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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 lifetime of the system, many of which can be mitigated using sustainable design strategies:

Lifetime risk
Sustainable design response
Cost and availability of electric power in the region
Design for reduced energy consumption and energy recovery
Wear and tear on transit facilities
Specifying for durability
Climate change impacts
Design for extreme weather events
Ridership meeting projected levels
Creating appealing, people-oriented facilities


Sustainable design therefore brings long-term Value on three levels:  to the Project, to the System, and to the Community.  To the Project, this means potential reductions in capital cost by finding synergies through the integrated design process.  To the System, it means bringing long-term value through energy savings, reducing life cycle cost, and using good design to attract ridership.  And to the Community, it means supporting public health by encouraging transit ridership, enhancing environmental quality, and providing mobility options that are integrated with public spaces.

In our transit design work, we have explored many opportunities to find “stacking” synergies.  Here are some examples of this philosophical approach:

Vertical Circulation:

For underground or elevated stations, it is common practice in transit design to include a combination of stairs, elevators, and escalators to provide vertical access to street level.  Elevators are essential for those with disabilities, or for the convenience of travellers with strollers or luggage.  Stairs are also essential, but escalators are worth reconsideration in some situations where lower ridership is anticipated.

From a functional perspective, escalators have the advantage of moving large numbers of passengers quickly and efficiently, but strictly speaking their function is redundant to that of stairs and elevators.  When provided the option of stairs or escalators, human nature is for people to take the escalator, even if they are capable of taking the stairs.  Escalators however have a high capital cost, a high level  of required maintenance, and high ongoing energy costs as they generally run continuously whether they are carrying people or not.

Some systems have addressed this issue from a variety of perspectives.  At the Copenhagen Metro, a deliberate choice was made to eliminate escalators from underground mezzanine levels to the surface in order to promote public health through the use of stairs.  On Sound Transit’s U-Link project, escalators were selectively deleted at some station entrances for cost reasons, where lower anticipated passenger volume did not warrant the high level of associated investment.  When eliminating escalators, it is advisable to increase the capacity of stairs in order to compensate for the reduced efficiency of moving large numbers of passengers quickly.

Photo Credit: VIA Architecture

Some transit designers have also found whimsical solutions to vertical circulation– as demonstrated by the ProRail Transfer Accelerator at the recently renovated Overvecht Rail Station in Utrecht, Holland and the musical stairs installed at Odenplan, Sweden. Both are playful means of encouraging passengers to exercise while taking transit.

Lighting Strategies:

Lighting strategies can be a significant contributor to reducing long-term energy consumption at transit stations.  Key principles include:

  • Use high efficiency fixtures with long lamp life
  • Use high light-reflectance materials to reduce the quantity of lighting required
  • Use controlled integration of daylight and electric light

Waterfront station, Canada Line, Vancouver: The Canada Line lighting design achieved energy savings by means such as avoiding over-lighting, integrating daylight sensors, and scheduling the lights to turn off during non-revenue hours.

Good integrated transit design includes an ongoing dialogue between structural design, urban design, and landscape teams to develop solutions that solve many issues simultaneously.  Some good examples of this type of “stacking” are as follows:Landscape and Structural Synergies:

Commercial Station, Millennium Line, Vancouver – this station platform was sited in the former Grandview railway cut, which is located several meters below street level.  During the public consultation process for the station design, local residents were concerned about the loss of habitat in the cut and about preserving the green space that it provided in the highly urban neighborhood.  VIA’s design solution was to line the east side of the cut using a stacking, precast ‘green wall ‘system that not only retained the soil but also provided space for planting and associated habitat.

Photo Credit: Ed White

Canada Line, Vancouver – one of the common issues associated with transit infrastructure is vandalism and anti-graffiti strategies.  On the Canada Line, the design team used a series of trellis structures around guideway columns to act as ‘green screens’.  These not only discouraged graffiti but also provided enhanced opportunities for landscape in the surrounding urban environment.  Green screens of this nature can also be used on bridge abutments, and the screens can be made hinged or demountable to allow for structural inspections as required.

