Because of the many complexities involved in integrating affordability and sustainability, the predesign component represented an important step in the development process. During this phase, Dorene Warner of Human Solutions identified and quantified the priorities of the development, located an appropriate site, and selected a competent project team early in the process.
In setting the course for Douglas Meadows, Warner recognized that without a proper development program, the project could fall short of expectations. To ensure that did not happen, Warner worked with Rosemarie Cordello of Sustainable Communities Northwest, a green-focused affordable housing consulting firm (now no longer in existence), to devise a development program that addressed both sustainability and long-term affordability. Building upon the Portland Development Commission’s (PDC) Greening Portland’s Affordable Housing checklist and the Office of Sustainable Development’s Ten Shades of Green, Warner and Cordello developed a document that specifically enumerated the green priorities, or "sustainability goals," of the project. Once these priorities were developed, particular design preferences – including specific roof, window, and energy-efficiency specifications – to achieve those goals were determined. These priorities and specifications were eventually provided to the designer and contractor for further refinement.
Developing a general sketch of project objectives for the designers and contractor was beneficial because it got the entire team "on the same page" from the start. Both the contractor and the lead designer noted the importance of the owner’s preparation in the success of the project.
To best meet the sustainability and affordability needs of the project, the owners focused on two main site characteristics: connections and orientation. Close proximity to commercial, employment, and social services, as well as to schools, parks and recreation were prioritized to reduce resident car dependence, related financial expenses, and multi-scale ecological impacts.
Recognizing the link between solar access and energy efficiency, Human Solutions also stipulated that the site be oriented in an east-west direction. By maximizing natural daylighting and incorporating passive solar technologies, the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems and associated energy costs would be lessened.
Incorporating a Competent Development Team
Once extensive research and a full development program had been completed, the search for a competent development team began. Human Solutions issued an RFP , seeking professionalsexperienced in green building (specifically, applying the PDC’s green building guidelines) and affordable housing. Knowing that going beyond PDC’s green building guidelines would require determination and perseverance, Human Solutions sought to assemble a team dedicated to sustainability and prepared to devote the up front time and effort associated with successful green design and construction.
Robertson, Merryman, and Barnes Architects was selected as the project architect due to its demonstrated experience in both green design and affordable housing projects. The firm’s working knowledge of how to balance financial constraints with sustainability were viewed as strong assets to the project.
Similarly, Seabold Construction had a solid record of both green and affordable construction. For roughly five years prior to the Douglas Meadows project, Seabold regularly included green practices into their projects. Seabold’s Larry Didway puts it quite simply when he says that the people at Seabold see going green as "just doing the right thing." Through this previous experience, Seabold had established the necessary relationships with subcontractors skilled in green building.
Throughout the development process (over a year and a half), Warner and Cordello met with Linda Barnes of Robertson, Merryman, Barnes Architects, Larry Didway, and PDC’s Michael Prothe every two weeks. Many on the project team ranked these meetings as the most important factor in ensuring the feasibility of the project. Didway and Prothe, as a result of their familiarity with both green building technologies, were able to accurately determine the costs of particular features and work out an appropriate mixture of components for Douglas Meadows. By constantly comparing the expected cost with the budget, an unexpected number of green components were included in the project.
Keys to Success – Predesign:
- Craft a list of "sustainability goals" to guide all pieces of the development process
- Develop a development program that enumerated both values and specifications, establishing a framework for the design and development teams
- Develop specific green criteria to inform site selection decisions
- Incorporate architect and contractor into the development process early
- Consistent communication among the project team and related parties to match the project’s green features and budget