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2009 Archive

by Dale Rickard,  MAIBC, Director of Transit Architecture, VIA Architecture

The streetcar is returning to Vancouver’s streets again after the original system was torn up in the 1950’s. This is a city that was organized around the streetcar starting in 1890 with a system that continued to grow as the city expanded creating a network of linked communities like Kitsilano, Marpole, Kerrisdale, Dunbar, and Mt. Pleasant. All of those communities continued to develop and mature but the streetcars that generated them have long disappeared.

I happen to live at 41st and Dunbar a few hundred feet away from a bus terminus loop. The loop was originally occupied by the streetcar turnaround built before the First World War and was built before there were any houses. The area had just been logged and there were acres of stumps where the forest had been. This is the way transit planning should be: first comes the infrastructure which then generates the development. If this is not done proactively, transit planning can become a much more challenging process of developing routes through existing neighborhoods.

The City of Vancouver is now serious about reintroducing the streetcar. Interestingly it is a City initiative proposed to be a project independent of TransLink’s larger regional system but creating connections and linkages that will make at least the inner core of the City very well served by transit choices. And like the original system of 100 years ago, it will be designed to link …

by Kate Howe, VIA’s Urban Planner

Just under two weeks ago, I attended the WALK21 conference in NYC. Now in its tenth year, WALK21 is an international coalition that advocates for walking, focusing on the pedestrian as the integrative point in any transportation system. This year the conference was underwritten by NYDOT- and partnered with the Association of American Bike Pedestrian Professionals (APBP) combining both hands-on training seminars with the broader themes of WALK21.

Walking, as we know, touches on everything; from urban design, to transportation and land use planning, to air pollution and climate, to public health. And so the topics ranged broadly from the economic benefits of building walkable neighborhoods, to planning for climate change, to the measurability and design of walking and transport planning. This year, the typically eurocentric nature of the conference was challenged as attendees hailed not only from Stockholm and Copenhagen but also Mexico City to a broad North American showing of both US and Canadian experience.

WALK21’s goal is to give each the tools to advocate for and to design excellent walking environments.  In fact, the promise of clear, standardized empirical tools was one of the conferences most exciting ideas for me. As the WALK21 board and their partners move forward with their Pedestrian Quality Needs Index, they are helping all of us reach the goal that will standardize how cities can measure what has always before been considered soft information about the quality of …

Burien Transit Center was submitted for the 2009 AIA Seattle Honor Awards under the “Realized” category. The AIA website describes the Improv/Improve awards in the following way:

IMPROV: Design for change requires us to quickly react to new constraints with creative and delightful solutions – improv! We roll up our sleeves and work together often breaking new ground seeking smart, responsible design solutions.

IMPROVE: Improve is the mindset for transforming ourselves and bettering our surroundings, above and beyond the scope of each project.

To see more photos of this project, and of many other ‘envisioned’ and ‘realized’ projects, click here.

The awards will be announced live at the Awards presentation on November 9, 2009. (more info)

*see post below for more information on the Burien Transit Center by Doug Lundman, the project architect.

Burien Transit Center

Oct 26, 2009

 by Doug Lundman, Architect for VIA Architecture

Public projects at any scale involve elaborate collaboration processes. Burien Transit Center was a very small project for us, but it involved all the trappings and a drawn out schedule, four years from design start to construction completion. Normal and necessary processes in public projects often present obstacles to, as well as benefits for, coherent end results. With small public projects, the obstacles can loom larger than the benefits of the process. We feel that in this case the building came through with coherence and a measure of success.

The brief called for a bus transfer (4000 events/day) and bus layover facility on existing and acquired property adjacent to the cities’ town center project. It required that bus movements and layover functions not occur on city streets. An existing Park & Ride was reconfigured, 250 user cars a given. The client and the city hope for eventual replacement of the Park & Ride lot with mixed-use TOD, incorporating the parking.

The project gave VIA an opportunity to consider again difficult issues in suburban low population density landscapes (4,200/sq mi overall, 2,615/sq. mi downtown) and how transit might mitigate, if not transform, those landscapes.

Richard Rogers’ voice is one of many calling for compact cities:

“The creation of the modern Compact City demands the rejection of single-function development and the dominance of the car. The question is how to design cities in which communities thrive and mobility is …

By Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture

It never fails to amaze me how resilient and innovative human kind can be, when out of seemingly overwhelming adversity, a people can be mobilized into aspiring citizens of change. As I participated in this year’s Design for Livability: Sustainable Cities conference, I sensed such resilience and high aspirations in the crowd as it leaned forward in anticipation for the great solution to the problems before us. The problems we face are not just economic nor are they issues which affect merely Seattle residents and so the AIA, Cascade Land Conservancy, and UW School of Built Environments tackled the conference from both the local and regional scale. Building upon a foundation of education, presenters were encouraged to share their many experiences and projects as a teacher would share its knowledge with its pupils.

The topics of the conference ranged widely, covering issues such as ailing infrastructure ripe for overhaul, alternative ecosystem markets, large ecodistricts as a solution for overbuilt utilities, non-profits as motivators of change, formulaic changes in single family developments to combat sprawl, and typological changes in multifamily zones to revive a waning population of children. Like Karen True from Friends of Third Place Commons in her presentation Creating and Activating Great Places, the presenters aired their thoughts passionately and compellingly. The topics themselves gravitated towards interdisciplinary action that not only relied upon large scale governmental shifts but also community action.

