“An Empowering Experience”: The Oakland EcoBlock as a Case Study for Neighborhood Decarbonization

On September 20, 2023, Siegel & Strain Architects presented the Oakland EcoBlock project as one of three case studies on adaptive reuse as part of AIA California’s Climate Action webinar series. The team discussed the process, opportunities, and benefits—as well as the challenges and lessons learned—of reusing and upgrading existing buildings to benefit the climate and community.

Screenshot of presentation at 2023 AIA California Conference by Siegel and Strain Architects. Graphic model of Oakland EcoBlock communities. Reads: "Oakland EcoBlock, a grant-funded study to - Create an Advanced Energy Community Model that equitably and radically reduces carbon emission in existing residential neighborhoods. - Undertake collaborative action that builds community and improves community resilience."
Credit: Siegel & Strain Architects

According to the Carbon Avoided Retrofit Estimator (CARE) Tool developed by principal Larry Strain, FAIA, LEED AP, the embodied carbon of a reused building is less than half of that spent on a new, equivalent building. When compared over a 25-year period, the cumulative emissions for a reused home are close to a third of its newly constructed counterpart, underscoring the value of scalable retrofit efforts like the Oakland EcoBlock.

Bar graph and line graph showing carbon impacts of reusing buildings compared to building new ones. Text reads: "CARE Tool Results", "Total Added Embodied & Operational Emissions Over 25 Years", and "Cumulative Emissions Over 25 Years".
Credit: Siegel & Strain Architects

Principal Susi Marzuola, AIA, LEED BD+C shared several lessons learned from the project thus far. She emphasized the role of leadership in achieving collective decarbonization and noted that the Oakland EcoBlock is helping identify gaps in the tools and procedures used by utilities and government authorities to accommodate and support existing multi-property electrification efforts.

In addition, Susi recognized the complexity of block-scale decarbonization and stressed the importance of working with available resources to keep projects simple and under budget. She also highlighted the importance of architects as key players in reducing carbon emissions as they are equipped with the right skills and information to push policies, industries, and communities forward.

“[B]eing in the conversation and being part of the effort that decarbonizes our neighborhoods is an empowering experience,” said Susi, “and that empowerment needs to be spread far and wide.”

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Meeting of the EcoBlocks

Members of the Oakland EcoBlock team met with Dan Hellmuth, the President and Director of Design for the Urban EcoBlock, to discuss their respective initiatives and explore future opportunities for collaboration.