A Truly Green Building Doesn't Have Parking

A new rental development in Charlotte shows how it's done.

aerial view of building
Joinery Phase 1.

Space Craft

Space Craft is building rental housing in North Carolina, on a former textile mill site next to the tracks, a 38-minute walk from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte. The first building in its Joinery project is complete and rented, and they are building phase 2 now. It didn't seem to be the kind of site or the kind of city where you could build a walkable community or an apartment building without parking. But that is what CEO Harrison Tucker is doing.

The splash page for Space Craft developments would warm any urbanist's heart:

"We are a band of urbanists who believe in the magic of cities and the joy of walkable neighborhoods. We are colorful murals, not beige boxes. Extra-large windowpanes, not extra-wide highway lanes. Corner café, not mall superstore. Instead of being everything to everyone, we aspire to be something special to someone."

Their "purpose" page expands on the wonders of walkability: "Walkable neighborhoods minimize energy use from housing and transportation, preserve natural land, and encourage healthier lifestyles. This urban form generates tightknit communities, spontaneous social interactions, and access to diverse cultural experiences. Also, walking a city is fun!"

Ground floor entrance

Space Craft

Tucker tells Treehugger he grew up in Charlotte and was always disturbed by the way the countryside was being swallowed by sprawl, and that he wanted to change the path of development. "The world has changed dramatically," says Tucker. Young people are happy with options like bikes, car sharing, or taking transit which is right across the street from his site.

View to uptown

Space Craft

The phase 1 building didn't exactly sing sustainability to me, but as we have noted many times, the carbon emissions from driving to a building—what BuildingGreen's Alex Wilson and Paula Melton called the "transportation energy intensity—can far outweigh the emissions of the building itself. There is also what we have called the embodied carbon iceberg: You can build the greenest building, but if it has a concrete parking garage, all that green goodness is compromised.

RDH's Monte Paulsen has written that "negotiating with municipalities to reduce the size of parkades—or eliminate them altogether-may be the largest step any team can take to reduce carbon emissions."

One-bedroom units
The one bedroom unit looks lovely.

Space Craft

Tucker tells Treehugger the building is all-electric with induction ranges in the suites, has solar panels on the roof, and smart controls. He also points out that parking structures are very expensive, and without them, he was able to deliver higher-quality units with cheaper rent than if he had built parking. I ask why he didn't go further, say building it out of mass timber. He answers with two words: radical incrementalism.

E-bikes in lobby

Space Craft

It's a wonderful phrase, defined as "the idea that small changes can add up over time to make radical progress on important issues." When you are in real estate development you can't be too radical and change everything at once since you have investors, plan examiners, construction trades, and customers to satisfy. I learned this expensive lesson in my own short development career.

Interior of phase 2
The interior of phase 2 features wood frame walls and a CLT ceiling.

Space Craft

That's why phase 2 could be built of mass timber, a very efficient combination of frame walls and cross-laminated timber floors. Tucker explains this is an economical combination; frame walls are far less expensive and the CLT not only looks great exposed but is much thinner than the alternate truss joist systems, saving money in exterior cladding and reducing height.

Co-working Space at the Joinery

Space Craft

Building a walkable community is more than just the residential units—people need something to walk to. Tucker says he is being very careful about having "experiential retail" that can provide necessities, and of course, there has to be a craft brewery. There's bike storage and e-bikes for rent, fitness centers, a café, and a co-working space. But there is no pool—a standard amenity in the area—because Tucker can't justify it economically or environmentally. And of course, there is great Wi-Fi and an app that unlocks doors, eliminating the need for keys.

Future projects

Space Craft

Looking at the renderings of the built-out projects, I couldn't help thinking about projects I have seen in Vienna or Munich, where buildings are consistent in height, and not too high. They are building a real street here, part of a real community at what I have called the Goldilocks Density.

"Dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can't take the stairs in a pinch. Dense enough to support bike and transit infrastructure, but not so dense to need subways and huge underground parking garages. Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity."
Euro buildings
The Joinery looks kind of like Vienna, Austria.

Space Craft

Building codes in North America make it difficult to be truly like Vienna, with single-stair buildings and exterior corridors for circulation. But who knows what is coming down the road from Harrison Tucker and his team; we are seeing radical incrementalism in action.

Space Craft says, "We need an audacious reimagining of what cities can become." This is certainly a start.