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Bold design: garden crossing, a mixed-income project in Boulder, Colo., offers up vibrant homes with contemporary flair.

EDGY, CONTEMPORARY, AND VIbrant are all words that describe Garden Crossing, a nifty 55-unit for-sale project on the burgeoning north side of Boulder, Colo. But there s another word, one that's red hot in the housing world these days, that also comes to mind. Garden Crossing is affordable. And you can add sustainable to the list of adjectives too, since it also meets (and even exceeds) green building and Energy Star requirements.

Best of all, though, it's just plain fun.

"It was fun, very fun," says Rick New, director of residential architecture at Boulder's DTJ Design and the principal architect for Garden Crossing. "Every project has its share of pains and slings, but this one was fun because we knew the architecture was going to be really dynamic, highly visible and would fit into the community

That community, Holiday Neighborhood, has its own fun side--or at least a history that brings smiles to most baby boomers. It's the site of the old twin-screen Holiday Drive-In Theater, which operated on these 27 acres from 1969 to 1988. (The community even boasts an Easy Rider Lane, named after the first movie that brought folks to this North Boulder outpost.)


The road from drive-in movie theater to lively mixed-use neighborhood, complete with parks, artist's studios, and a community garden, was a long one. That won't come as a surprise to anyone who's tried to build in the city of Boulder, which has some of the most stringent growth limitations in the country.

After the theater shut down in 1989, its owners made plans to build a 120,000-square-foot, big-box warehouse on the site, shortly after the property and some other nearby parcels had been annexed to the city. That clashed with what Boulder officials had in mind for the site--a more urbanist, mixed-use plan--so the city set out to acquire the land. Eight long years later, in 1997, the city did just that and, in turn, sold the 27 acres to Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), its housing authority: BHP became the master developer of Holiday Neighborhood.

"At that time, we did a solicitation asking, 'Who wants to come partner on the site?' and spent the next year and a half talking with 45 different developers, really sorting through who was appropriate and who wasn't," says Cindy Brown, co-executive director of BHP and project manager at Garden Crossing. "Our master site-planning architects, Barrett Studio Architects [in Boulder], produced a set of design guidelines that were given to [seven] developers. Then we went through a design review process with each of the developers, sometimes more than once. The first drawings that came in for Garden Crossing created quite a stir. They were brightly colored with unusual materials and metal finishes. There was some excitement and some controversy. But I find when I give people a tour of Holiday Neighborhood, Garden Crossing creates the most buzz. People either love it or they don't."


The architects at DTJ Design certainly loved what they were able to do with Garden Crossing. In fact, it became a unifying element at the firm, which is located just three miles from Holiday Neighborhood. "This project generated a lot of internal interest, especially with some of our younger designers," says New, who has always had a penchant for sustainable design. "But it was Peak Properties, the selected builder and developer, that really stepped up. Peak Properties had done a lot of traditional projects before, but contemporary architecture was really driving the boat here. They were committed to getting the details right."

Peak Properties, another Boulder-based company, gave the forward-looking design the green light and committed to making more than 50 percent of the attached townhomes and carriage units affordable as required by BHP. In addition, all the homes went 30 percent above the national standard for an Energy Star rating. Each home features energy-, water-, and resource-conservation measures, including recycled content insulation, minimal VOC content in paints and finishes, low-flow faucets, OSB sheathing made from fast-growth trees, and recycled job waste.

Although only four floor plans were used, the orientation of the buildings and the use of variety of materials give each unit a unique feel. DTJ Design chose to put a diagonal line of carriage-house units in a sawtooth pattern along the eastern edge of the site, which runs along busy Highway 36. That helped mitigate noise and directed views back to the west and south. "The western sun can be tough, but we controlled it with shading," says New, who was also anxious to capture as much solar benefit as possible. Directing views toward the west and south also oriented Garden Crossing more toward the rest of Holiday Neighborhood.

The townhomes, configured in blocks of four and five units, fill out the rest of the site, which has a density of 23 units per acre. Parking was handled with great care. Each of the carriage homes was built above a three-car garage. Two of the spaces belong to a townhome owner through a dedicated easement; the third belongs to the carriage home.

The carriage houses and townhomes, which range in size from 620 to 1,650 square feet, have interiors that are light and open with distinctive architectural details. Soffits and low walls create a sense of visual interest and help to define smaller spaces. Each unit has a deck and a balcony, most with dramatic views of the mountains.

On the exterior, simple architectural forms coupled with bright, primary colors and bold materials give Garden Crossing a kind of energy that's not normally seen in residential projects. Corrugated metal siding, concrete block, and boldly colored hardboard siding add a contemporary flair. "It was fun to peruse some simple, basic forms while mixing things up with the materials," says New. "All those elements are sustainable and project a sense of sustainability."

Of course, just because a building material is straightforward doesn't mean it's easy to work with. "Corrugated metal details aren't something that your average framer or finisher knows very well," says New. "Architects love to use cheap materials, but that won't work if no one knows how to install it. Peak Properties made the commitment to go through a learning curve to pull this off."

That commitment to be a little daring certainly paid off. Both the affordable units ($116,000 to $165,000) and the market-priced homes ($192,000 to $383,000) sold out in just 18 months.

"We had to do a lot of head scratching in order to put in more architectural elements and make it more energy-efficient," says T. Amory Host, chairman and president of Peak Properties. "Putting those kinds of elements into a project that you're selling for less money is a challenge. But it's been a lot of fun, too."

Project: Garden Crossing, Boulder, Colo.; Site size: 2.4 acres; Total units: 55; Price: $116,000 to $165,000 (affordable), $192,000 to $383,000 (market rate); Builder/Developer: Peak Properties, Boulder; Architect/Landscape architect: DTJ Design, Boulder


ALL MIXED UP: Architects from DTJ Design in Boulder used bold colors and an inventive mix of elements to give Garden Crossing its lively, contemporary look. Corrugated metal, concrete block, and other humble materials make for a simple but striking combination.


REPEAT AFTER ME: The homes along Zamia Avenue are all two- and three-bedroom units, but the buildings' mix of colors and rooflines help make the elevations distinctive. Repeating such details as steel awnings and decks on each unit not only kept production costs low, but also gave each unit a hip, contemporary feel.


SITE-SENSITIVE: A three-unit townhouse block at the end of Zamia Avenue (above) is oriented toward the west, to capture the mountain views and take advantage of the western and southern sun. Strategic overhangs and awnings (left) help to minimize solar heat gain in warmer months.


BUFFER ZONE: DTJ Design placed a long, diagonal row of carriage-house units (below) along the the eastern edge of Garden Crossing, which helps to mitigate some of the sound from nearby Highway 36. Each carriage house was built above a three-car garage; two of the spaces belong to townhouse owners who live nearby.


Kathleen Stanley is a freelance writer based in Washington.
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Author:Stanley, Kathleen
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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