Materials Strategies:
Many creative strategies are available to the design team that relate to the use of materials.  These fall into several general categories – Reuse and Salvage, Local materials, and Design for Durability.  Some examples are as follows:

Reuse and Salvage – Transit agencies that have been constructing systems for many decades often have a “boneyard” or similar source of materials that have been salvaged from previous projects, for use in current project design.  The re-envisioning and re-purposing of these materials can provide a creative design challenge to architects and urban designers, saving embodied energy and capital cost.

Photo Credit: Waterleaf Architecture

Where new transit projects require building demolition, it has become increasingly common to have salvage goals written into demolition contracts.  These materials can either be repurposed within the transit project, or accounted for as credit within the demolition contract.

Local Materials – The Millennium Line SkyTrain extension in Vancouver pioneered the use of wood in modern transit structures, a material not used for transit design for many decades.  On very old systems such as the London Underground and the Chicago “El”, it is still possible to see wood used in escalators and station platforms, but wood had generally been eliminated from transit design due to concerns about fire hazard, durability, and other technical considerations.

Three of the Millennium Line stations designed by VIA – Rupert, Renfrew, and Commercial – featured wood beams as prominently visible structural members.  This choice was made for a variety of reasons:  to honor the historical context of the timber industry in British Columbia, to promote the use of new wood technologies, and to add warmth and richness to the visual environment of the station platforms.  In order to address the technical concerns associated with wood, three ‘rules of engagement’ were established to govern the appropriate use of wood: 1) that it be located out of the ‘touch zone’, or minimum 3 meters above the platform surface, to prevent vandalism; 2) that it be completely weather protected; and 3) that it be dimensionally stable, in this case through the use of glu-lam technology.

Photo Credit: Ed White

Design for Durability – Often the most underrated form of sustainable design, the specification of materials that are durable is essential to successful transit design.  Not only does this save long-term cost associated with ongoing replacement or refinishing but it also avoids the indirect costs associated with station closures and down-time due to maintenance activities.  The use of stainless steel for transit handrails, as well as precast concrete or stone stair treads, and porcelain tiles for platform and concourse pavers, are essential strategies in durable transit station design.

In summary, good sustainable design directly supports good transit design.  A robust integrated design process will reveal the opportunities for efficiencies and synergies between disciplines, resulting in both short and long term cost savings and economies of effort during design and construction.

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 strength and resolve, as well as appropriate built form and physical infrastructure.

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 is to share ownership as widely, rather than as narrowly, as possible. The third aspect is that the assets in commons are meant to be preserved regardless of their return of capital.” (Reference 1)Although commons can refer to any collective cultural asset, from an urban design perspective, the commons is associated with public space.Civic in character, the commons is used for a variety of community gatherings such as celebrations, or any other kind of event dedicated to public assembly and enjoyment.The traditional village green once served this function, and in a larger city, public squares, parks and streetscapes now also become the milieu for communal urban life.

(Photo Credit: VIA Architecture)

(Photo Credit: Berkeley image bank)

During my few days in Madison, the capitol grounds provided two excellent illustrations of the use of the commons as the spatial backdrop for collective expression.On a Friday evening, there was a gathering of protestors opposing provisions in the state’s Budget Repair Bill proposed to restrict public employee collective bargaining and address a state budget shortfall.This was one of a series of protests at the capitol that had occurred over the previous few months, and this particular evening’s gathering was peaceful, accompanied by significant police presence, and with the other activities of a Madison summer evening carrying on in the immediate surroundings.

(Photo Credit: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

The next morning at dawn, with no trace of the gathering of the prior evening, the Dane County Farmer’s Market was in full swing.Operating continuously since 1972, this market is the largest producer-only farmer’s venue in the country.Tents are set up around the entire perimeter of the capitol square, with so many customers each week that pedestrian flow operates in a counter-clockwise direction only.

