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Monday News Roundup

Oct 04, 2010

UBC researcher expresses streetcar desires (Vancouver Courier)
Silas Archambault, who studied the Olympic streetcar line for his master’s thesis in community and regional planning at UBC, said streetcars not only shape how neighbourhoods develop, but they also appeal to riders who might not catch a bus.

Building on Strengths (Planetizen)
In Lowell, Massachusetts, planner Jeff Speck painted a picture for locals of a transformed city that capitalizes on the strengths of the city to move forward with a greater vision.

Metro Rail: The Solution for India? (The City Fix)
According to Parisar, an environmental organization that works on sustainable development with a focus on urban transport, India is expected to spend 40 billion dollars in metro rail over the next 10 years.

A competition to transform 9,600 aging buildings (GOOD)
Metropolis magazine’s Next Generation competition is an annual showcase of bright ideas from emerging designers focused on a major sustainability challenge.

Fascinating slideshow of various landscapes (particularly sprawl) shot from a helicopter (Infrastructurist)
The New York Times Opinionator blog has a fascinating slideshow of the work of Christoph Gielen, a German-born photographer who has been shooting various landscapes — particularly, sprawl — from a helicopter for the past five years.

A free sparkling water fountain in Paris (GOOD)
The average person in France consumes about 40 gallons of bottled water each year. That means they’re buying and throwing away a lot of plastic. But what’s the alternative when they demand sparking water?

Cambridge parking tickets get yogic redesign (GOOD)
This fall, the city printed 40,000 tickets that feature “citation salutations“—illustrations of calming yoga poses for the driver and the parking enforcement officer to do together.

Two block diet turns Vancouver neighbours into urban villagers (Vancouver Sun)
Neighbours Kate Sutherland and Julia Hilton have hatched a mini-revolution that has transformed two blocks of east Vancouver into a true urban village.

Struggles for Olympic Village low-income housing (Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city will proceed, if necessary, to find operators for social housing units at the Olympic village without the logistical assistance of the province.

Why is Portland so much cooler than Seattle? (PubliCola)
That is, of course, not an original observation, and if you’re among the throngs who are similarly puzzled, there’s an event this Friday evening that you ought not to miss. Alex Steffen’s sustainability non-profit Worldchanging is hosting a fundraiser, starring the mayors of Portland and Seattle, details here.

Saving shrinking cities (Huffington Post)
Now comes the ‘theory’ that the salvation of distressed cities is to once again ‘shrink,’ as if shrinking had been tried before and succeeded somewhere but who knows where.

Can anyone point to one city, just one, where any of these ‘renewal’ schemes have worked to regenerate, rather than further erode, a city? Just one. No theory please; just real on the ground success.

Map of commuting made worse by sprawl (GOOD)
Americans spend many hours in traffic each year, slowly crawling between work and home. And while most commutes are unpleasant, some are far more congested. Why? A new study by CEOs for Cities has found that what creates traffic jams isn’t more cars and fewer highways. It’s sprawl. This is a look at the 10 metropolitan areas whose citizens spend the most and least extra time in traffic due to sprawl.

Who are you and what do you do? I am the first Canadian born (Calgary) in our family who emigrated from Scotland. I live in Squamish with my partner, Ernie, and 2 dogs. I am an intern architect.

What made you decide to go into your field? It was a matter of finding what seemed to be the right fit…and came down to a choice between music and architecture. I had a Fine Arts degree but Architecture had the potential of satisfying my urge to sculpt spaces that have a positive impact on people in their daily lives… and it appeared to embody other interests of mine as well.

What did your family think of your chosen field? Mixed. My father was a physician who saw architecture as art (not good) and thought it was something I should do ‘on the side’! His opinion changed over time.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why? I think the most memorable one was my grade 4/5 teacher. While she was big on discipline, she had a big heart and brought creativity and music to the classroom, and got our classroom connected with one in Australia. We would send tapes back and forth of music, readings etc. We learned to knit [something resembling] squares for a quilt we donated to the red cross. She was inspiring in how she got us working together and connected with strangers. She also had a great sense of humour.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.) My biggest hurdle was finding confidence to present my ideas and avoiding the cinnamon buns at Yum Yums.

