Text description provided by the architects. Sweetwater Spectrum is a new national model of supportive housing for adults with autism, offering life with purpose and dignity. Designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the 2.8-acre site provides a permanent home for 16 adults and their support staff. The four 3,250-square-foot four-bedroom homes include common areas as well as a bedroom and bathroom for each resident. Sweetwater Spectrum also incorporates a 2,300-square-foot community center with exercise/activity spaces and a teaching kitchen; a large therapy pool and spas; and an urban farm, orchard, and greenhouse.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, affecting 1 in 88 children. In the coming decade, as many as 500,000 children with autism will reach adulthood, yet few residential options exist for them. In 2009, a group of families with autistic children, autism professionals, and community leaders founded the nonprofit organization Sweetwater Spectrum to create appropriate, high-quality, long-term housing for adults with autism in a way that could be replicated nationwide. The new community is designed to address the full range of needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders, maximizing residents’ development and independence.
The previously undeveloped midblock parcel lies a few blocks from the historic Sonoma Town Square, close to public transit and bicycle trails. The new community had to be safe and secure for the residents and staff and also provide for appropriate engagement with the neighborhood and community through volunteer activities and outreach projects.
The design drew on evidence-based design guidelines for creating housing for adults with autism, as identified in a research study conducted by the Arizona State University Stardust Center and School of Architecture. Safety and security are paramount, and healthy, durable materials are used throughout. Individuals may customize their personal living spaces to accommodate their preferences and particular needs. Major design strategies included the following:
Legibility: A straightforward and consistent spatial organization provides clearly defined transition thresholds between public, semi-public, semi-private, and private spaces.
Experiential Hierarchy: The design offers a layered or “nested” experiential hierarchy, beginning with the individual room; expanding to a residential wing with two bedrooms and then to the house with four residents; expanding outward to the sub-neighborhood of two homes, the community center and commons, and the other two homes; and finally extending to the broader community.
Preview and retreat: Residents have the opportunity to preview spaces and activities, and they can access places of retreat for quiet and calm.
Predictability: All four homes are similar in design so that residents feel comfortable visiting each other or relocating to a different house on the site.
Serene spaces: All spaces were designed to reduce sensory stimulation and provide a serene environment. Forms are familiar, colors and finishes are subdued, and lighting is mostly indirect.
A range of simple universal design strategies allows for generous accommodation and equal access for all ages and abilities. Particular care was taken with the selection of the building materials and systems to promote healthy indoor air quality, acoustical control, and comfortable, super-efficient HVAC systems. Since ceiling fans can be a negative stimulus to people on the autism spectrum, a radiant slab heating and cooling system was used with a low-velocity ventilation system.
Targeted to meet U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold standards, the project is also a PG&E Zero Net Energy Pilot Project and is designed to produce onsite all the energy required to operate the buildings.
The site was designed to maximize passive solar orientation, daylight, and natural ventilation. All buildings incorporate photovoltaic solar panels and solar hot water. Other energy-saving strategies include high R-value insulation in walls and roofs; high-performance insulated windows; low-reflective “cool” roofs; solar tube skylights at interior halls; sun control where needed with overhangs, trellises, and operable exterior sunshades; high efficiency air-to-water heat pumps; energy-efficient light fixtures; Energy Star appliances; induction cook tops; and a building management system. Overall, these strategies improved energy performance by +30% better than California Title 24 energy requirements.
Low-flow plumbing fixtures throughout reduce water consumption. An on-site well was drilled to supply water to all site irrigation systems, including site landscaping and the organic farm and orchards. Drought-tolerant plants minimize irrigation needs, and permeable paving and bioswales manage stormwater.
Other sustainable aspects include renewable building materials, low-VOC and nontoxic materials and finishes, and the recycling of construction waste.