Entrance to Heron's Head Eco-Center
Perched on a knoll at the edge of the bay, the Heron’s Head EcoCenter is a welcome beacon in the gritty, industrial landscape of Bayview/Hunters Point. The green roof, reclaimed wood exterior siding, and restored wetlands offer clues to the native ecology of the place, and hint at innovative systems that make the project self-sufficient. In an area where resources have been ravaged and pilfered in the last few decades, the EcoCenter has established itself as a local icon to empower the community to change its situation.
Aerial photo of Heron's Head
Heron’s Head is a small sliver of land along the edge of the bay that resembles an upside down heron’s head. Two hundredyears ago, the area was a rich wetland estuary, the confluence of freshwater Islais and Yosemite creeks, and the salty San Francisco Bay. Many aquatic creatures, ground rodents, mammals, insects, and birds, including blue herons called it home.
The contemporary history of the area begins with Naval shipyards, constructed in the late 19th century. During World War II, many African Americans arrived and settled in the neighborhood to work in the shipyards. When the shipyards ceased production, the community gradually yielded to a series of other forces. PG&E constructed a large natural gas power plant, which prior to its closure in 2006, was the highest polluting substation in the state. In 1952, San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission built the Southeast Wastewater treatment station; today it processes 67 million gallons of wastewater per year in open-air
Tiles made by local youth depicting neighborhood toxins/pollution sources
aerators. EcoCenter’s site is a former landfill, and to the north is the City’s major recycling center, which brings a heavy flow of diesel trucks. For decades, the effects of these physical structures produced an environment with high levels of airborne particulates, ground contamination, and led to abnormally high concentrations of asthma, cancer and even infant mortality in the local population.
Solar PV panels catch rays near the bay
Given the location’s history and four major surrounding forces, the EcoCenter was intended as a response to educate the localcommunity about the environmental and social effects it has left on the landscape and the neighborhood, and to demonstrate alternative solutions.
Solar PV system & onsite storage – In a response to the massive PG&E substation, the EcoCenter captures and stores electrical energy on site. Bayview is ideal for solargain, with a yearly average of 335 days of sunshine. Onsite there is a 3.6kwh PV array and lead acid battery bank which stores 3 days of energy. All the electrical wiring inside is exposed to inform visitors of the electrical sources and pathways through the building.
Rainwater cisterns displayed prominently at the entry
View of the planted roof
Rainwater collection & storage – The roof consists of three planes, one for the solar array and two green roofs that harvest rainwater into onsite cisterns. The rainwater is designed to flush the toilets, but the city has not yet permitted the use. There is a ½” water line to provide potable water and supply the fire suppression system.
Stormwater treatment – Because the building does not have a direct storm sewer connection, much of the runoff collected from building and site is absorbed onsite and designed to infiltrate to the ground through low-impact development strategies such as green roofs and constructed wetlands.
The living system breaks down wastewater
Wastewater processing – Because the wastewater plant is located within smelling distance, EcoCenter wanted to demonstrate a self-sufficient strategy for processing wastewater. The two bathroom sinks, two toilets, and a future kitchen sink do not connect to the city’s sewer system, but to a blackwater treatment loop called the Living Machine which then leaches into a constructed wetland outside. Currently, the system is designed to handle 1500 gallons of sewage/day.
Reclaimed wood siding
Recycled building materials – as a response to the local recycling center and the fact the site has been reclaimed fromlandfill, parts of the building were clad in reclaimed wood pieces to transform waste into ”new” building materials.
Literacy for Environmental Justice conceived the project 10 years ago, as a community classroom to educate neighbors about the local environmental injustices. Around 2003, Laurie Schoeman heard about it, and felt it was an ideal demonstration project for its promise to bring environmental justice to the community and potential for non-profit organizations to take an active role in the built environment. Schoeman joined LEJ as part time staff to work on the EcoCenter, and eventually became a full time employee and primary resource for shepherding the project through the complex community, financing, regulatory and construction implementation hurdles.
Interior of classroom
Funding Because LEJ did not have an independent source of funding for the EcoCenter, a network of grants, donations and services helped realize the building. Rights to the land were negotiated with the Bay Conservation Development Group (BCDG). Funding was a mix of public and private resources – 10-12 private foundations grants, city funds from the San Francisco Department of the Environment, state grants by the Coastal Conservancy. Federal money from the American Reconstruction and Recovery Act (ARRA), enabled completion of the green roof. There were also significant material gifts and in-kind donations, including BP solar PV panels, landscaping materials, Rebuilding Together labor, and pro-bono legal assistance.