What inspires you? Beauty, music, travel, great architecture, good stories, going on wilderness adventures, good company, belly laughs, being on the water in some form and really good food!

What schooling is required for success in your career? A degree in Architecture, and perseverance to get through registration exams.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes? Depends how you define success. I see successful architects being those who demonstrate innovation, are inspiring, team people, good leaders and listeners, have a good sense of humour, among other attributes!

What is the best advice you were ever given? It comes from a quote by Goethe.. in which (in short), he says that it’s not until one is fully committed that providence moves…

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?) So long as people need places, buildings age, a community’s needs change and there are people with a commitment and passion, there is room for new entries.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Go for it! You never know what doors will open up for you.

by Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture

This was the first year that I had enough advanced notice (thanks to a little thing called social media a.k.a. Facebook) to attend Seattle’s annual PARK(ing) Day.

Originally started in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco design studio, this open source global event has been catching on like wild fire – PARK(ing) Day is now being held in 140 cities, throughout 21 countries, and across 6 continents. I figured that there had to be something to this so two of my coworkers and I trekked down to Pioneer Square on our lunch break to check out a couple of Seattle’s many transformed metered parking spaces.

Our first stop was at Yesler Way & Western Ave to see Miller/Hull’s ‘parking space gone salsa dancing’. Salsa dancing in a parking spot? Absolutely! It really didn’t take much to transform two traditional 9′ x 18′ parking spaces into a dance floor. The local architecture firm laid down some recycled cardboard for the ‘floor’ and piled up old car tires at each end to make ‘chairs’ and then the dancing began. Granted, the city’s best salsa dancers weren’t flocking here to show off their newest moves but there was one couple brave enough to break the ice.

While we didn’t stick around to see who else would join in, I was quite confident that some positive peer pressure would lull more dancers onto the floor if for no other reason than to say they had danced in the street. Who wouldn’t want to have those bragging rights?

Miller/Hull’s PARK(ing) space at Yesler Way & Western Ave reprogrammed for salsa dancing.

Our next stop was a little deeper into the heart of Pioneer Square, on the southeast corner of Occidental Ave, where Olson Kundig Architects rolled out the grass and put up benches for a little sketch fun. Had the sun decided to grace us with her presence, we might have seen a good number of Seattleites lounging on their extra long post demolition benches, soaking up some rays. However, even without the sun, there were at least 15-20 people milling around and a steady trickle of passer-bys coming over to check out this rare sight.

Just to throw in a little extra fun, the architecture firm set-up a brass symbol with a string running up six floors to their office windows where free sketches, upon request, would periodically come zipping down. While we chatted with the firm’s youngest employees, waiting for the signatory ping from the brass symbol to notify us that our sketch had arrived, I realized just how surreal the situation was. We were comfortably occupying a space that has traditionally been established as a ‘no-go zone’ for humans, where I would normally feel uncomfortable even standing there to hold the space while my husband circled the block with the car. This small act of putting down some grass and benches somehow renegotiated the relationship between building, sidewalk, and street.

Olson Kundig Architect’s PARK(ing) space on the southeast corner of Occidental Ave (left) and our free sketch of ‘a group of architects’ (right).

This phenomenon of temporarily transforming parking spaces into mini-parks may sound peculiar but what an absolutely fantastic way to reprogram the prolific 9′ x 18′ space that happens to occur throughout our entire city. It begs the question, what would it feel like if an entire Seattle city street like 1st Ave or Pike Street had all its metered parking spots reprogrammed for a day? What if an entire street was dedicated to open space and people? Well then we would have Seattle’s first walking street. Imagine that.