If there was one key message I got out this conference, it was that the …

by Catherine Calvert, VIA Architecture

VIA was pleased to sponsor the recent keynote presentation to kick off last week’s Design for Livability: Sustainable Communities conference, put on by AIA Seattle, Cascade Land Conservancy and University of Washington College of Built Environments.

Our presentation was about Ecodistricts, featuring our firm’s work on Southeast False Creek in Vancouver, home to the future Athlete’s Village for the 2010 Olympics, as well as the work of ZGF and the Portland + Oregon Sustainability Institute (P+OSI) on the Lloyd District. 

What is significant about ecodistrict projects like these is that they illustrate how far the bar needs to be raised in terms of radical rethinking of neighborhood design if we are to make any difference at all in terms of the way we use our cities and connect our infrastructure.  Five years ago I had the privilege of touring neighborhoods in Malmo and Copenhagen and understanding the total logic of organizing communities around district energy systems and cogeneration.  That experience was an “a-ha moment” – it’s not about living off the grid (as we were taught in the 70’s), it’s about all of us plugging into the grid and sharing our resources. 

Clearly, however, projects like the Lloyd District and Southeast False Creek don’t happen by the good intentions of architects and planners.  They can only come to fruition using the synergy of political will, economic opportunity, technical innovation, and at a stage of infrastructure lifecycle that’s ripe for renewal.  One of …

Conscious Consumers

Oct 14, 2009

By Annette Thurston, VIA ArchitectureI have always been an advocate for “Going Green” in theory. It seems like the right thing to do and I want to save the planet, but the whole idea just overwhelms me every time I think about it.  Doubts and questions start filling my head like “is my recycling really helping?  Everything I buy comes in plastic, it’s impossible to avoid.  I don’t want to walk that far to the store; I need my car to haul all of my grocery bags. I want to relax and watch TV at the end of the day and Facebook with my friends (sometimes I’ll waste a whole Sunday just catching up on shows and watching movies).  I love food and I love shopping. It’s too expensive to buy organic”…and on and on it goes.

Why should I sacrifice all of the things that I love?  I’m a person who likes her purchases cheap, I like them quick and I don’t care how they get here. Honestly, ‘going green’ just sounds like too much of a hassle.  So I’ve just been doing the bare minimum that most people do which is recycle plastic, tin and paper and hope that someone puts it to good use. I really have no idea where that stuff goes when I throw it in the bin every week.  Then I heard about this movie No Impact Man and I took my friend Adam to go …

By Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant at VIA Architecture

While recently reading an article on Iconic Architecture, I came to realize how truly important it is to have “the right building for the right place.” Although new to the field of architecture, I have seen how buildings can create community or just as easily discourage it. I grew up in buildings which always had large grassy areas or courtyards for all the children to play in. I was always close to parks, waterparks, seawalls and fresh food markets. This is how I thought the world was for all children; I had trees from which to launch snowballs, safe bike routes and easy access to view the yearly symphony of fire fireworks display. I was but an aquabus away from the pool and a short walk from the beach. I could see the large grassy hill which I had slid down many times on my toboggan, the world indeed was my oyster. I suppose I should personally thank whoever it was that designed Granville Island and the False Creek Area surrounding it, for they created my backyard.

An Image of Granville island which shows the water park, ponds, parks and beautiful greenery (it’s even nice on an overcast day)

However, it would seem that for some, this is not an ordinary upbringing. For many, parks are something you have to drive to and grass is not simply a stones throw away. The site of a concrete building may be …

by Krystal Meiners, VIA Architecture

As a follow up to yesterday’s post, here is a “prezi” (online presentation tool) about permaculture. If you haven’t used Prezi before, you can either set it to autoplay, and it will change every 10 seconds (with the option to stop it if it goes too fast), or you can hit the arrows manually to change the screen.


by Krystal Meiners, Junior Designer at VIA Architecture

Permaculture: permanent agriculture, permanent culture, sustainable gardening, sustainable agriculture, agro-forestry, food forest, ecological design; call it what you like… it’s awesome!

I recently started school again for Ecological Planning and was both excited and overwhelmed by my summer line-up of classes which included Environmental Science and an Introduction to Permaculture; both classes were outstanding. My permaculture class served as a much needed link between the environment, human landscapes, and community sustainability, all of which piggyback on the principles of sustainability in the built realm. Throughout architecture school and in the course of my time at VIA, I have learned how to create sustainable communities through density, infrastructure, street realms, setbacks, massing and so much more. However, I have come to learn that agriculture and food security is an important system that governs community health and success, not as an exception to the built environment, but in addition.

Before taking this class I would often come across articles about urban farming, bioremediation, sustainable site design, community gardening, etc. I was always inspired, but reluctant to file these projects under fringe architecture and urban design experiments. I have learned, however, that this movement towards sustainable landscaping and permaculture has begun to reform industrial agriculture practices around the world and has become increasingly influential in community planning.

Permaculture is sustainable garden and landscape design that focuses on food security, maximizing space and getting the most output from the least input. By taking …