The American Institute of Architects recently picked the Charles David Keeling Apartments located on the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla among the nation’s top 10 green projects for most sustainable new structures.
Located at the southwestern edge on campus overlooking the coastal cliffs of La Jolla, the three cast-in-place concrete structures comprise 10-story, eight-story and five-story buildings. They house 516 students in 85, six-person apartments, as well as lounges, meeting rooms, a landscaped courtyard and green roof terrace.
The award-winning architectural masterminds behind the project are KieranTimberlake Associates and Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects.
What makes the project distinct are its many sustainable features — from the renewable energy coming from the rooftop to on-site wastewater recycling on the ground.
A juror for the contest said the project is so bold and unique, it should be considered a prototype for the entire San Diego region.
“It’s a bold design, in particular for San Diego, with its water stress,” said Gail Vittori, a juror on the COTE project — the Committee on the Environment, which is a knowledge community of the American Institute of Architects that each year selects the nation’s 10 greenest buildings.
She is also co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a nonprofit focusing on establishing protocols, prototypes and policies that advance sustainable design and development.
The architects incorporated a comprehensive strategy of conservation and reuse of water, greatly reducing reliance on water from external sources, which is a huge issue for water-scarce San Diego, Vittori said.
And water conservation was not the only innovation.
The building performs well in all areas: energy efficiency, water savings, material selection, and indoor environmental quality, according to Vittori.
“Its energy performance is about 54 percent below other comparable buildings and reduced by half than what is conventional for a building of this type,” she said. “The architects identified very carefully where the site is located and responded by taking advantage of the attributes.”
Natural Energy Efficiencies
James Timberlake, the design partner for the project at KieranTimberlake, said the apartments employ multiple tactics to address Southern California’s environmental challenges while also using its natural environment to create energy efficiencies.
With the site’s prime location near the ocean, the architects were able to cut energy costs by using the ocean breezes to naturally cool the apartments.
The units and windows were also specially designed to allow air to flow freely and create cooling without the need for air conditioning.
At the same time, an innovative backward constructed rainscreen and air barrier exterior reduce heat loss and water vapor infiltration. Any required mechanical heating comes from individually controlled radiant panels, Timberlake noted.
Also, all apartments are naturally day lit and ventilated, Vittori said.
“Its lighting was significantly low and relies primarily on daylight during daytime hours, and they also took advantage of the natural ventilation system, reducing energy by about 38 percent,” Vittori said.
Model for the Future
Vittori said jurors were especially intrigued by the on-site wastewater recycling system, which eliminates the costly wastewater transportation and treatment.
She regards the system as a model for cutting back on a carbon footprint.
Wastewater from the showers and the lavatories runs through separate pipes from other wastewater to a treatment room on the ground floor where it is filtered and stored in a 43,000 gallon underground tank. The stored water supports the landscape needs, including the green roof.
“Many projects say that’s (off site treatment) the cost of doing business, but in this case, the (architects) took that cost reality and said ‘why don’t we rethink our way of doing business and instead of tying it into a centralized system, we pursue the wastewater treatment on-site,’” Vittori said.
She also applauded the architects for taking advantage of the natural landscaping.
Besides having water-efficient irrigation by installing a system of landscape bioswales — elements that remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, and retention basins — the design also remediates stormwater flow into the Pacific Ocean.
“They say ‘it never rains in Southern California,’ but when it does, it is torrential,” said Martin Poirier, principal designer with Spurlock Poirer. “Instead of flowing through a pipe to the ocean, particulate-laden stormwater runoff is filtered through the landscape. This cleansing process is made visible as beautiful, ephemeral streams on the site.”
Jurors were also especially conscious of project costs and awarded the architects for keeping a “modest budget” of $313 per square-foot for the entire 147,000-square-foot project.
Timberlake said the building is a tribute to the legacy of Charles David Keeling, an American scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, whose research focused on achieving high environmental ethics in our everyday lives.
Both Vittori and Timberlake feel that the students living in the apartments greatly benefit from having so many elements of environmental sustainability woven into their everyday lives.
“It becomes an educational opportunity for the school, students and the broader community,” Vittori said.
“These are the best housing units on campus and they reach a high level of sustainability and a high level of ethics in construction,” Timberlake said.
Though the project’s biggest challenge was available space, the architects managed to fit the building into a compact area and even found room for future expansion.