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Los Altos Hills Town Hall Watercolor

The 'rural' aesthetic for the Town Hall design was determined by a vote of the residents who chose between four different architectural style renderings through a mail-in ballot. The Town residents expressed interest in developing energy saving and sustainable features into the 'rural' design context. And, because Los Altos Hills is a residential community, the residents also insisted that the building comply with its residential zoning regulations.

The site fronts a major road along its length, and vehicular access was from a residential side street on the far end of the property. The existing site was therefore mostly paved to provide for adequate vehicular circulation. A grove of large redwood trees lines the site along the rear property line. The new Town Hall building was sited to utilize this feature to enhance the building both by providing a natural backdrop and screening for the building, as well as to decrease the summer cooling loads. The site plan was improved providing better access and parking to the site by moving the entrance toward the center of the lot.

The building is designed to present two major elevations, two soaring gabled roofs face Fremont Avenue, while the entry to the building presents itself to the site entrance and parking lot. The post and beam structural system is subtly expressed through exposed ridge beams and outriggers that support the expansive gabled roofs and eaves. The post and beam structure is also expressed at the window mullions that project both to the interior and exterior. A copper clad horizontal light shelf punctuates the window openings while providing an additional measure of protection from the sun and weather. Board and batten siding was selected to provide a more formal feeling while maintaining the rural aesthetic. The eaves and vaulted ceilings are clad in hemlock tongue and groove ceiling boards, maintaining the warmth and natural impression of the building.

The Town Hall was designed as three self-sufficient building wings that are configured to create a large shaded courtyard protected by long 7 to 10 foot eaves and centered on Heritage Oak #1, an old Coast Live Oak that is a symbol of the Town's dedication to natural preservation. Each wing is organized on the nature of its function: the administrative wing, the utility wing, and the council chambers. The administrative wing typically functions during normal business hours, housing staff offices and public reception and meeting areas. The utility wing contains restrooms, informal meeting / lunch room, and kitchenette. And, the Council Chambers, which functions mainly in the evenings for public meetings. Each of these parts of the Town Hall can be sealed off for use independently, or together, as the function requires. This interdependence is functionally and energy efficient, allowing lights, HVAC, and equipment to be turned off when not in use.

The courtyard includes a public art and fundraising project, a seat height wall that provides Los Altos Hills residents an opportunity to design and paint their own tiles. The 'Donor Wall' raised funds for building and site enhancements not funded in the construction budget while creating community involvement and support for the project.

The design of the building incorporated a sustainable approach with three directives: Energy Load Reduction, Energy Generation, and Sustainable Material selections.

The Energy Load Reduction was achieved through the use of several design strategies. Cost benefit analyses were conducted to determine the economic feasibility of each measure chosen. The Owner determined, for its financial purposes, that energy saving measures should have a payback of less than 10 years to be considered. The building features integral energy saving design elements, such as the long eaves and overhangs, some up to 10 feet deep, to provide passive cooling. The siting of the building takes advantage of the existing grove of redwood trees to the southwest of the building, again providing passive protection from solar heat gain. Daylighting was a major priority in both the design and specifications. Workspaces and offices that require task light were located mainly along the perimeter of the building, allowing for the utilization of windows to provide light when possible. The glazing specified is the most efficient available, providing an additional layer of protection from solar heat gain. For interior spaces and corridors, where windows were not possible, tubular skylights were used to funnel daylight into the core of the building. In the Council Chambers, the use of both windows and six large 5 ft. by 8 ft. translucent fiberglass skylights provide diffuse, even daylight levels through much of the day. In addition to the high efficacy light fixtures used throughout the building, occupancy/photo sensors were installed in areas where daylighting was provided. During much of a typical day, the Town's business can be carried out with the majority of the electrical lights off. The thermal envelope of the building is maximized with high-density insulation throughout and a radiant barrier. The HVAC system was designed to maximize efficiency, as well as comfort. The decision was made to not provide operable windows and to control outside air intake through the use of an air economizer system, which takes advantage of favorable weather conditions to reduce mechanical cooling by introducing cooler outdoor air into a building. Ultra-efficient rooftop packaged HVAC units were used to service the main areas, and a cutting edge high efficiency multi-zone heat pump unit, only the second installation in California, was specified for the smaller office spaces. Although the energy demand load was predicted by energy modeling to provide energy savings of 27.6% better than California Title 24 requirements, real data being measured has been even more favorable.

On-site energy generation, a 37 kW solar power plant, supplies a majority of the building's energy needs. This system uses the latest in solar technology for maximum efficiency. The photovoltaic panels selected are the highest efficiency on the market, were developed by NASA's Helios project, and only recently made available to the public. On clear days, the system often provides 100% of the electrical demand.

The Los Altos Hills Town Hall project demonstrates a successful integration of community involvement, sustainable values, and economic feasibility in a functional and enjoyable public building. The response from the residents, staff, and visitors of Los Altos Hills has been overwhelmingly positive, and the Town Hall has quickly become a much-needed center of government and community for the Town.

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