Partners The project would not have been possible without the continued support of quite a number of designers, engineers and contractors. The list is numerous, but some of the key players included:
Toby Long, Toby Long Design, Architect
Control panel for photovoltaics
Alex Rood, Fulcrum Structural, Structural Engineering
Jeff Ludlow, Tredwell & Rollo, Geotechnical
Noadiah Eckman, Eckman Environmental, Wastewater treatment
Habitat Gardens, rainwater catchment & living systems for stormwater treatment
Greg Kennedy, Occidental Power, solar PV & battery array
Regulatory Hurdles: Many of the EcoCenter’s systems are not conventional and required significant effort to convince public officials of their efficacy and safety. Building officials wanted to ensure safety of the SIPs and foundation system on this landfill site. The Fire Department would not approve the project unless a dedicated municipal water source supplied the fire sprinkler systems. Environmental Health and Public Health were extremely concerned about the Living Machine systems, and the greywater usage, especially where children were concerned.
View from the Southeast
The Eco Center is now open to the public, welcoming neighbors, school groups throughout the Bay Area, and even local professionals. When asked who she would most want to visit the EcoCenter, Laurie Schoeman expressed a desire for President Obama and Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA to see the center. To Laurie, the center is a model for everything President Obama has stood for with respect to community building, capacity building, jobs training, reclamation of underutilized land, social and environmental justice, independent energy sources and off grid technologies.
Any architectural style or design can be green. As an architectural photographer, I am constantly inspired by my client’s applications of sustainable design concepts and materials that come together to create spaces of great beauty and comfort. Many of these projects incorporate beautiful natural lighting that does not always translate photographically without supplemental light. My goal is to represent a space that emphasizes the natural state of these projects while employing enough additional light so that no design elements are lost in translation from how it is experienced in person to its representation in the photograph.
There are no photos with those IDs or post 1429 does not have any attached images!
Architect: Tri-Tech Design, Russell Johnson
Resilient to most elements and natural disasters that can threaten a building, Russell Johnson designed his home to last for over 150 years, at which point the building can then be disassembled and recycled. This home also utilizes solar power, thermal mass to help reduce its impact on the environment.
Frame Hoskins Residence
Architect: Leger Wanaselja Architects
Contractor: Rick Anstey
Situated in Marin County the remodel of this 1940’s home included a variety of energy efficiency upgrades including a native roof garden, photovoltaic panels, salvaged and FSC wood with low and non-toxic finishes, durable stone finishes, and bamboo cabinets.
Corte Madera Remodel
Architect: Michael Heacock + Associates
Contractor: Creative Spaces
Michael Heacock designed this remodel to minimize site impact, maximize the existing footprint, recycle all possible materials from the existing building and employ a variety of additional green materials and systems.
Emily Hagopian began her career with a thesis exploring the many innovative materials and applications of green design. Over the past 7 years, she has made it a priority to document the work of design firms, organizations and agencies that are focused on sustainability.
When I decided to reuse my Kombucha Tea bottle as vase to bring a little color to my kitchen window sill, I thought it’d be great to ask the rest of the FA staff what objects they’ve reused; below is a showcase of either quirky personal or architectural examples of reused objects that give new life to old materials. They begin to speak about how being green can happen at many different scales and be as simple to achieve as drinking your tea. – Matt
1. Piece of weathered plywood becomes an art object
2. Salvaged teak as bath trim
3. Crushed windshield glass as roof surface
4. Wine boxes as storage bins
5. An ashtray becomes a dish sponge holder
Initial discussions with current and potential clients about sustainability may begin in various ways. From the first phone call, many clients begin to express that their “wish list” includes making the project as green as possible. Others are more hesitant. But both turn to us with all the best intentions but with questions of how much being green will cost, particularly in the current economic climate. Most tend to believe that green = more expensive, which it can, but there are many, many ways to approach environmental responsibility and many are cost-saving.
There are several moves in the early phases of the design process which can be considered low hanging fruit and best practice. This includes a thorough understanding of the site and climate and choosing an orientation for the home that takes advantage of both the sun and wind as free and clean resources for energy and thermal comfort. The placement of the building and its thermal mass in order to capture heat from the sun’s warming rays, or away from the sun’s ray in more tropical climates, doesn’t typically add to the cost of construction for a new building. A clear understand of how the wind moves across the site and orienting the openings to take advantage of natural ventilation and air flow changes is also cost neutral.
