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2012 Archive

Monday News Roundup

Feb 27, 2012

It’s your last Monday before March! Let’s look at our most interesting pieces of news, architecture, planning, and art from last week:

Block 11 by MEI Architecture MEI Architecture designed a parking garage in Almere, The Netherlands, that has a facade of plants and panels featuring cultural images.

Chicago Commits to Downtown Bus Priority A series of bus lanes will link commuter rail stations, downtown, and the Navy Pier. It’s not quite a transitway — despite the branding — but it will speed movement for thousands of passengers.

Re-imagining our Consumer Culture

Minimizing waste, through either cradle to cradle and/or local economies, is crucial for improving our environment and our quality of life.

Nation’s largest public Food Forest takes root on Beacon Hill After nearly three years of planning, Beacon Hill residents are breaking ground on what will be the nation’s largest public food forest.

Should Cities Embrace ‘Sandwich Board Urbanism’? Rethinking allowed uses in city rights-of-way can change the look and feel of streets in unexpected fashion—especially when the focus is on more than the ambiance of sidewalk cafes, benches or clocks. One example is the impact of sandwich board signs.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater Now Accepting Applications for Summer Camp That’s right, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pennsylvanian masterpiece is now accepting applications for summer residency programs, and lucky high school students who will be ushered into Wright’s chef d’oeuvre will be given the opportunity to “explore one of the world’s most famous and architectural important buildings independently and without …

The Promise of a Seattle Gondola

By Matt Roewe, VIA Architecture

The promise of an aerial gondola connecting the waterfront, Seattle Center, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill.

When we think of aerial gondolas and trams, ski resorts and carnival-like strings of pods hovering overhead at past world fairs usually come to mind.  But what if a gondola took you to great urban destinations where people live, work, play and shop? What if these districts were served by other modes of transit? Could a gondola be a truly effective and self-sustaining transportation alternative that just happens to be energy-efficient and quiet?

Read the full article here, on!


Tuesday News Roundup

Feb 21, 2012

Hope you all had a great long weekend! Here are last week’s best news, art, and design bites:

The Solution to Nimbyism (Seattle Transit Blog) The Earthscraper – a 65-story, zero-feet-tall building – is the solution to all concerns about height and massing while simultaneously enabling nearly limitless density.

State of Play: The World’s Most Amazing Playgrounds (Popsci) The playgrounds of tomorrow must offer something that even the most enticing virtual offerings cannot: real spaces that look at least as amazing as anything virtual.

How and Why Does an Architect Become Famous? (Planetizen) In a fascinating essay in the journal Places, Keith Eggener examines the politics of architectural reputation through the lens of architect Louis Curtiss’s life and career.

Transparency in the Building Industry – Nutrition Labels for Building Materials (Arch Daily) Transparency Lists are a resource of precautionary measures which breaks down into categories common building materials and the potential dangers associated with their composition.

Before & After: Sad Office for One Becomes Happy Workspace for Two (Apartment Therapy) Husband and wife engineers convert single office to efficient double office space with room for both of them to work.

Can This Suburb Be Saved? (New York Magazine) At MoMA, curators and architects seek a way out of the cul-de-sac.

Virtual Tools for CAD (Arch Daily) Engineering faculty at Washington State University introduce the Virtual Reality and Computer Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory, or VRCIM, offering a unique solution for increasing the effectiveness of …

By Graham McGarva, Founding Principal, VIA Architecture

Our satisfaction with a given condition is founded on our expectation. In Vancouver, we have long had an expectation of livability in its various guises— urban and rural landscapes; mobility and access; and commercial and cultural activities (food, beverage, entertainment). Our Downtown became an increasingly desirable place to work, then to play, then to live, then to learn. Always tacitly assumed as a place to invest.

In that mode of expectation, affordability and amenity overlaid well— choices at each end of the spectrum.

Success (and geographic constraint), coupled with the normal rules of engagement, has brought a tension in aff and am. It has not been the demon of density that has threatened the equation— no flight from caterpillar blight—  but rather the opposite: the creation of an urban culture emerging from the pupae of its anti- urban antecedent.

