Heron’s Head EcoCenter: Part 2 – Structural...

The completed EcoCenter from the South East.

As a follow-up to a recent post on Heron’s Head EcoCenter, we caught up with Alex Rood of Fulcrum Structural Engineering to discuss his contributions to the project. For those who have not read our recent post on the project, Heron’s Head EcoCenter is San Francisco’s first off-the-grid educational facility and laboratory for sustainable design sponsored by the non-profit organization Literacy for Environmental Justice. A project 10-years in making, the EcoCenter was finally completed in 2010, and incorporates many innovative sustainable design features including solar panels (both PV and solar thermal), living roof, rainwater harvesting, greywater reuse, living machine on-site wastewater treatment, SIP panels, super green concrete mix, recycled building materials, passive design, and the list goes on.


Site/soil: Located on a former industrial landfill in Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, Alex’s first challenge was to design the foundation system that could sit atop the soil with extremely poor bearing capacity. To overcome the less than favorable soil condition, he decided to utilize 10” mat slab but he also had to incorporate a series of troughs for the indoor constructed wetland into the slab/foundation design. The challenge did not end there. The soil condition was so poor that he was told to anticipate as much as 10” to 12” of settlement over time. This meant utilities that would typically be laid below the slab now had to be routed within concrete troughs formed into the slab until they exited the structure above grade to make service connections. To make matters worse, he found out that below the site is a clay layer of landfill cap designed to remediate the contaminated soil, but the exact depth of this cap layer could not be determined. He had to proceed with caution to ensure that the weight of the structure would not cause the cap layer to fracture. In addition to solving all of these engineering challenges, it was his job to provide a cost effective foundation design to fit the tight budget of the project.

Rebar prior to pouring of the concrete foundations.

Concrete: Almost every modern structure in the world uses concrete to varying extent. While its longevity makes it a good building material, the environmental footprint of cement production is something Alex wanted to tackle on this project. According to Alex, experts estimate that cement production contributes to about 7% of carbon dioxide emission from human source. He started by specifying a green concrete mix containing 50% slag for cement replacement but once the job broke ground, he collaborated with the concrete sub-contractor and the supplier, Bode Concrete, to push this green concrete mix further, ultimately ending up with 80% slag and 100% recycled course aggregate. In the end, not only was he able to use the greenest concrete mix he, or Bode Concrete, had ever heard of, but the builder was able to provide concrete that was superior to the original specification in many ways. It ended up exceeding the compressive strength requirement by two fold, the concrete showed no cracks and will provide superior protection against rebar corrosion, all thanks to its high slag content.

SIPs panels prior to sheathing

Framing: Once out of the ground, the remainder of the structure was designed using Structural Insulated Panels (SIP). Having worked on many other SIPs jobs with the project architect, Toby Long, Alex knew that Toby would want to use SIPs for the project for many of its environmental preferable attributes. There are always challenges in designing SIPs structures in seismically active zones, especially when the building is not a simple box but he was able to use his extensive experience with SIPs to help Toby realize his design. Being the first SIPs project for the builder and the framing crew, he worked very closely with the builder and was often asked to offer creative solutions to troubleshoot issues arising in the field. Thanks to the countless hours of research by the LEJ project manager Laurie Schoeman, SIPs panels made with FSC-certified OSB panels were sourced. All framing lumber used in the job to amend the SIPs system was also all FSC-certified.

We asked Alex what was the best part of the project for him.

The completed EcoCenter from the South East




It was the collaborative effort with the concrete sub-contractor, Gerald Creed of OSM Co. and the local concrete producer, Bill Garland of Bode Concrete. In fact, it was Gerald who initiated the idea of exploring an even greener concrete mix than the 50% cement replacement originally specified. Bill had worked with a concrete mix with 75% cement replacement, and he has also used crushed returned course concrete aggregate in non-structural flatworks. Not only did we decide to combine both of these ideas, but we also decided to use the mix for the structural slab/foundation, while increasing the slag content by additional 5%.

