With the predesign process complete, Human Solutions and the project team began the design of Douglas Meadows. Through flexibility and effort, the dual priorities of the project were satisfied. Although the limited budget was a challenge, the project includes "everything Human Solutions wanted and whole lot more," according to Dorene Warner.
Choice of Architect
The choice of the architect was identified by Dorene Warner as a key to the success of Douglas Meadows. To overcome conflicts between progressiveness and budget, the design team researched and identified cost effective green technologies and strategies and comparable alternatives. Also, the architect clearly identified "decision points" at which collaborative project team decision making was important for design consistency.
One primary aim behind all Human Solutions projects is to foster connections between residents and establish the framework for a true sense of place. As in all Human Solutions projects, a small playground was placed in the center of the "L" shaped development. The play area is strategically located so that parents can watch children in the courtyard from inside their home. Adjacent to the playground, a "community gathering area," complete with a gazebo-like structure, provides residents with a place to sit and chat with one another. Four raised beds for vegetables and other plants, as well as a compost bin have been supplied for a community garden.
The goal of these amenities is that residents will develop long-term relationships and actively take part in shaping their surroundings.
Although the original zoning limited many of the desired uses on the site, efforts were made to overcome these limitations. Initially, the zoning code called for a traditional apartment structure rather than rowhouses. Also, the site had an established minimum density and required eight parking spaces. In this conception, the fundamental open space for children, the emphasis on alternative transportation, and many other amenities would have been precluded. Eventually, after much discussion, the City recognized the value added to the space by such measures and approved the design as proposed.
Of all of the proposed changes, the reduction in onsite parking proved to be the most problematic. In total, four appeals were made to the City to reduce the mandatory parking requirement. During this process, the designers emphasized the green focus and the benefits of reducing the number of parking spots. Similar projects were used as examples to illustrate the feasibility of the proposed design. In exchange for providing both long-term and short-term bicycle parking, a reduction in the minimum parking restriction was allowed. Additionally, the City’s requirement for a considerable parking setback, which could have compromised the design of the project, was also waived. In the end, an agreement to provide only four parking spaces at the site was reached.
To ensure 60 years of affordability and to stay true to the sustainability goals of Douglas Meadows, Human Solutions focused on three primary strategies to reduce both operational and environmental costs: increasing energy efficiency, reducing water usage and runoff, and incorporating alternative and recycled materials into various parts of the project.
Energy Efficiency and Solar Exposure
The project team chose to incorporate energy efficiency strategies that addressed both immediate and long-term costs. Maintained properly, these energy efficiency measures will reduce the overall financial and environmental costs over the building’s life.
To reduce the operational costs for Douglas Meadows residents, the design team incorporated a passive solar design for each unit. Fully utilizing the east-west orientation of the site, Robertson, Merryman, and Barnes included large south-facing windows to take advantage of the sun’s energy and reduce the need for mechanical heating. Stained fly ash concrete floors were also placed in all of the kitchen and dining areas to fully exploit the additional sunlight. The thermal mass of the concrete floors absorbs heat and slowly releases it when indoor temperatures drop below that of the stored heat.
To further solidify the efficient design of the project, additional energy-saving strategies were employed. First, high-performance, highly-efficient windows (low-e, argon-filled, and u-value of 0.32) were specified in all of the apartments. These insulative windows greatly reduce the heating requirements of each unit. On these windows, overhangs and insulating window shades provide additional protection from the elements. Second, gas hot water heaters provide space heat in every room via a hydronic space heating system. Hydronic systems, which transfer heat from water to air through heat emitters distributed throughout the building, greatly reduce heating energy use when compared to traditional, forced-air heating systems. Finally, the design team specified advanced framing for the entire project. This technique decreases the amount of framing lumber and creates more space for insulation within the walls. Reductions in framing lumber are achieved through spacing floor joists, roof rafters, and studs 24" on center.
Water Usage and Runoff
Through technology and design, water consumption and onsite stormwater are managed in a matter that acknowledges the embodied energy of treated water and pollution-potential of urban runoff. Internally, each apartment includes water-conserving showerheads and faucets to lessen overall usage. Externally, native landscaping, with edible plants and other selectively-chosen vegetation, and bioswales slow the infiltration and transmission of stormwater to public infrastructure. Total site impervious surfacearea was expressly minimized to provide additional landscaping opportunities and play areas and to reduce runoff volumes.
In a unique agreement, the City of Portland allowed Human Solutions to replace the gutters with Rain Screen rain louvers. Instead of directing rainwater directly to the street, the louvers slowly trickle water directly to the ground, spreading the runoff over a larger area and allowing the rainwater to infiltrate gradually. Although these louvers are HUD-endorsed, the Bureau of Environmental Services has not approved their use in Portland. The City agreed to monitor their ability to decrease both the amount of stormwater runoff produced and the long-term maintenance (as compared to traditional downspouts) at the site over the first ten years. As an incentive and in support of this pilot project, the supplier provided the product to Human Solutions for the cost of shipping.
Keys to Success – Design:
- Frequent interaction between the architect and owner
- Be familiar withcomparable green strategies and technologies to reduce supply-related project inhibitions
- Actively engage and involve the local community
- Persistent communication with the City to overcome zoning limitations and parking requirements
- Integrateassive solar design witha range of energy-efficiency features to reduce both operational and environmental costs
- Combine natural landscaping, bioswales, limiting impervious surfaces, and rain louvers for on-site stormwater management.