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Posted: November 01, 2010

Digging for a deeper green

CSDA winners reflect dominance of public sector in 
sustainable design in a time of recession

The entries in this year's Colorado Sustainable Design Awards reflect a number of trends in the market over the past year.

The deeper green projects are coming more from the public sector, while the private sector continues to be in a holding pattern - that is, with the exception of those recession-proof industries such as beer drinking.

There are simply fewer projects going on in the private sector, and those that are being developed are targeting more modest green building goals.

In the communities category, for example, we see master planning projects that nicely complement the towns in which the developments are taking place (Durango and Avon) in a way that is relatively dense and embraces New Urbanist principles. But the sustainability goals, while present, are far less ambitious than we've previously seen.

The two really standout projects this year are in the civic category. The first is the net-zero energy Research Support Facility building on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory campus in Golden. Net-zero energy means that the energy used by the building is accommodated - over the course of the year - by onsite production of renewable energy, in this case solar.

There has been an increased interest in the net-zero concept, and more and more projects are exploring what it might mean to try and achieve this goal, but to our knowledge no building of this size has thus far been able to achieve it.

The other entry is the Carbondale Recreation Center, submitted by DHM Design. This is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum building that addresses all of the major environmental impact areas - as a Platinum project certainly must do - most notably transportation and community connectivity. The ability to walk to the center, a former brownfield site, from downtown Carbondale makes the building a new and revitalizing element of the community.

Meanwhile, the NREL building, for all its amazing accomplishments, is not located in a downtown environment (unlike the LEED Gold-certified Environmental Protection Agency building in Denver), and the use of land, the lack of community integration, and need for auto-dependent transportation is a significant part of its overall footprint.

Similarly, in the residential category, the pattern seems to be: The more remote the home, the deeper the energy and environmental goals. In the end, we chose Casa Chiara - a project that has very modest green building performance attributes (a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of only between 65 and 71). But this affordable multifamily project, which has relatively small unit sizes, offers density and is connected to and adds to the social fabric of the larger North Denver community.

Furthermore, it explores the use of prefabricated modular housing in an affordable manner - a development many look to as a way to achieve larger scale green residential for the common man - helping to set the stage for other projects to follow in its footsteps. The others in this category, while impressive architecturally, in their use of passive design, and in their high performance targets, were generally larger and generally more remote.
Meanwhile, in the commercial category, we chose a project that, while not in the public sector, seems to be recession proof: the Odell Brewery Co. expansion in Fort Collins. This project contains a number of nuts-and-bolts sustainability measures that integrate very nicely into the overall architecture.

Great daylight for the brewing and tasting spaces obviates the need for electric lighting; the landscape beautifully treats storm water while creating amenity and pedestrian spaces and minimizing asphalt. We also liked the elegant use of simple materials like metal, masonry and wood, and the honking solar photovoltaic system.

- Joshua Radoff, principal, YRG Sustainability Consultants, Boulder
- Richard Farley, principal, Richard Farley Urban Design LLC, Denver
- Doug Walter, principal, Doug Walter Architects, Denver
- Conor Merrigan, high performance building program manager, Colorado Governor's Energy Office
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