A Community of Firsts

by Jonathan Metz AIA, LEED AP
Metro Green is an innovative mixed-use, transit-oriented development on a 5-acre urban infill site in downtown Stamford, Conn. The Metro Green residential is also among the first developments designed under the new LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) pilot rating system. When the overall Metro Green development is complete it will include 238 mixed-income units as well as a 350,000 square foot Class-A office tower designed to meet LEED Platinum certification under the program’s core and shell guidelines. As an urban infill project, the reuse of a vacant and formerly contaminated brownfield site greatly enhances the vibrancy of the South End part of the southern boundary to Stamford’s downtown core.

The development’s first phase, the 50-unit Metro Green Apartments, was designed by the Stamford office of Perkins Eastman to exceed the Enterprise Green Communities guidelines for green affordable housing and is the first LEED Gold certified affordable housing in the state. 

The size and configuration of Metro Green Apartments was determined primarily by the site logistics of an urban redevelopment site, its location within a Transportation Center Design District, and the hierarchy of the existing urban street grid. It was important to maintain a low-rise building height close in proximity to the curb to prevent overwhelming the existing structures across the street. The resulting four-story apartment building complements the surrounding mix of apartments, office buildings, and transportation hub recalling the historic elements in the area. It elevates both the community and the lives of its residents.

The Perkins Eastman design team used a creative mix of red, white, and tan building elements to provide a visual energy and rhythm, enlivening the neighborhood. At the heart of the development is a landscaped courtyard that provides the residents a sense of privacy and quiet green space while a lively public plaza provides rich outdoor amenities for both the residents and community at large.  

The Perkins Eastman design team was also challenged early on by the ownership to investigate and integrate new green ideas to provide the residents with the tools and information necessary to live more sustainably — something many residents had never before considered.

Panelized 2-by-6 wood framing reduced installation time and on-site construction waste. In order to achieve the highest performing exterior wall possible, full-depth cellulose insulation was used to achieve an R-21 rating. High-performance aluminum-clad wood windows with Low-E + argon glazing are an important part of the façade due to the floor-to-ceiling height living-room windows, which allow sunlight to reach deep into the apartment interiors. Window blinds can be used to control light infiltration on the southern-facing units.

Further, most of the windows are operable, allowing residents to utilize outside air for cooling and ventilation. Each room contains a ceiling fan/light to aid ventilation. Each apartment unit has an individual HVAC unit, which allows residents to control their own heating and cooling.  All lighting throughout the building is fluorescent. The abundance of natural light combined with highly efficient lighting fixtures help to minimize residents’ electricity usage.

Prefinished cement-fiber siding covers the building exterior that will be long lasting and maintenance-free while maintaining a modern interpretation of traditional detailing. All walls and partitions within the building are clad with moisture-resistant recycled content gypsum board to prevent any possible mold formation if there should be water damage. The roof is clad with a highly reflective thermo-plastic membrane to reduce heat-island effect and is also used to harvest rainwater.

The public plaza is pitched toward a rain garden to gather and retain rainwater. To reduce the demand for potable water and to reduce the stormwater runoff, two 10,000-gallon concrete storage tanks contain and filter rainwater, which is then slowly released into the stormwater system, preventing a surge on the municipal system during severe rain events. Laundry-water is supplemented with the harvested water during non-irrigation seasons to reduce the demand for municipal-supplied potable water. Along with the help of ultralow-flow plumbing fixtures, the design team expects to achieve a more than 30-percent reduction in water usage on site.
Recycled content was incorporated throughout the building, from banana fibers in the plastic laminate kitchen countertops to fly ash in the structural concrete base and the porcelain tiles in the lobby. To the greatest extent, all finish materials within the building are PVC-free and urea-formaldehyde-free while all paint is low- or no-VOC.

All carpeting is Green Label+ with 100-percent recycled padding within the apartment units. Excavated rock was crushed for use on-site and 98 percent of the construction waste was diverted from landfill. The apartments each use a tankless boiler/hot water heater as a high-efficiency source of hot water and to supply the heating coil in the packaged apartment mechanical units. All appliances are ENERGY STAR models. An energy model was used to predict building performance and that of energy systems within. No data on performance exists at this point as residents only recently moved in, but the owners plan to use full tenant surveys as one of the methods to monitor the building’s performance.
The building’s location, adjacent to a major transportation hub offering Metro North train service, Amtrak and multiple bus lines, provides residents with easily accessible means of public transportation as an alternate to automobile use. On-site features include an interior bike room, hybrid vehicle parking, native drought-resistant planting, and an improved pedestrian experience on the streets bordering the project. Future improvements to the city’s transportation system will improve links to the city center and the harbor making the development one of the greenest places to live.

Metro Green Residences, the second phase of the development, is also being designed by Perkins Eastman and is in the construction document stage. The seven-story, 50 unit building includes both affordable and market-rate apartment units and is slated for occupancy in December 2011.

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