The economics of building multiunit residential structures on small urban infill locations is tricky, but with a new affordable housing development in Buena Park, California, the numbers add up. Newman Garrison + Partners (NG+P) of nearby Newport Beach designed the 70-unit Park Landing to fit on just 2.2 acres. This included a separate 138-car surface parking structure and 21,000 square feet of recreational green space. What’s more, they were able to shave 35 percent off construction material costs by using wood instead of concrete.
This problem-solving design was so inventive and effective that NG+P has a patent pending on what it’s calling New Block. The massive green space is in fact a vegetated roof built over the wooden parking structure. Kevin Newman, CEO of the firm and a passionate promoter of sustainable construction methods, worked closely with structural engineers to ensure the plan would work. “To put 35 to 45 units into an acre of land while achieving the desired open space formerly required concrete podium or wrap designs, which are cost prohibitive,” Newman says. “New Block makes it more affordable.”
Choosing wood for the Buena Park project meant the owner paid just $135 per square foot, compared to traditional concrete, which would have cost between $165 and $250 per square foot, making the solution as attractive to lenders as it is to developers. The New Block approach is particularly effective along mass transit corridors, where few large tracts of land are available. “This is not just about affordable housing,” he says, “it’s also appropriate for market-rate, senior, and student rental housing.”
Wood offers significant environmental advantages. University of Washington forest resources professor Bruce Lippke champions the use of wood from sustainable forests to displace fossil fuel-intensive concrete and steel. “A wood building [is] a storehouse of carbon from the forest,” Lippke says. “[With] steel or concrete, you’re seeing the emissions of carbon dioxide that had to go into the atmosphere for those structures to go up.”
Under California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, that smaller carbon footprint matters. Developers can be relieved of certain other environmental review requirements when methods such as New Block help them achieve greenhouse gas targets. “Sustainable design has historically been challenging for developers to incorporate into their projects cost effectively, but New Block is able to bridge that gap,” Newman says. Since Park Landing opened in 2013, he says inquiries have been pouring in—from clients within California and beyond.