Last week, four teams presented their qualifications for the redesign of the Seattle Central Waterfront in front of more than 1,200 people.

As one of the firms on the MVVA team, we don’t want to add much commentary before the project is awarded, but we wanted to post these two video links on-line because we think that people might find them interesting:

Video of Ken Greenberg walking through the Lower Don Lands

Video of MVVA discussing material reuse at Brooklyn Bridge Park

(Also, if you are looking for books about any of the leaders of the four finalist teams, you should go to Peter Miller Books!)

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Richard Borbridge, and I make great places. In some circles they call that an ‘urban designer’, my paperwork says ‘city planner’.

What made you decide to go into your field?
Lego, SimCity, a failed week of electrical engineering, a year in Europe and a preference for the issues of people over plants.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
I grew up in a “you can do anything you put your mind to” kind of home. I think meat packing might have been off the table, and professional sports were unlikely in any case.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Sheri Blake helped me redefine community – introduced me to participatory design process and showed me the vital potential of empowering consultation. Ted McLaughlin transformed sustainability from a buzzword into a worldview.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Two hours of sleep every Tuesday morning – the day the newspaper went to press. History class is a blur, but I learned everything I know about Adobe Creative Suite between midnight and 3 am.

What inspires you?
Consensus, sunny sidewalks, desire lines, little old buildings on big ol’ streets.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
First – Planning, in my mind, is a generalist’s domain, and I love that any wacky bachelor’s degree – and a passion for cities – gives you the educational foot in the door. There are few if any accredited undergrad planning programmes left, so a Master’s in Planning will pull it all together and aim you toward a professional career.

Second –Urban design is a bit more muddy. Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners, among others, all intersect in the urban design oeuvre, so there are a lot of paths to choose. For me, it started with an undergrad in Environmental Design. The important thing is a grounding in “design thinking” (and drawing and writing and math) so you can communicate with all these perspectives. The cachet of “planner as urban designer” is in bridging the architects, policy-oriented planners, developers and politicians with the community that the designs ultimately serve.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
It all depends how you define success. Good draw-ers, good speakers, good listeners. The great thing about planning is that you don’t even have to be a planner to have a great influence on the field – software engineers, journalists, activists and cyclists can all make great urbanists.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Don’t stop believing.

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Planning is at the forefront of the emerging enthusiasm for sustainability, so cities are recognizing the value of investing in strong, progressive plans and generally open to good ideas. The long-term perspectives and relatively low cost of doing planning means it doesn’t get hit as hard with the rise and fall of the economy and often plays catch-up when people can’t afford to build. Demographically, there’s also a generation gap within governments that will need filling too.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Draw a lot. A picture is worth 1000 words and no one has the patience to read that anymore. Read more. You can’t think of all the great ideas yourself, and we’re going to need them. Make great places.

How to bike in a city that’s built for cars

by Jen Kelly, Business Development Coordinator (and blogger at New Pioneer Square)

Yesterday, I attended zipcar’s “low car diet” ceremony to kick off living car free. At the end of the event, I handed over my car keys (or rather, the “token” car key they handed me) to Council member Mike O’Brien.

(he left his pants rolled up throughout the ceremony…he must be a true biker)

I am a resident of Pioneer Square — hands down the easiest neighborhood to be without a car. Not only do we have light rail, the free bus zone, the water taxi, bike paths, and the ability to walk to downtown neighborhoods, but we will also soon be getting the streetcar.

Although I work only two underground tunnel bus stops from where I live, starting this low car diet has inspired me to give biking in the city a try.

I have the bike, a helmet, a lock, a bell, and plan on buying saddlebags, and other great bicycle accessories. One big problem: I’m absolutely terrified of biking in downtown Seattle. 

Most bikers that I see in the city not only wear great looking spandex, but seem to be fairly aggressive and comfortable weaving in and around cars. That doesn’t even start to get into the animosity that seems to exist between bikers and car drivers.

