Green Case Study - Infill
Colorado Court Santa Monica, California
Built in 2002, Colorado Court is the first residential project in the United States to be "net zero" and the first to have been awarded LEED Gold by the US Green Building Council. What's more, it is an affordable multifamily housing project in one of the most expensive cities in California, Santa Monica. The three-building complex has 44 units, half for low-income households that make less than 80% of median area income, and the other half for very-low-income households that make less than 50% of median area income, by county. The development is a model of both sustainable design and economic equity, as its residents are all low-income individuals in a city where only 32% of workers live and work within city limits.
Colorado Court is an urban infill project, developed by non-profit owner Community Corporation of Santa Monica. The complex is located on a busy urban street corner, near a main offramp from the Santa Monica freeway, so it makes a highly visible statement as a gateway to the city. It’s in a prime location to benefit from a natural ventilation system. Its most stunning feature is the expanse of 204 polycrystalline solar panels that flank the west side of the complex's three buildings. The panels generate 25-30 kilowatts of peak load energy for the buildings that, combined with the 28-kilowatt, natural gas-powered microturbine, will power the buildings and put excess energy onto the grid through agreement with Southern California Edison. The photovoltaics generate 30% of the load, and the microturbine makes up the balance. All lighting is sensor monitored.
The architectural firm Pugh + Scarpa, concentrated first on the passive solar-design possibilities of the site. It located and oriented the buildings to control solar cooling loads; sited the buildings in a U-shape facing west for exposure to prevailing winds, and to funnel air up and through the courtyard windows to supply the 375-square foot units in each building with natural ventilation; built the units with 10-foot-high ceilings and designed operable windows and transoms to maximize daylighting and natural ventilation; and shaded the windows on the south side and minimized west-facing glazing. The only air-conditioning system is in the office on the first floor. The energy consultants rode the project hard for cost efficiencies, and then conducted tests to ensure the building systems were correctly installed and operated as intended. The city did not have a recycling ordinance at the time the complex was built, so the contingency budget covered the $10,000 bill for recycling construction waste. Integral to Santa Monica’s citywide stormwater-capture program, the building’s stormwater-retention system funnels rainwater runoff collected from the neighboring city block and filters pollutants from water headed to Santa Monica Bay.
The project budget was higher than a conventional building’s budget at the time, but the developers received a $65,000 buy-down of the $225,000 PV system, and a $17,800 rebated from SoCal Edison for the turbine, as well as coverage of the stormwater-retention system by the city's Public Works Department. The California Department of Housing and Community Development's Multifamily Housing Program provided partial funding for the Colorado Court Apartments. The project also received a parking reduction – one space for every four units – further reducing the cost. And the team of architects and consultants worked together to choose elements and systems that would work synergistically, requiring components to address multiple design issues rather one. Making stairs more accessible than the elevator has encouraged walking, and reduced parking has encouraged the use of public transit.
The specific social benefits were twofold: low-income residents and the elderly were assured long-term affordability of the units, and the project spotlighted the extent to which affordable housing could be branded as a community's investment in revitalization and as a flagship for "net zero" high-density development. It also was, with full intention, the test case and proving ground that accelerated the incorporation of the City of Santa Monica Green Building Design and Construction guidelines.
Architect: PUGH + SCARPA
Landscape Architect: Dry Design, Inc.
Energy Consultant: Helios International, Inc.
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: Storms and Lowe
Structural Engineer: Nabih Youssef & Associates
Contractor: Ruiz Brothers Construction Company
Construction Manager: Guccione and Associates