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2011 Archive

Re-Purposing Alleyways

Sep 16, 2011
Re-Purposing Alleyways

By Jordan Lewis, Intern, VIA Architecture

Last summer I had the opportunity to work on a project to activate a neglected alley in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. While alleys tend to have a bad reputation and are generally not thought of as potential community assets, many cities and their residents have taken an active approach to transform these utility streets into spaces thriving with activity.

The goal of Seattle’s AlleyArt project is to re-energize a forgotten alleyway into a vibrant public space — providing space for local art installations, movie screenings, food vendors, as well as an event space to watch the World Cup Games.

Photo of World Cup Alley, 2010, Pioneer Square, credit: Jordan Lewis

In Melbourne Australia, ‘laneways’ have been successfully revitalized following a study by Gehl Architects and Planners in 1994. The city of Melbourne encourages and provides grants to local businesses and artists to enhance the character and diversity of these intimate city streets.

Photo of Melbourne Alley, Australia

In Fort Collins, Colorado the city has recently embarked on a downtown alley enhancement program. Plantings, outdoor lighting, murals, bike racks and even a piano encourage pedestrian foot traffic and biking.

Photo of Fort Collins, CO, credit: Lisa McShane

In San Francisco, the ‘Linden Living Alley’, has become a successful pilot project for the city to development a network of green streets, particularly in areas under-served by public parks.

Photo of Linden Alley, San Francisco, credit: Flickr – NeighborhoodParks

Although alleys take up a significant portion of space within our cities (streets and …

Monday News Roundup

Sep 12, 2011

Here’s what you missed from our Twitter Feed last week!

What would cities say to one another if they could talk? (Sustainable Cities) Featuring “Metropopular,” a charming animated short film exploring city stereotypes through an imagined dialogue between anthropomorphized metropolises.

Popsicles and the Importance of Simplicity (PlaceShakers and NewsMakers) Rehashing the importance of simplicity via the “popsicle test” — the ability of an 8 year old to safely get somewhere to buy a popsicle, then make it home before it melts — as the measure of a good neighborhood.

One Path to Better Jobs: More Density in Cities?(Planetizen)

Economist Ryan Avent writes that the statistics show that people who live in denser cities have better jobs and are more productive.

More “Parklets” Pop Up in Vancouver(Planetizen)

Transplanting the wildly popular pilot projects in NYC and SF across the northern border, the City launches VIVA Vancouver program that converts parts of eight streets into public spaces.

Ever seen roofing made from the wings of a 747? (Design Milk) The 4,000-square-foot Wing House, as it has become known, is made from an old plane that was 230 feet long, 195 feet wide and 63 feet tall, but cost David barely nothing.

Polluting power plants turned green neighborhood development? (Switchboard) Industry analysts predict that environmental and economic factors will lead to the retirement of dozens of aging coal-fired power plants in the coming decade, which present tremendous opportunities for new civic and private uses.

100% Design London (Life of an Architect) Some of what you …

Meaningful Sanctuary in a Space for Many

By Kristin Jensen, Interior Designer, VIA Architecture Photo: The Grex, 1898 

I can say that I enjoy living in an apartment built in 1898, because I am a person who appreciates the design details of the time.  For me, built-ins, high ceilings, solid wood mouldings, large bright windows, and hardwood floors are more important interior details than new appliances, modern heating, or a dishwasher (Okay, I kick myself sometimes for living without a dishwasher.)  There is something so satisfying about coming home to solid interior elements.  They create a sanctuary. When I say “sanctuary”, I don’t mean a refuge or shelter, “sanctuary” here is like the inmost recess, the holiest part of the church that contains the altar.  I once lived in an apartment where I could hear the woman above me sneeze.  I did very little living that year and a lot of worrying about being quiet to avoid eviction for breathing too loud.   That apartment was a shelter from the outdoors, but it was not a sanctuary.

The once common telephone nook

More than a roof over a head, a sanctuary makes us feel comfortable, secure, and peaceful.  In a sanctuary, we can be dynamic and joyful.  We can create calm.  We can project ourselves into the space and feel reassured in return by the interior’s design.

Simple design elements are part of making a sanctuary, such as wall color; light grey for “calm”, a vibrant yellow for “lively.”  The feeling and choice is as unique as the individual.   As an interior designer, …

VIAVOX: Ken Greenberg Book Reading

By Trey West, LEED® AP, VIA Architecture

One of the world’s foremost urban designers, Ken Greenberg, recently participated in the VIA sponsored VIAVOX series to share a few excerpts from his book, Walking Home, The Life and Lessons of a City Builder. In his first novel, Mr. Greenberg shares his passion and methods for rejuvenating neglected cities and argues passionately for the importance and possibilities of their renewal. Below we would like to share a portion of Ken’s book that he read for us that was especially impactful. It is a narrative wherein he describes a street as it progresses from a city’s downtown or historic core, through the city and into the suburbs. It is a familiar description; one that I find could fit almost any major street in any city.