As PubliCola’s BikeNerd put it, I’m a biker, not a cyclist.

My only previous experience of biking in a city happened when I lived in Holland, which I can only refer to as bike heaven. The bike paths are super flat, are very clearly marked with signs and colored pavement, there are tons of bike racks (see below), and there are so many fietspaden that are like “bike superhighways” — they are separated from the road with arterial paths that feed into them, and you almost feel like you’re out in nature, and not riding parallel to roads in the city.

I think this awesome time lapse video of an intersection in Utrecht says it all:

So how do you bike in a city that’s built for cars? 

It’s not like I’m expecting Seattle to magically become their own version of Holland’s bike heaven, because there are just too many challenges (read: hills). But it would be great for the city to set up a better infrastructure for “bikers,” and to help newbies like me feel more comfortable biking next to cars.

Someday soon, I hope to have a post on my first downtown bike ride and even though I will not wear spandex (unless going to an 80′s party), I hope that cars will remember that not every biker on the road is experienced. And if it made a difference, I for one, would not be ashamed to attach a neon sign to my bike labeled “student biker.” At least then drivers might be patient when I forget to bend my arm the right way, bike in the wrong lane, or end up on the sidewalk.

Friday Feature: Angie

Sep 10, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
Angie Tomisser, Interior Designer

What made you decide to go into your field?
Looking back, I see that I had a love for interiors from a young age. I would scavenge the house for odds and ends to use as furnishings for my Barbie house. I would deconstruct toothpaste boxes and reconstruct them back into a sofa. Pizza box stands became end tables. I spent more time working on my Barbie environment than I did playing with the dolls.

As I got older I struggled with the decision of what to do with my life, attending college with no real direction. I originally planned on majoring in business, then switched to radiology. Both of which I believed would bring me great riches, but I soon came to realize that neither were a good fit.

Many of my Satruday mornings were spent at a book store surrounded by design books. Though I greatly enjoyed my weekend ritual, interior design never seemed to be a realistic option…surely not one you would study in school.

At that time, I was still seeing advertisements on television where Sally Struthers would pedal her “as-seen on tv interior design certificate” which made the profession seem like a joke, not to be taken seriously. Lucky for me, my husband had been looking into architecture schools and come across some very professional interior design programs. He suggested that we look into it, and we did…here I am.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
As with most people, interior design is thought to be decorating. My grandmother was very excited that I would be able to help her select new curtains for her bathroom!

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
My third year studio instructor made the greatest impact on me. Our first assignment was to take a famous person and design a restaurant based on their personality. I was given the famous product designer Karim Rashid. It was in this studio that I first began to think about space a three dimensional object and not just a room with four walls. My instructor was severe…but forced us to push boundaries that we hadn’t know existed.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
My mother passed away from cancer the year before I started design school. It required that I drop in and out of school for two semesters, ending in a permanent withdraw. Design school was just the fresh start that I needed.

What inspires you? 
Many things…art, food, people. Magazines, history, music.

What schooling is required for success in your career? 
Currently anyone can call themselves an interior designer, with or without schooling. In my opinion, as interior design can have a significant impact on the built environment, it is imperative to have at least a bachelors degree, followed by on the job training, and certification.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field?
Are there any specific attributes? Still finding that out…will let you know.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Critical path…don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture, work with what is in front of you first.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?) 
I think the profession of interior design has come along way, but has an even longer way to go. There is a strong movement within the design community that wants to elevate the professional requirements needed to call yourself an interior designer. Things like educational requirements, experience, and testing. None of which is currently required but highly needed.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours? 
I would suggest that someone interested in this field intern at a few design firms before starting school – to see if they really like it. Design school was rough – you want to make sure you love this field before you take that path.

