California is running short of water due to a growing population compounded by limited natural resources and rising temperatures, all of which are forcing utilities to ration water and introduce tiered pricing. The state’s desert regions, such as Inland Empire, bear the brunt of the blow under these circumstances. So it’s no wonder that Cucamonga Valley Water District, in the heart of the Inland Empire, is seeking to inform the public about conservation and sustainability with its newly constructed educational facility and demonstration building—the Frontier Project. Designed by HMC Architects, the center has not only caught the public’s eye, but also the media’s: it recently snagged the Best of 2010 Award for Outstanding Architectural Design from California Construction magazine.
“We wanted to attract different types of visitors, whether they’re homeowners, builders, or students, to educate them on the benefits of sustainable living,” says Todd Corbin, the district’s vice-general manager. “It takes a quarter of the electricity generated in California to move water around, so energy and water conservationare interconnected.”
Los Angeles–based HMC Architects, who had previously designed the district’s operational facility, became an active partner in developing a program for the Frontier Project. What initially was conceived as a demonstration house grew into a 15,000-square-foot building that has received Platinum-level certification in the LEED® for New Construction category. “A sustainable building doesn’t have to be a collection of machines,” says Raymond Pan, HMC’s design principal. “Our goal was to make good architecture and integrate the human experience.” To achieve this, the architects oriented the building eastward, mapped out spaces for different activities, researched sustainable materials, and brought in mechanical engineers to contribute ideas on every aspect of construction. “It was a multi-layered effort and the building itself is layered, like the skins of an onion, to protect against heat loss and gain while still providing a sense of openness,” Pan notes. Extreme summer heat is common here at the edge of the Mojave Desert, yet winters can get chilly.
Judging a book by its cover
The Frontier Project utilizes an L-plan comprising concrete and glass, plastered white to reduce heat absorption. A permeable concrete walkway leads past drought-resistant plantings and through the courtyard to the main entrance. A grille of redwood louvers—salvaged from the vats of local wineries—screens a roof garden, shades the office wing, and curves around to enclose an outdoor classroom. Local residents donated glass fragments for the production of a terrazzo staircase, which ascends to a green-roof terrace. A north-facing double-glazed wall opens to the courtyard and bathes the interior in natural light while offering views of trees and mountains.
The south facade is a plastered sandwich of Styrofoam blocks with a core of reinforced concrete—an economical system of building a thermal mass that absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. The second layer is a spinal wall of poured concrete with aggregate exposed to provide a tactile surface in the double-height materials display hall, as well as reveal the beauty of raw materials. Underfoot, floors are of polished concrete; above, FSC-certified Fir panels conceal the ceiling. The reception desk just inside the main entrance is composed of redwood. In the demonstration kitchen, the project team specified bamboo flooring and cabinetry, and Corian countertops incorporating plastic waste. Throughout the public spaces, labels outline the materials and products on display. Herman Miller donated the furnishings, such as classic modern pieces by the Eameses and George Nelson, as well as workstations. Staff offices―located on the upper level and opening onto terraces―can be leased to environmental associations.
How sustainable design pays for itself
Operable windows help regulate airflow and comfort levels, but the interior can also be passively cooled to reduce energy usage. Gray zinc wedges rising from either end of the building are actually solar chimneys that, when sensor activated, draw in air and then circulate it via a centrally located cool tower. This system reduces the air temperature by 15 degrees to a height of seven feet, and on especially hot days, it is supplemented by mechanical air conditioning. Sensors monitor lighting conditions to control fluorescent ceiling fixtures. About a quarter of the electricity used in the building is generated from an array of photovoltaic panels supported on a steel shade to the south of the building. Rainwater is collected in a 2,000-gallon cistern, and employed for drip irrigation or purified for internal use.
Frontier Project is a high-performance building that delights the eye. It’s a model for communities across the country, drawing a steady stream of visitors, and providing an important resource for local residents.
Architect: HMC Architects. Architecture project team: Pasqual Gutierrez, AIA; Raymond Pan, LEED AP; Hector Gaxiola, LEED AP, ASHE. Interior designer: HMC Architects. Interior design project team: Pam Maynard, CID; Jessica Yi-Yun Liu; Lisa Lee, NCIDQ, LEED AP. Contractor: Turner Construction Company. Consultants: R.M. Byrd & Associates. Engineering: DCGA Engineers. Kitchen: ASF Interior Design and Redesign (casework/millwork). Landscape: EPT. Furniture dealer: GM Business Interiors.
Paint: Vista Paint. Laminate: Avonite (countertops/backsplashes in kitchen and restroom, reception counter); Plyboo (kitchen cabinets). Casework: OFCI (salvaged redwood in lobby). Drywall: Georgia-Pacific. Flooring: Plyboo (kitchen); Terrazzo Flooring (installed by MSI). Carpet: C&A; Shaw. Carpet fiber: C&A; Shaw. Ceiling: Armstrong. Wood ceilings system: ACG. Glass: PPG and TGP Firelite. Window treatments: MechoSystems.
Workstations: Herman Miller. Seating: Herman Miller (workstation seating); Herman Miller (lounge). Architectural woodworking installer: ASF. Signage: AD/S Design & Signs.