Sustainability on Route 99

15 Nov, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Design competition yields ideas for a model 'green' rest area

You can still get your kicks on Route 66, but soon, you’ll be able to get your fix on Route 99 -- of sustainable architecture, that is. If you travel northbound to the heart of California’s Central Valley and pull into the Philip S. Raine rest area (located about 2.5 miles outside the city of Tipton in Tulare County), you’ll be greeted by humble amenities: a weathered restroom next to a dirt road, a few picnic tables, some battered payphones, and a wall plastered with improvised advertisements and scribbled notes. It isn’t exactly a green acre right now, but this spot marks the future site of a “GreenStop,” a self-sustaining, off-the-grid roadside rest area.

In 1998, the California Department of Transportation began upgrading the state's highway rest stops to address structural deterioration and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Eventually, Caltrans came to the conclusion that rehabilitating the sites would cost a lot more than demolishing and rebuilding them -- and that it might as well make the most of the opportunity to start fresh. So it plans to convert the utilitarian structures along the highways into something they’ve never been before: appealing oases where people like to linger. In the department's own words, the rest stops will become “attractive places that benefit the local economy.”

form.Z Enters the Equation

To solicit ideas, Caltrans and a number of partners -- among them, a nonprofit group called The Great Valley Center, the American Institute of Architects, California Council and several private organizations -- launched the GreenStop Design Competition, an open one-stage international contest to select a design, and thereby a design team, for a GreenStop. The new Philip S. Raine rest stop will serve as a model within the state system, adaptable for each location to follow.

Among the entries in the design competition was a design by Ryan Jang, Lucinda Tay and Laing Chung, recent graduates from California Polytechnic State University, San Louis Obispo. “One of us came across the competition online, so we decided to enter,” said Jang. “In our design, we try to formally and visually inform the visitors about the sustainability features in it so people are able to see what’s happing: the way water is treated, the way the building is lit, the way the plants are laid out.” For example, the angled roofs of the comfort stations form a V-shaped receptacle to direct the rainwater into a holding tank, where it is used to flush the toilets directly beneath as well as provide irrigation to planted areas.

The angled roofs direct the rainwater into a holding tank, which serves as a reservoir for toilet operation as well as irrigation.

Even though their design consists primarily of straight lines and basic geometric shapes, the trio chose form.Z from auto-des-sys -- a solids and surface modeler best known for producing organic and sculptural shapes -- because they had been exposed to the software during their academic training. “We used form.Z a lot to try to come up with different forms quickly in 3D and to see how masses and volumes came together. And for our purposes, it rendered fairly well,” said Jang.

According to Jang, the design process was more circular than linear, especially in the early phases. The team tested various design concepts in hand-drawn sketches, 2D diagrams and 3D massing models, and then returned to hand drawing for more exploration. “The quick hand sketching allowed us to examine a lot of options. Modeling these ideas in 3D gave us better ideas of how these options looked in real space. Then drawing diagrams in AutoCAD let us see the relationships between the sections and the elevations,” Jang recalled.

Balancing Transparency and Privacy

A rest stop’s primary purpose, of course, is to offer weary drivers a safe place to attend to unavoidable bodily functions. So Jang and his collaborators had to be creative with the glass plates they were incorporating into the restroom design. “To maximize ambient light, we incorporated large amounts of glazing,” said Jang. “We made [the glass walls around urinals and stalls] translucent below eye level. Above that, the glazing was more transparent [to admit natural light].” To achieve the desired opacity for each area, the team used form.Z’s transparency control features.

The varying opacities of window glass used in the restroom design provide privacy and admit natural light.

To predict the impact of the sun on the design, Jang and his colleagues used form.Z’s sun path analysis tools. “We used form.Z to calculate the sun’s  shadows to see how long the overhangs ought to be on the south side, to allow  direct sunlight into the interior during winter, and to provide shade during summer. It’s a lot more precise than drawing it by hand,” Jang explained. The simulation, combined with earlier climate studies, allowed the team to decide the amount of glazing required for each side of the design.

For presentation, the team exported some rendered drawings into Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. “We wanted to have better control over line weight, color, and where the graphics and the text would fall, and Illustrator seems to be a better tool for that,” Jang observed.

This visualization of the GreenStop shows how it would look from the adjacent highway.

A Winning Inspiration

The GreenStop competition ran from January through April 2006. It was open to architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners, engineers, educators, students and others interested in sustainability issues. Prizes included a $10,000 grand prize, as well as other awards; the entry from Jang and his team garnered second place and was awarded $3000. Currently, Jang, Tay and Chung are each working for a different design-oriented architectural firm in San Francisco, California. They plan to keep collaborating on competitions and other projects in the future.


About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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