Core Design Team

Firm: Access Architecture

Brendan Sanchez
Principal | AIA, NOMA, NCARB,

Caitlin McKee
Senior Associate | Assoc. AIA
Senior Designer (currently Director of Marketing + Interiors)


Owner | Developer: Housing Initiative, LLC / Council for the Homeless
Construction Manager: Vancouver Housing Authority
Contractor: TEAM Construction
Architect: Access Architecture
Civil Engineer: Otak
Landscape Architect: Ecotone
Structural Engineer: TM Rippey
MEP Engineer: MFIA (Elwood), Windsor Engineers (Meridian)
Envelope Consultant: Richard Graves
Sustainability Consultant: Keel Energy

Project Information

Status: Spring 2021 (Elwood) Summer 2022 (Meridian)
Size: 43,795 GSF (22,235 GSF Elwood + 21,560 GSF Meridian) 92 Units (46 units Elwood + 46 units Meridian)
Funding: LIHTC
Construction Cost: ~$13 million
Sustainable Certifications: Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard (ESDS)
Key Features: Affordable Housing, Special Needs Population, Trauma-Informed Design, Landscaping, Mid-Rise, Durable Building Materials, Community Spaces, Community Gardens, Hardscape/Plaza, Outdoor Gathering Spaces, LIHTC, ESDS.

Project Narrative

The Elwood + The Meridian are Permanent Supportive Housing projects in the Ogden Neighborhood of Vancouver, WA. These 92 units address critical housing needs in the city of Vancouver. Using trauma-informed design principles, these developments provide healing spaces for those needing assistance with mental health and/or recovering from substance abuse.

Building Inspiration
The design of these sister projects reinterprets a traditional building typology, the garden-style apartment, into a more urban-appropriate aesthetic. Both projects were designed to be highly cost-effective while maintaining long-term durability and healthy interior environments. Since both projects share the same Owner, Project Team, building program, and will house similar resident populations, a kit of parts was created for these projects, maximizing cost through repetition. Similar site elements, building types, unit types, and construction/finish materials created substantial cost savings during design, construction, and operations. One of the challenges was to create two projects with very different aesthetics while still sharing many of the same building blocks. Allowing each project to respond to the individual site and neighborhood context resulted in different massings, roof types, glazing approaches, etc.,resulted two buildings with quite different personalities.

Building Integration
Located 1.3 miles apart off of bustling Fourth Plain Boulevard, each project’s site and neighborhood context is unique. The Elwood has street frontage on Fourth Plain and is situated in a lower-density neighborhood, a mix of commercial and residential homes. The Meridian is set back from Fourth Plain behind a commercial zone in a higher-density neighborhood. The Elwood is a modern response to the lower-density residential neighborhood with pitched roofs, carved-out massings, lap siding, and wood accents. The design of The Meridian responds to a more commercial context through flat roofs, larger glazing percentages than The Elwood, and a more urban aesthetic. It was important for both projects to balance a contemporary approach with the warmth of traditional residential design. An excellent example of this is how the use of lap siding cleanly wrapping modern building shapes provides both a modern approach and a sense of home.

On both projects, ground floor units engage the pedestrian street frontage through tall windows and richly textured materials, while layers of landscaping provide a visual buffer and sense of privacy. The buildings are sited to surround and provide protection for a central courtyard and community garden. Landscaped areas are designed to put residents at ease through the use of clear sight lines, zones with varying levels of privacy and openness, and opportunities for gardening. Accent materials are used in prominent areas where they have the greatest tactile and visual impact.

Guiding Principles
Trauma-Informed Design Principles (safety, empowerment, hope, connection, joy, and peace of mind) were applied to the design, producing project-specific design elements to respond to each value. Some examples of Trauma-Informed Design strategies found in The Elwood and Meridian:

  • A color palette that feels calming and uplifting.
  • Natural wood accents at eye level.
  • Universal and flexible furniture selection.
  • Connection to the outdoors & maximizing natural light.
  • Clear wayfinding.