Affordability is a huge issue. The tool box to bring the price of housing within normal economic reach needs to be completely rethought. It cuts across the whole spectrum, intractable for those in need of supportive housing or deep subsidy.

The Downtown Vancouver Association is committed to the enhancement of Downtown Vancouver as a place to live, work, play, learn, and invest. Its primary perspective is of the “man and woman on the street”, drawn Downtown by amenity (primarily of home and work). There has been a sharply increasing price to be paid; this price can be measured in terms of time, money, and expectation.

Expectation is probably the least understood variable …

Monday News Roundup

Feb 13, 2012

Hope you’re all having a good pre-Valentine’s Monday morning! Here’s a list of last week’s most interesting bits of the internet:

Educating architects with virtual reality (Arch Daily) Resources like Columbia’s VR Learning Site are bringing new technology to training architects; offering ways to explore the world’s most interesting structures from the comfort of one’s own home.

The AIA announces new Partnership to further Disaster Relief and Rebuilding Efforts (Arch Daily) The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Architecture for Humanity have announced their new strategic partnership to coordinate advocacy, education and training that will allow architects to become more involved in helping communities prepare, respond and rebuild after a disaster.

AWB-Seattle member project, Escuala Saludable y Ecologica, one of three international winners of the Design SEED Competition (Architects Without Borders, Seattle) AWB Seattle board member Ben Spencer, along with his UW team and partners, recognized with top honors in Design SEED Competition for sustainable building strategy-rich design in Peru.

Windows on the World Restored: New Views from the World Trade Center (Architizer) Breath-taking views from the 84th floor of the new World Trade Center tower in New York City.

Four Pioneering Examples of Sustainable Refurbishment from Around the World (Sustainable Cities Collective) Old made new… and sustainable. Examples from Canada, London, and Australia.

ArchDaily 2011 Building of the Year Awards (Arch Daily) ArchDaily announces the start of the 2011 Building of the Year Awards process, starting with nominations, then voting– your opinion matters!

The AIA Elevates 105 Members …

Forward to the Past

Feb 10, 2012
Forward to the Past

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability, VIA Architecture Photo: Seattle’s Denny Regrade (credit)

There has been much discussion about Peak Oil and the ways in which the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels will affect the way we live in the future. The basic premise is that our days of abundant cheap oil are over, and that our entire lifestyle of consumption, freewheeling mobility, and comfort needs to change drastically now in order to avoid extreme and sudden hardships in the future. With a limited supply of oil available (maybe 20 years according to the most pessimistic views), we’d better put what we have left to good use – this would mean investment in noble purposes such as construction of public transportation projects, and a move away from frivolous uses such as leisure motoring and shipping disposable goods around the planet.

We at VIA think a lot about these problems, particularly the issues relating to mobility and infrastructure. Some of us may learn to grow our own food, ride bicycles, knit sweaters to keep warm, and avoid shopping at big-box retail stores – and there is much to be said for relocalizing our habits and grounding our lifestyle in the real and substantial. But these strategies will only go so far, and they are not available or suitable for everyone; we can’t all live in Belltown and feed ourselves locally in February, for example. If we’re going to be increasingly reliant on public transportation, we need to prioritize these projects for …

Monday News Roundup

Feb 06, 2012

Happy post-Superbowl Monday! Let’s catch up on last week’s most interesting articles:

Digital vs. Analog Ways of Transforming Cities (Sustainable Cities Collective) Is an app enough? Turning “transactional” into “transformational”

Parking being squeezed out in Vancouver (The Globe and Mail) Developers in Vancouver being forced to offer fewer parking spots; VIA’s Graham McGarva offers his thoughts

The environmental building blocks of urban happiness (Sustainable Cities Collective) Correlation between the shape of our communities and neighborhoods to the mental and physical well-being of their citizens

Weekend House / Pokorny Architekti (Arch Daily) Slovakian weekend house design uses traditional ideas in a very modern way

Urban Farming as a Successful Business (Sustainable Cities Collective) Urban farming methods refined for success

How Greenways Create Healthy Communities (Sustainable Cities Collective) Greenways blend urban and rural design for harmonious communities

Coffee Shop Neighborhoods for the Next Seattle (City Tank) Discourage sprawl, encourage “Coffee Shop Neighborhoods” in Seattle for the health of communities, transit, and citizens

A Paradigm Shift in Urban Runoff (Planetizen) Capturing and filtering rain water as it falls helps decrease polluted runoff in urban areas

by Katherine Howe, Urban Planner VIA Architecture

Transform, a non-profit advocacy group in the Bay Area, recently developed the GreenTRIP program, an incentive program for multifamily infill development designed to help reduce car use. This is pretty interesting stuff for those of us who practice smart growth because most everything in an infill development – from design, to feasibility, to use – can revolve around the amount, placement, and cost of parking.

