When Texas’ Housing Authority of the City of El Paso (HACEP) launched its Green Design Competition in February 2010, its leadership was searching for a dynamic affordable housing concept that would elevate the level of sustainability, safety, accessibility, and aesthetics possible in public housing. The 64-unit Paisano Green Community for the elderly and people with disabilities will replace a long-vacant 46-unit community on 4.2 acres adjacent to the County Coliseum. 

Out of 35 entries, a bold modern design created by WORKSHOP8, a multidisciplinary design team based in Boulder, Colo., recently was selected as the winner. The concept will be brought to fruition with the assistance of an $8 million green communities initiative grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with an additional $2 million provided by the city of El Paso and the HACEP. Construction will begin in September 2010.

WORKSHOP8's team includes: C. Joseph Vigil IV, AIA, and Brandy LeMae, LEED AP, of VaST Architecture; architect JV DeSousa; architect Ali Gidfar of Studio 303; Adam Stenftenagel and Mark Bloomfield of Sustainably Built; Ulla Lange of ULD; Julie Hauser of Indigo Landscape Design; Aaron Nelson, LEED AP, of Progress Building; and David Garabed of Deneuve Construction.

By incorporating wind and solar renewable energy generation systems and by creating energy-efficient envelopes in all four buildings, the project will achieve near-zero energy performance. The HACEP is aiming for certification under the LEED for Homes (Platinum level), LEED for Neighborhood Development, and Enterprise Green Communities green building programs. The project also will be 100 percent ADA compliant.

The site of the new Pasiano Green Community is certainly unique and by necessity informed WORKSHOP8's design. Not only is the County Coliseum nearby, the community also is 200 yards from an international border and is surrounded by the city zoo and industrial waste management facilities, according to HACEP CEO Gerald Cichon.

"It's an area you wouldn't normally think would be a great community, but just beyond all that it's actually a walkable neighborhood. So we were looking for something special, because there are possible issues with traffic, noise, and air quality," Cichon says.

"In addition to the energy efficiency goals, we also wanted the project to be a beautiful and peaceful place to live and an exciting architectural addition to the city of El Paso," says Brandy LeMae, WORKSHOP8's studio manager. The site's many challenges led the team to create a site plan where all parking and vehicular circulation is pushed to the perimeter and the four buildings define an interior courtyard that both protects residents' privacy and safety and provides gathering spaces.

The community's buildings will house 44 one-bedroom units, eight two-bedroom units, three courtyard units, and nine townhouse units, all protected from the sun and wind along the western side of the property by a tall canopy wall. Power-generating wind turbines will be erected along the wall, which also will provide a space for LED-illuminated public art displays along its exterior face. A building on the property's northeast corner offers community gathering spaces, offices, and educational areas.