From the small-town look of the outside, you’d almost think you were in “real” America. In the 1930s, the tiny shack in Georgetown was Washington, D.C.’s, approximation of down-home: a regional fast-food chain that served greasy hamburgers in a mock-Tudor cottage. Now the green-roofed cabin has become a very 21st-century urban homage to country life, an eco-friendly take-out joint that serves frozen yogurt and organic, locally grown salad inside a historic building retrofitted with hickory salvaged from a farm in Virginia.
The restaurant, Sweetgreen, is owned by three Georgetown finance-and-management graduates who spotted the closed-down shack near campus and thought it would make an inspired location for a completely sustainable restaurant. “It’s a landmarked building,” says Nicolas Jammet, a co-owner. “We weren’t allowed to touch the outside. It’s a tiny house, so it worked perfectly with our concept. It was already green, so we used the space and formed our concept around it.”
The D.C. restaurant specialists Core Architecture + Design collaborated with the owners to develop the concept and adapt the 460-square-foot building to meet the needs of a modern restaurant—food storage and preparation and customer circulation—in a way that resonated with their sustainable goals. Apart from the inherently conservationist reuse of a historic building and the locally sourced antique wood, Core recessed high-efficiency fluorescent lighting in the ceiling to supplement daylight from the street. Preservation guidelines forbade exterior signage, so the team worked with graphic designers at the Unison Agency to create a brightly colored vinyl logo for the windows.
“I got really geeked by the idea of creating something that utilized every square inch of the space,” says Core’s Peter Hapstak. “It represents every major buzzword in the industry—preservation, restoration, sustainability, small carbon footprint—and it was kind of cool that you could do that in 500 square feet. Great things can still happen in a small space.”
The compact design fit perfectly with the owners’ locavore ethic, which they became increasingly committed to as they developed the project. Next month, they’re opening a second restaurant in Dupont Circle, next to the farmers’ market, and they took that proximity as a chance to source as much produce as possible from the farmers. “We feel that the carbon footprint of local produce is much smaller, it’s supporting the local economy, and it’s fresher,” Jammet says.
Though the restaurant is not LEED certified—historic-preservation laws limited what they could do to the building envelope—they tried to extend its sustainability well beyond the design and construction. Sweetgreen gets all of its power from Clean Currents, which produces renewable energy in the D.C. area, and it is one of only three local restaurants certified by the Green Restaurant Association for its vigilant attitude toward waste. “All of our packaging is compostable and made from corn,” Jammet says. “We have a line of reusable products, such as salad bowls and bags, that customers are very fond of. And now our take-out menus are printed on recycled paper with wildflower seeds embedded in them, so you can plant the menus and wildflowers grow.”
Use of a historic building and salvaged wood reduced the consumption of materials.
Daylighting and efficient fluorescent lights lowered energy consumption.
The small space minimized the energy needed for heating and air-conditioning.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The old structure hindered the creation of an energy-efficient building envelope.
The restaurant’s take-out operation produces packaging waste.
The landlord-installed HVAC system isn’t energy efficient.
The 2008 IIDA/Metropolis Smart Environments Award Winners: