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Why Xeriscaping Matters

As with many books, movies, and other forms of American-focused media, you’ll often find images of a lush green lawn, situated flush against a modest home. Unfortunately, to keep these lawns green all-year-round requires a good deal of water and upkeep. And with climate change and longer droughts looming, the need for a more environmentally-effective system of water conservation has become urgent.

At Optima®, we often talk about how the architecture of a residence and the land it inhabits can ultimately affect the landscape. For us, the conversation around, “How will this new structure affect the land around us?” remains central and compelling. As with all of our Arizona properties, it has been vital to embrace different forms of landscaping in order to design and build more environmentally-viable spaces that reduce the amount of water being used in more arid climates. Enter xeriscaping as one of our go-to solutions.

Xeriscaping in the simplest of terms is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. This means xeriscaped landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides. This way of landscaping can be traced back to the early 1980s, originating in Denver, Colorado, and has become widely popular in some areas because of its environmental and financial benefits. 

The importance of xeriscaping lies in its power to nurture vegetation that can survive with little to no water. Trees such as myrtles, and flowers such as daffodils are known as “drought-tolerant” and can thrive in dry climates, making them appropriate for a landscaping system such as xeriscaping.

Xeriscaping can reduce water usage by 50 or 75 percent. This in turn saves literally tons of water and money for any given community. Another critical component of xeriscaping is installing better and more efficient irrigation methods. One way this can be achieved is through grouping different types of plants together with similar water needs.

Today, the Optima® team is focusing on the landscaping design for Optima McDowell Mountain Village®, with a focus on water conservation and a 210,00-gallon storm water tank that will repurpose captured water for irrigation. There will be much more to share on this topic in the months ahead!

How Rainwater Harvesting Heals The Earth

Efforts across the country are underway to bolster aging water infrastructure in order to reduce stormwater impacts, shrink carbon footprints, and mitigate the heat island effect. In keeping with this focus on the environment and our commitment to the 2030 challenge of fostering sustainability, Optima McDowell Mountain Village® breaks ground in spring/summer 2023 with the distinction of being the largest private rainwater harvesting site in the United States to-date. On the cusp of this exciting and important initiative, we’re sharing insights into how rainwater harvesting heals the Earth and some of the many benefits.

There’s no denying it. Aging water infrastructure is expensive to update — especially when you look at our nation’s drinking water report card — groundwater and reservoirs are most often at the bottom of the class. However, by conserving and supplying a portion of water from the rain, you drastically reduce your draw on stressed systems.

In a natural landscape, approximately 50% of storm water infiltrates the ground, hydrating soils and recharging groundwater. Around 40% evaporates and 10% runs off.

By contrast, in developed landscapes (i.e our cities and neighborhoods), only 15% filters into the soil and a whopping 55% runs off! This is because water can’t penetrate roads, rooftops, parking lots, etc. And to make matters worse, the runoff rainwater travels along impervious surfaces toward storm drains, carrying the pollutants that were left behind. Things such as: sediment, litter (like cigarette butts), fertilizers, pet waste, yard debris, oils, and many other contaminants.

Have you ever heard the mantra: “Slow it, Spread it, Sink it, Store it”? Well, when you collect rainwater, you reduce stormwater impacts by holding water on-site rather than letting it run off.

As water gets released, it sinks back into the ground, hydrating soils, nourishing plants, and recharging the groundwater beneath us. In other words, the broken infiltration link in the hydrologic cycle is repaired.

Rain Water Harvesting Steel Tanks
Rain Water Harvesting Steel Tanks. Photo: © 2023 Protank

There is a strong nexus between energy and water in our modern world. Hydroelectricity is the most obvious link, using the water stored in dams to provide renewable energy. In the state of California, for example, heating, treating, and transporting water accounts for nearly 20% of per-capita energy use! By reducing reliance on pumped water sources, we contribute to a collective savings in energy at the same time. Not to mention that rainwater harvesting will help individuals save on their water bills and cut costs for entire communities. The cost to supply overall water services can be substantially reduced when many people in one community use rainwater.

