Published on Thu, Sep 6, 2007
Read More News

Home Improvement

Sustainability is goal of 650-home Horizon at Semiahmoo development

By Tara Nelson

Imagine cooling your house without air conditioning, watering your lawn with captured rainwater, growing vegetables on your roof, walking through winding trails to the neighborhood grocery store, and enjoying panoramic views from an environmentally-sustainable home on a gently-sloping lot overlooking Birch Bay.

No, it’s not your typical 1960s commune. It’s the vision behind Fred Bovenkamp’s 650-home Horizon at Semiahmoo development planned for 200 acres just south of Semiahmoo near Birch Bay.

Bovenkamp, a Whatcom County resident and developer, has recently contracted the help of Olson, Sundberg, Kundig and Allen (OSKA), a Seattle-based and internationally-recognized architectural firm that focuses on sustainable and low-impact home design.

The firm is well known for their high-end homes and was recently listed as one of the top 50 architectural firms in the United States according to Architectural Digest magazine.

Their most recent commercial projects include the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and the Children’s Art Museum in Bellingham.

The project employs a style which Bovenkamp coined “Pacific Northwest contemporary,” and uses natural materials, strategic site placement and low-impact design to help create a “seamless transition” from the interior landscape to the exterior landscapes that’s so in line with Northwest culture.

“It’s not a West Coast or Pacific Northwest style of craftsman, we didn’t want the same old timber frame look that you could buy anywhere,” he said. “It has a bit of an Asian influence with its use of natural materials, flatter roofs, and exposed concrete, You’re not going to see gable or full-hip roofs, but flatter, more sloped roofs with more use of steel and metal.”

Bovenkamp said while the decision to go green was difficult because of the increase in initial costs, he saw a burgeoning edge for a high-end sustainable design in an otherwise soft housing market.

“It involved a huge investment of resources and it was kind of risky, to be honest,” he said. “But the market for high-end homes is changing. The high-end consumer is sick and tired of this old architectural style that’s been out of date for years.

“Not only that, but (green building) is not just something that’s faddish; it’s almost an expectation that people have to be thinking about what they do and how it affects others.”

If successful, Bovenkamp said the project, and the individual homes, will be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design (LEED), a multi-tiered rating system to establish a national standard for sustainable building practices.

The system was developed in 2000 and was designed to encourage and accelerate innovation for green building practices through an incentives-based system that recognizes sustainable developers.

Green building represents a $7 billion market in the United States, according to a study by the USGBC. A 2000 survey by Professional Builder magazine found that 56 percent of consumers are willing to pay between $2,500 and $5,000 for improvements that would make their homes more environmentally friendly or healthier to themselves.

In order for a building project to become LEED-certified, however, a project must adopt a minimum number of LEED standards for a number of different areas including environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and indoor air and light quality.

In an attempt to achieve LEED gold standards, the highest of all the LEED ratings, project engineers will focus on three goals: exceeding the energy efficiency ratings of the Washington State Energy Code efficiency standard by 50 percent, reduce water consumption, and using natural and sustainable products such as metal, steel and concrete, as opposed to timber, active solar panels, appliance heat recovery technology, Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC-certified sustainably-harvested lumber.

Other measures include reduced road width, to reduce the amount of impervious surfaces, biofiltration systems such as rain gardens on individual lots to catch, filter and reuse stormwater, and bioswales lining roads throughout the development.

“We’re trying to achieve LEED standards in every house we build, that’s what our aim is,” he said.

Alistair Jackson, a resident of Birch Bay and a LEED-accredited principal with O’Brien and Associates consulting firm in Seattle who is working on the project, said although Bovenkamp only recently hired the help of OSKA, he had been interested in the idea of low impact design since the project’s beginning.

“The basic philosophy has been the same,” he said. “Fred wanted to do something special with Horizon and make it a legacy project, he brought us in to talk about LID and opportunities.”

Bovenkamp said another goal was to maintain architectural consistency of the entire project, not just have 10 different architects competing to design homes. Instead, OSKA commissioned all four lead architects to complete two housing designs each for clients to select from.

“We wanted it very controlled, frankly, so we know it’s not going to be a dog’s breakfast, meaning a little bit of everything,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a Stepford Wives project, either. They’ll each have their own unique personality and character, but with common threads running through them as far as sustainability of design and modernism.”
In 2006, when Bovenkamp commissioned OSKA to design a few model homes and the project’s showroom, the agency told him they wanted “all or nothing” and was subsequently hired to design and maintain creative control over the entire project.

OSKA associate Scott Allen said they liked the idea of having complete creative and architectural control over the project and the opportunity to create a low-impact development of unprecedented scale.

“The attraction for us was almost like designing a town,” Allen said. “That and being able to promote the idea of being a good neighbor and a steward of the land. It’s a building concept that stresses an awareness of what you do affects everyone else. So that to us was really exciting.”

Allen said while home design plans are still in the development phase, he expects lot placement and setbacks to mimic town planning of the 1960s and 1970s in an attempt to foster community interaction and closeness.

“For us, it’s a pioneering project,” he said. “This was a chance to get those well-thought ideas out to a public who hasn’t had good architectural development available to them.

“If this works, I think it will be a great paradigm shift in the world of development.”

For more information, visit www.liveathorizon.com.