the mechanical, electrical and water systems. Can we live without it? How do we keep the air fresh? Can we delete air conditioning? Don't flush with the drinking water!

    Tough questions led the team to a passive ventilation system built on the principle of “draw low, vent high,” a simple, no-tech solution that includes the building inhabitants in the mechanical system.

    During regular use, louvers on the ventilation monitor will control carbon dioxide levels in the building. During heavy use, a sensor will illuminate an orange light, alerting someone to crank open windows in the monitor.

    This same system works for cooling, bringing a nighttime flush of cool air into the building during the warm months. Potable water demand will be greatly reduced by supplying toilets with harvested rainwater and using waterless urinals, while sewer outflow will be limited via a graywater garden for hand sinks, the dishwasher and clothes washer.

    Exterior insulation will retain the thermal mass properties of the existing structure on the interior.

    An “urban bale” wall, constructed of bundled phone books or straw bale, will provide the thermal blanket for the building on the north side, while rigid insulation on remaining elevations maintains a more narrow wall profile.

    Working with the Lighting Design Lab, the team was able to determine that a ribbon daylight monitor of translucent material would provide sufficient light in the space most days.

    The daylight monitor serves multiple purposes. While capturing light to offset electrical demand and drawing warm air high to vent the building, it provides a plane on which to install a photovoltaic array and visually states “something is going on here.”

    Ready for the future

    “Future ready” means being prepared for change.

    Through simple, dynamic systems, the design team programmed for future growth without hindering existing systems.

    Hot water can be preheated with a solar water heater, an on-demand gas water heater or with any available renewable fuel system. Perimeter heating is conveyed by water with the same system — any fuel system can be incorporated.

    The building must remain flexible for future use. Therefore, the design team must imagine the future and refine the fixed elements so they welcome and encourage change. The center is an experiment that will be continued by time and people.

    Simplification, minimization, the reuse of an old building, and the mission to create an exemplary place has put the Cascade EcoRenovation on the green building map, so much so that initial passes at the LEED scorecard rate it with 53 credits out of a possible 69 — enough for a platinum rating. Support from Seattle City Light and the Seattle Office of Sustainability have created a platform upon which the platinum rating for the project is possible.

    The Cascade EcoRenovation is a gift from a group of committed residents, activists and city agencies to the Cascade Neighborhood and the city of Seattle. Getting to this point is a result of many dedicated hands with a common goal.

    Generous donations of time, faith and funds from contractors, local businesses, King County Water Works, and architecture and engineering consultants have enabled the project to grow this far.

    Mark Johnson is an associate at Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects.

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