Paisano Green Community
The Paisano Green Community is the first NetZero, fossil fuels free, LEED Platinum, affordable housing community in the United States. This 73-unit property is built on a 4.2 acre site adjacent to the major border crossing between the City of El Paso, Texas, and the City of Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico.
The design goals of the project were to create a place sensitive community for elderly residents that would promote healthy living and an environment encouraging the development of interpersonal relationships, all within a well-designed set of energy efficient high performance buildings and grounds.
The site was previously occupied by an abandoned housing community. Many of the old duplex units had sustained irreparable damage through settlement. The site was deconstructed to make way for the new green project, with more than 92 percent of the waste stream being diverted from landfills through aggressive reuse and recycling. Further, in the desert climate of El Paso where vegetation is precious, all salvageable plants were carefully transferred to other sites for replanting.
Located in the arid, high plateau environment of El Paso, the site is bordered by a variety of commercially-zoned features. On the east is the El Paso County Coliseum, which is used for periodic evening events attracting large crowds. Toward the north lies the six-lane Paisano Avenue, and to the west sits the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol truck inspection facility. Further west just beyond the truck inspection facility is one of the busiest border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico. To the south lies an enormous detention pond that serves the large asphalt parking lot of the truck inspection facility’s parking lot.
In support of the goals of the project, the design response to these adjacent sites was to plan the project in a way that would create an internal, lush, protected environment. We studied examples of courtyard buildings and walled cities from around the world, which supported the design concept to distribute the built program along the edges of the site and enabled the creation of a variety of protected useable outdoor spaces. A site fence closing the gaps between the buildings protects residents from uninvited individuals. Pedestrian and vehicular access is restricted by code-activated gates.
The building program includes a community building on the north end of the site adjacent to the six lane Paisano Avenue; four three-story flats buildings along with their connective structure called the canopy wall to the west; and a linear two-story building along the eastern edge of the site containing 18 single room occupancy units (SROs). These structures surround a large internal garden called the Tapestry Garden and a series of courtyards between the flats buildings. The Tapestry Garden, so named to symbolize the interweaving of the lives of the residents, is an oasis in the center of the project where residents can stroll, chat with neighbors, and invite family over for outdoor reunions. All units are visitable, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and can be easily converted to meet the requirements of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). The purpose is to accommodate the needs of the elderly residents as they age in place.
The canopy wall is a steel structure clad with colored perforated metal panels that connects all four flats buildings via walkways, stairs, and one elevator. It also houses all support facilities inclusive of laundry and trash rooms and provides a large area for the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels on its upper set of beams. The perforated metal panels protect the west facade of the flats buildings and the courtyards between them from the setting sun in the afternoons, cold and blustery winter winds, and the noise, lights, and pollution of the nearby truck inspection facility. The wall has become a recognizable icon for the project due to its size and prominence to adjacent roadways. This is especially true after dark when a series of linear LED lights convert the wall into an art installation with their varying programmed light displays.
The community building is central to the life of the community. It encourages residents to gather on daily visits to pick up their mail, visit with on-site mangers, or to attend community organized activities in the two large lounges. Residents are encouraged to use the center’s communal kitchen, located adjacent to the larger community room, as well as the plaza to the south, where larger groups can gather. A computer room doubles as a library, allowing residents to access the internet.
The community center’s large roof terrace affords commanding views across Paisano Avenue, the El Paso Zoo, and the Franklin Mountains to the north, as well as the Tapestry Garden to the south. Accessed by the second on site elevator, which also serves the second floor SRO’s on the east edge of the project, The terrace is protected by a large, yet open canopy roof structure clad in perforated metal panels. An outdoor room nestled under the canopy roof in the north west corner is defined by colorful acrylic panels that invoke plains grasses. Its sculpted steel frames anchor the terrace and provide a memorable identity for the project from passersby on Paisano Avenue.
Residents' units feel larger than their areas would suggest due to the large windows and tall ceilings. The first and second floor units have ceilings measuring 9 feet in height, while the third floor ceilings measure 11 feet tall. In the cooling climate of El Paso, the extra height allows heat to rise above the residents' activity zone. Further, healthy living is promoted through the use of marmoleum flooring (an eco-friendly version of linoleum) throughout the units. No carpets have been installed anywhere in this project.
HACEP was looking for an unusual, forward-looking design in response to the program goals for the project. An international call for design entries was issued in January 2010. WORKSHOP8, the collaborative architectural firm out of Boulder, Colorado, won the design competition in mid-April 2010 and completed the task in time for the construction to begin in February 2011. Pavilion Construction from Portland, Oregon, constructed the project, which was fully occupied on June 28, 2012.