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by Kate Howe, Director + Lead Planner, VIA Architecture

BIKELANEAt the start of 2014, the sharp criticisms of one state agency against another made California planning headlines. The State Smart Transportation Committee (SSTI), in a report to the legislature, called out Caltrans as “archaic,” incapable of adapting to a changing transportation environment, and lacking resources needed to lead in the modern, post-Interstate building era. The report enumerated the problem with a Caltrans which is at direct odds with other statewide agendas to promote smart growth, sustainability, and reduced GHG emissions through SB 375. A culture change is in order.

Taking the report at face value and diving into the wake it opened up, Caltrans’ Director, Malcolm Dougherty, together with the Leadership of Transportation Secretary, Brian Kelly, is leading a swift response.  A new mission statement published in February redirects the agency from that of “master builder” of roads and highways to an emphasis on its role as a partner within the context of an integrated and mature transportation system.  The intention is to allow for better collaboration with “self-help” counties who bring a large share of local dollars to the table for infrastructure projects, as well as a major policy realignment toward all forms of transport, that brings the department up to date. In the end, perhaps it might look more like San Francisco’s SFMTA Department of Sustainable Streets, as statewide Complete Streets in chief.

Dougherty’s comments given Tuesday at UC Berkeley, that “land use matters,” reflect the inner struggle of an agency now looking to apply better understanding of context.   One of the recommended early steps in the SSTI report is the full implementation of the 2010 Smart Mobility Framework – a plan to better link transportation design with existing community patterns, using performance criteria and a “place type” framework (such as main streets, downtowns, or office campus) to guide decision making. Another initiative underway is to transfer multi-modal and bike/ped projects away from their former status as “special projects” requiring expensive design exceptions, toward their own set of design standards and procedures.  To this end,  just last week Caltrans adopted NACTO’s best practice Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guidelines as a ready-to-go alternative for metropolitan areas. (Caltrans is the third to adopt the standards, after Washington DOT).

For those of us working in urban sustainability, it is all good news, and changes can’t come fast enough. One last big planning policy shift is on the horizon: Caltrans, in collaboration with the CA Office of Planning and Research, must also coordinate on rule-making to implement the 2013 passage of SB 743. This bill removes auto “level of service” as a criteria for CEQA analysis in infill areas. In the most simple terms, SB 743 shifts the public concern in an environmental review from vehicular “delay” to thinking instead about performance, i.e. the overall number of trips a project might create, with an accounting for which mode it best supports (e.g. car, bike, transit or walking). Still, the measures are undefined; we are all looking forward to seeing how it comes out this year in July.

Graham McGarva, Founding Principal of VIA Architecture, will be speaking at Cascadia Cities: Then + Now which is presented in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute’s The Cascadia Experience: Behind the Emerald Curtain event, exploring the unique market drivers that shape the cities of Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. The lunch program takes place Tuesday, 08 April 2014, from 12:30 – 2 pm at the Grand Hyatt in Seattle, WA.

Graham will be presenting the Vancouver perspective, alongside a panel that includes former Mayor of Seattle Norm Rice, and Scott Andrews of Melvin Mark in Portland. His presentation will include a recount of the history of Vancouver, the successes it has seen along the way—including the advent of the pencil tower, the planning and development of the False Creek area, and growth of regional transit—as well as current issues, and what the city faces in the future.

The program will cover how the geographic, cultural, economic, and environmental elements of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada have yielded unique communities. For more information visit

ANNOUNCEMENTSFVIA is thrilled to bring our practice in planning, architecture, and transit systems design to the Bay Area. For 30 years, we have focused on creating sustainable communities, with a collaborative approach that yields meaningful solutions.

We are also pleased to announce the hire of director Jeff Stahl, AIA, who brings more than 25 years of experience, focused on transportation, commercial, housing/mixed-use, and academic projects in Northern California. Jeff joins director Kate Howe, AICP to manage our Bay Area team.

