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Green building spreads throughout Central San Diego

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One of San Diego's largest public green buildings, the just-opened New Children's Museum downtown, is letting all ages see the byproduct of going green. With features like total-sunlight daylighting for its galleries, usage of primarily solar power and a cooling system that removes the need for air conditioning even in the summer, the $29 million building lets sustainable aspects of the construction blend into its overall playful design. The 50,000-square-foot, three-story space is also about double the size of its previous home.

The museum, designed by San Diego firm Rob Wellington Quigley, FAIA, received a Committee on the Environment (COTE) Award this year as part of the design awards by the San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

"The natural ventilation systems are considered to be the most innovative," said Jessica Henson York, director of external affairs and marketing for the museum. "It eliminates the need for traditional heating and cooling. To help come up with this system, Quigley collaborated with a team at UCSD to study wind direction and speed. It's a culmination of using things like large, roll-up doors and a central cooling chimney."

The $29 million New Children’s museum building utilizes recycled materials and other sustainable aspects to create its playful design.

Throughout the project, Quigley used recycled materials. Even the furniture, designed by local architectural firm Luce Et Studio, is in line with sustainability.

"The desks are made of recycled road signs, and the conference table is made of recycled steel," said York. "Whenever we can incorporate recycled materials for hands-on studio projects, we do as well. We are trying to stay true to the environmentally sustainable mission of the organization in new ways -- and in as many ways as we can."

Green about town

Continuing education is starting to think in more sustainable ways as well. Point Loma Nazarene University is installing the first large commercial solar photovoltaic system for a university in San Diego. The 450-kilowatt solar energy system will reduce energy consumption and move the school closer to its goal of becoming a carbon-neutral campus. Annually, around half of the university's building energy costs will be provided by solar power.

Nearby is the first LEED-gold-certified home in the country: Point Loma's Casa Futura. Also dubbed Casa Familia, it is designed to show what a San Diego residence might look like in the year 2020 -- with a rise in population taxing resources.

Just off Catalina Boulevard, the 3,800-square-foot, private residence won a COTE Honor Award this year. Designed and built by architect Kevin deFreitas for his own family, the $1 million home uses nearly every potential green practice imaginable -- from artificial turf (since maintaining natural lawn in the shady yard would require additional resources) to a 17-foot-long series of sliding-glass doors to maximize natural light. And energy-saving technologies have already cut the house's energy bill in half.

The 3,800-square-foot private residence Casa Familia won a Committee of the Environment Honor Award this year.

Another mixed-use property making headlines is the award-winning Grossmont Trolley Station Project in La Mesa. The first phase of the project, the Pravada apartment complex, is expected to open later this year. It will have 230 units. Along with the second phase, Alterra, which is to contain 297 units, the project will be one of the largest multifamily smart growth efforts in the area. Around 15 percent of its apartments fit within La Mesa's inclusionary housing program by offering below-market rents.

This apartment community takes its environmental consciousness a bit further by providing alternative transportation options: It is within walking distance to retail shops and the Grossmont Transit Center. The project, being developed by Fairfield Residential, has received a handful of awards, including the Outstanding Planning Project Award from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association. Given to only one planning project in the state, this mixed-use development received the award based on factors like quality, implementation and originality and innovation.

Thus far, San Diego's green building efforts mostly have been led by larger-scale projects. Hillcrest's new Pizza Fusion is taking restaurants green, too.

With a motto of "Saving the world, one pizza at a time," the chain has more than 60 LEED-certified locations in nine states. The restaurants use various -- and sometimes unconventional -- design elements to combat waste and energy waste, including recycling oven heat to warm water and the restaurant itself, countertops made from 100 percent recycled detergent bottles, ceiling panels comprised of three-fourths recycled aluminum cans and seat cushions made with soybean oil.

La Jolla Commons

La Jolla Commons, in the University Towne Centre area, features a 13-story, 300,000-square-foot office tower to be completed later this summer. The project, a joint venture between managing partner Hines and TIAA-CREF, is currently pre-certified LEED silver, and it is already two points into gold. With the higher rating, it may become the first multi-tenant office building in California to achieve LEED gold.

Shawn Tobias, project manager for Hines, said there are both financial and marketing triggers behind going green.

"Hines is a large firm, with $19 billion in assets across the globe," Tobias said. "We have global reach but a centralized construction conception group that monitors best practices around the world. And when LEED became an accredited agency, it was very easy for us to fall within those guidelines, because our universal best practices were already leading to green construction."

Green qualities include wastewater and water conservation technology that results in nearly 90 percent fresh-water savings by using reclaimed water, which is in turn used in cooling towers, irrigation and water closets. From a design standpoint, the building orientation has been positioned to minimize the surface area of direct sunlight, along with a subtle reflective roof.

According to Tobias, even with 30 percent more glass than other buildings in the market, it can be energy efficient. Full-height glass windows maximize light, and the bottom two feet are fritted with small horizontal lines like frosting. This blocks out the sun, keeping the heat load out but light in. Technology advances in low-emissivity glass further combat heat transfer through windows.

La Jolla Commons also includes energy-saving elevators that use 60 percent less than their predecessors. Another key highlight is use of an air-conditioning system that blends the two traditional models by placing a central plant on each floor to maximize efficiency.


One of the most visually arresting urban green developments in central San Diego this year is Sunroad Centrum 1. The $45 million, 275,000-square-foot Class A office tower also glows green -- via LED lights and toned glass -- and has wings on two sides, in a nod to its Montgomery Airport neighbor. It uses 50 percent reusable wood, has a special area for hybrids and carpooling, and employs various energy efficiencies.

Upcoming phases of the project will include apartments, a clubhouse and a 2-acre park. Sunroad is being touted by some as San Diego's most beautiful new office building, showing that sustainability can help buildings look good -- from the inside out.

Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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