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Design Spotlight: Hearth Apartments

Located in the heart of Santa Clara, California, Hearth Apartments is one of Prometheus’ newest ground-up builds. So what goes into a project that has multiple phases and design elements throughout the nuts and bolts of the neighborhood (what we call properties)? We sat down with Prometheus’ Director of Design, Olivier Severin, to find out.

On developing several phases of a project
There are two parts of the Hearth Apartments neighborhood – the first part that we call Hearth North internally (opened in early 2015 with 289 units), and Hearth South (opening at the end of March 2016 with 259 units). There are many cohesive design elements throughout both neighborhoods, and some that are very unique to each. As we came close to completing Hearth North, we had already completed all our construction designs for South and were preparing the land for the next phase of construction to begin.

On creating a design concept
Hearth North opened at the beginning of 2015, but the design process started about two years earlier. Partnering with Gensler, a well-known architecture and design firm, Olivier and his team set out to develop a concept that was distinctive to the neighborhood and location. To start, the name Hearth came from a combination of the words “heart” and “earth.” Located in Silicon Valley, the neighborhood location lends itself to a tech-driven, community-oriented vibe with luxurious elements and a resort-type feel.

Rather than jumping straight into designing, the team started with words to guide inspiration. The words that spoke to them were “haven,” “weave” and “wellness.” The concept of weaves throughout the community began, with woven fabrics, light fixtures and wall design. Eventually things like the rooftop pool design, flex space gym with yoga and fitness on-demand, open community kitchen and comfortable seating in communal areas became odes to a haven encouraging wellness.

No matter what the design element, they set out to create visual, physical connections between spaces through design touches. Colorful, thought-provoking elements such as wall art and community games were meant to spark conversations among Neighbors and create a sense of place.

On design’s role in a new Prometheus neighborhood
Design extends to many aspects of a project, because as a project evolves the logistics of a design element are huge – like when the design team wanted to hang 1,000 pounds of rope lights from the ceiling, they worked with the architects to make sure the building could support it. Operational considerations came into play when considering how new package lockers should be placed near a common area, for fear that foot traffic would make the space less relaxing (they pulled this off too, with tweaks to layout!).  Liability played a role when the team thought of doing a revolving set of vertically stacked wood beams to sit on in the leasing office and the hazard outweighed interesting design. Other factors that come up are the ease of use of a product, code requirements and of course budget.

Because of all these factors and more, Olivier sees design as a living organism, adjusting continuously. After all, these concepts live in our Neighbor’s everyday lives and have to be functional, comfortable and flexible.

On “journey moments”
Olivier explains that a design concept is successful if it facilitates what he calls journey moments for Neighbors. These are surprises and delights around the Neighborhood that help them connect with their Neighbors, make them chuckle, and most importantly make their lives easier. Ultimately, when all of these experiences happen, Prometheus can form a long-lasting relationship with a Neighbor.

On design factors you’d never think of
There are many things going on in Oliver’s head throughout a project like this – does the pool water give off too much reflective light into the gym causing glare for the runners on the treadmills, and if we were to place a reflective tint on the glass walls would this cause too much heat reflection on the Neighbors laying out on the chaise loungers? How do we create as much natural light and as many beautiful views as we can through our layout in other outside spaces? How do we create moods through other lighting? What are the acoustics in each room, how do we create privacy in an open space for different parties? Other considerations to ensure Neighbors have enjoyable experience include separating spaces between the movie theater and the kitchen, or making sure that the yoga studio can easily be used for a spin class too.

The design team also tests materials for everything from outdoor and indoor counter tops, floor tiles, wall treatments, furniture fabrics to pillows. Considerations are about form and function – is it comfortable? Is it timeless? The team tests key fabrics to see how the piece will hold up to the life’s everyday accidents by applying wine, lip-stick, coffee, markers, tanning oils and lotions to see if they will stain. They also ensure each fabric meets certain rub requirements for wear and tear.

On the most gratifying parts of design
The learning curve is endless, says Olivier. With a team that has passion and likes a challenge, there’s an opportunity to improve with each neighborhood and design direction. It’s all about wayfinding.