Optima McDowell Mountain Village®
Optima McDowell Mountain Village®

By tapping into an otherwise-wasted water source, we can create abundance in our own backyards and communities. If others do the same, we collectively have the power to bring vitality back to an ailing environment. 

As we break ground on Optima McDowell Mountain Village® we will share fascinating details about how rainwater harvesting is front and center in the community’s design and construction.

Optima + Sustainability Series: EV Parking

The evidence that electric and hybrid vehicles are gaining traction is on the roads everywhere. From personal vehicles to rideshares and public transport, we are, as a nation, beginning to embrace the importance of reducing carbon emissions by replacing the fossil fuels that traditional gasoline-powered engines use with forms of clean energy. 

Encouraged by the funding made available to help states fund public charging infrastructure, and Illinois’ ambitious goal to get one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2023, EVs are becoming increasingly desirable. And those who own and manage residential buildings are faced with the challenge to provide ample access to EV battery charging stations that residents need.

At Optima, we have always been sustainability-focused across our entire integrated business model — from design to building materials to landscaping – and EV parking. We began providing EV parking spaces in 2016 and 2017 at 7160 Optima Kierland and Optima Signature with 8 EV parking spaces, which represented only a small portion of the overall spaces in the garage.

Now in April 2023, Optima Verdana in Wilmette will open with 24% of the total spaces dedicated to EVs. In all of our communities — in both Illinois and Arizona — we have continued to increase EV capacity every year based upon resident demand, with the capacity to reach a full 100% at many projects. In recognition for our commitment to EV parking, Optima Sonoran Village won the Salt River Project Champions of Sustainability Award in the Building Communities for Electric Vehicles category.

Car garage
EV Parking Garage

In a recent Bisnow article that explores how future-facing multifamily developers are preparing for the future of electric vehicles, David Hovey Jr., AIA, Optima president and chief operating officer, observes, “Just from a sustainability perspective, obviously, demand is getting higher from both people wanting to be more sustainable … and cities wanting to be more sustainable, as well as just overall demand.”

Sustainability remains one of our most precious values at Optima. And we’re proud to be part of a growing community of property owners and managers that seeks to support sustainable practices on behalf of our residents.

2023 Design Trends: Designing The World of Tomorrow

The ways in which we live, move, and work are changing fast, and we, at Optima®, believe that up-and-coming architectural trends continue to address many of the challenges faced in modern life. Some solutions focus on more space, more storage, less clutter, and more flexibility. Others address affordable rent, resistance to climate change, and sustainability. These trends, along with a  myriad of others, inspire us and those who are at the forefront of designing the world of tomorrow. Here are some of the trends on the horizon in 2023.

Biophilic Urbanism

Biophilia, a term coined by Erich Fromm in 1964, is the human interaction and appreciation for nature. In 2023, this trend is continually on the rise as we seek to develop buildings that are ecologically friendly in their use of resources. Biophilic design can revolutionize the way we manage stress, increase productivity within offices and educational spaces, and improve mental health, through the use of nature inside and outside of buildings.

While biophilic design is very much at the forefront of architectural trends, it has been central to our work at Optima for decades. Our passionate connection between the built environment and nature continues to be as fluid as it is concrete, reflected in our signature innovation of vertical landscaping. The widespread adoption of this essential design principle, we are excited to welcome others into the process of bringing people and nature closer together.

Sonoran Village®
Optima Sonoran Village®, Vertical Landscaping

Modular Construction

Modular construction has been at the forefront of Optima’s DCHGLOBAL Building System since its conception in 2009 . We began our experimentation with modular construction with Relic Rock, reflecting our commitment to building homes flexibly — in horizontal and vertical directions — sustainably and efficiently anywhere, anytime. 

As part of the broader architectural community seeking modular solutions around the globe, we’re excited by the opportunity to celebrate sustainability and versatility as core values at Optima, while ensuring enduring aesthetics and affordability.

Sonoran Desert, AZ
Relic Rock, Sonoran Desert, AZ

Smart Materials

Through the integration of smart devices in our homes, cars, phones, and wrists comes Smart Materials. Recent developments provide that these materials could eventually respond to changes in pressure, temperature, moisture, and UV radiation, giving architects unfathomable flexibility. Along with an expanded toolkit for designing and building.

