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Colorado Sustainable Design Awards

Mike Cote //November 1, 2011//

Colorado Sustainable Design Awards

Mike Cote //November 1, 2011//

Editor’s note: The Colorado Sustainable Design Awards recognize outstanding design in residential, civic and commercial properties, and – new this year – interior design.

Since establishing the awards three years ago, we’ve seen outstanding innovations in sustainable building. But that hasn’t stopped our judges from wanting to see architects, developers and building contractors set the bar higher, particularly when it comes to cost and whether those innovations can be adapted for widespread use.

This year’s judging panel includes returning judges Joshua Radoff, principal,
YRG Sustainability Consultants; Conor Merrigan, high performance building program manager, Colorado Governor’s Energy Office; and Susan Powers, president,
Urban Ventures LLC.

New to the panel this year are Jennifer Lester, president, Philosophy Communications, representing ASLA Colorado (American Society of Landscape Architects); and Katherine Leigh, professor of interior design at Colorado State University, representing IIDA Rocky Mountain Chapter (International Interior Design Association.)

The following essay by Josh Radoff offers perspective on what the judges were thinking as they evaluated the projects. – Mike Cote, ColoradoBiz editor

If you scan this year’s CSDA winners, you might see a theme that, in many ways, reflects a larger trend that is gripping the world in various forms and in various places, which is that of responding to the call for belt-tightening by Doing More With Less. After three years of economic downturn, it doesn’t matter if you’re Greece, the Tea Party or the Other 90 percent, because Doing More With More doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

For those of us in the world of sustainability, the former has always been the mantra. Environmentalism falls flat if it translates into a personal austerity plan of sweaters, dim rooms and meager living. The success of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and green building should be attributed to the emphasis on not just resource conservation (“Less”), but also on delivering (“More”) in the form of daylight, views, healthier air, controllability, thermal comfort, connected community, local economy, etc.

These values can be seen in this year’s winners, the best of which are affordable housing projects, a nonprofit office building and public K-12 schools. Missing from the ranks of the winners (except perhaps in the single-family residential category) are anything that smacks of luxury green or excessive spending on big mechanical and renewable energy systems to mitigate poor design.

In the multifamily residential category, we had three extremely impressive entries, two from Denver Housing Authority, and one from Metro West Housing Authority in Lakewood.

All have achieved or are targeting LEED Platinum ratings, and each are pushing the envelope in terms of what can be achieved in terms of dramatic energy and water reduction, creating internal and neighborhood community, addressing healthy food issues, and interweaving art and texture, all the while creating extremely high standards for affordable housing and affordable living.

And in the commercial category, two very surprising winners. The first- place winner here was the 45,000-square-foot headquarters building for Total Community Options (TCO) Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support and funding for essential services for seniors.

This project is part of the broader Lowry Air Force Base Redevelopment and excels by embracing the basics of passive design and the use of natural systems: proper orientation, thoughtful window-to-wall ratio, operable windows and natural ventilation, native landscape and pervious hardscape, all yielding extremely impressive results – 70 percent energy reduction, deep water savings, great daylight and access to fresh air.

A great counterpart to the TCO project was the tiny 2,250-square-foot Design Studio project in Denver, the renovation of a defunct and run-down urban grocery to a beautiful open-plan office. Projects like this have the ability not only to reduce, but to actually heal and revitalize the city. For example, they took a 100 percent impervious 4,690-square-foot site and made it 75 percent permeable (a huge boon for regional water quality), created habitat, and shade in an urban environment.

And in the process, they retained 95 percent of the original structure and created a space that uses natural ventilation, passive design, daylight, etc. to dramatically reduce the project’s energy consumption.

Notably, this project beat out 1800 Larimer, Xcel Energy’s new downtown office tower, for second place. It’s a LEED Platinum Core and Shell project with underfloor air distribution (which effectively enables all of the tenants to do well-ventilated, energy- efficient fit outs) automatic daylight control, and so on.

The CSDA jurors felt that, while impressive, the project – by its fundamental nature as a core load-dominated, zero-lot line, sealed-up corporate office buildings – could be located anywhere in the U.S., doesn’t quite fit into or add to the neighborhood, can’t provide spaces where people can open their windows or connect to the street, and doesn’t adopt any of the passive strategies that allows for More with Less in the first place.

This theme continues in the Civic category, where all three winners were schools (the first two were public schools), and the order of selection was – interestingly – inverse to the respective project budget. The Sangre de Cristo PK-12 school in Mosca, Colo., exemplifies the idea of doing a lot with a little. There is very little here that is flashy, and the architecture is modest and ground in the essence of the place – even establishing a compost program with a local hog farm.

With the aid of a grant from the Governor’s Energy Office, the project embodies what we have come to recognize and expect from new Colorado schools in the model of the Fossil Ridge School in Fort Collins: great daylight and passive design, great places to teach and learn, and a design to reduce energy bills and free up school budgets for more pressing needs.

Casey Middle School in Boulder, the second-place winner, is dazzling in terms of its achievements, including preserving the historic façade, utilizing a difficult site to create a truly walkable neighborhood school, and finding a way to bring daylight into every nook and cranny of a four-story building.
This project vied for first place, but the notion of something unexpectedly green coming from Mosca seemed to trump even a LEED Platinum (targeted) project in Greentown, USA.

Perhaps that reflects our desire this year, more than in years’ past, to stumble upon inspiring acts of frugality and where the examination of the price tag gives you a sigh of relief, rather than a gasp of panic, and makes you feel like the trend itself is sustainable – and not just the glimmering nature of the project in front of you.

-Josh Radoff, principal, YR&G
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