Our new office is located at 525 Brannan Street, Suite 406 in San Francisco. We look forward to bringing our passion for connected communities to California.

Help Build a Mobile Parklet!

To celebrate VIA’s office on the move, we are contributing to Out of Site Youth Arts Center’s Mobile Parklet!

Please join us today in making a donation on Crowdrise to ensure tools get into the hands of high-schoolers for a spring break devoted to community building.

By Kate Howe, Director + Lead Planner, VIA Architecture
Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Northern News: A Publication of the Northern Section of the California Chapter of APA

If you’ve strolled down San Francisco’s Market Street this past winter, you may have noticed something new jutting up from the sidewalk at Market and Yerba Buena Lane — a set of eight-foot-tall parabolic concrete disks positioned next to a mysterious “singing bench.” The instillation is the result of a joint project between the Yerba Buena Community Benefits District, the Exploratorium, and the City. As the first “Living Innovation Zone,” or LIZ, these paired discs are the Exploratorium’s “whispering dishes” — now a popular public exhibit for unscripted play, learning, and conversation. If you whisper into one dish, another person can hear you loud and clear at the other, 50 feet away. You might want to stop, explore, and teach someone else how to use them.


Initiated by the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation and the San Francisco Planning Department, the program is intended to create a pathway for the experimental — to activate public space, foster learning, and showcase innovation. As Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer for Mayor Ed Lee commented, “San Francisco is the innovation capital of the world, but you wouldn’t know it from just walking the city’s streets. We are creating a way for the City to showcase the explosion of creativity — design, arts, and technology innovations that are currently pouring out of San Francisco.”

To meet that goal, the program has several complementary objectives. The first is the idea that LIZ interventions should delight and engage the public by addressing a specific community-identified need. (Unlike the popular Parklet program, no sponsorship from a fronting property owner or tenant is required). The second objective is to provide a temporary platform for emerging technologies to pilot new ways of improving the public realm. This, in effect, takes the City’s “open data” initiative to the next level.

With these efforts, San Francisco hopes to improve how we use the city itself; and as an economic development initiative, LIZ might help experimental projects compete more quickly in the market. For example, the installation at Yerba Buena Lane includes a technology component to help city planners understand the social use of public space. By tracking people’s movements anonymously with cell phone signals, planners can now for the first time get a sense of how people are using the space, i.e., how many stop, where they go, and for how long.

The last program objective is perhaps more nuanced but is also highly valuable. Citywide Planner Paul Chasan points out that LIZ offers a lower stakes, temporary place for “government learning.” In the three month window in which the LIZ was designed, permitted, and constructed, over 60 people were involved with the project, including staff at the Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office, Department of Public Works, Public Utilities Commission, Municipal Transportation Agency, The Mayor’s Office on Disability, and architectural consultants, as well as private sector partners.


For anyone with experience working on projects with the City of San Francisco, to move anything ahead in this incredibly short period of time can be a trial. However, LIZ helps to encourage dynamism, and in so doing enriches and builds internal relationships. The LIZ team worked to imagine a different response to typical constraints — and allowed staff the ability to engage with notions of adaptability, flexibility, and building trust.

The City isn’t sure what’s next for LIZ, but we aren’t worried. The projects themselves are only temporary interventions. Nine more are slated for Market Street, the idea being to continue to provide support, reduce barriers, and highlight innovative thinkers. We hope to see the City continue moving the principles of open government into — and onto — the street.  anything ahead in this incredibly short period of time can be a trial. However, LIZ helps to encourage dynamism, and in so doing enriches and builds internal relationships. The LIZ team worked to imagine a different response to typical constraints — and allowed staff the ability to engage with notions of adaptability, flexibility, and building trust.

By Catherine Calvert, Director
VIA Architecture

In December, the American Institute of Architects announced that its Gold Medal will be awarded to Julia Morgan in recognition of her contribution to the profession. This is the first time in the 70-year history of this award that a female architect has been chosen for the honor:

“The Board of Directors of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted today to posthumously award the 2014 AIA Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, FAIA, whose extensive body of work has served as an inspiration to several generations of architects.

