Location: La Crescenta, CA
Completion: 4/2020
Square Footage: 56,000 SF
Project type: Multifamily

Penn Court consists of 10 duplexes and triplexes forming 28 townhouses. Each townhouse has living space on the ground floor adjacent to private enclosed garden space. The living space is a large open space that spans the length and width of the townhouse and is designed to accommodate large family gatherings. Each townhouse has 3 bedrooms and is designed to accommodate multi-generational families.

This project provided an affordable alternative to the single family houses in the area, while providing much of the functionality and live-ability not found in the apartment complexes. Each unit has its own garage, its own private open space, and its own roof.

As an entry level townhouse project, the budget was tight at $138 per square foot. Structure was carefully integrated into the design and needed to solve multiple problems. For example, floors were upgraded to Truss Joist which was sized to accommodate wall loads which eliminated beams and allowed for utility runs which eliminated soffits. Building articulation was dimensioned to lumber sizes which allowed for top plate continuation on the top and bottom of the beams. This created simple detailing while providing facades that were visually complex. Inexpensive T-111 and plywood skin was augmented by battens that transform into railings at the balconies. Exterior beams and wood details were integrated into the structure rather than being decorative.

It was a challenge to build housing near a freeway. These are some of the last unbuilt parcels of land, but need to be carefully designed to compensate for the noise of the freeway. The architect hired acousticians, specified windows and details that met certain sound criteria, but most importantly oriented buildings to block sound and create courtyards and gardens that are appropriate gathering spaces and provide respite from the noise.

Another challenge was to show the community that we can build housing that not only reduces development impacts, but creates a better community. Housing attainability requires projects designed with local community engagement and sensitivity to change local community attitude towards growth and in the end provide housing attainability for everyone. The architect met with the community prior to designing a project and kept the community informed on the project during both design and construction phases. Meetings at the local community room were hosted by the architect to listen to the community and to present ideas. The local community embraced the project and many community members that had fought development on the site, became advocates and spoke in favor of the project. The project was used as a successful model for community engagement to other development projects that have followed.

The sustainable strategy revolved around the difficulty of not knowing who the user would be and what level of engagement we could expect of them in the sustainable systems. This is in contrast to strategies where the user and their activity is hidden in the calculations, and post occupancy consumption data as well as any communication with future occupants over how they have been calculated to behave are not measured or attempted.
Passive strategies such as solar orientation and shading where large areas of glass are shaded in the summer, providing daylighting and are heated in the winter provided sustainable solutions that would not need any user participation. Cross ventilation was also designed so that the units could cool themselves when opened.

Active strategies were designed to be more open source, allowing the user to easily integrate these technologies. Active strategies need user interaction as they have to be properly used and more importantly maintained. Sustainable infrastructure was designed to communicate with future users, for example rainwater is directed through rain chains to barrels that are connected to the stormwater system through an exposed valve which can easily be directed by a future user to water landscape areas. In the interior, all of the units have dual piping where greywater is separated and can be used to water landscape in the private garden areas.

Solar power is coordinated and piped to the roof areas. The architect assisted several owners with solar installs. Each garage has electric vehicle charging, and there is an electric vehicle charging station in the guest parking area. This strategy provides the occupants with the ability to live a sustainable life, and the open source systems that were designed can be upgraded when new technologies are available so that the project is not sustainably obsolete in the future as many buildings will be.

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