Monday News Roundup

Sep 07, 2010
Monday News Roundup

high-rise staples (Swiss Miss)

Seattle Waterfront Proposals Presented September 15th
(note: we’re on MVVA’s team for the waterfront)
With all the disagreement about how to replace (or not) the viaduct’s car capacity, there’s been very little discussion of what the waterfront will actually look like. The entire purpose of burying the freeway, after all, is to create a wonderful urban space.Luckily, that’s about to change, as Seattle has chosen four architects (out of 30 applicants) to present their visions to the public.

Straightforward Street Art Makes the Case for Cycling (GOOD)
You just have to click the link to see the art. Safe to say I would buy a t-shirt with this on it.

Victoria to focus on new urban villages (Times Colonist
Victoria residents made it clear they want more village centres like the one on Cook Street in Fairfield.

Killing me slowly: the health and emotional toll of long commutes (Sightline)
If all commutes can kill, at least I’ll go down with the wind in my hair, a smile on my face, and feeling fit and energized (and smug, apparently).

Bike lane good for business? (Straight)
Hornby bike lane will get more people “spending more money” downtown, VACC says

Job creation through smart land use + transportation (Switchboard NRDC)
The nation’s workforce has an important stake in smart, environmentally sound development and transportation. At a time when unemployment has reached disturbing levels, public policy should take advantage of the job-creation benefits of a robust agenda for smart, sustainable communities.

Time to prime downtown Tacoma (The Olympian)
While the economy has private development in the deep freeze, Tacoma should make good on what it has promised for downtown and get ready for the thaw.

The Waterhouse at South Bund by NHDRO (dezeen)
Chinese architects NHDRO have transformed a disused Japanese army headquarters in Shanghai into a hotel, maintaining the building’s stripped concrete and brick walls while adding a new Corten steel extension on the roof.

Cloudscapes by Tetsuo Kondo Architects and Transsolar (dezeen)
Venice Architecture Biennale 2010: Japanese studio Tetsuo Kondo Architects and environmental engineering firm Transsolar have suspended a cloud inside the Arsenale exhibition space at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

sneak peek: ulrica wihlborg (design sponge)
ulrica wihlborg and her husband craig forrest live with their two sons, axel, 3, and gustav, 1, in los angeles but for five weeks every summer, they escape to ulrica’s homecountry of sweden to this beautiful property in the southern town of esseboda.

Friday Feature: Peg

Sep 03, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m me. I do what I can.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Dr. Charles Young, who taught Architectural History and was the pre-Architecture advisor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When he asked me why I wanted to pursue architecture, I didn’t have a clear answer – it was just an instinct, blind faith and curiosity. But he gave me a direction – a direction of inquiry and geography – and told me to head west, because that’s where things were happening. (With the support of my husband, I took that advice. Here I am.)

What inspires you?
Sunshine, a breath of clear air, smiling people; the unending potentiality of possibility.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
There are various paths, but I did a four-year BA in Communications and Business before taking the professional MArch program at UBC, which took me another four years. Then the internship ordeal, which took another few years. And then there’s the professional development seminars –(will it ever end!?)

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Give your best. Never settle.

Did you always want to be in this field or did you have other career aspirations growing up?
I didn’t discover architecture until the summer after my freshman year at university. Previously, I thought I wanted to be an animator, a journalist, or an entrepreneur. My high school Lit class thought I’d end up a flautist.

What made you decide to go into your field?
It’s all my little brother’s fault. He thought he wanted to be an architect, so he, my father and I went over to a local architect’s house to find out more. He talked to us about the significance of spaces and the influence they have on our lives – even the arrangement of rooms in a home. Something in my head switched on, and the world suddenly made a little more sense to me. I went back to college in the fall curious about something that had previously been only on the edge of my awareness. I started exploring, and haven’t stopped.

(My brother abandoned that particular ambition when he found out how many art classes were involved. He’s a statistician now.)