The AIA Gold Medal, voted on annually, is considered to be the profession’s highest honor that an individual can receive. The Gold Medal honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Morgan’s legacy will be honored at the AIA 2014 National Convention and Design Exposition in Chicago.

Morgan, who died in 1957, won a litany of firsts she used to establish a new precedent for greatness. A building technology expert that was professionally adopted by some of the most powerful post-Gilded age patrons imaginable, Morgan practiced for nearly 50 years and designed more than 700 buildings of almost every type, including houses, churches, hotels, commercial buildings, and museums.”

See full announcement here.

In my junior year of high school at San Francisco’s University High School, I attended a talk by the author Sara Holmes Boutelle, who was in the area researching buildings designed by the architect Julia Morgan. As it turns out, the oldest part of our school, located at 3065 Jackson Street, was an undiscovered Morgan building.

3065 Jackson Street

3065 Jackson Street, San Francisco — image copyright Google

Until that time I had just thought of it as a gorgeous old structure, U-shaped and opening onto a south-facing courtyard, with giant interior transom windows above all the classroom doors and flooded constantly with sunlight:

3065 Jackson Street

3065 Jackson Street Courtyard: Image copyright SFUHS

Classroom interior

Classroom interior: image copyright

As an aspiring architect at the time, learning about Julia Morgan’s career and the beauty of her work made a strong impression on me. Ms. Boutelle is credited with rediscovering Morgan and creating the definitive monograph on her work: “Julia Morgan, Architect,” published in 1988 by Abbeville Press, is a lush visual love letter that exhaustively documents the breadth of Morgan’s portfolio:

Morgan was a reclusive and prolific genius who destroyed all her records prior to her death; she had great skepticism for publicity-seeking architects, leaving a legacy of buildings that had to be rediscovered in order to be recognized. Although Morgan’s Hearst Castle project at San Simeon is best known and most closely associated with her historicist style, she was incredibly skilled at creating great small institutional projects such as this building on Jackson Street. These are projects that make great “background architecture” – humble, yet sensitive in scale to their urban context, gracious with their internal spaces, and carefully detailed from a technical and craftsmanship perspective.

Julia Morgan (1872 – 1957) was the first woman to graduate from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (1902) the first to be licensed to practice architecture in California and, along with Louise Bethune, was one of the first female architects in the United States. Both of these women were told that they could not become architects and persevered despite overwhelming resistance from our still male-dominated profession – even today, less than a quarter of registered architects in the US are women:

View the ArchDaily Women in Architecture infographic here

VIA strongly supports AIA’s recognition of Julia Morgan for the 2014 Gold Medal – well done.

Click image for more information on Aegis events


Today was the grand opening for Joseph Arnold Lofts, affectionately called The Joe, or JOLO.  Located just a few blocks from the waterfront and the Olympic Sculpture Park, Joseph Arnold Lofts is a 13-story multi-family apartment building with great views and even better amenities. Residential units are designed to feel like lofts, with wide open floor plans and bedroom walls that don’t quite reach the ceiling.


The VIA & SCOX Architect Team with Mark Schuster

With 132 apartment units, JOLO is the first Green Globe certified residential high-rise in downtown Seattle – recently receiving three out of four green globes for sustainable design elements. Some of the other interesting features of the building and our work on it include:

  • Maximizes sites value and establishes its own identify within the neighborhood with pre-cast concrete on the exterior
  • Extensive green roof with amenity spaces up high to take advantage of surrounding views
  • Use of a variable refrigerant HVAC system to minimize energy use
  • Water and energy conversation measures
  • First architects to have to respond to changes in the fire code and how they apply to elevators
  • Modular approach to kitchen and bathroom design, which provides for flexibility and differentiation between unit types
  • Straight-forward industrial aesthetic of the building, which creates exposed systems and enhanced access for maintenance
  • Phase permitting to allow for early start of excavation