Alex believes it was the collective knowledge and will to do the right thing for the environment that allowed them to take the leap of faith to push the boundary of the green concrete mix. Everyone went above and beyond their call of duty to come up with the greenest concrete mix they have ever worked with.

Taisuke Ikegami is an architect working at Feldman Architecture and is a frequent contributor to Green Architecture Notes.

Object Lessons: Design Across Disciplines...

Recently, we undertook a re-branding of our graphic identity at Feldman Architecture, a process led by graphic designer Anjel Van Slyke.  Sitting in the seat of client and being guided through the design process by Anjel gave us a chance to reflect on our own process.  Like a short architectural project, the trajectory of the graphic design followed a familiar path, including outlining a scope, budget and schedule; gathering research, precedents, and materials; brainstorming; refining the details; and production/construction.

Recently while watching the documentary, Objectified, which chronicles several Industrial Designers and major corporations known for design, I was struck by a section of the film in which Dieter Rams, Former Design Director of Braun, brings to light his philosophy on good design.   Herr Rams eschews the idea that a designer is an artist, noting that industrial designers spend much of their time working with business people, engineers and clients.  Herr Rams goes on to elaborate on the values of good design:

Good design should be innovative.
Good design should make a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic design.
Good design will make a product understandable.
Good design is honest.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is long-lived.
Good design is consistent in every detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Last but not least, good design is as little design as possible.

Undergoing the re-brand process had our team elucidating the principles we stand for and thinking inspirationally about the image we wish to publicly project.  Dieter Rams ‘manifesto’ is a great reminder of some of the goals we tend towards for our architectural projects.  But one could argue, contrary to his statement that designers are not artists, that there is actually an art to the decisions which are made and lead to what appears to be as little design as possible. Simply put – this is hard to do simply.

We were immediately drawn to the logo you see now on our website, but we were even more fascinated as Angel described where she had chosen to tip the edges of the letters and why certain sketches were not eliminated.  She led us through her sketchbook of cast-aways and final cuts.  In the end, we feel we have an amazing fit to our firm’s work with a simple elegance that does not appear fussy or labored over, but expresses lots of ideas and complexity with minimal moves. – Hannah

Canstruction: Fear the Beard...

This spring, Feldman Architecture teamed up with Fulcrum Engineering to create a structure for this week’s Canstruction benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank.  The theme of the event was Spirit of San Francisco, which we took as an opportunity to celebrate the Giants’ victory in the 2010 World Series.

Throughout the Series, Giants’ fans adopted the slogan “Fear the Beard” in support of the famed pitcher, Brian Wilson, who helped bring the team to victory for the first time since 1954. Wilson’s thick, dyed black facial hair became an icon for the team’s tenacity and was the subject of one of the favorite chants among crowds leading up to the series win. The Beard continues to grace t-shirts, hats, and headlines as the Giants continue the 2011 season with high hopes.

Our representation of The Beard, which won an honorable mention at Wednesday’s award ceremony, evokes this spirit which we all experienced in the final days of last year’s World Series. We chose dark colored labels to represent the dyed black beard and shaped the sculpture to best represent the recognizable icon with the full beard, mustache, and tall side burns.  Most of the cans are beans, which also answers the Food Bank’s request for high protein canned goods.

Visitors are welcome to check out the amazing Canstructions created by several local architect and engineer firms at the Metreon on the 4th floor through Sunday, June 26th.  Further information and details on donations can be found at the Canstruction website.


Notes from Designing Living Roofs – Part III...

The roof garden from above with terrace.

In previous posts, we have looked at the addition of a green roof over a garage at a residence located on a steep slope which provided the clients with a planted space in the front of the house.  In a second post, we looked at the implementation of a green roof as a key design component which allows the new residence to blend into a lush landscape.

