In Emeryville’s bustling Triangle neighborhood, a century-old fourplex was lifted off its foundation and moved to a new lot one block away to preserve it from being razed during redevelopment of the old site. It was stripped to its studs and then thoroughly rehabbed to create five apartments for developmentally disabled adults that are affordable, comfortable, and green.
“One of the most exciting things about the project was how challenging it was. The building was a jewel box—a box-style house that had a layout that was probably more appropriate for two flats than five units,” says architect Irving Gonzales. “So it was a jigsaw puzzle to put it together with the ADA and California’s requirements for ground floor accessibility.”
The owner/developer, Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB), wanted the $2.37 million, 2,800-square-foot project to provide efficient and comfortable housing for the disabled but not look like “institutional” housing.
The design team took advantage of the building’s existing characteristics to make the tight square footage “live” larger. “The units don’t have anything they don’t need,” notes Jennifer Wichtowski of Gonzales Architects. “Design elements like high ceilings, windows placed higher up, and open plans enhance the space.”
“It was a game of inches—and every inch counted,” agrees Gonzales, of the design constraints the team faced. In addition, the team had to stay on top of the green specs of the project. “It’s a challenge to work with contractors and subs and to maintain the quality, requirements, and sustainable approaches we expect, such as proper insulation installation or air sealing.
Gonzales believes that green specs should be pushed. Even if a product meets the requirements of a green program or checklist, if a more sustainable option is available, it should be used. He cites an example of wood stain a subcontractor was going to use on the project. His team knew a natural product with much lower chemical content existed and insisted that the more healthy product be used to ensure good air quality. “As architects, we have to stay on top of specs,” Gonzales emphasizes.
Owner HCEB pursued a green building label for Magnolia Terrace through the GreenPoint Rated Existing Homes Multifamily program.
For its part, HCEB found that GreenPoint Rated process helped them meet their goals for Magnolia Terrace. “The support we’ve received and the collaborative spirit of the GreenPoint Rated process has given us the opportunity to weave together the often conflicting priorities of preservation, green building, and meeting the needs of our lowers income population,” says HCEB project manager, Brianne Steinhauser.
Builder Jeff Halperin, president of D&H Construction, was impressed with the GreenPoint program. He took classes on the green program to make sure he understood how to implement the various sustainable practices.
“What was important was that we knew at the beginning of the project that were going to pursue the GreenPoint program, so we were able to review the green requirements and goals with all the subs before construction even started,” says Halperin. “You have to give subs information ahead of time; you can’t just say, ‘Do it.’” More and more they are familiar with sustainable practices but we went through each sub’s part of the project and figured out what they needed to do and sent the specific requirements to them.”
Gonzales emphasizes that it was the incredible efforts of the entire project team that made the complicated project a resounding success. “It was a labor of love,” he says. “and we had a wonderful team who all worked toward the end goal of providing well-designed, sustainable homes for people with disabilities.”
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