Our respect for materiality and space is important for the 360-degree approach to sustainability, and the inclusion of these new and unexplored materials gets us excited about their potential for the environment at large. Part of our role at Optima has been ensuring the environment remains protected with the inclusion of smart materials such as bird glass or green concrete within many of our buildings.

Bird glass
Bird Safe Glass

Community-Centered Design

It is a universal truth that the built environment functions better if those who use it are involved in the process of creation. Designing buildings with community in mind makes for rich and diverse environments where people can be themselves, while also giving them a sense of ownership in the places where they live, play, and work.  As we enter 2023, we are seeing greater collaboration between architects, developers and their communities across the globe — much the way Optima has partnered with the cities, villages and neighborhoods where we have put down roots for more than 40 years.

 

Waste Management Phoenix Open

Tee Off

Before we tee off, it’s important to know that the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open is known as the “Greenest Show on Grass.” Playing host to the greatest players in the game. It is the PGA’s most attended event, drawing nearly 700,000 spectators each year to TPC Scottsdale! 

WM stands for so much more than just “Managing Waste.” Not all heroes wear capes, or in this case — hard hats. Through Waste Management’s sponsorship of the Phoenix Open, the company has set out to seek better environmental solutions for everyone. Regardless of whether you’re tossing pizzas, running a construction site, or managing a household. 

In 2021, the WM Phoenix Open raised more than $3.8 million dollars for charity, and has raised more than $165M for charities in its 85-year history. At the same time, the event has an economic impact of more than $400 million. Bringing revenue to every part of the hospitality industry in the Scottsdale area.

The action isn’t just limited to the golf course. Behind the scenes, thousands work tirelessly to ensure the WM Phoenix Open generates zero waste for tomorrow and inspires spectators to reimagine what a sporting event can truly be. 

Golf
TPC Scottsdale Stadium

A Course Par Excellence

The City of Scottsdale underwent an extensive renovation of TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium golf course and clubhouse in 2014, led by architect Tom Weiskopf. It included the relocation of four greens, resurfacing of all greens, and reshaping and regrassing of all tee complexes. It also included the relocation and reshaping of all bunker complexes, replacement of cart paths, and re-landscaping of desert areas. The redesign added a dramatic new look to the course, in part due to planting more than 250 trees.  Today, the course is both aesthetically pleasing and more challenging. 

Behind The Phoenix Open

Water from kitchens and bars are used in portable restrooms during the Phoenix Open, millions of gallons of water are restored for Arizona Tribal Nations through Water Restoration Certificates, and water education is incorporated throughout the entire tournament to raise awareness. 

On the subject of emissions, WM Phoenix Open is the first golf organization to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Initiative, aiming for a whopping 50% reduction target of emissions by 2030 and net zero operations by 2040. As if they didn’t prove themselves enough already. Did we mention that all of the electricity purchased for course operation is 100% renewable?

For the fan or golfer who desires to start the year off with a bang! The Waste Management Phoenix Open takes place in Scottsdale from February 6-12.

Purchase Tickets Here for the Greenest Show on Grass!

Vertical Landscaping Around the World

Our passionate connection to nature is an essential piece of our identity at Optima and has been since our founding. This foundation has led to signature design elements in our properties, like our vertical landscaping system. From the vibrant greenery that extends beyond Optima Kierland Center, Optima Camelview Village and Optima Sonoran Village in Arizona to the introduction of vertical landscaping to the Midwest’s four seasons at Optima Verdana in Chicago, the lush green element is a cornerstone of our Optima communities. Given our innovation in this arena, it’s interesting to take a look at how vertical landscaping is used throughout the rest of the world:

The Via Verde project, Mexico City

Via Verde, Mexico City 

In 2016, Mexico City began planning an ambitious project to bring vibrant greenery into the city to reduce pollution and welcome additional natural allure to the area. The city came up with Via Verde, an initiative to cover more than 1,000 highway pillars with lush vertical landscaping. Because traffic in the city is some of the most congested in the world, the pillars not only serve as beneficial to the environment but also as works of natural art for residents.  