What did your family think of your chosen field?
My family was completely encouraging and supportive, my parents especially, who took my advisor’s advice “Go travel” seriously enough to send me on a 3-week Art and Architecture course to Italy the very next January.

Were there any projects during your academic or professional career that really influenced you or had a large impact on you either positively or negatively? Please explain.
Maybe it’s the one I failed. One term I went to Athens and Cairo. Things never really came together for me in the Athens studio course. It taught me hard lessons about fear, self-consciousness, clarity of expression, asking for help, and that it doesn’t have to be hard – what seems obvious to you is probably new and interesting to everyone else.

Did you have to write a thesis? What did you write about and why?
My thesis project was on the communicative power of architecture in a shifting paradigm of sustainability, focusing on a study of the neighbourhoods of New Gourna, Egypt, Levittown, USA, and East Clayton, Surrey – and developing a live-work environment in East Clayton, Surrey.

What part of your field interests you most?
Architecture is a world of constantly changing collaboration – large changes born of new ideas and technologies as well as small changes that redirect collaborative effort. It really appeals to my revisionist tendencies.

What keeps you motivated in your field?
The guarantee that I’m going to learn something new today. And that today is not yesterday, and tomorrow won’t be today.

Co-operative, eh?

Aug 26, 2010
Co-operative, eh?

by Jen Kenefick, VIA Architecture

I decided that I would write a little blog about co-operative housing mainly as a fact finding exercise because it is a type of housing and way of living that I know little about.

From what I can gather, co-ops are quite prevalent here in Canada and in Northern Europe and they do exist in Ireland (where I’m from), although they are not particularly common there. When I asked my housemates (also Irish) what they thought about co-ops, they didn’t know what I was talking about. Another Irish friend asked if it had something to do with social housing.

One of the main problems I had in understanding the concept of co-operatives is where they differ from social housing. Are all co-operatives government assisted to some degree? Are all the residents in receipt of government help of some kind? Why would someone choose to live in a co-op if one could afford to buy privately? Another big one was if you don’t actually own the property, when it comes to selling up, how do you make a return or profit on your investment? After all, owning your home yields potentially the biggest source of investment return you can get.

While my initial thought was that co-op was just another term for social housing, after some reading, I now know that not to be the case. There seems to be many different types of co-op housing, not-for-profit, market rate etc. Many require a small amount of investment from a member initially, which you get back should you move out and for which you pay a reduced rent (usually based on your income). Some require you to buy in at a % of the market value, after which if you decide to leave, you receive back the same % at the current market value, hence a return on your investment.

I wonder if it is fair to say that most co-ops receive government help financially, at least for the initial building stage? If not, who pays for the actual building costs, if members only pay a deposit for example? I understand that co-ops built here in the last 20-30 years were government funded and many came with a condition of mixed income residents. I do understand that you do not have to be in need of financial help to live in a co-op, but the attributes of some (small deposit, subsidised rent etc) might lead one to think otherwise.

I get that people live in co-ops out of choice, not out of necessity, which seems to be the major difference between co-ops and social housing. Living in a co-operative can bring a sense of community and belonging to the residents, as everyone has a say in how their community is managed.

If co-operative housing is partly about a way of living and about community (as well as affordable accommodation), a housing project that springs to mind that maybe takes that concept a step further in terms of a way of living is the BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development) in London. It is a sustainable live/work community where the residents enjoy a high quality of life, while working together to reduce their environmental impact. The community comprises 50% housing for sale, 25% key worker shared ownership and 25% social housing for rent. While the project was privately funded, its residents choose to live in that environment and work together to sustain that way of life.

After my ‘extensive’ research into the subject and the very informative series of articles in the Tyee, I feel I definitely have a much better understanding and appreciation for the co-op housing model. I won’t attempt to understand all the different types and rules that go with them and I still find it hard to grasp the idea that if you sell up, in some situations you will not make a profit on your investment. Perhaps this comes from growing up in Celtic Tiger Ireland!