If the past decade gave rise to the “green building,” the next decade is poised to usher in the era of the “eco-district,” and the Seaholm EcoDistrict in Austin, Texas, will help pave the way. Opportunities for renewable energy, low-impact design, and alternative transit increase exponentially when individual buildings are integrated with one another, thus the master plan for this 70-acre former industrial park calls for comprehensive strategies that leverage parcel-to-parcel relationships.
Amount of clean energy that could be produced on the Seaholm site through building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) alone. Austin is studying the results of a pilot project in Chicago where the Willis Tower has installed Pythagoras Solar BIPV glass panels to test market viability.
Goals for the public-private partnership—which includes the City of Austin, Seaholm Power, Trammell Crow Company, and Lake Flato Architects—are ambitious: zero outside water use, 100 percent historic building shell preservation, 100 percent collection rate for recyclables, 90 percent wastewater treatment, and 40 percent non-vehicular transit. To achieve these benchmarks, the city is using the Portland Sustainability Institute’s EcoDistrict framework, which focuses on eight distinct areas of an urban community’s health, including equitable development, materials management, and access and mobility.
Austin’s chief sustainability officer Lucia Athens says that in addition to integrating district buildings with each other, the city will also look for opportunities to connect Seaholm to its surrounding neighborhoods. “Cutting across these site boundaries is part of it,” she says, explaining that the decommissioned power plant on-site will house an enormous huge rainwater-collection system that could provide irrigation for a nearby park. The development will also have the first Trader Joe’s in Austin.