(Photo Credit:

The demonstration of abundance in early June, in comparison to the products of our record-cool Northwest spring, was staggering.Madison is considered a national hot spot for farmer-chef connections and is the home of many restaurants notable for their celebration of local cuisine.With this kind of bounty outside their front doors, it is easy to see why:

(Photo Credit: VIA Architecture)

Among the keynote speakers at the Madison CNU gathering was Andreas Duany, one of the leaders of the New Urbanist philosophy. In his 2011 book on Agrarian Urbanism (Reference 2), Duany discusses some flaws associated with New Urbanism that have become apparent with the “diminished circumstances confronting the 21st century”.Among these is the assumption that social interaction would be based around retail shopping as leisure occupation, which has now been proven unsound as Americans readjust their priorities and adapt to a new economic reality.Duany proposes that the farmer’s market (resulting from surrounding agrarian activities) becomes the new urban condenser, and that societies coalesce around two major activities – the selling and exchange of food, and the community hall as gathering place.Madison provides an interesting demonstration of this approach; using the backbone of the civic space to support both the energy of the market and the passionate beliefs of its citizens.It is helpful to look to cities like Madison as precedents that demonstrate a more deeply rooted understanding of what the commons should be, rather than to models of newer development that often apply a ‘surface treatment’ of the commons by over-utilizing retail to simulate civic life.

We have written previously about the Transition Towns movement and the desire by many communities to rediscover the power of the collective.Madison is an inspiring model of a town that is using both its historic infrastructure and its present-day vitality to strengthen urban-rural connections and maintain the importance of its commons.As designers we can continue to be mindful of the importance of our public spaces, and to ensure that our community assets include well-designed, appealing and appropriately scaled gathering spaces that serve our civic needs and reinforce the sense of place that expresses our communities.

Reference 1:
Reference 2: “Theory & Practice of Agrarian Urbanism,” Andreas Duany and DPZ, 2011, The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment.

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 Housing Complex (Inhabitat)
This 11-unit apartment complex is made from 100% recycled steel and fully clad in greenery

Could you live in a 4-foot-wide home? (Apartment Therapy)
Even if your apartment is big, your building is likely only a few feet from the buildings next door. Most of us just walk right on by these gaps without a thought – but writer Etgar Keret noticed a four-foot-wide space in Warsaw, Poland and decided to build a home there.

Want to speed up your transit? (Planetizen)
Follow San Francisco’s lead and let your passengers enter any door they please, says Yonah Freemark. A pilot program on the J-Church line is testing out the idea.

Where in the World? A Google Earth Puzzle (The Atlantic)
Looking at the world through via Google Earth offers striking images of the diversity of our planet and the impact that humans have had on it. Today’s entry is a puzzle. We’re challenging you to figure out where in the world each of the images below is taken.

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”, or you can enjoy the cycle there and back, stunned by its lack of beating heart in its relentless cleverness.  At the end of nowhere – otherwise known as a crashed up building called Otellalet, was a pleasant café, where the resident hermits came to gather. The ideas are visible, give everyone the freedom of an outlook of endless open air, and we don’t need to walk past anyone as we are all virtually connected, just a click away.

Right away I THOUGHT I understood what I was seeing played out – the gulf between the generations.  Expressed in Osterbro’s repository of safe memories that appeals to the baby boomer generations; in contrast with Orestad’s cyber space of openness, a clear reflection of the younger generation breaking free from convention.  However, it was the young kids who were happily playing in Osterbro’s city centre streets.  And it was a retiree walking his dog along the canal bank, who told us how he loved living in Orestad, much more amenity that the suburb he came from and well served by the metro and the shopping mall for everything that he might need.

The commonality of both environments was that in both the car was “coped” with (and very expensively) – both are about qualities of amenity, that the in-between of the suburbs cannot address.

What was not apparent, from all the construction and renovation, is that all this is to accommodate a country with a shrinking population, not growth.  This is about choice, not necessity nor affordability.

