Skip directly to: Main page content

UC Davis Magazine

Volume 29 · Number 2 · Winter 2012

UC Davis West Village

A visionary model for 21st century living

Photo: garden square with fountain, surrounded by modern, angular apartment buildings

A view of West Village from an upstairs apartment. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

You might say the future is now, and the future is here — at UC Davis West Village.

The new campus community is poised to change the way communities are designed, built and lived in — throughout California and around the world. That's not an overstatement. West Village is planned as the country's largest "zero net energy" community, which means it is designed to generate as much energy as it consumes. Zero net energy has never been attempted on a scale the size of West Village. Anywhere. It is an experiment, a "living laboratory," as one campus official says.

And where better to conduct this kind of experiment than at UC Davis, a global leader in its commitment to sustainability and environmental research.

The first phase of West Village opened this fall after 10 years of planning. Today, more than 800 students, faculty and staff live in 315 apartments at the complex, just west of the main campus. There is also 42,500 square feet of commercial space, a recreation center and village square. Roughly one-third of the project is now built.

When completed, the 130-acre site will be home to about 3,000 students, faculty and staff in 662 apartments and 343 single-family houses. If the community achieves its energy goals, it will set a national standard in sustainable design. And that's the plan.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said the project "illustrates our commitment to cutting-edge research in sustainability and the value and impact of public-private partnerships."

West Village is not some ivory tower utopian community. It is market-tested and supported — most of the $300 million needed to build the site came from San Francisco real estate developers Carmel Partners, which joined forces with Urban Villages of Denver on the project. But whether due to financing issues or navigating the regulatory maze, it was never easy (read "Overcoming Obstacles.")

Interest in how this complex project was p ulled together and launched is percolating in from other U.S. communities, and down the road, planners expect international inquiries as well.

Aesthetics, functionality

"Striking" is one way to describe the appearance of West Village. Each building has a different color and design scheme, and the bold shapes and jutting angles of the structures and the pedestrian areas come together in a stunning futuristic style. There is nothing cookie-cutter about this community; it's all sustainably purposeful. For example, windows and roofs are slanted and sized to maximize solar energy efficiency, depending on the building's orientation. Yet none of this detracts from the overall look. In a story on the community's open house in October, Forbes magazine noted that the "stylish development has a bit of a resort feel."

All this is cool for UC Davis students, who began moving into the community's Viridian and Ramble Apartments in August.

"You don't have to sacrifice a thing," senior Logan McCown of Palos Verdes said of zero net living. Her two-bedroom unit features walk-in closets, a full-size washing machine and dryer, stainless steel kitchen appliances, unlimited high-speed Internet service and air conditioning.

The project broke ground in August 2009. In addition to apartments for students, faculty and staff, it will be home to:

  • Sacramento City College Davis Center at UC Davis West Village, the first community college center to be housed on a UC campus. The center will open to an estimated 2,400 students in January.
  • UC Davis' first "uHub," a prototype for future campus innovation hubs and an incubator for innovation in sustainability. Located in commercial space surrounding the village square, the uHub will be home to several of the campus's energy research centers, where they will enhance the living laboratory of West Village while fostering interactions with the private sector in the area of energy research. (See sidebar, "Energy Innovation.")
  • The first single-family homes for staff and faculty are slated to be available in late 2012 or early 2013.

State-of-the-art energy

Energy innovation

UC Davis plans to move several energy-related research units into offices at West Village.

More . . .

West Village will rely on two strategies to achieve the zero net goal — aggressive efficiency measures and on-site power generation. If built to current code, the completed portions of West Village would consume 22 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. But by employing aggressive energy efficiency measures, planners project the annual total will come to about 11 million kilowatt hours, a 50 percent reduction.

Model for the future

The time is now for communities like West Village.

In its Zero Net Energy Action Plan of 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission called for shifting all new residential construction in California to zero net energy by 2020, and all new commercial construction by 2030. The zero energy design principle is becoming more practical to adopt due to the increasing costs of traditional fossil fuels and their negative impact on the planet's climate and ecological balance.

Nolan Zail, senior vice president of development for Carmel Partners, the developer of the UC Davis West Village project, said the community is a "visionary model for integrating pioneering sustainable principles in a high-quality living environment."

Collaboration counts

There are many players in the creation of West Village.

More . . .

John Meyer, vice chancellor for Administrative and Resource Management, describes West Village as a "living laboratory" for exploring the frontiers of sustainable living. His unit led the design and construction of the community.

"Here we can test emerging technologies for sustainable living. This means we can give valuable feedback to the industry on what works, what needs to be improved and what doesn't work," Meyer said.

There are no comparable communities, observed Ralph Cavanagh, a senior attorney and co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy program. He is intimately familiar with the project.

"In my opinion, UC Davis West Village represents the most compelling community-wide integration of advanced energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies in — hmmm. I was about to specify a geographic region, and then I realized that I didn't need to," he said.

That's true — something like West Village has never been done before. And it is only beginning, so stay tuned. What we learn in this experiment may one day make a difference in how we all live.


Clifton B. Parker, associate editor of UC Davis Magazine, can be reached at Kat Kerlin, the environmental beat writer for UC Davis News Service, can be reached at