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Watsonville Water Resource Center (CA)

Credits: ©2010 AIA / COTE

The Watsonville Water Resources Center is a functional, educational, and visual extension of the water recycling plant it supports. The new 16,000 square foot building consolidates three different city and county water departments into a workspace that allows for thoughtful and continuous collaboration on issues of water management, conservation, and quality in the Pajaro Valley. The facility includes administrative offices, a water quality lab, educational space and a design that puts the story of water in California on display. The building, its systems, and its landscape will serve to educate the public through exhibitions and guided tours. This project was recently chosen as an American Institute of Architects’ Top Ten Green Project for 2010. It is part of the larger, new Watsonville Area Water Operations Center supports the larger Water Recycling Project, a joint effort of the City of Watsonville and the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency to provide recycled water to farmers throughout the coastal areas of South Santa Cruz and North Monterey counties. By treating wastewater and making it available to the $400 million local agricultural industry, the Water Recycling Project protects groundwater that is being consumed more quickly than it is replenished, resulting in saltwater intrusion into coastal wells. In addition, the plant significantly reduces wastewater discharges into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.


Watsonville Deep Overhangs

The Watsonville Water Resource Center, which is almost 290’ in length, is oriented on an east-west axis, allowing for the majority of the building’s program to be placed along the north and south facades. ©2010 Bruce Damonte / WRNS Studio

A few of the building’s green features:

Lumber milled from city-owned property on Grizzly Flat Road, which reduced the need for emissions-generating trucking of building materials from outside the area;

Lighting controlled by computer to maximize energy savings from efficient fixtures;

Operable windows and ceilings fans instead of air conditioning;

Recycled water pumped through pipes in concrete flooring for efficient radiant heating;

State-of-the-art plumbing, including toilets that use recycled water and have dual flush capability to minimize unnecessary water use;

Drought-tolerant native landscaping with deciduous trees to shade building in summer while allowing for solar warming in winter;

Light-colored coating on parking lot asphalt to reduce heat buildup.

Environmental Aspects
The focus on water as a finite, invaluable resource drove every aspect of design, from material selection to site development. Sustainable measures throughout the project design work in harmony with this idea, leveraging all potential opportunities for free cooling and natural ventilation. The HVAC system delivers thermal comfort and ventilation separately; heating is provided only when required, avoiding the energy penalty of a conventional forced air system, and the ventilation system includes a nighttime purge capability, reducing energy consumption due to cooling. Radiant tubes in the floor use reclaimed water to provide heating and cooling for occupied spaces, and the plumbing design reduces water use with low-flow plumbing fixtures, dual-flush toilets that use reclaimed water for flushing, and solar-powered faucets.

To display water as a seasonal resource connected to the local agricultural growing season, water is supplied to a tiled water feature only when recycled water is available to the site. In addition, rainwater flows from eaves and rain chains into swales, then is carried to retention basins to be treated prior to infiltrating the groundwater system. Native and drought-tolerant plantings, requiring less than 70% of typical water usage, are watered only when recycled water is available.

Owner & Occupancy
• Owned by City of Watsonville, Local government

• Typically occupied by 73 people, 40 hours per person per week; and 20 visitors per week, 4 hours per visitor per week

In addition to its focus on water conservation, the Watsonville Area Water Operations Center is designed to conserve energy while improving building performance and comfort. The ventilation and heating / cooling systems were de-coupled, resulting in a system that is much less energy intensive than a standard forced-air system. The building energy loads were reduced significantly by incorporating high-efficiency mechanical equipment. Likewise, occupancy sensors were included in the majority of spaces to reduce lighting loads. Natural ventilation, CO2 sensors in open areas, building chimneys, and roof-mounted solar panels further contribute to energy conservation, reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions while improving the overall building performance and occupant comfort. The building’s natural ventilation capability, use of natural light, and highly efficient building envelope will aid in the “passive survivability.”

The irrigation system is predominantly an efficient, automatically controlled drip system utilizing recycled non-potable water. All plantings have low water needs and all planting areas received mulch to maximize water retention, minimizing evaporation. Reclaimed water from the waste treatment facility will provide any required site landscape irrigation water during plant establishment.