The vertical landscaping at One Central Park, Sydney

One Central Park, Sydney

Completed in 2012, One Central Park was built as part of Sydney’s Central Park renewal project. The building is a dual high-rise with a height of more than 380 feet, but it is famously known for its vertical landscaping designed by its architects, Foster and Partners, Ateliers Jean Nouvel and PTW Architects. The vertical landscaping system was a collaboration between French botanist Patrick Blanc, the modern innovator of the green wall, and the architects. One Central Park is home to 350 different species, including both exotic and native verdure, and totaling over 85,000 plants that cascade more than meters down its facade.

The Rainforest Chandelier in EmQuartier, Bangkok

Rainforest Chandelier, EmQuartier, Bangkok

Designed by the American architecture firm Leeser Architecture, EmQuartier is a 2,700,000 square foot mall located in Bangkok, Thailand. The innovative design that makes up the grand retail hub features restaurants, offices, event halls, and at its heart, an open-air atrium. In the atrium’s core, an unprecedented 337-foot chandelier hangs with exotic plants spilling from its sides. Patrick Blac – who also inspired One Central Park’s vertical landscaping – not only designed the ellipse-shaped Rainforest Chandelier for EmQuartier but also included two garden areas and a fully landscaped bridge connecting the mall to other surrounding buildings. 

We couldn’t be more proud to have brought vertical landscaping to the Scottsdale and Chicago communities like many other projects have done across the globe, enriching communities and fostering a connection to nature found little elsewhere.

Culinary Trends: Induction Cooking

Strike up a conversation with any kitchen aficionado and talk will quickly turn to induction cooking. At Optima, we are bringing this state-of-the-art cooktop appliance to our communities, offering great advantages in culinary innovation, energy efficiency and design. Here’s what you need to know.

How does it work?
In simple terms, induction cooking uses a surface that heats by transferring currents from an electromagnetic field located below the glass surface directly to the magnetic induction cookware placed above.

While gas and electric stoves heat cookware indirectly by first heating a coil, burner, or producing a flame, induction cooking provides direct heat to the cookware which then passes the radiant energy on to the food. Instead of a heating element, magnets are used to stimulate the atoms inside your cookware and heat the pot or pan.

Because induction cooking offers direct heat to cookware, it is an incredibly efficient option that gives the user more control over the cooktop. Additionally, the heat is directly sourced, which means the temperature tends to stay much steadier than electric or gas ranges as well.

Without a separate element, an induction cooktop puts out less waste heat and no air pollution into the kitchen. Cooktops are also easy to clean, since the cooktop itself has a smooth surface and does not get very hot. 

Courtesy of Kitchen Apparatus

Refined design
For home chefs who opt for a clean, minimal look, induction cooktops are a great option. The subtle black glass and durable matte black detailing seamlessly blend with other appliances for a cohesive, considered kitchen design.

Why change?
Induction cooking has always been popular in Europe, because of its energy-efficiency and low environmental impact. In addition, trendsetting restaurateurs and professional chefs are induction cooking enthusiasts, as they appreciate a newfound combination of precision and practicality.

Here’s what the experts are raving about:

Speed. With induction technology, heat is transferred directly to your cookware, not to the surface of the cooktop itself. This means food heats more quickly and water boils 50% faster when compared to electric or gas cooktops. 

Heat Transfer. Induction cooktops are only hot when burners are engaged — as soon as you remove a pot, the heat transfer stops. As a result, the glass surface never gets as hot as it would on a traditional radiant electric range. And for added safety, if you turn on an induction burner without a pot on it by mistake, it won’t heat up.

Temperature Control. To reduce the chances of over- or -undercooking, you can control the temperature on an induction cooktop with great precision. This includes the flexibility to turn a burner off completely, which immediately stops the transfer of heat.

Easy Cleaning. With their smooth, glass surface, induction cooktops are a breeze to clean. Spills and splatters don’t bake onto the surface, and you can easily wipe them down with a soft rag or sponge. 

