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of recycled fly ash). Though the intent seems to be to tie the building contextually to the medical center and provide a sense of heft in an economical way, one wonders whether the design would be even more streamlined without the added veneer. Since the creation of the first Ronald McDonald House in 1974, the concept has continued to be refined. In addition to providing families a place to stay (with minimal financial impact), the Austin Ronald McDonald House offers families two other important things that often go lacking during the days (and sometimes weeks and months) in which a hospital stay is necessary for a sick child: a sense of control over options for activities and environment, and most important, a sense of normalcy. In providing these services, the Ronald McDonald House helps families tend to their own physical, emotional, and social needs so they can rejuvenate on a daily basis and maintain their focus in support of the sick child, the entire family unit, and even other families who are also staying there. The program reconciles elements of a hotel, residence, retreat center, hospital waiting area, and an office environment, bringing them all into one building to meet disparate objectives not only through the creation of space, but also through guidelines for the use of the building. Volunteers prepare lunches and dinners, but the kitchen can also be used for guests who would like to cook. Meals are eaten in the kitchen and common dining area, which allows these to function as the center, or hearth, of the house, while also simplifying the design and maintenance of guest suites. Centrally located common areas on the upper floors include a workout room, a library for doing homework or computer research, a video game room, an area for playing games and watching movies, and a laundry room. The Ronald McDonald House also offers day passes to make these facilities available to Austin families whose children are receiving treatment at the medical center. Thirty guest suites, all of which include small living rooms, function as the most private areas of the building. Importantly, each guest room maintains a line of sight to the medical center so families and their hospitalized children can feel connected. Three extensive-system roof gardens provide elevated lookouts over the entire complex from a protected and green refuge. As with the Dell Children’s Medical Center, indoor air quality is a major concern at the Ronald McDonald House. To exceed indoor air quality standards while operating with high efficiency, the design team developed a system that is the first of its kind in Central Texas. Operating with the use of a dedicated outdoor air handling unit, outdoor air is distributed throughout the entire facility, individually to each space, while expending far less energy to bring air within the target ranges for air temperature and humidity. Critical to the success of this system is proper building pressurization and dew point control of the indoor air to prevent elevated humidity levels and resulting microbial activity. The result of these and many other energy saving features is a total building energy use that achieves a 65-percent energy savings over standard code-compliant systems. The Austin Ronald McDonald House serves as an important reference point, both in the continued development of the Ronald McDonald House concept and in the quest to achieve holistically sustainable buildings and institutions within our communities. It also demonstrates the benefit of aiming for LEED Platinum, especially when innovation derives from combining both mechanical and programmatic solutions. Laurie Zapalac is an Austin-based design consultant specializing in cultural resource planning.

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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...