Universal Design Principles goes beyond accommodating for physical diversity. Universal Design should also include designing for a wide range of preferences, cognitive abilities, racial, cultural, and gender diversity. This means creating places that feel welcoming, which are easy to navigate, and inclusive to all. At The Meridian and The Elwood the number of accessible units are over code minimum. Some additional examples of Universal Design strategies implemented on these projects:

  • Generous clearances and turning space throughout the common areas, units, and site.
  • Increased amounts of natural light throughout the building compared to traditional multifamily housing.
  • Multi-purpose spaces with flexible seating for a wide variety of body types and abilities.
  • The design and integration of appropriate and easy to use technology, lighting controls, etc., helps residents have more control over their environment.
  • All-gender restrooms accommodating all, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

Environmental Sensitivity
The Elwood + The Meridian are ESDS Certified, following specific strategies and standards for the building envelope, energy, water, and indoor air quality. Working with a Sustainability Consultant, the Project Team utilized advanced energy modeling through all phases of the project to assist with intentional decisions around building systems and initial costs vs long-term savings.

The three-story buildings are an ideal scale for access to daylight. Passive design strategies included massing, orientation, strategic use of windows, daylighting, natural ventilation, and a well-insulated air-tight building enclosure with a continuous air barrier. These strategies will reduce energy loss and cut both heating and cooling costs. Deep furring and intentional placement of the glazing add dimension to facades while minimizing costly architectural features.

Compact and efficient unit layouts minimize the energy needed to heat and ventilate dwelling unit spaces. High-efficiency MEP systems, LED lighting, occupancy sensor controls, energy-efficient appliances, and low-flow water-saving features increase energy efficiency. Water-saving irrigation systems, drought-tolerant plant selection, and onsite infiltration of stormwater optimizes water usage for the sites.

The Elwood + The Meridian use interior materials that do not contain added urea-formaldehyde, and finishes, adhesives, and other materials will have zero or low VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Finishes are durable, sustainable, and cost-efficient.

Social Impact
The Elwood + The Meridian were designed as restorative and community-centered environments for those taking their first step out of houselessness. Providing easy access to transportation and services is of utmost importance as these residents start building the next stage of thier lives. Both projects are a three-minute walk from a high frequency service bus line and within walking distance of many restaurants and stores. Resident services have relationships with non-profits like Recovery Cafe, whose volunteers make scheduled visits to residents struggling with addiction through recovery planning and long-term support.

The design of the outdoor common areas, with covered seating areas, planter beds, and intentionally placed benches and walkways, helps facilitate dialogue between the residents. The Elwood + The Meridian are designed to be easy to navigate and promote different levels of social interaction, such as creating centrally located laundry and community rooms and designing walkways that intentionally guide the resident along benches and outdoor gathering places. Helping facilitate social interaction through design is critical when creating environments that promote independence and self-confidence.

The Elwood, which opened in 2021, has a 93% success rate of keeping people permanently housed, and similar numbers are expected from The Meridian.

Client Interaction
The Owner and Architect shared similar goals and objectives for the projects. Through many pre-design conversations, some of the shared goals for the project became:

  • Restorative and community-centered
  • Durable, sustainable, and cost-effective; using a kit of parts model to maximize efficiencies
  • Inclusive and accessible to residents
  • Safe and secure for residents

Project Team (OAC) meetings and design meetings were frequent throughout the design process, and all parties were involved in key design decisions. Ownership took a hands-on approach with all aspects of the project, including finish selection, FF+E, etc.

The relationship between the Architect and the Owner does not stop when the building is built. Post-occupancy reviews, a standard for all buildings and part of the Architect’s Outcome-Based Design approach, were facilitated this year for both projects. Data from those reviews are currently being aggregated and will provide valuable information on the resident experience. The Architect will meet with the Owner to review the results. This information will inform Ownership and resident services of modifications that may need to be made, as well as inform future project designs for the Architect.