In our corner of the world, accommodating 30% growth in 30 years with any measure of affordability is the primary challenge. And the new places at the edge must have the qualities of the centre.  So with our tightly constrained land base, I see Orestad and automatically in that emptiness of place, I  think of opportunity for urban infil.  However I am sure it would take a doubling of density to make a meaningful local impact – which I am also sure is not the expectation of the current residents. These are the subrubanites, now freed from the tyranny of their car.

So, with neighbourhood life held hostage within the fortress walls of the shopping palace, I guess that a century could pass before the energy will build for the regeneration that I might envisage. That is about the time a neighbourhood seems to go from ‘ordinary’ to ‘slum/wrong side of the tracks’, to ‘exclusive’.

That is also the time it took Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens to go from being a leftover portion of the City’s military ring of defensive moats and ramparts, to being the amusement park that you have to take your children to  (grandchildren for Jan Gehl).  Thinking that over, don’t highway cloverleafs just make you immediately think of future ice cream cones and candy floss!

(Remember – the goal of city building is for the cafe canopy to be in the right place).

Monday News Roundup

Aug 01, 2011

Here’s all of the great articles and interesting tidbits you missed last week!

Escape Roundup: Hip Hostels (Apartment Therapy)
These days, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a design-conscious hostel and budget-minded boutique hotel. Some places think of themselves as hostels, but call themselves hotels, while others call themselves hotels, but operate more like hostels. It’s all a matter of price and amenities…

Design:Made:Trade Round Up (Design Files)
Filling an important niche as Melbourne’s ‘indie’ trade show, D:M:T is always a mixed bag, and this year was no exception.

Wieden + Kennedy Portland Office (Wanken)
Impressive before and after photos of an abandoned-warehouse-turned-corporate-headquarters in Portland, OR. The massive office building holds several hundred employees and multiple organizations.

Urban Vitality + Mixed Use Dev’t (Sustainable Cities)
Mixed-use developments have been gaining ground as a successful planning design strategy to increase transportation options, revitalize local economies and enliven communities.

Solar Panels Have a Cooling Effect? (Inhabitat)
It turns out that solar panels can do more than provide you with renewable energy – they can significantly cut down the power needed to heat and cool your building as well.

Colorful Kuwait Hotel (Dwell)
The interior design of a Kuwait hotel gets seriously daring with the use of color.

Vancouver to End Homelessness (Planetizen)
The city of Vancouver is planning to offer more than $42 million in land and capital grants aimed at developing affordable housing. Its part of a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the city.

The Colour of Cities (Yurbanism)
I’ve noticed that various cities each have a unique colour palette that contributes to it’s underlying urban terroir. Here are the results for some major cities.

Considering a Car-Free LA (Planetizen)
After surviving Carmageddon, LA has caught a glimpse of the city with less traffic and carbon footprint and  it’s tempting to want to make it a sustained reality. A car-free California may be too ambitious and premature but it isn’t stopping some groups from initiating a movement.

What billionaires do when we’re not looking… (Inhabitat)What would you do if you were a billionaire? Buy an Aston Martin? Live on a private island? Cure world hunger? A mysterious billionaire from the United Arab Emirates has loftier ideas – literally. He has carved his name on an island near Abu Dhabi, and it is so large that it can be seen from space.

Monday News Roundup

Jul 25, 2011

Here’s what you missed out on last week!

Saying Goodbye to ‘Leave it to Beaver’ Urbanism? (Sustainable Cities Collective)
An exploratory tour of the iconic front yard and lawn. Long protected by cultural position -and zoning setbacks -is the classic Leave it to Beaver lot configuration really part of a sustainable future?

Cardboard bank in the Netherlands (Dezeen)
Amsterdam architects have created a bank using giant cylinders of cardboard and paper to enclose meeting rooms and multi-ply cardboard for textured patterns.

Urban farming in a box (Swiss Info)
Swiss entrepreneurs Urban Farmers are pushing the concept of local production and have come up with a pioneering solution to many of the problems of conventional farming methods.