Gentler on the Environment.  Induction cooking is far better for the climate and eliminates harmful pollutants from your home. Whereas gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO) that is both trapped in your kitchen and expelled into the environment through the ventilation system, the electromagnetic technology used in induction cooktops is pollutant-free. At the same time, induction cooking consumes less energy because of the speed and efficiency of the heating process.

The Fisher and Paykel induction cooktop’s Touch&Slide feature

The fan base is growing…
On July 1, 2022, Hannah Goldfield, food critic for The New Yorker, published a piece entitled, “Learning to Love an Induction Stove.” In the article, she describes  her contempt for anything other than gas cooking, along with her recent change of heart. She recounts her adoption of an induction cooktop with humor and in terms we can all understand — of its kindness to the environment, its efficiency and its sleek design that also frees up additional counter space in her kitchen. 

So whether you’re a savvy chef or an occasional cook, you’ll find new inspiration and peace of mind with a move to using an induction cooktop!

Why Biophilic Design Matters

Since Optima’s founding, we have thoughtfully developed environments where nature and architecture coexist. This principle of sustainability – known throughout architecture as biophilic design – is becoming increasingly popular across the world throughout all types of built environments.

The process of biophilic design isn’t anything new to the world of architecture; however, in recent years, the design principle has seen a renaissance. Today, biophilic design is used within modern architecture as a method to fulfill the inherent connection between humans and nature. 

Because our natural habitats have increasingly become built environments, designers and architects have discovered the significant value of adding biophilic elements into all kinds of structures to enhance the relationship between natural and built environments. The framework for designing these biophilic environments consists of employing both direct and indirect experiences of nature. Direct experiences incorporate everything from natural light, fresh air and organic landscapes, while indirect experiences include utilizing natural materials and colors and ecological attachments to a location. Everything from skylights to green walls to fountains all apply the conventions attached to the design principle. 

Health Benefits

Beyond creating connectivity to natural environments, biophilic design also supplies an ample amount of benefits to both its surroundings and those who inhabit them. One of the most prolific benefits attached to the design principle is the improvement of air quality. Designs that employ vibrant greenery absorb the natural toxins in the air, ultimately enhancing the atmosphere.

Having access to vegetation and other models of biophilia also has a direct impact on happiness and wellbeing. When design principles like natural light and ventilation are introduced into built environments, a greater appreciation forms – establishing a more welcoming, advantageous space. 

Biophilic Design in Optima

Throughout our communities at Optima, we use biophilic design to improve the lives of our residents and complement their beautiful surroundings and communities. In our latest project, Optima Lakeview, we’re employing biophilic design throughout many elements of the architecture.

The development features a stunning atrium that includes our signature vertical landscaping system within it. At the atrium’s top, an expansive skylight fills the space below it with an abundance of natural light. Optima Lakeview is also home to a variety of private terraces and setbacks featuring lush vegetation and ensuring residents a seamless transition from outdoor to indoor environment.

From the materials used in construction to the greenery placed throughout a building, more and more architects are discovering how to include biophilic design within their builds, connecting their built environment with the natural world around them.

5 Innovative Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

As technology continues to advance, changemakers and visionaries are discovering ways to push the boundaries of sustainable design in architecture. Today, we’re spotlighting five of the most innovative materials currently in development that are setting the stage for the future of architecture and design. 

Green Charcoal Loofah Bricks

Engineered at the Indian School of Design and Innovation in Mumbai, the Green Charcoal Loofah Brick is another revolutionary twist on traditional brick material. Soil, cement, charcoal and organic loofah fibers – the plant commonly used in sponges – make up the lightweight, biodegradable product. 

Similar to the cavernous gaps that are found in loofahs, the bricks’ fibrous network allows it to double as a home for plants and animals to thrive. The bricks’ pours also act as water chambers, which, when filled with water, act as a coolant for the structures they support. While the name might suggest charcoal is a significant part of the material’s build, it only appears on the brick’s surface, purifying the air by absorbing a compound used for growing plants. 

Hemp Rebar

Hemp is one of the most carbon-sequestering and strongest fibers on the planet, making it a perfect material to shift the future of architecture. Engineers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed the low-cost, low-carbon alternative to traditional steel rebar. One of the material’s most outstanding features is its ability to avoid corrosion, further extending the potential lifespan of the structure it is used to build. 