In this section, we will take a look at the design of a new residence which provides a garden hideaway for the clients.  For the 2 Bar Project in Menlo Park, California, the clients came to the project looking for cost effective, energy efficient solutions for their home. They are also avid gardeners and offering the clients additional square footage to plant, as opposed to a traditional roof, was appealing to the clients.

The 500sf roof garden is hidden from view until climbing the main stairway and catching a glimpse of the garden from the second floor bridge.  Accessible from the master bedroom,

View to the garden from the master bedroom.

the green roof includes a recessed roof deck which comfortably seats the family of four. In terms of sustainability, the green roof over the living/dining/kitchen area serves to insulate the house in cool weather, controls solar heat gain and reduces water run-off.

Typical, intensive green roof assembly would have required up-sizing of the roof framing, including additional steel, rendering it cost prohibitive. Instead, an exceptionally lightweight engineering with a shallow 2-6” soil depth for the 2 Bar green roof assembly with sedum plants and river rock edging overcomes this challenge. The garden, designed and planted by Lauren Schneider of Wonderland Garden, has been blooming for two years.  Sedum, succulents, aloe, vivums, and ice plants make up the garden which flowers in swaths of white and purple – an unexpected, secret garden in a suburban neighborhood.


View of house and green roof.

The green roof here includes a layer of plastic coating, a roofing barrier, a drainage mat to facilitate drainage, a capillary mat that holds water and encourages plants to take root, a subterranean drip system, a filter fabric to prevent the soil from clogging, a lightweight planting material (15 pounds per square foot) and the seedlings.

Jonathan Feldman is Editorial Director of Green Architecture Notes and Principal of Feldman Architecture.

Summer 2011 Newsletter...



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Feldman Architecture

2011 AIA San Francisco Design Awards

The Caterpillar House Wins Citation Award in Energy + Sustainability

Caterpillar House Image
From the AIA San Francisco Website:
The design for the Caterpillar House, sited on the softly rolling hills of the Santa Lucia Preserve, sought to accentuate a connection to the land. Having lived in a Cliff May home, the client came to the project with a love of modern ranch houses and looking for an environmentally-conscious response to a beautiful site. The Caterpillar House implements sustainable elements while exploring a contemporary version of the ranch ideals: massing that is low and horizontal, an open plan with a strong connection between indoor/outdoor spaces, and living areas which center informally on the kitchen. The jury commented: “This is a project that gets the priorities straight. Design for energy efficiency first, then add renewable energy sources.”

Or click here to learn more and view the 2011 winners!

Launching Our New Graphic Identity

Feldman Architecture has a new look courtesy of Anjel Van Slyke of A Dangerous Business.  To see our revised website click here.

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What’s Behind the Door?...

When choosing doors to improve indoor-outdoor connections, we always consider a number of competing objectives and challenges. Among the important considerations are how large do we want individual panels to be, how large of a clear opening are we trying to create, the style of the house, the weather exposure, and the need for insect protection. – Jonathan

House Ocho: 4-panel sliders
Here we used two operable and two fixed doors to get a wide opening to the patio. We extended the score lines of the concrete floor inside the house to the outside creating planting strips to emphasize the indoor-outdoor connection.

Henry House: 4-Panel Sliders 
This attic conversion in San Francisco used similar sliding doors to connect to a new roof deck.Henry-Doors

Buena Vista: Custom Pivot Doors
Custom pivot doors create a nice modern punch in this San Francisco Victorian. We like the way that, when open, the doors provide a directionality that draws one out to the spectacular view beyond.

Old Bernal: Two Large Lift and Slide Doors
This oversized lift and slide door is made of two operable panels that provide large openings and flexibility.Old-Bernal-Doors

Open Box 2: Slide-Fold Doors
These multi-panel doors have a limitation in terms of how wide each door panel can be, but they make up for it in providing a clear, unobstructed opening when the doors are pushed to the side.


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