How walkable is Seattle? (Seattle PI)
Walk Score just released its latest list of most-walkable cities in the nation, and Seattle made the top 10!

Law and Order and Parking Lots (Sightline)
In this post, we take a look at how Northwest municipalities deal with parking at drinking establishments. Who gets it wrong, and who gets it (almost) right?

When Design Kills: The criminalization of walking (Grist)
It’s a plain fact: When you design streets solely for cars, people die as a result. So why don’t we design streets for the reality of human needs and behavior?

Report: Centers, Cities, Clusters (Sustainable Cities)
This report focuses on sustainable economic development through case studies from Barcelona, Boston, and Curitiba highlighting innovative strategies for economic development in urban cores.

The Modern List Manhattan (Build LLC)
As an architectural laboratory and one of the greates social experiments ever conducted on earth, NYC is one of the best places for the design-minded to observe, research, and learn.

Retro Futuristic Space Colonies (Wanken)
A lot of great futuristic visualizations came out of the 1970’s including these brain warping space colonies that could accomodate up to 10,000 people.

VIA Vancouver Cycling Activities

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture

Bike to Work Week

This spring, VIA added a couple of extra bike racks to our storage space because of how many of us are cycling to work these days. Some of us are fair weather commuters, but we have a couple of die-hards in the office too. A couple of VIAites recently participated in Bike to Work Week. Collectively we logged almost 75km. Not bad considering us urbanites have pretty short commutes. However, we have a number of cyclists in the office who neglected to log their commutes despite the fact that they regularly ride to work (not naming names here – you know who you are!) Next time we’ll have to ramp up the VIA team spirit and show the city just how many bike commuters there really are around here!

Ride to Conquer Cancer

A few weeks ago, two VIAites participated in this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer, an annual fundraising ride from Vancouver to Seattle supporting the BC Cancer Foundation. This year’s ride was the largest in history, with over 2800 cyclists who raised over 11 million dollars!

The cold, wet spring we’ve been having continued, making the 240km a truly epic endurance event. Cycling for two days in the rain required as much mental endurance as it did physical. It was all worthwhile when we arrived at the campsite on Saturday to hot showers (and cold beer!). The festive atmosphere was truly amazing.

Getting back in the saddle at 7am on Sunday morning was pretty tough, but the rain provided motivation to get to the finish line and we kept up a pretty strong pace for most of the day. Crossing the finish line sure felt great!

DVA cycling forum

On behalf of the Downtown Vancouver Association, VIA has been instrumental in organising a DVA forum on cycling in the downtown called The Business of Biking. Presentations by the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and the BC Food and Restaurateurs’ Association addressed the new role that cyclists are playing in the economic development of the downtown core.

Monday News Roundup

Jul 11, 2011

Interesting news and articles you may have missed last week:

Polish Pop-Up Hotel Made of Recycled Materials (Inhabitat)
Architects Jerzy Wozniak and Pawel Garus decided to solve their city’s sold-out hotel problems by creating a pop-up hotel in an unoccupied apartment building. On a very tight budget, the team created Quotel, a comfortable temporary hotel, using inexpensive furniture and recycled elements.

Sustainable architecture in the Americas (Guardian)
From Rio to Cupertino, cities across the Americas are waking up to the benefits of sustainable design.

Bikes of Amsterdam by Charles Siegel (Preservation Institute)
This post is dedicated to all the Americans who have told me that most people can never bicycle, because (1) you cannot carry your groceries home on a bicycle, and (2) you cannot chauffeur children around on a bicycle… These pictures of bicycles in Amsterdam may open their eyes.

An edgy yet cozy urban garden (Remodelista)
In her outdoor compositions (or “3-D collages”), Beth Mullins uses alternative materials mixed with textural plant combinations to create evocative vignettes. We especially like this rooftop garden in San Francisco, where Mullins uses layering techniques to make the most out of a small space.

