Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of AECCafe.com, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.
LifeWorks in Austin, Texas by Miró Rivera Architects
April 7th, 2014 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: Miró Rivera Architects
LifeWorks is a branch location of a local non-profit that provides a model for sustainable design in low-income neighborhoods. Located in East Austin, a historically socioeconomically-disadvantaged area, the 33,467 sq ft facility will provide a hub for educational and financial literacy in Central Texas. The design of the new branch, which has received a 5-star sustainability rating from Austin Energy Green Building, highlights the organization’s role in transforming the lives of youth and families seeking self-sufficiency and generational advancement.
The massing of the building is a play on the Texas vernacular “dog trot”, which breaks the building into two parts connected by a shaded breezeway. Deep overhangs capture prevailing winds and provide shade to a rhythmic arrangement of windows, while ample outdoor spaces offer flexible areas for meetings or informal gatherings. In a reversal of the typical suburban configuration, the parking at LifeWorks is pushed to the back of the site.
The impact of this simple move is dramatic, allowing the building to connect directly with the street and sidewalk while establishing a clear presence in the community that is invaluable to its identity. A generous colonnade acts as a communal “front porch,” inviting visitors in and providing shade, refuge, identity and light. Wrapped bands of stucco, aluminum and cedar wood on the façade represent the organization’s three cornerstones: counseling, education and youth development.
Inside, a series of brightly-lit transitional spaces greets visitors. Each of the building’s three floors is differentiated by a specific color, not only as an aesthetic accent but also as a visual wayfinding device that places clients—many of whom are illiterate—at ease. A tranquil, uplifting palette minimizes the institutional nature of the facility and amplifies the spirit of healing, inspiration and confidence that permeates the organization. Flexibility was a major priority, since several rooms had to accommodate both large group counseling sessions and individual break-out meetings. In response, the interior includes several spaces that can be broken up into more intimate segments via movable furniture and partitions. In addition, over 90% of the occupied spaces have exterior views and natural light.
Through a series of simple, durable and cost-effective measures based on time-tested strategies, the new LifeWorks branch sets a precedent for sustainable development that encourages public health, connectivity, diversity and a renewed sense of place for historically-neglected communities.
Despite a tight budget ($158/sq ft), sustainability was conceived of as a central part of the design. When compared to a baseline case study by a third-party commissioning agent, LifeWorks achieves the following: 79.6% less overall energy use (40% reduction via energy-saving features, plus an additional 39.6% reduction via on-site solar power generation); 80% less irrigation potable water use (~700,000 gal/year using historical evapotranspiration rates provided by AEGB’s Irrigation Water Use Reduction Calendar); and 28.3% less indoor potable water use (55,890 gal/year).
All landscaping species are native or adapted, able to withstand heat, wind and foot traffic. Over 90% of occupied spaces have exterior views, while light and occupancy sensors monitor energy usage. 52.5% of building materials were sourced in state, the building contains 31.4% recycled content, and 82.9% of construction waste (120 tons) was recycled or salvaged. All interior paints contain 20 g/L or less of volatile organic compounds (the majority contain zero VOCs) and 95.3% of the wood products used are FSC-certified. Other products with little to no VOCs include duct insulation coatings, carpet and floor adhesives, and tile thin set mortar. All carpeting meets rigorous environmental standards (Green Label, SMART, or FloorScore).
The design strategy also involved the careful consideration of opportunities for alternative transit. Situated near multiple bus stops and Austin’s first light rail line, LifeWorks earned a WalkScore of 77, or “Very Walkable” from WalkScore.com (compared to a city-wide average of 47, or “Car Dependent”). 120 parking spaces are provided for 308 occupants, resulting in 0.4 parking spaces per occupant. Bike racks, showers, lockers, and electric car charging stations promote alternative means of transportation. In its first year, LifeWorks reported a 13% decrease in mileage expenses.
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