In 1972, a group of El Cerrito residents decided to create a recycling center and asked the city council for a small patch of land that had previously housed a rock quarry and then a landfill. The operation was so successful that it outgrew its volunteer roots, and the city took over operations in 1977.
As recycling programs expanded, the layout of the small site proved problematic, with operations vehicles crossing paths with residents dropping off materials. The city commissioned the design-build team of Charles Pankow Builders and Noll & Tam architects to design a new center that would offer improved public recycling drop-off facilities, accept a broader range of materials, provide offices for the city’s environmental services division, and promote environmental responsibility.
The new center’s structures and drop-off bins are organized in a circular plan that safely separates operations and visitors’ paths of travel, while providing intuitive wayfinding. New signage guides visitors and educates them about the value and processes of recycling.
Designed to achieve zero-energy usage, the facility is anticipated to receive LEED Platinum certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Sustainable design elements include 10kW of solar photovoltaic panels, an 11,000-gallon cistern for rainwater collection and reuse, native plantings, rain gardens, and extensive daylighting and energy-efficiency strategies.
The 2,200-square-foot net-zero-energy administrative building, mostly constructed off-site, consists of two custom modular structures connected by a tall central cupola with high clerestory windows. Modular construction produces less than half the construction waste of site-built construction. Natural lighting provides most of the building’s lighting needs. A mixed-mode mechanical system relies on natural ventilation for most of the year.
The 6,400-square-foot operations building is a tall, open structure, with a 20-foot clearance under the roof to allow the movement of heavy machinery and tall stacks of material. The main processing shed has a butterfly roof that sheds water into the rainwater harvesting system to be filtered by bioswales. Rainwater is reused for flushing toilets and urinals and irrigating landscaping.
The highly popular materials exchange zone, where residents can drop off used items for others to take, has been quadrupled in size to 1,200 square feet, with custom-designed wood shelving and a patio with benches.
The center itself is recyclable, designed for deconstruction and reuse when it is no longer needed. Its wood and steel structural systems are easy to unbolt and reorganize.
+ Project facts
El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center
El Cerrito, California
Architect: Noll & Tam Architects
Project Team Chris Noll, AIA, Principal in Charge
Tad Costerison, AIA, Project Manager
Client City of El Cerrito
Date of occupancy April 2012
Gross square footage
Admin Building: 2,200 sq. ft.
Covered outdoor areas:
re-use area (shed near entry) 1,200 sq.ft.
operations area 7,400 sq.ft.
recycling area (curved overhang) 3,000 sq.ft.
Site area 1.93 acres
Construction cost $2.8M (project cost $3.5M)
Contractor Pankow Builders (Design-Build project)
Construction Manager Swinerton Management & Consulting
Modular Building Fabricator ZETA Communities
Structural Engineer Tipping Mar
Sustainability Loisos + Ubbelohde
Graphics/Signage lowercase productions (David Schellinger)
Landscape GLS Landscape/Architecture
Civil Engineer Sherwood Design Engineers
Design/Build Contra Costa Electric – Electrical & Photovoltaics
Plumbing LJ Kruse
Software used Revit
Awards/certifications LEED Platinum (still pending)
Design Build Institute of America (DBIA)
Western Pacific Region – Merit award
Photographer credit David Wakely Photography