Thoughts on Blue Urbanism (Design Observer)
As planners and designers, we need to take up the mantle of blue urbanism. Just as green urbanism challenges us to rethink sustainability at the city scale, blue urbanism asks us to re-imagine ourselves as citizens of a blue planet. How can we become better stewards of the world’s oceans?

Cities and Suburbs as New Economic Generators (The Atlantic)
In the wake of recession, cities and suburbs are being knit into giant city-states, with millions of people and billions — even trillions — of dollars of business.

A House That’s Business in Front, A Party in Back (FastCo Design)
One one side, you’ve got exotic foliage sprouting wildly off a curving facade; on the other, a wall of flat, symmetrical windows that could pass for the front of an office building. We like to think of the place as the architectural equivalent of a mullet.

Transportation Reauthorization Plan Revealed (Infrastructurist)
John Mica, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, rolled out a proposal that would authorize $230 billion for transportation infrastructure spending over six years.

VIA Architecture is pleased to announce the formal roll-out of its Community Design Studio (CDS). Informally conceived in 2009 as an initiative to serve smaller-scale, yet equally visionary projects that have not been traditionally taken on by architecture firms, we are ready to introduce this approach to a broader audience.

VIA has built its reputation on integrated architectural design and community planning over a period of 26+ years, and we are perhaps best known for our large-scale projects such as the various phases of Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, the Seattle Monorail Project, and master planning for communities as diverse as Southeast False Creek, Bremerton, Kelowna and Tacoma. Yet quietly in the background, we have long served community groups, non-profits, and other smaller clients with thoughtful, crafted responses to much more humble needs. It is this work that we are now bringing to the forefront.

We are inspired by the growing interest locally and globally in urban agriculture, homesteading, community-shared resources, the revival of practical skills and preservation. Simultaneously, we are aware of communities across the country that are, in some measure, fragmented or even broken due to social, economic and environmental factors such as missing infrastructure, unequal access to food and outdated regulations. We recognize the great potential to address these issues in profound ways through small-scale, hands-on design approaches that can have a powerful cumulative effect.

Our focus with the CDS will be issues of applied craft, community resilience, planning and design for food production, and other problems where we can be of direct assistance to improving the quality of life for our clients. Our work seeks to restore and reinvigorate communities through thoughtful, practical and cooperative solutions around food, mobility and open space.

The CDS consists of architects and community planners within the VIA team who share a passion for helping to create connective communities that are resilient and thriving. The team is led by Catherine Calvert, VIA’s Director of Community Sustainability, who brings a background of not only architecture and sustainability work, but specialized training in areas such as Farm Design and Permaculture.

Our services include:

  • Integrated design and planning for small-scale residential, commercial and institutional projects in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • Visualization and early design services for agriculture-focused site planning and building projects, both urban and rural.
  • Education around issues of strategic sustainability, local resilience and design for self-sufficiency.
  • Resolution of regulatory barriers to community-based projects.
  • Facilitation of community discussions or workshops.

To date we have worked on a variety of projects in the Seattle area, including:

Rainier Vista Community Farm – VIA has been assisting Common Ground in the design of shelters made from salvage materials.

Atlantic City Urban Farm – VIA has been working with Seattle Tilth and the Friends of the Atlantic City Nursery on site planning concepts for conversion of the former Seattle Parks nursery to a new urban farm.

Spectrum School Farm – VIA provided early site design concepts for a one-acre farm on the campus of the North Kitsap High School, designed to support the school science curriculum and provide food for the school kitchen

Finn River Cidery in Chimacum WA – VIA is working with this 33-acre organic farm on site planning concepts, as well as the design of the Chum Hut, a shelter for educational gatherings adjacent to the salmon-bearing Chimacum Creek that runs through the property.

Our projects are both urban and rural in location, serving the Puget Sound and Fraser Valley regions to date but with the potential to expand beyond these areas to wherever we can be of assistance.

VIA has been actively interested in the topics of food security, planning for agriculture, and issues around integrating art and agriculture in urban areas. See our previous blog posts on these topics: