Gish Family Apartments
All in the Family: This multifamily housing project provides healthy, affordable accommodations for low-income residents in Silicon Valley.
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First Community Housing (FCH) breaks new ground for sustainable multifamily housing in San Jose by maximizing the principles of energy efficiency, community integration, and quality of life in the design of Gish (January 2009 GreenSource), landing a Gold LEED score for both New Construction and the LEED for Homes pilot.
Thoughtful urban design began in the siting. Built on a brownfield adjacent to a light-rail station, the project increases density while providing a transportation option to residents. The 35 apartments are reserved strictly for families earning less than one-half the median income in the area, and 35 percent of residents suffer from physical disabilities. This made the integration of public transportation into the design critical. An added bonus for residents includes a free EcoPass for all Santa Clara County bus and light-rail services.
FCH Executive Director Jeff Oberdorfer, FAIA, emphasized an uplifted quality of life for residents as a design imperative. Besides a facility-wide smoking ban and low-emission furniture, paints, and adhesives, noise pollution was a concern given the proximity to the light-rail. Rather than seek an outdoor balcony exemption, Oberdorfer decided that “the exterior deck was an important feature and could mitigate sound impacts while allowing natural ventilation.” Soundproof glass was installed on the exterior of the deck, leaving the south side open. As a result, the apartments are quiet, and the balconies catch fresh breezes, becoming a “major architectural feature of the building,” in Oberdorfer’s view.
Energy efficiency played a key role in the design. Two-by-six studs in the walls allow for extra insulation, heat gain is minimized through smaller southerly windows and shading, hallway design boosts natural ventilation, and Energy-Star appliances are standard. The roof hosts a 30-kilowatt photovoltaic array that provides up to 30 percent of electricity used in common areas. High-efficiency heat pumps are used throughout, and a monitor in the community area displays the solar output. All together, Gish provides a practical example of well-designed, low-income housing that harmonizes aesthetic, social, and environmental concerns.
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