LifeWorks is a branch location of a local non-profit that provides a model for sustainable design in low-income neighborhoods. Located in East Austin, a historically socioeconomically-disadvantaged area, the 33,467 sq ft facility will provide a hub for educational and financial literacy in Central Texas. The design of the new branch, which has received a 5-star sustainability rating from Austin Energy Green Building, highlights the organization’s role in transforming the lives of youth and families seeking self-sufficiency and generational advancement.
The massing of the building is a play on the Texas vernacular “dog trot”, which breaks the building into two parts connected by a shaded breezeway. Deep overhangs capture prevailing winds and provide shade to a rhythmic arrangement of windows, while ample outdoor spaces offer flexible areas for meetings or informal gatherings. In a reversal of the typical suburban configuration, the parking at LifeWorks is pushed to the back of the site. The impact of this simple move is dramatic, allowing the building to connect directly with the street and sidewalk while establishing a clear presence in the community that is invaluable to its identity. A generous colonnade acts as a communal “front porch,” inviting visitors in and providing shade, refuge, identity and light. Wrapped bands of stucco, aluminum and cedar wood on the façade represent the organization’s three cornerstones: counseling, education and youth development.
Inside, a series of brightly-lit transitional spaces greets visitors. Each of the building’s three floors is differentiated by a specific color, not only as an aesthetic accent but also as a visual wayfinding device that places clients—many of whom are illiterate—at ease. A tranquil, uplifting palette minimizes the institutional nature of the facility and amplifies the spirit of healing, inspiration and confidence that permeates the organization. Flexibility was a major priority, since several rooms had to accommodate both large group counseling sessions and individual break-out meetings. In response, the interior includes several spaces that can be broken up into more intimate segments via movable furniture and partitions. In addition, over 90% of the occupied spaces have exterior views and natural light.
Through a series of simple, durable and cost-effective measures based on time-tested strategies, the new LifeWorks branch sets a precedent for sustainable development that encourages public health, connectivity, diversity and a renewed sense of place for historically-neglected communities.
The seamless integration of sustainability into all aspects of LifeWorks sets a precedent for responsible development that encourages public health, connectivity and diversity in fractured, low-income communities. LifeWorks isonly the fourth commercial project to receive a 5-star sustainability rating fromthe Austin Energy Green Building program, the nation’s first green buildingprogram and the model for the LEED certification system. Since the commercialrating program’s inception in 1995, a mere 2.7% of projects have achieved a 5-star rating.
Despite a tight budget ($158/sq ft), sustainability was conceived of as a centralpart of the design. When compared to a baseline case study by a third-partycommissioning agent, LifeWorks achieves the following: 79.6% less overallenergy use (40% reduction via energy-saving features, plus an additional 39.6%reduction via on-site solar power generation); 80% less irrigation potable wateruse (~700,000 gal/year using historical evapotranspiration rates provided byAEGB’s Irrigation Water Use Reduction Calendar); and 28.3% less indoorpotable water use (55,890 gal/year). All landscaping species are native oradapted, able to withstand heat, wind and foot traffic. Over 90% of occupiedspaces have exterior views, while light and occupancy sensors monitor energyusage. 52.5% of building materials were sourced in state, the building contains31.4% recycled content, and 82.9% of construction waste (120 tons) wasrecycled or salvaged. All interior paints contain 20 g/L or less of volatile organiccompounds (the majority contain zero VOCs) and 95.3% of the wood productsused are FSC-certified. Other products with little to no VOCs include ductinsulation coatings, carpet and floor adhesives, and tile thin set mortar. Allcarpeting meets rigorous environmental standards (Green Label, SMART, orFloorScore).
The design strategy also involved the careful consideration of opportunities foralternative transit. Situated near multiple bus stops and Austin’s first light rail line,LifeWorks earned a WalkScore of 77, or “Very Walkable” from WalkScore.com(compared to a city-wide average of 47, or “Car Dependent”). 120 parkingspaces are provided for 308 occupants, resulting in 0.4 parking spaces peroccupant. Bike racks, showers, lockers, and electric car charging stationspromote alternative means of transportation. In its first year, LifeWorks reported a13% decrease in mileage expenses.