Ken Greenberg’s Walking Home:


Think of Broadway as it follows New York City’s progress from the tip of Lower Manhattan up the Hudson River or Yonge Street running north, bisecting the heart of Toronto. Consider Commonwealth Avenue wending its way west out of Boston through Brookline then Newton to Route 128 or Woodward Avenue making its way north from the heart of Detroit out past 8 Mile. Picture one of the Parisian Grand Boulevards extending beyond the Périphérique into the vast banlieues. Choose any familiar equivalent in another major city. Though unique in ways, the scenes we would encounter while walking along any of these streets, from their origins in the historic core out to their suburban fringes, would have much in …

Monday News Roundup

Aug 29, 2011

The best from last week:

Reversible Lanes Puzzle Drivers(Planetizen)

The 10-lane Kennedy Expressway in Chicago is forced to manage significantly more traffic than it was designed to handle. Traffic planners have installed a flexible lane that can increase the flow in one direction, but Chicagoans are baffled by them.

Abandoned Bikes Become Flowering Neon Art(Inhabitat)

A group of renegade bike warriors in Toronto have found a way to turn those forgotten bikes into green street art, and after an initial pushback from City Hall they’ve now got Toronto’s government on their side. Would you pay a bike tax for more bike lanes?(Planetizen)Blogger Chewie suggests a controversial idea – a tax on bicycle sales and repair to go to creating more bicycle infrastructure.

Typographic Transit Maps (Colossal) Each train route is comprised of a long, repeated list of the station stops from that line. There are maps available for Chicago, New York, London, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington D.C.

Tests of a Well Designed Neighborhood (Sustainable Cities) In a recent post on his firm’s excellent blog, PlacesShakers and NewsMakers, Scott Doyon reminds us of the “popsicle test” of a well-designed neighborhood:  if an 8-year-old kid can safely go somewhere to buy a popsicle, and get back home before it melts, chances are it’s a neighborhood that works.

5 Cities, 5 Congestion Solutions (Sustainable Cities) Congestion problems are different in every city, as are the solutions. Here are five cities with five different congestion innovations, each of which has been …

Sustainable Transit Design: Accomplishing More by Building Less

By Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability,VIA Architecture Photo: Canada Line, credit Ed White 

There is a common misconception in the design of large infrastructure projects like transit systems that the inclusion of sustainable design strategies is an “add-on” that increases project cost.  In our experience, sustainable design strategies are actually an effective means of: 1) Bringing Value to the project; and 2) Reducing Risk to the transit agency.

Good sustainable design is actually a form of radical common sense that can challenge some of the assumptions that accompany current transit design principles.  Using a combination of critical thinking and creativity, the integrated design process examines each component of a transit system to determine if each is necessary (rather than expected), and if each is able to serve more than one function.  In Permaculture terminology, this is known as “stacking”, and is the way that natural systems find high levels of efficiency by having each element serve many needs simultaneously.  This often means that more can be accomplished by actually building less.

In terms of Risk Reduction, current approaches to risk management tend to focus on issues that may occur in the period from Design through Commencement of Service – cost escalation, time escalation, and disruptions to the delivery process.  However, unlike other types of commercial development, transit agencies build their facilities to have an ultimate design life of 100 years or more, with capability for 50 years of continuous operation before refurbishment is necessary.  Far greater risks exist that are associated with the …

Monday News Roundup

Aug 22, 2011

Thanks to all our loyal fans and followers! To keep you up to date here’s a roundup of the most interesting links from last week:

Lego Greenhouse(Design Milk) Entitled the “LEGO Greenhouse”, this large-scale installation will be made entirely out of the iconic building blocks, begging the question: is it possible that life-sized LEGOs could be used to build structures?

The Importance of Regional Planning (Sustainable Cities) Planning at the regional scale is critical. In order to meaningfully influence environmental impacts associated with development, land use, and transportation, we must act at a level where central cities and suburbs can be considered together.

Playgrounds Pop Up in New York (Planetizen) Neighborhoods in New York City have built temporary “pop-up” playgrounds in an effort to encourage more physical activity among children

How Urban Design is Changing Architecture (Sustainable Cities) A group of design and media luminaries have been inspired to develop and implement an educational program aimed at preparing designers to address complex problems in Russia and around the world.

