Sustainability

Modern Residential Design Blog Post Series

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Our team at Propel Studio is passionate about designing beautiful, modern, high-performance buildings that our clients and communities will love. To us, there are a series of primary qualities that lead to a successful project that is loved by its users and meets our design standards:

  1. Beauty
  2. Functionality
  3. Healthy and Comfortable
  4. Energy Efficiency & Sustainability
  5. Durability
  6. Materiality & Tectonics

Over the coming weeks, we will be writing a series of blog posts to elaborate on how we approach each design project and incorporate these qualities into our work. Although these themes can be applied to projects of any genre, we will be focusing on the design of modern residential projects - Single Family Houses and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

Although we have broken down these themes into distinct posts, there are many topics that overlap or bridge between the categories. For instance, choice of materials and how they fit together is an integral aspect of the beauty of a project, sustainable strategies often lead to healthier environments, durability and functionality go hand-in-hand. Through the design process we balance the solutions to hundreds of problems and weigh them against these focusses, and ultimately arrive at a solution that meets our clients’ needs and fulfills our desire to address these important topics.

By no means is this a complete list or cover all the issues and challenges that architects deal with on each and every project. They are just a few of the prominent themes that we focus on throughout our design process as we work with new clients.

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To see how we have incorporated some of these ideas into our work please visit our residential portfolio.

Healthy Learning - Primrose School of Hillsboro

Primrose School of Hillsboro - sustainable site plan
Primrose School of Hillsboro - sustainable site plan
A school design orchestrated by Propel Studio intricately focuses on the interior environment, promoting healthy living and nurturing imagination for early childhood development.

In their latest design project, Nick Mira and Lucas Gray, partners at Propel Studio Architecture in Portland, Oregon, are at the forefront of where architecture meets sustainable design and healthy living. They are leading the design team for a new Primrose School, a national brand of accredited early education schools committed to childhood development, on the outskirts of Portland in Hillsboro, Oregon.

The Primrose School of Hillsboro, is the first project in Oregon for the national brand, and there are plans to create a few more in the Portland metro area. Bringing years of architectural knowledge and sustainable design strategies to the project, Mira and Gray’s focus at the school has been to maintain the exterior aesthetics of the national brand, while developing a healthy and sustainable indoor environment. The mission shared between the clients and design team is to provide a healthy, environmentally friendly, and comfortable space for the teachers, staff, and students of all ages.

Specifically, great care was made on specifying materials that are healthy and not environmentally hazardous in the interior space — from ensuring that materials and finishes do not emit unhealthy gases, and using natural materials wherever possible, to sourcing local materials and products. Propel Studio and their consultant team has also made a dedicated effort to implement a highly efficient heating and cooling system, reducing energy consumption and saving the client money on utility costs. For example, Mira and Gray are incorporating radiant floor heating for optimal user comfort. This feature provides a peace of mind—it will keep students comfortable year around, particularly during the cool autumn and cold winter days, the times when parents are most concerned about keeping their children warm. It also limits the need for utilizing forced air and ducting that can often collect dust and and increase particulates in the air - a particular issue for asthma and other respiratory problems.

The sustainable lighting strategy starts by incorporating as much natural daylight as possible, supplemented with the best artificial technologies. Mira and Gray emphasize extremely energy efficient lighting and therefore have specified LED light fixtures throughout the school. Moreover, the natural and artificial lighting seamlessly balanced throughout the space, creating a mood of tranquility, allowing for maximum productivity and keeping children focused on learning. Finally, great care has been executed towards the acoustical design of the building, including the selection of finishes that are sound absorbent, further creating a soothing environment for children and allowing for a lively, even sometimes boisterous, environment without worrying about an unpleasant, discordant mixture of sounds.

In addition to the classrooms, other areas of the school that received an emphasis on healthy and sustainable environments include the kitchen and the indoor and outdoor play areas.  The school’s kitchen is equipped with energy efficient appliances, once again reducing the operating costs and energy consumption. Further, the school will serve high-quality, wholesome, and nutritious food, encouraging health conscious minds for life. In order to encourage exercise, play, and imagination, the team chose play equipment suitable for each age group.  In order to spark imagination and promote positive development both physically and mentally, this included giant foam blocks which can be creatively assembled to provide an infinite number of environments.

Along with sustainable materials and systems, Propel has worked with the developer of the learning curriculum to prepare for increased technology in the classroom - the future of learning. The school will utilize iPads throughout their teaching methods, and as a result, Mira and Gray have incorporated the necessary infrastructure into their design. They have designed extra outlets for charging many iPads at once, and ensured the wifi and internet systems can fully accommodate for simultaneous videos and downloads. The robustness of the integrated technology should have the school well prepared for future advances in technology as teaching tools.  

In terms of the school’s design, there is no question: health, safety, comfort, and functionality were the primary focuses. Mira and Gray worked closely with their clients to develop a design that met the requirements of the franchise while incorporating sustainable strategies to create a healthy learning environment. Propel’s focus is always on balancing the needs of the clients, the project budget, and their focus on sustainable learning environments.

