S*Park: Connecting Humans to Nature
BUILDING DIALOGUE: S*Park
S *Park is a mixed-use residential development nestled between Denver’s historic Curtis Park neighborhood and the vibrant River North Art District. Designed to connect humans with nature in an increasingly dense urban environment and putting sustainability first for every construction decision, the net-zero building includes a large central park, outdoor gardens and a rooftop greenhouse.
The two-block piece of land had been owned by Denver Housing Authority since the 1950s, and in 2012 was named Sustainability Park when the authority, in partnership with Colorado Renewable Energy Society and Urban Farmers Collaborative, initiated a three-year pilot project centered around sustainability and urban farming.
In 2015, DHA opted to sell the property in order to transfer efforts to other Denver neighborhoods.
We won the project on a idea, really. It was being used as an urban garden, and the community was doing a nice job with it. I thought we should just continue that, and make it even better. Let’s create a place in the city where you can lead a dignified, sustainable life. Where you are interacting with nature and inviting it in to your lifestyle.
Our firm collaborated with real estate developer Jonathan Alpert of Westfield to solidify the concept for the community, and, in the end, it wasn’t only the DHA who made the decision but local representatives from the neighborhood as well. Tres birds workshop made two commitments from the beginning – 20 percent of the lot would be used for urban farming, and there would be no parking above ground. While it was a challenge, the architect’s vision was strongly supported from the beginning, and the project was won.
Parking demands were met with an underground garage, eliminating the need for alleys and minimizing parking strain on the surrounding streets. On the southwest corner of the lot, an expansive rooftop greenhouse sits above the entrance to the underground parking area. Uchi, a renowned sushi restaurant in Austin, Texas, will open its second restaurant amidst the greenery, and the aeroponic vertical farming operation will be managed by Altius Farms, which provides greens to local restaurants, markets and residents.
Building exteriors are lined with low-maintenance, sustainable materials, including reclaimed brick and locally manufactured steel. Custom, insulated panels form the walls, reducing sound transmittance between units while increasing the R-value, the capacity of an insulated material to resist heat flow.
Residential units range in size between 450 and 2,000 square feet and employ natural light to showcase simple, modern design. Above the residential units, a photovoltaic farm lines the roofs, providing 400 kWh of solar energy for the development. Energy savings are shared by all residents.
If you’re looking at the embodied energy of these units, it’s amazing. Once you incorporate a density of units, it becomes net-zero and requires very little to maintain. You have excellent insulation, thermal windows, and neighbors on each side, so you don’t need to heat your home as much. The exteriors are brick or panels, so there’s no painting or upkeep. It’s the simple spaces that lend the most to longevity and wherewithal.
The gardens that stretch between the buildings amount to nearly 20,000 square feet, providing residents easy access to nature and a reprieve from the surrounding cityscape. The gardens are dotted with custom birdhouses, designed by tres birds workshop, and include a small-scale beekeeping operation and composting services for all residents. Stormwater is captured onsite and filtered to the gardens through an extensive irrigation system designed in partnership with landscape architect Wenk Associates.
In a rapidly growing urban area, S*Park honors both nature and the city, and the possibilities of integrating the two. For our firm, connecting humans to nature is of the utmost importance. Being able to work in your garden after work, participating with nature, it’s like magic – and an excellent stress reliever. When you create spaces that encourage the natural world, it arrives. From wildlife to organic growth. It’s therapeutic, healthy, and good not just for you, but for the environment you’re an active part of.
* Caroline Joan Peixoto collaborated with Moore.
Published in the March 2018 issue of Building Dialogue.