Another discussion that often happens early in the project revolves around the size of the building. A typical 10,000sf structure uses far more resources to build, and later to heat or cool, than planning and programming for a smaller building. Moving towards smaller buildings is both cost-saving and generally more environmentally-responsible, as long as other sustainable materials and methods are implemented in the smaller building. The pre-design phase often allows us to better understand the client’s program and to offer suggestions on multi-purpose rooms that can cut down the size of the program. A clear understanding of the client’s program also leads to a better understanding of which rooms should allow for natural light and shading. An office which is only used throughout the day might get all of its needs for light from the sun.
On the other hand, other sustainable products which can be implemented have a higher cost and a lower rate of return. For instance, water storage tanks are currently an expensive accessory to a building in large part due to the fact that water is so heavily subsidized. In one of our Northern California homes, three large storage tanks were implemented to capture water for landscape irrigation, largely due to the fact that the client felt strongly that it is the right thing to do. If water continues to be relatively cheap, the tanks will pay for themselves in about 30 years. However, it may be forward-thinking to implement such a system, since many experts claim that water will not continue to be so heavily subsidized.
Finally, there are many systems which, of course, add to the cost to construction but have a high and quick rate of return. These include integrated solar panels in projects that get a lot of sunlight, insulation with higher R values that help reduce heating and cooling costs, LED lights, and the specification of energy efficient appliances. Wood flooring or framing timbers which are FSC-certified tend to cost more to the client, since there is a certain amount of stewardship that the client is paying for, but we are encouraged by the trend of clients who see that the cost to the planet of specifying non-FSC certified woods is simply not sustainable.
As with any part of a design and construction project, sustainable materials and technologies represent a blend of client’s desires and needs in balance with a budget. A most encouraging piece of sustainable building in the current economic times is that cost-benefit analysis and consumer demand are bringing sustainable materials more and more into the realm of the affordable. Also, education of the clients about the hidden costs of certain practices and materials is pushing all of us in the building trades to think creatively about sustainability and to cause a more thorough analysis of the cost of being green. – Hannah
Discovered this past weekend, an amazingly, colorful flatware from Sabre available at Maison d’Etre in Berkeley, California. Using an “Old Fashioned” silverware profile from which the line draws its name, Sabre has reinvented the traditional in plastics that are fun, dishwasher safe and available in 20+ colors. The “Old Fashioned” theme is also taken to the extreme, offering sugar cube tongs and a tart slicer. – Hannah
After months of downloading images to a Houzz.com Idea Book or clipping articles from residential design magazines, you’ve just purchased a spectacular piece of land or an older home and are eager to start your design and construction project. Exciting! But where to begin? When do you start talking to an architect? What can you expect when making that first call?
We share the enthusiasm of our clients as they begin their project, and we often spend the first couple of meetings getting to know you, the site, the program, and finally your schedule and budget. There is a list of questions we’ll ask before moving onto the exciting task of designing.
During an initial conversation with a client, we’ll be curious about the site and what you hope to accomplish with a new building or a renovation.
– One of the first and most important aspects to this initial interview is the fit. We’ll ask you questions getting to know how you live, what inspires you, and what type of project you’re seeking.
– We’ll then follow up with questions about the location of your site. Where is it and what governing agencies will need to review the design of the project?
– What size home are you seeking? What do you have now and how much more space (or less) would you like in the future?
– Additions/improvements you’d like to make over what you have now or houses where you’ve lived in the past.
– Where are you in the process? Have you spoken to geo-technical engineers (particularly if it is steep or waterfront property), civil engineers, or others? If the answer is “no” to all these questions, don’t worry. We’ll be happy to guide you through this process.
– Why our firm? Are there particular projects we’ve completed that you are familiar with and that resonate with you?
– Thoughts for sustainable design?
– Budget for construction? Have you spoken with general contractors and do you have an idea of budget? Again, if the answer is “no,” that’s fine.
– Schedule – do you need to move in by a particular date?
– Any other considerations that you may have. It is helpful to know if you have completed a design/construction project in the past and what worked or didn’t work with this project.
Know that it’s never too early to call or email an architect. We can offer services and insights even prior to the purchase of a home or property.
After that initial phone call allowing us to better understand your project, we will typically meet on-site so we can begin to understand the site, views, light, and the potential of the property and so that you can begin to get a feel for our personality.
Next steps? We will typically draw up a proposal for services, send for your review and be available to discuss the scope of work and fees. You can feel free to ask to meet the Project Manager/Project Architect who will likely be assigned to your project and be your day-to-day contact. Once a contract is signed, we will set up a kick off meeting for the project and delve into the project full speed ahead! – Hannah