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It is hard for most of us to imagine the range of emotions and needs that a family experiences when a child is sick enough to require hospitalization. The staff and designers of the new Ronald McDonald House in Austin have clearly given this a lot of thought. The project offers a welcome refuge for parents and loved ones who keep vigil as their child undergoes treatment nearby at the Dell Children’s Medical Center. The latest of a national network built by Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Austin facility also merges purposeful design with sustainability. The architects’ success in creating an energy-efficient building has been recognized with the highest rating by the U.S. Green Building Council, making the Ronald McDonald House in Austin one of only three buildings in Texas to achieve LEED Platinum. The Ronald McDonald House is the newest component of the expansive redevelopment currently underway at Austin’s former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. Known as “Mueller,” the mixed-use development follows new urbanist and “smart growth” planning models that have had a hand in shaping the criteria for the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Yet, while the project team was committed to gaining the top LEED rating for the project, no one let the LEED point system obscure the overarching goal of creating a building that advances the client’s mission—that is, directly improving the health and well being of children. As explained by Kent Burress, CEO of the Austin Ronald McDonald House, “Every decision we made in the project was measured against two criteria: First, how does it help us meet our mission? And, second, how does it help sustain the organization over the long term?” In terms of garnering LEED points, the project benefited from Mueller’s access to mass transit and the development’s comprehensive stormwater management system. The project was initially designed with its own system for harvesting rainwater for irrigation, but greater gains – LEED-wise as well as financial – were available by tapping into the city’s supply of reclaimed graywater and through strategies to decrease user consumption rates in the first place. While the transformation of the old airport engendered LEED points for the Ronald McDonald House, the project’s site also presented design challenges due largely to its being in one of Mueller’s busiest areas. Located adjacent to the new hospital, and separated only by a vast field of surface parking, the Ronald McDonald House balances the need to serve as an oasis in this somewhat inhospitable environment with the need to maintain a connection between children undergoing treatment at the medical center and their families staying across the way. Equally important as unobstructed sight lines was the need for the architecture to convey a sense of friendliness and hopefulness, which led the architects with Eckols & Associates AIA in Austin to articulate the front facade with gently curving wings extending from either side of the main structure. “We felt extremely strong about the curve of the building,” firm principal Don Eckols, AIA, said, “and what it did for the relationship of the building to the site, the sun angles and sight lines, and the overall feeling of the architecture, which we wanted to convey a certain playfulness.” Engineer Cameron Labunski of Tom Green & Company Engineers worked with Eckols and Wanki Kim, AIA, to test and refine the volume based upon solar orientation models and to develop the building envelope to meet the stringent infiltration parameters of the building’s mechanical system. Included within the building’s exterior palette of steel and glass are areas of cultured synthetic stone (composed partially

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Texas Architect Nov/Dec 2008: High-Preformance Design  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

Texas Architect Nov/Dec 2008: High-Preformance Design  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...