Bioclimatic Design
The building, which is almost 290’ in length, is oriented on an east-west axis, allowing for the majority of the building’s program to be placed along the north and south facades. Solar heat gain is controlled through the building’s eaves and trees placed along the southern edge, and thermal mass is provided by a polished concrete radiant floor. The building’s tall section and open plan were designed to make the efficient program to feel generous and spacious. Skylights along the central corridor wash the white walls with sunlight and provide a connection to the outdoors to the interior.

The design was adapted in response to the site’s prevailing coastal Pacific winds to maximize comfort in the outdoor public spaces. Rooftop vent stakes along the building’s ridgeline allow these breezes to be harnessed passively, drawing warm air out of the interior naturally. Private offices are equipped with glass sidelights and operable clerestory windows to allow natural light and air to move through the building’s private and public spaces. This careful “opening up” of the building’s interior benefits the occupants as they work and engage with one another, furthering interaction and communication in an open, light-filled, and healthy indoor environment.

Energy Strategies
Solar Cooling Loads

o Orient the building properly

o Shade south windows with trees and shrubs

o Shade building walls and roofs with trees

Daylighting for Energy Efficiency o Orient the floor plan on an east-west axis for best use of daylighting

o Use skylights for daylighting

o Use north/south roof monitors and/or clerestories for daylighting

Hot Water Loads o Use water-efficient faucets

Non-Solar Cooling Loads o Provide high-low openings to remove unwanted heat by stack ventilation

o Use siting and topography to enhance summer breezes

o Use operable windows

o Make a high internal thermal mass building

Photovoltaics o Use a photovoltaic (PV) system to generate electricity on-site

Heating Systems o Use hot water heat distribution

Lighting Controls o Use occupancy sensors

Site Description
The program for development of the project site, formerly used for agricultural row crops, was to restore it to pre-agricultural conditions. Central to the site’s development was stormwater management and the integration of bioswales and infiltration swales into the overall landscape. These elements form the basis for an interpretive, educational component running throughout the project.

The site retains stormwater onsite; landscaping in the bioswales filters, stores, and slows the flow of stormwater away from buildings and paved areas, reducing the ecological footprint of the project. Irrigation is used for plant establishment only, and is predominantly an efficient drip system, using recycled non-potable water. When irrigation is turned off, the habitat will become seasonal in its growth patterns.

Buildings and landscape screens shield exterior spaces from the prevailing cool ocean winds, creating desirable exterior spaces. Non-absorptive colors and materials were used in the landscape to complement the tree canopies that will reduce the heat island effect.

The project strives to create an ecologically diverse extension to the adjacent Pajaro River corridor in contrast to the surrounding agricultural monoculture. The plant palette is typical of that found in similar natural coastal terrace ecosystems.

• Lot size: 202,331 ft2

• Previously undeveloped land

Water Conservation and Use
Whenever possible, the project reveals an underlying focus of the design on water as a finite, invaluable resource, tied to energy use and the resource-intensive processes of providing potable water.

In occupied spaces, water flows through radiant tubes underneath the floors to provide heating and cooling. Rainwater flows from eaves, down rain chains, into swales and then is carried to retention basins where it is detained and treated prior to infiltrating the groundwater system. Native and drought-tolerant plantings, requiring less than 70% of typical water usage, are watered only when recycled water is available. To further display water as a seasonal resource connected to the local agricultural growing season, water is supplied to a tiled water feature only when recycled water is available to the site.

These water conservation strategies help reduce potable water consumption by 50%; help achieve energy-efficiency targets that exceed ASHRAE 90.1 by 76%; and reduce the need for energy-intensive water transport, lowering the building’s overall carbon footprint.

Site Strategies
• Ecosystem Restoration

o Replant damaged sites with native vegetation

• Runoff Reduction

o Use planted swales instead of curbs and gutters

• Water Conservation Education

o Educate residents about water conservation

• Landscape Plantings

o Landscape with indigenous vegetation

• Managing Stormwater

o Contour slopes for reduced runoff

• Rainwater Collection

o Collect and store rainwater for landscape irrigation

• Demand for Irrigation

o Select plants for drought tolerance

o Use mulch to improve water retention

• Irrigation Systems

o Use appropriate grading to retain irrigation and reduce runoff

o Use water-efficient irrigation fixtures


AIA Top Ten Green Awards (USA)