Friday, August 12 2022

Now go to 2718 Grand Avenue S. in Minneapolis and you’ll see an unremarkable single-family home built in 1981 with vinyl siding, poor insulation, and a gas furnace.

But by next summer, owner/developer Jay Rajaratnam hopes you’ll do a double take. He and architect Adam Bradley Jonas are replacing the house with a 12-unit building that will feature green building techniques such as using all electric power and sustainable living features such as gardens and fruit trees.

“We want to have a positive impact on the environment and a positive impact on the community,” Jonas said. “We can’t solve everything by constructing a building, but we can certainly do better.”

The construction techniques and materials used by the team aren’t rocket science, said Richard Graves, director and associate professor at the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota. These are solid, long-lasting practices that few market-rate developers use here.

“To me, it looks like the kind of design that makes the most of your budget in terms of energy efficiency, with high quality, good design and good construction,” he said after reviewing the plans. . “If we’re going to meet our climate change goals, we need to build everything this way in order to take advantage of the grid that’s getting greener.” It’s avant-garde. …and it’s not that complicated. You can teach builders to do this.

Just a handful of city-funded projects built to similar standards in St. Paul, Graves said, along with a few architects who focus on zero carbon footprints with single-family homes, including one aimed at affordable housing. The number of apartment complexes built to such high environmental standards is rare in the Twin Cities – and they are not always welcomed by neighbors. Rajaratnam and Jonas want their project to raise awareness of green building practices.

“We want to be very public about what we do to show how it’s done so more people do it,” Rajaratnam said. “We both have young children and we want Minneapolis to be a prosperous place.”

Photo of the existing house and rendering of the project proposed by Awaken Architecture. Map credit: Whittier Alliance.

Developer: “It helped me realize how quickly things change”

Rajaratnam grew up in a small fishing village in Sri Lanka, five kilometers down a dirt road in a village with no running water or electricity except for the battery of the cargo truck his uncle used to transport the fish. which powered a light and small black-and-white television used by the entire neighborhood.

“It was such a different way of life than where I am today,” he said. “It helped me realize how quickly things change.”

He pointed to a series of photographs of the disappearing ice cap at the North Pole to highlight the urgency of tackling climate change.

The former project manager for Xcel Energy realized he could use his energy knowledge to help the building industry adopt green building practices. When he met Jonas at their children’s kindergarten, they decided to collaborate.

Jonas, who grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa, realized he could tap into his farming experience to solve environmental problems.

“We try to facilitate environmental action,” he said. “How can we make green choices part of our daily experience? For example, he said, riding a bike indoors is just as easy, if not easier, than parking in an underground garage and taking the elevator to an apartment.

How can we make green choices part of our daily experience?

architect adam bradley jonas

A project like no other

The city of Minneapolis approved the rezoning project this spring. In a letter of support, the neighborhood association, the Whittier Alliance, praised the project for “the intention and creativity with which the applicant seeks elements of sustainability in the building’s design, landscaping and amenities. for residents.

The block contains other apartment complexes, but this one will stand out visibly and invisibly.

With corrugated iron siding and a minimalist design, the building will feature a flat roof ideal for solar panels and sedum planters that can catch rain and direct it to storage tanks and gardens.

Each unit will have a patio or balcony. There will be indoor and outdoor bike parking, an electric cargo bike to share, apple trees out front, maybe a mural on one side of the building or some poetry carved into the sidewalk, and – possibly, if they can get city approval – an electric -vehicle charger.

“There are subtle but effective ways to encourage strangers to become neighbors to become friends by providing the environment to do so,” Jonas said. “It’s certainly idealistic, but without the basics to have these chance meetings, there is no chance. We want to provide not only a healthy life, but also a healthy community.

The mostly invisible differences will include extra insulation, triple glazed windows and LED lighting. Each unit will face south to absorb as much winter sunlight as possible, providing “additional coverage,” Jonas said. Energy for heating and appliances will come entirely from electricity, not fossil fuels. The complex will also provide easy access to bike paths and public transit by bus. Rajaratnam even said he hopes his preschoolers won’t need or want to own cars in the Twin Cities when they grow up.

Rajaratnam and Jonas hope to offer at least 20% of the units at an affordable price under the city’s 4d affordable housing program.

Deconstruction of the current structure will begin slowly in order to reuse and recycle existing appliances, HVAC system, doors and windows in accordance with the Hennepin County Building Reuse Grant Program.

“Quite frankly, that’s kind of what I would like everyone to build,” Graves said. “That’s what I think the code should be.”


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