As an architect, one of the most rewarding things is working with a truly special client on a truly special project. I feel so fortunate and honored to be able to work with some of the most amazing people I have met in my life to co-create beautiful dwellings with them. One such example is working with the Sisters of St. Francis to help design new housing for them on their land in Denver.
This project called Casa Chiara includes 6 dwelling units (for 12 sisters) plus province offices and was built using modular construction. In fact, this is one of the first multi-family, modular, sustainable project built in the US. It is composed of 16 modules to create these 1 and 2-story duplexes with a central shared courtyard space and a cascading contemplation garden.
At first blush, one might not put together a group of Catholic nuns with modern, sustainable design. However, this inspiring group of women see building in a sustainable way as a natural extension of their core belief system. The Sisters are incredibly generous and gifted and give so much to their community. Many of them are teachers in art, pre-school, high school, elder training programs, hospital chaplaincy, social justice participation, and volunteer work in residential facilities. They are all involved in the ministry of prayer for peace and for the health and preservation of planet earth and all who live on it. In the province chapter of 2007, the sisters chose to adopt the Earth Charter and its principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society. As a part of their penance, the Sisters of St. Francis live “with gentle courtesy toward all creation”. The Franciscan Sisters’ have a strong commitment to conserve and sustain resources and therefore built a team (outlined below) to help them with their project that reflected their values.
Some of the Green Aspects of the Casa Chiara project:
• Strategically placed windows and openings to sculpt in natural light and maximize ventilation (reducing energy for artificial lighting and mechanical systems)
• Modular construction significantly reduces material waste and provides a safe and healthy environment for workers
• All materials were purchased from in-state vendors, supporting the local economy and reducing shipping
• Materials on the site were recycled including concrete waste that was dumped into a concrete washout container; copper wire, piping and steel beams from the existing building; and recycled concrete was used to backfill the retaining walls
• Materials from the construction site were reused: bricks from the existing convent were saved and used for landscaping walls; wrought iron railings on the balconies and walkways came from the existing convent building; and Habitat for Humanity and others used salvaged materials from the demolition of the existing convent building
• Eco-friendly materials with non-toxic and mold-resistant qualities were used as well as an air-filtration system to ensure healthy interior air quality
• Efficient systems and building envelope to minimize energy usage including high-performance insulation; dual pane, Low-E glass doors, and windows; energy star doors, energy star appliances, and 90%+ efficient furnace; tankless on-demand water heater
• Xeriscaping landscaping and low-flow plumbing fixtures were used to reduce water consumption
• Incorporated center garden/water retention to reduce issues with a stormwater run-off on this sloped site
• 14kw PV solar system that produces all the electricity for the site and the buildings (and actually produces more than they require, so they sell back to the grid and receive rebates)
• The project received 5 stars for Energy Star certification (the highest) and adheres to Enterprise Green Communities standards.
Casa Chiara (the housing for the Sisters) is the first phase of the overall ariaDenver project. The rest of the community will include for-sale and rental flats, and also 2 and 3 story townhouse homes, carriage houses with a mix of market-rate and affordable units. The community is being designed with inspiration from the sisters so it will include things like shared edible community gardens, private and shared play areas, roof gardens, and each unit is designed to be sustainable with alternative energy available. There is also a co-housing section being planned for the ariaDenver project.
Client: Sisters of St. Francis
Developer: Urban Ventures LLC (Susan Powers, Kate Hilberg, Dick Taft)
Planning Consultant: Anderies Consulting (Mary Anderies)
Architect: Michelle Kaufmann Studio (Michelle Kaufmann, Andrew Faust)
Landscape Architect: Wenk + Associates (Jesse Clark)
Modular Factory: All American Homes (Doug Stimpson)
Site Contractor: Core Alternatives (Scott Glahn)
(Molly Urbina, Ken Brewer, Rick Garcia, Chuck Perry, and Perry-Rose LLC, Lou Raders and many, many others helped make this project a built reality)