iPod Cool Energy: Doing Public Housing Right!

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies.  Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times.  And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly ‘iPod Cool’. 

This discussion will focus on a public housing project that shows us (US) that public housing can be done right — right by its residents and right in terms of energy use.  Join me after the fold for a discussion of Chicago’s Near North Apartments.

This discussion points us to a serious question:

Are energy efficient, environmentally friendly, quality construction residences reserved for the wealthy or is for all of us (US)? 

If  Chicago’s public housing community has its way, the answer is clear: it is for all of us (US)!

There are two new housing projects for the homeless that are notable for meeting US Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards: 

Near North Apartments, part of Mercy Housing Lakefront (MHL), just opened March 1st …

Green Chicago:  Before looking at Near North in detail, let’s contemplate the city for a moment. 

Over the last half-dozen years, [Chicago] has begun urging developers to incorporate sustainable elements into their projects. The city’s efforts include expediting constructions permits for projects that meet the certification standards for the United States Green Building Council, and providing matching grants of up to $100,000 for projects that involve green roofs, which use plantings to aid insulation. So far, the city has about 300 green roofs, more than any other American city.

One way to get a feel for Chicago’s focus is to visit the Chicago Center for Green Technology. The CCGT, part of the City government, has this as its welcome:

Helping professionals and homeowners learn how green technology is cost-effective and good for the environment and people.

Now, that is a mission statement that we can all live with!

Back to Near-North Apartments: To start with, let’s review some of MHL’s description of Near-North:

Near North Apartments, the newest project of Mercy Housing Lakefront (MHL) will combine our cost-effective and nationally recognized approach to ending and preventing homelessness with major design innovations in an important community setting.

Hermut Jahn, a top-end architect (United Airlines terminal at O’Hare …), is the designer of the “Single-Room Occupancy” (SRO) building. The “average size of its 96 living units is 300 square feet.” (While 300 square feet might seem small to many of us, check out the NYTimes article Think Small.)

Each unit will have a private bath, kitchen, central air and heat. The building’s design also includes tenant lounges on each floor and a community room for activities, socializing and education.

This transition, support residential facility will provide quality — even if basic — housing to every resident.

This is all tremendous, but it isn’t iPod Energy Cool … at least not yet …

Near North Apartments will generate a portion of its own power with wind turbines, harness solar energy through solar thermal collectors as well as collect and recycle rainwater in cisterns. The building will also feature the city’s first gray water system which recycles shower water to use when flushing toilets.

Okay, this is starting to get there … it is starting to get cool:

  • Wind power
  • Solar hot water
  • Rainwater collection
  • Gray water for toilets

Hmmm … this is the type of thing that every American residence (whether apartment or single-family) should have. (Note: truth-in-advertising, at this time, I have none of the four, but expect to have solar hot water and rainwater barrels in the next few months.) And, this is going to be in a homeless facility? Great!!!!

The Wind Power element is perhaps the true iPod Energy Cool part of this. Near-North is one of two Chicago buildings to get a new wind power system (the other being the Daley Center). The eight Aeroturbines (warning: pdf file) are quite unusual, a design by Professor Bil Becker, University of Illinois at Chicago (article on Becker).  They are a 20-foot-long, 5-foot-wide horizontal cylinder containing a helical plastic sheet that catches the wind. “It’s almost like a DNA structure, or like a twisted sail,”

As per the briefing, these can be placed many places where traditional turbines can’t go: underneath, for example, highway bridges to generate power from passing traffic. Or, perhaps, under the Golden Gate Bridge …

(See Aerotecture for more.)

And, well, this flexibility is reportably not the only benefit of the design. Although wind turbines with propellers kill birds, Chicago birder groups are comfortable with the aeroturbine. Recent studies show that a conventional turbine kills up to 7.5 birds a year. But Donnie Dann, president of the Chicago-area Bird Conservation Network, said, “This design is as close to zero as they can get.”

But, it isn’t just wind turbines, but a holistic design: Perched on Near North’s roof are eight cylindrical wind turbines, each about five feet high and 10 feet long, lined up in a row down the length of the building. “The site is oriented perfectly for the prevailing winds in Chicago,” … the building … is specially designed to use wind power. The roof curves at the edges, like the top of a loaf of bread. As the wind flows over the curve, it accelerates on its way into the turbines.

Well, don’t know about you, but this definitely seems to me to have hit iPod Cool Energy status.

And, well, MLH hopes that Near North will serve as a model for an innovative, sustainable way to approach housing built for low-income  people. “This project is our environmental university,” he says, “not only to learn for ourselves, but also to show others what can be done.”

Let’s hope that “others” are watching!




One response to “iPod Cool Energy: Doing Public Housing Right!

  1. Pingback: Aerotecture: Making Power Where You Need It » Celsias

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