Almost all cities have codes that regulate how much off-street parking a developer must build. Out of date and often based on suburban standards calibrated to maximum car use, these codes are, at best, a blunt instrument. They often over estimate the amount of parking needed, which encourages people to drive by effectively subsidizing the cost of storing cars. This, of course, is not new information, and much ink has been spilled in the discussion of the high cost of free parking. After multiple decades of this approach, many communities – from Issaquah to Bothell – are finding that they now have 50% -75% of their existing developed commercial land area in one kind of use: surface parking.

The off-street parking cycle is hard to break because it requires a paradigm shift: a switch from accommodating personal mobility via cars, to other modes that also compel a retrofit of the land uses already in place. To do so requires a headlong push in the other direction. It’s too expensive to go half way, i.e. to keep building lots of parking at suburban rates but …

Monday News Roundup

Jan 30, 2012

The top headlines from last week all in one place:

Our (Un)Sustainable Vocabulary(xkcd) A comic detailing how the word “sustainable” is unsustainable 🙂

Inca Public Market by Charmaine Lay and Carles Muro(Dezeen) Check out the zigzagging wooden roof of this market hall in Majorca, Spain. The Threat of Poor Urban Design to Public Health (Planetizen)

A profile of the work of Dr. Richard J. Jackson, one of the leading voices calling for better urban design for the sake of good health.

The green dividend from reusing older buildings (Switchboard) We already know that, in many cases, retaining older buildings can strengthen the enduring legacy and enjoyment of a community. But is it good for the environment?

Does Car + Bike = A Good Thing? (Sustainable Cities Collective) Besides gaining ultra-buff legs, many ‘part-time’ bike commuters end up with an extra $12,400 at the end of the year!

A Profile of the ‘Jane Jacobs of Urban Design’(Planetizen) An engaging profile of David Lewis, the community planning pioneer whom Richard Florida calls the ‘Jane Jacobs of Urban Design,’ as he celebrates his 90th birthday.

Rio de Janeiro unveils its first BRT station (Sustainable Cities Collective) With 10 regular turnstiles and two adapted for wheelchair users, the station was designed to take advantage of natural ventilation using wind sensors.

How Bicycling and Walking Directly Impacts Health (Sustainable Cities Collective) The 2012 benchmarking report for bicycling and walking ranks all 50 states and the 51 largest U.S. cities on bicycling and walking levels, safety, funding and other factors.

by Wolf Saar, Director of Practice, VIA Architecture

Volf Saar (credit: Wolf Saar)

Last July, my father turned 90. In November, he moved into a nursing home. This was not an entirely unexpected event considering that he has Parkinson’s and has seen a slow decline in his mobility and his ability to avoid falls. With my 87 year old mother becoming increasingly frail (and, at the time, approaching a hip replacement) it was determined that the safest and most feasible alternative for dad was a move to a place where he could receive 24 hour skilled care. The time of “aging in place” ended for my dad.

The experience of being the adult child of two aging parents took on a new dimension as we shifted attention from in-home care to institutionalized care. Since my parents live in Burnaby, BC while I live in Seattle and my sister is in Calgary, every interaction is either remote or requires a road trip for me or an airplane ride for my sister. As an architect, I naturally approached the move with a designer’s eye. My focus ranged from pragmatic to sensual in trying to control the process from afar.

As a bit of background, I’ve observed that in British Columbia, subsidized care is generally of a high quality, although there is a decidedly “institutionalized” approach to this care, necessitated by tight budgets and government infrastructure. As my father’s needs exceeded what an assisted living facility could provide, there were few alternatives between the standard regimens …