The rebar’s sustainable makeup has the potential to decrease construction time and triple the lifespan of the most costly traditional infrastructure — including everything from bridges to dams to seawalls. Its engineers intend the product to be cost-competitive, making it an obvious alternative material choice for future builds. 

Blast Studio’s 3D Printed Mycelium Collum, Courtesy of Blast Studio

3D Printed Mycelium

An ever-growing number of engineers are discovering how to incorporate mycelium – a root-like structure of fungus that creates a network of threads and branches – into their designs, with a huge impact on advancing sustainable design. One of the teams leading the drive is Blast Studio in London. Their team takes advantage of mycelium’s strong webbing structure to form columns that not only support builds but also grow mushrooms. 

The tree-like structure is made up of a mixture of mycelium fiber and recycled coffee cups. After being constructed through 3D printing, the mycelium eventually consumes the recycled material and grows to command the entire form of the column. Along with cultivating its own food, the dynamic material also produces natural insulation and fire-retardant properties. While mycelium-based materials are still sparse, more and more engineers and architects are beginning to see their advantages in designs. 

Chip[s] Board

One of the best single-use alternatives to fibreboard, corkboard and even wood, Chip[s] Board is finding its place in today’s architecture landscape. Created by Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll, the biodegradable material is one of the healthiest building components used on the planet due to its absence of toxic chemicals or resins like formaldehyde. When creating the material, Minkley and Nicoll were set on combining the issues of material and food waste – eventually resulting in the sustainable wood substitute. 

The product’s name is a play on the ingredients used to make it, which includes a blend of potato peel binding agents mixed with fibers from potatoes, bamboo, wood or hops. To develop Chip[s] Board, the blended composite is heat-pressed into a sturdy board that becomes functional in everything from furniture to buildings. 

Kenoteq’s K-Briqs made of recycled construction waste, Courtesy of Felix Speller

K-Briq Construction Waste Bricks

Invented by Gabriela Meder, an engineering professor at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, the K-Briq is one of the leading sustainable and recycled brick materials today. The unfired brick is made of 90% construction waste and produces less than 10% of carbon emission in manufacturing compared to clay bricks, making it an obvious low-carbon alternative in construction.

Designers of 2020’s Serpentine Pavilion – an annual design commission known for its experiential architecture – were one of the first to utilize the brick due to its versatility and similarity to the weight, look and functionality of standard bricks. Meder, who spent ten years developing the K-Briq, still produces it herself through her company Kenoteq

With new forms of sustainable design being created daily, we can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world.

Meet the Winner of the Redesign the World Contest

As champions of leading-edge, thoughtfully-designed spaces built to inspire communities, we enjoy sharing the visionary work of others who continue to impact the world’s landscape. In early 2021, Dezeen, the internationally-acclaimed architecture, interiors and design magazine, launched its Redesign the World 2021 competition. More than 100 firms submitted their ideas for rethinking planet Earth, and Dezeen has provided a platform to showcase the 15 most visionary, radical solutions to ending environmental issues. 

Dezeen launched the contest in partnership with Epic Games and architectural visualization tool Twinmotion. The competition sought revolutionary solutions and asked contestants several ambitious questions, including: where and how will everyone live; how will vital ecosystems flourish; and most importantly, what would a redesigned planet resemble? 

Each proposal consisted of an in-depth narrative, still images and a short video animation depicting the landscape. And, following more than two months of deliberation, Dezeen published all of the top submissions here, including the winning entry: Fernando Donis’ Frame City.

Donis, a celebrated architect known for designing CCTV Headquarters and managing the international architect firm Donis, constructed an idealized environment in which nature and humanity coexist. In his design, Donis established new forms of topography formed by terrace-like structures made of timber, depicting a vibrant natural landscape filled with lush greenery intended to house millions of people. The inspired landscape takes advantage of the most sustainable transportation methods and produces an environment where diverse networks of cultural exchange would thrive.

Like Optima, Donis envisions a world where nature and infrastructure become one, and innovative, thoughtful design leads the direction for an excelling world. You can read more about Fernando Donis and his vision behind Frame City here.  

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