When was that last time you went to an automobile junk yard – Pick-A-Part, to be specific, -- and thought, these car parts would be just great for my new multi-family residential project? Or when was the last time you scoured the local metal scrap yards for street and road signs and said, $1.00 a pound? I think I can use tons of these in my building.
Yet that is just what Berkeley, Calif.- based Leger Wanaselja Architecture and Wanaselja Construction did when they bought an old store on the noisy corner of Dwight and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Berkeley, Calif. The design/build companies green remodeled the store, added a new super-efficient building and turned the whole into seven mostly two-bedroom condos and two commercial office suites surrounding an inviting courtyard. Oh, yes, and there is some parking, too.
Leger Wanaselja Architecture’s Mission Statement is to “explore the boundaries of green architecture.” With the Dwight Way Project, it incorporated passive-solar design and even acoustic engineering to create quiet peaceful spaces in a noisy urban environment. Goals include “shrinking the ecological footprint while creating lyrical and enduring buildings, integrating our clients’ needs with the specifics of a site … To reinforce the relationship of project to place, we incorporate local materials, reuse existing materials and mark sunlight’s patterns in our work. Nature is always carefully considered and celebrated, even in an urban setting.” The company works to protect the health of building inhabitants as well as the environment in general— “because, we all ultimately live ‘downstream.’”
Dwight Way combines time tested methods to minimize energy use and relies heavily on salvaged, recycled, and low-toxic finishes. Upgrades improved the existing building’s energy performance by 280%. Passive solar design helped the new building exceed California’s energy efficiency requirements by nearly 50%. Strategies included careful window placement and siting combined with thermal mass for passive solar benefit. One buyer found she was not using her furnace and had to be dissuaded from removing it and replacing it with a closet. The ground-floor loft is so energy efficient that it achieves net zero with a 1kW PV system.
The mixed use project is not only energy efficient but also fun. The junk yard became Karl Wanaselja’s palette. Some 14 million cars are junked a year, so the pickings are ripe, and he sees no shortage of parts in the future The San Francisco Bay Area, he says, is a great resource – a hub -- for scrap metal. Much of the metal is gathered in yards to be sold overseas. The road and street signs, some from as far away as Wyoming, cost $1.00 a pound – he bought three and a half tons from four salvage yards. Wanaselja used the street signs as pickets and siding. For the picket fence gate that leads into the courtyard, one can read the street names. He reversed the aluminum signs and used them as siding on much of the project – the back sides are silver.
Silver Volvo station wagon doors make up the gate to the parking area. Wanaselja says the building is near the high school and sometimes the kids mess with the car door-fence, bending wiper blades or scratching the doors with sharp objects – the same risks cars parked in the street would face.
If it’s not broken, Wanaselja won’t just tear it out. And if the company does demolish something, it will recycle the parts – case in point? Fir lathe removed from the existing building became interior paneling in the loft unit’s bedroom. The 1950’s era aluminum siding in an era-perfect turquoise stayed just as it was. The company chose blue green, dark green and soft ochre colors on the exterior to complement this existing siding. The exteriors that are not made up of the retro-preserved aluminum siding and street and road signs is coated with a traditional three-coat plaster – rough in texture on the dark colors and a smoother texture for the ochre. Thus there is not only a play in form and material but also in color and texture.
The store had been in disrepair. It started as a corner grocery with two apartments above the store. By the time Wanaselja acquired it, the downstairs was a martial arts studio; the upstairs had become a rooming house with bunk beds. Wanaselja says he received mail for 28 different names and has no idea how the upstairs was actually used.
To maximize square footage, bays jut from the upper levels of the building. Codes allow the bays to overhang the street starting at the second story. Bays follow what Wanaselja refers to as the historic typology but in thoroughly modern shapes. The bays expand the living space and add extra light. Living spaces vary in size from 575 to 840 square feet. Most are two bedroom units.
One of the challenges with working with salvage materials is the surprise of not knowing what all of the challenges are. The company tries out materials by building full scale mock ups and testing them before incorporating them into the structures.
In working with the car parts, Wanaselja looked for those that were easy to adapt with building hardware and attach to a building. For example, the window awnings are Porsche 924 windshields. Wanaselja looked for those that retained their support arms and clips that allowed for easy attachment to the window headers. He paid $35 for each windshield at the Pick-A-Part. Wanaselja works with metal fabricator Melissa MacDonald to thread rods and make other adjustments needed to turn car parts into house parts.
Second floor balconies face South to maximize light and passive solar. There are few North-facing windows. The building is so efficient that HVAC units are really just back up.
An acoustic consultant was an important team member. Not only was Wanaselja concerned about street noise but also the company wanted to prevent sound transfer between units. Floorplans interlock in a way in which noise could have easily been a problem. Windows facing the streets are triple glazed, others are double-glazed. Windows were custom made by All Weather Windows, a local company. The fly-ash concrete floors are insulated and underlayed with sound-deadening acoustimat. Ceilings have hat channels designed to acoustically separate units. Wanaselja says the building is very quiet.
Walls are 2 x 6 construction. Interior walls are sheathed with 5/8-inch sheet rock coated with a 1/8-inch skim coat of plaster for a total ¾-inch thickness. Skim coating creates a cost-effective breathable wall with several advantages in materials and labor savings. The plaster looks great unpainted and so did not require purchasing paint. The skim coat also eliminated the need for moldings around windows and doors as well as any need for baseboards. The interior look is clean and modern.
To view this article as it appears in our October 2012 issue, with more detail on the green highlights and additional photos, please visit our Magazine Archive.