How Green is Your Bicycle Commute?(Inhabitat) With bike sharing and committed bike lanes on the rise, it seems like biking would be the no-brainer option for an eco-friendly commute, and yet some critics ponder if biking is actually better than taking the bus or a cab…

Can Issaquah residents come together? (Issaquah Reporter) The latest draft of the Central Issaquah Plan focuses on transportation, density, and connectivity.

What Makes a Resilient City? (Sustainable Cities) “Resilient” meaning cities that can last, make it through crises, possessing inner …

By Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability, VIA Architecture

This past June I had the pleasure of attending the Congress for the New Urbanism conference (CNU 19) in Madison, Wisconsin. Never having been to Madison, I arrived with no prior knowledge about the city, and was wholly unprepared for the strong sense of the commons that I experienced there.

Madison is quite unique in its city planning; a small downtown set on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, and located in its pivotal center is the state capital building.Completed in 1917, this imposing white domed structure forms the terminus of each radial street in a rigid 8-point symmetrical geometry.The immediate surroundings of the Capitol grounds are a formal, tree-lined park that forms a significant green space in the center of the city.This is markedly different from our Washington state Capitol in Olympia, which is set away from the urban center in a campus setting with other legislative facilities.

(Photo Credit:

(Photo Credit: alumroot @ Flickr)

(Photo Credit: VIA Architecture)


At VIA and the Community Design Studio, we talk about rediscovering “The Commons”.Wikipedia defines this as a term that refers to resources that are collectively owned or shared between or among communities, and attributes to Peter Barnes several characteristics of commons: “The first is that the commons cannot be commodified – and if they are – they cease to be commons. The second aspect is that unlike private property, the commons is inclusive rather than exclusive — its nature …

Monday News Roundup

Aug 08, 2011

Happy Monday! Here’s what you missed last week:

Fantastical Concept City Moves in Circles (Planetizen) If the whole city is moving, does that technically make the city itself a form of transit? This video explains that transit is unnecessary in a rotating city: your office building will come to you.

New Data on Walkable Neighborhoods, Cities (Switchboard) A recent survey of 7,000 “avid walkers” found a variation to the rule:  within each level of population density (low, medium, high), the proportion of frequent walkers increases as the perceived walkability of the neighborhood goes from low to high.Sustainable Skyscraper Could Meet 20 Percent of City’s Food Demand(Sustainable Cities)

The “London Farm Tower” is a sustainable buildingconcept that can actually cultivate 1.5 million pounds of fresh produce per year! Offering a way to combat urbanization and diminishing agricultural lands, the London Farm Tower operates much like a tree, depending on solar energy and rain water to grow and survive.

The Car is No Longer King in Boston(Planetizen)

Mayor Thomas Menino declared that “the car is no longer king in Boston” as the Hubway bike-sharing system made its debut this week, putting the city abreast with Washington D.C.

World’s Tallest Blog Post: World’s Tallest Building(Archidose) It’s all about the next contender for the tallest building in the world: Kingdom Tower would surpass the Burj Khalifa by at least 173 meters (567 feet). Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia would be over 1 kilometer tall…not yet a mile but pretty tall nevertheless.

Greenery Clad …

A Trip to Denmark

Aug 05, 2011

by Graham McGarva, VIA Architecture

Jan Gehl is probably the best tour guide you could hope for in Copenhagen. And so it was, after luxuriating over a couple of long lunches together, wherein the topic of grandchildren was as least as prominent as kamikaze cyclists and professional liability insurance, my wife Susan Baker and I took Jan’s marked up map with us over several succeeding days of walking and cycling.

We rented bikes for 3 days, and traversed the city north-south-east and west. We enjoyed both the sunshine and the rain (having learned to wait on our bicycles under a big tree when a short downpour rolls in). We found almost all the special bits of street and park that Jan pointed us to, especially enjoying those pockets where people clearly pour their daily affection.

Highlights came in contrasts.  One was exploring the intimate streets at the edge of Osterbro with its, colour, texture and even the impromptu children dancing in the middle of the streets.  The all jammed in together, built as workers housing more than a century ago, but now a where-all-the-intelligentsia-want-to-live-there kind of place.  We walked through several of these environments, such as Jan Gehl extols in his book “Cities for People” on our way to the FC Kobenhaven soccer match where we watched them win the Danish Championship at the stadium just around the corner.

Another highlight was the wasteland of Orestad.  You can read all about its cleverness in the excellent BIG archicomic “Yes is More”, …