DESIGN 2011 Merit Winner: Casitas on East Broadway, Tucson, Arizona

Tom McQuillen, AIA, LEED AP, Principal • Lizard Rock Designs, LLC

Congratulations to all Citation of Merit winners!

Casitas on East Broadway provides affordable, safe housing to low-income seniors who qualify for HUD low-rent subsidies. During its construction, tenants had already submitted their applications and, upon its completion in August 2010, it was immediately occupied, according to Tom McQuillen, AIA, LEED AP, and principal of Lizard Rock Designs, LLC. “This is a compliment to the Tucson Housing Foundation and the Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, who partnered with us on this project,” he says.

The historic Sam Hughes neighborhood, an area with a unique character, is located east of the University of Arizona. “It is an area of charming bungalows, where many professors live. Many of the area’s homes were built around the time the railroads were being established in Arizona,” says McQuillen. A number of these homes are wood-frame construction. “Since there aren’t a lot of trees in Arizona, the lumber arrived by rail,” he explains.

From a neighborhood perspective, there is a strong block culture. A typical home has a front porch and maybe a garage or one that’s been converted to a studio off of an alleyway. Casitas borders this neighborhood. “Shopping is very convenient and walkable for the Casitas residents,” says McQuillen.

As the building became occupied, the new residents of Casitas were welcomed into the greater community. “There is a Safeway [supermarket] within 200 yards of the building. Its manager is on the Casitas board and the store offers special promotions to encourage the residents to stop by,” McQuillen says. Businesses continue to establish ties with these senior apartment dwellers.

©2010 Cooperthwaite Photography

Safety is always a concern for seniors living on their own, but Casitas is staffed with two full-time employees from Catholic Community Services, and a live-in manager is in the works, so there will always be someone a resident can contact. The apartments are also well-lit from the abundance of natural daylight from either a corner or bay window.

Apartments are arranged around small courtyards that foster a sense of community. The various “neighborhoods” designed throughout the complex promote a sense of neighborliness between the Casitas residents. The main lobby also serves as an area of spontaneous socialization.

McQuillen credits the project’s location as a big plus in attaining its LEED Gold certification. “Points are awarded for how close a project is to shopping, transportation, and public parks.” Casitas on East Broadway was constructed on a lot previously occupied by a closed-down car dealership, which became an “attractive nuisance” in the neighborhood. With Casitas in its place, the neighborhood is now a positive, active asset to the community.

Krista Ziemba, the project architect, worked incredibly hard sorting through and evaluating all of the LEED points that could be pursued including those that added no cost to the project as well as those that gave residents the most value in creating a positive environment to live in. “That was a satisfying aspect of the project,” admits McQuillen, “and Krista is responsible for pulling it all together and spearheading the LEED certification process.” She is also credited with keeping the project on track and on budget.

Although sustainable design is not prohibitively expensive, you have to pick and choose the elements to incorporate. “In building Casitas on East Broadway, we didn’t have much choice,” says McQuillen, “because the money we got from the HUD grant was the money we had to work with.” For instance, the architects would have loved to include a huge solar array on top of the building, but it was cost prohibitive.

Because of the tight building envelope and efficiently designed air filtration, the environment is healthier for seniors. In addition, McQuillen notes that Tucson Electric Power recently proposed to donate and install solar hot water heaters. “It was on our wish list, but was too costly. Now we’re going to go back and retrofit the building to install them in the near future,” he says.

McQuillen remembers when ground was first broken for Casitas. “Prospective tenants would come by the construction site to watch the activity. They wanted to know when it would be done because not only was it an affordable option, but they knew that the involvement of Catholic Community Services and Tucson Housing Foundation meant that these independent living apartments would be well-run and maintained.” Now the community of seniors at Casitas on East Broadway is thriving.

Topics: Design