Please enjoy this brief photo tour of The Joe:


Joseph Arnold Lofts


Concrete Entry Hall


Generous Amenity Space


Generous Amenity Space with Kitchen


Rooftop Deck with Beautiful Puget Sound Views


Comfortable Lobby with Green Wall


Model Unit Living Room


Beautiful Views from a Corner Unit


Gorgeous Views of Downtown Seattle and Puget Sound from the Joseph Arnold Lofts

Images courtesy of Turner Construction and VIA

This year, both our VIA Seattle and Vancouver offices celebrated PARK(ing) Day – an annual worldwide event that that focuses on elevating the use of urban public space by transforming metered parking spaces into public parklets.

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The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space and to generate critical debate about the nature and role of streets in the public realm. In addition to being a fun community event, PARK(ing) Day challenges existing ideas about the use of public urban space and empowers community groups and other participants to help redefine space to reflect local needs and values.

For us at VIA, PARK(ing) Day is a great excuse to add to this dialogue and to work toward our goal of creating quality urban spaces. For this year’s event, the VIA team volunteered time to design and set up two parklets in front of our Seattle and Vancouver offices in order to create great (albeit temporary) urban spaces and to cultivate a fun and memorable urban experience for participants and passers-by.   Both parklets were focused on the idea of play and included space for social interaction, refuge and respite.  We worked to partner with local businesses and used almost exclusively recycled or reclaimed materials in our parklet designs.














VIA Seattle Parklet (7th Ave & Olive Way)

The Seattle parklet, a small court for lawn games, was focused on creating a space for play. Located adjacent to our neighbors on street level, Café Senso Unico, the Italian sport of bocce ball was a natural fit. Using pallets donated from local businesses, we built a low fence to demarcate the temporary space. Astroturf, already destined for the landfill, was given a brief stay of execution and provided our playfield. Small “plaza” spaces were created using pavers donated by Mutual Materials, which provided a setting for café tables and chairs on loan from Café Senso and allowed the coffee shop to expand their lounging space onto the street. The parklet served as the setting for an informal inter-VIA bocce tournament as well as a site for informal meetings, sipping coffee and even an impromptu picnic. Passers-by were invited to participate in the games and to spend time lounging in the outdoor café space.









VIA Vancouver Parklet (1050 Homer Street) 

The design of the Vancouver parklet also explored the concept of “playing in the street”. We chose to enhance the street by extending the zone of pedestrian activity beyond the curb, highlighting the multimodal nature of streets and their potential for connecting communities. We invited ZipCar to display one of their car-share Mini Coopers in our installation and to publicize the results of a recent study[1] finding that “each carshare vehicle removes 9-13 vehicles from the road.” Shipping pallets served as curb-level flooring and defined the edges of the park. Movable furniture allowed for flexibility in the space and temporarily donated potted plants provided a touch of nature.  The design included a canopy of umbrellas, inspired by street cover in Barcelona and translated to fit our Northwest climate.

Both parklets were successful in transforming our adjacent streetscapes into enjoyable public spaces and facilitating a fun afternoon of playing in the street.  VIA looks forward to PARK(ing) Day 2014!

Official PARK(ing) Day website

SDOT PARK(ing) Day website

Vancouver Public Space Network


[1] Martin E., Shahee S., Lidicker J. University of California Berkeley 2010. “Impact of Carsharing on Household Vehicle Holdings” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Volume 2143/2010. 

ParkingDayPoster v3

Join VIA this Friday, September 20th as both of our offices celebrate PARK(ing) Day 2013.

Vancouver Location1050 Homer Street

Join VIA Vancouver from 10am – 4pm for games, yoga, and a BBQ.

Seattle Locationcorner of 7th Avenue and Olive Way

Join VIA Seattle from 10am – 2pm for a rousing round of bocce.

For a complete map of all Park(ing) Day sites within Seattle, please see:



Providing temporary public open space . . . one parking spot at at time.

PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!

For more information on PARK(ing) Day, please visit