[Editor’s Note: For our next column, we invited the Portland, Oregon-based June Key Delta Community Center to pen a piece about how a small local non-profit can turn an abandoned lot into “a living building composed of cargo containers, salvage glass and recycled construction materials using 50% to 70% recycled technology.” The point of the renovation, according to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, is to have a NetZero impact on the environment. If you’d like to be considered for a column, please drop us a line.]
The existing building was a former service station and convenience store. Until the start of construction in August, 2010 the structure still bore the affects of the neighborhood’s stresses from over a decade ago. It sat behind a chain link fence, on asphalt covered brown field. The windows were covered on the outside with rusting metal mesh welded to the steel frame and painted over with gang related graffiti. The interior was dark with dilapidated floors and ceiling and, in spite of the Delta Sororities’ best efforts at upkeep they had to beg and borrow for space to run their programs.
In its former condition the building was the definition of urban blight. Given the site’s prominent location at the corner of North Albina and Ainsworth across from Peninsula Park, this renovation constitutes a highly visible representation of urban renewal in this changing neighborhood.
A large meeting hall will form the core program use of the building. Movable storage partitions are planned once construction is complete to allow for flexibility with large and small groups. The display area, the second largest space in the building, will be used to show the Delta Sigma Theta memorabilia and for exhibitions of local artists.
The renovation will consist of stripping everything down to the existing steel structural frame. A new wall consisting mainly of 9’-0” high glass panels will then be erected. The glazing, diverted from landfill by Benson Industries, will provide not only a high quality building enclosure but views into and out of the building.
One of the existing canopies will cover a new addition bringing the building’s main entry close to Albina. The other canopy extending north will be maintained to provide cover for bicycle parking and rainy day outdoor activities.
A major innovation of the project will be the conversion of metal cargo containers, currently on site, into the bathrooms and kitchen of the building. These rooms house the building’s core utilities. With the experience of reconfiguring containers we hope that a system for pre-fabricating utility spaces can be developed for use on later phases of our project as well as completely new projects.
The project is currently pursuing the Living Building Challenge and we have confidence that we are well positioned to meet its stringent requirements. Our brown field will be transformed into a well planted site where all storm water will be infiltrated through bio-swales. Some storm water will be stored for landscape maintenance. Currently the project also is searching for funding sources to meet the net zero water and power requirements. The building has been designed for efficient resource use and so that power generation and water treatment can be plugged in once funding has been obtained. Finally, toxic materials are forbidden and building components are being sourced locally.
Architectural Record recently reported on the first certified Living Buildings. They indicate that these projects are generally developed by “a client with an established institutional concern for the environment” such as universities, research institutions, or schools. With the June Key Delta house, developed by a group of predominantly African-American women, we will have a demonstration of grass roots Living Building. Probably the most inspiring aspect of the project is the Delta Sigma Theta’s utilization of social capital in the recruitment of volunteers, accessing of non-profit apprentice programs, and coordination with public institutions. We believe the project will demonstrate that sustainability is accessible to all and to inspire others to take up the challenge.
– By Mark Nye, an architect working on the June Key Delta Community Center project