Project Team

Architecture:Propel StudioStructural Engineering:VLMKLandscape Architecture: Ecotone EnvironmentalMEP Engineering:InterfaceClients:Timeless Education Academy, LLC

Passive House Architecture

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Passive House Architecture Explained in 90 Seconds from Hans-Jörn Eich on Vimeo.

We are always trying to push the boundaries of sustainable design and look for clients who are passionate about this as well. Passive House architecture is one approach to building that drastically reduces energy consumption and thus the lifespan costs of a building. The video above gives a brief overview of Passive House principals. If this interests you and might be applicable for your building project please get in touch!

Custom Residential Design - Construction Update

Custom Residential Design - Construction Update! Here are some quick construction photo updates for one of our custom residential design houses in Portland, Oregon. Together with our client, we created this unique and sustainable home.

For more information on this and other ADU's we've designed, check out the links below: 
Propel Studio's  Portland Custom Modern Home Designs
 

For more information on our ADU design services, please follow this link: http://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/

Portland Oregon’s ADU resources and information: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/36676

A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) - PART I

“An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a second dwelling unit created on a lot with a house, attached house or manufactured home. The second unit is created auxiliary to, and is smaller than, the main dwelling. ADUs can be created in a variety of ways, including conversion of a portion of an existing house, addition to an existing house, conversion of an existing garage or the construction of an entirely new building.” - City of Portland Development Services Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are growing in popularity throughout the Portland metro area as a way to add a rentable, revenue generating unit to a standard residential lot. ADUs are a great way to increase property value, increase revenue for property owners, and increase density within our residential neighborhoods. Propel Studio recently completed the design of an Accessory Dwelling Unit in NE Portland and we want to share some of the lessons learned.

Section view of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)
Section view of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

Considering the size of the project - only 704 square feet - the ADU presented some unique design challenges. The client was looking for a 2 bed, 2 bath unit that he could live in and rent out the second bedroom. Given the size of the existing primary residence - the project had to be less than 75% of living area of the existing home - this became a very tight fit into our limited square footage. We were also faced with the unique challenge of siting our design in the front of the existing house, which is located at the back of the lot, forcing us to design our project as an attached ADU. Finally we had to overcome the obstacle of creating a modern project within the strict design guideline that pushes all ADUs to match the qualities of the existing house.  Follow progress on this ADU by clicking here.

Portland’s Design Standards Although the city is actively promoting ADUs, unfortunately Portland currently has some very strict design guidelines that limit the ability of creative architects to flex their design muscles. The city’s regulations call for all ADUs to reflect the existing house in style, roof pitch and window proportions. Basically they want ADUs to be mini replicas of the primary house. Through our experience with the NE ADU shown above, Propel Studio has worked within the system, played some design tricks, and accomplished a contemporary NW Modern design that creatively fit within the city’s guidelines.

Economics The City of Portland currently incentivises Accessory Dwelling Units as a sustainable way to increase density in our residential neighborhoods. When you build a new home, addition, or renovation, you pay System Development Charges into a fund which goes to Portland Parks, Environmental Services, Transportation, and Water Bureaus. However, in order to encourage urban development Portland will not assess these fees if an ADU project is submitted for permit before July 31, 2016. This is a significant savings - about $12,000 for an average size ADU - making it an ideal time to consider adding an ADU to your property. For the ADU project that we got permitted, the fees came in at just under $5,000 for a 2 bed, 2 bath unit. Not bad for a $150,000 project that could earn $1,500 a month or more in rental income.

ADU Plan - A simple 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom design
ADU Plan - A simple 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom design

Sustainability At Propel Studio we strive to address the three areas of sustainability - economic, social, and environmental - in each of our projects. ADU’s are a great way of addressing sustainability on a typical residential lot. First they offer property owners a new revenue source which could easily cover the financial investment in getting it built - economically sustainable. ADUs also bring small affordable rental units into the heart of the city, providing affordable workforce housing close to jobs while increasing the density of our neighborhoods - socially sustainable. Finally our design was carefully considered to make the best use of the site and natural resources: shed roofs are oriented to allow for the future installation of solar panels; stormwater runoff is returned to the water table through a drywell on site; landscaping consists of native plants; large overhangs over the south facing windows allow in the winter sun and block the summer heat - environmentally sustainable.

Increasing Density Another benefit is that ADU's are a great example of sustainable urban infill development. An ADU built in Portland offers urban living at an affordable price, but the real beauty to the idea of ADU's is that they work to focus population where city life, services, and utilities are as well. This prevents additional sprawl into undeveloped areas, depletion of additional wildlife habitat. When people live far out, not only are they commuting in, but theres a huge energy cost to building and providing utilities further out as well. (electricity, trash,water to name a few)

ADU’s can provide for many functions such as a guest house, an art/music studio, or other live/work possibilities. ...and the time to consider building an ADU in Portland is right now.

Contact us for a free design consultation to discuss your thoughts and ideas on adding an ADU to your property.