Issaquah | Washington

The zHome project is located in Issaquah Highlands, a transit-oriented development in a suburban area east of Seattle.  The tight .4 acre site set aside by the City of Issaquah was located in the more urbanized core of this community.  David Vandervort Architects felt that it was important to maintain the active urban streetscape while also providing for a distinct sense of privacy for the inhabitants.

Along with this there was a need to maximize the south facing site for energy generation and a desire to maximize this exposure for the health and enjoyment of the occupants.

DVA considered carefully how to create a community within the Highlands that fit with the character of the place, but, since zHome was a unique and potentially influential project, to give it a forward thinking identity that promoted both the technological aspects and the community oriented aspects of sustainable living.

With the need for solar access, the desire for an engaged but private streetscape, and the goal of a shared common space, the design solution for zHome began to focus around a common courtyard.  This “Solar Courtyard”, as it came to be known, created opportunities for connection: connections with neighbors, connections with the community at large, and connections with our environment.

Along with a community focus it was important to maintain a sense of privacy for the individual dwelling units.  To facilitate this DVA located the main living areas on the second floor and utilized decks and porches as modulating spaces between the units and the common space. These can be provided with screening devices for further sun and privacy control.  In order to still maintain a direct connection to the courtyard each unit also has a flexible ground floor space that opens up to the courtyard and can be used as a home office or additional gathering space.

In a departure from the typical townhouse model, motor vehicles were relegated to the periphery of the project.  A woonerf access strung along the north edge of the site allows access to congregated garages and promotes interaction with the courtyard even if arriving by car.  The street has also been equipped for the parking and charging of electric vehicles.  But the interior of the site is free of vehicular access and available for the enjoyment of the occupants.

Many current townhouse projects are conceived of as a miniaturized version of the single family dwelling, with discreet living spaces, garages and landscape. At zHome, it was a goal to create a model that prioritizes shared resources. The courtyard is a place that can be used by all occupants for community events and parties.  The landscape is established for mutual benefit and includes edibles, herbs and native species.  Rainwater is harvested on the site is stored and shared among the dwellings.  Overflow storm water is celebrated and infiltrated at the entrance to the community.  Ground source wells for heat and hot water are equally shared by all dwellings.  Even recycling, waste disposal, and a gardening center have been considered and given a single shared structure that accommodates all of these functions. Inside the dwellings, DVA took the approach that the quality of the space is just as important as meeting the technical energy benchmarks.  The dwellings have access to light and volume by incorporating open lofts into double height spaces. Outdoor decks and patios at all levels extend the available living space and help to create a buffer between private space (inside) and community public space (courtyard).  

Finally, reflecting the variety of modern living these dwellings are provided with open and flexible spaces.  In many units, ground level spaces are provided that can be configured as a single large open room, or divided for use as multiple spaces.  These spaces can be bedrooms, living spaces or home offices. The technical benchmarks of the project were a significant influence on the architecture.  From the initial charette, throughout the design of the project, the design and technical team proposed and evaluated strategies that were then integrated into the project.  Some of these strategies presented design challenges – creating enough roof area to generate the required photovoltaic energy, selecting appropriate fenestration and maximizing the limited glazing area, integration of natural ventilation schemes and allowing for the additional wall thickness required for high insulation values.  It was important to all involved that the livability and architecture of the project not be diminished by the technical demands of the project but that they would be carefully integrated. An overriding lesson to take from this project is that many of the strategies employed are not cutting edge, radical, or expensive.  The planning of a project this compact and efficient is just as important as integrating high-tech equipment such as heat pumps and photovoltaic panels.  Good design and quality construction should be the starting points for everything we build.  

Developer:  Ichijo USA 
Photography:  Aaron Ostrowsky