June 15, 2007
  High Regards for Broadway Court
Pugh + Scarpa blend sustainable design and affordability

by Tracy Ostroff
Associate Editor

How do you . . . design a sustainable multi-family residence on a tight budget?

Summary: Broadway Court, a multifamily residential project by Pugh + Scarpa, Santa Monica, is the latest work in the firm’s portfolio to advance their belief that good design and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive. Like many of Pugh + Scarpa’s designs, the architects started with a simple floor plan that stacks vertically and incorporates passive sustainable features and other energy-efficient measures, all the while creating a building with an interesting aesthetic in which people enjoy living.

Lawrence Scarpa, AIA, says while affordable housing does not mean pedestrian designs, it does often indicate a tight purse. “What we try to do is take a fundamental look at our buildings and see how we can achieve certain design ideas and do it within a very difficult budget.” That search leads to finding efficiencies in the design. “One is to keep our floor plan extremely simple. We have a lot of variety horizontally, but everything stacks absolutely perfectly so that it is an incredibly efficient structure.”

The efficiencies pay off in other ways. “Affordable housing projects have a higher than normal contingency, because of the way they are funded. Our methodology keeps our change orders very low, and things move along,” Scarpa says.” We usually wind up with funds left at the end of the project that we have to use or lose, so we’re able to add other sustainable elements, like natural linoleum flooring, and other things to improve indoor-air quality.”

A matter of trust
The $8.2 million, 41-unit affordable housing project consists of two- and three-bedroom units, a community room, mailroom, outdoor common courtyard spaces, subterranean parking for 80 cars, and bike storage. The spaces fit into about 48,000 square feet of residential and 26,000 square feet of parking.

The strategies at Broadway Court recall the techniques the firm used in its award-winning Colorado Court (also done for the Community Corporation of Santa Monica), the first affordable-housing project in the U.S. to be 100-percent energy neutral.

“We’ve done a few projects for this client, and she is becoming more accustomed to trusting us,” Scarpa says. For example, on the Broadway project, the client let the firm try a new unit layout. “Traditionally you would have a three-bedroom unit that’s two bathrooms, and what we’ve done here is some three-bedroom, one-bathroom units, with a bigger bath and additional sink. Each fixture has its own compartment.” The setup allowed the architect to cut down some of the plumbing fixtures, which saved money. “We’ll know before long whether it will work or not,” Scarpa says.

The firm also advocated an open courtyard. “We managed to convince our client to not fence it off, but to make it more like a public place.” As it turns out, Scarpa says, it has become quite an active soccer field. Scarpa also notes the two levels of subterranean parking. “We cut holes in the concrete deck to allow natural light and ventilation. It saved a lot of money in the garage ventilation system, but besides that, the garage becomes really well-lit and nice. We’ve actually planted trees in the ground of the garage that extend through the holes onto the deck.”

Bringing life to spaces
What he likes most about the firm’s buildings, Scarpa says, is that people enjoy using them. “It’s more than visual. On this project, all these fire-egress required stairs are in the open. They hang over the main courtyard, and people actually use them. That means they use the elevator less, which is more sustainable, and it activates the courtyard…The circulation brings life to the space. For us, that’s the most gratifying portion of the project.”

The firm has designed a residence in which the aesthetics suggest the program within and without. It features a perforated metal cladding on the main façade to create a “sail” that sparkles in the sun and glows at night, while also serving as a sun and privacy screen. The material reappears, the architects note, as a strategic arrangement of screens on west-facing walls, lending a subtle rhythm to the exterior circulation walkways and stairs. East-facing walls swell with asymmetrical pleats and folds that lend visual depth, along with an irregular array of windows that extrudes and recedes from the building’s surface.

The building skin is partially clad with recycled aluminum cans formed into building blocks. “Unlike in some of our previous projects where the solar panels are visible, we try to tell a story about recycling in a slightly different way.” Scarpa says the contractor has told him that a lot of people have come by and taken their picture in front of the cans. “It is really to promote awareness of using recycled materials and to plant the seed in people’s heads that it can be beautiful and sustainable.”

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Broadway Court’s passive strategies include:
• Locating and orienting the building to control solar cooling loads
• Shaping and orienting the building for exposure to prevailing winds
• Shaping the building to induce buoyancy for natural ventilation
• Designing windows to maximize day lighting
• Shading south facing windows and minimizing west-facing glazing
• Designing windows to maximize natural ventilation
• Shaping and planning the interior to enhance daylight and natural air flow distribution.

The strategies are having their intended effect. While California has the most stringent energy efficient requirements in the U.S., Broadway Court’s many sustainable features exceed state mandated Title 24 energy measures by more than 30 percent.

Photos © Marvin Rand.