October 9, 2018

Why Everyone Should Consider Building an ADU

The Wedge ADU in Portland, OR designed by Propel Studio Architecture. 

Across America, cities and towns are facing rapidly rising housing prices that outpace increases in salaries. This is causing a housing crisis where the average person can't afford to own a home and sometimes can't even find affordable rental units. This is a huge issue here in Portland, Oregon and the government and many passionate citizens are trying to develop solutions. Sometimes this comes in the form of publicly subsidized affordable housing, yet there is also a movement to address this through market rate solutions in the form of Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs.

ADUs, sometimes called laneway housing, granny flats, DADUs, backyard cottages, and many other terms, is a small secondary house built on the property of a typical single family house. Although each jurisdiction that allows these housing types has different rules and regulations, for the most part they all lead to the same end result - more housing options in our neighborhoods while preserving neighborhood character. They add density in a sensitive way while giving homeowners the potential for rental income, and renters an affordable housing type in neighborhoods throughout the city.

There are three primary uses for ADUs. Many people build them to downsize their life. Perhaps their kids have left the house and they no longer need as much space. Adding an ADU in the backyard can be a great way to downsize your living space while renting out the main house to a new family to grow in. Another common use is for aging family members. Often ADUs are built for barrier free living and Accessibility for aging-in-place or multi-generations living together on a shared property. The third primary use is as a rental unit, either long-term rental or short-term (think Airbnb). For this last use, the benefit is that the ADU can provide additional income and help cover mortgage payments. This can help people afford to stay in their homes as costs increase, or allow young families to be able to afford buying a home in the first place.

ADUs are not allowed in all jurisdictions although they are growing in popularity and most cities and towns are considering ways to allow them within their codes and regulations. In Portland, ADUs are limited to 800sf in size and 20' in height. The goal being to keep the accessory dwelling a bit smaller than the main house. This still is enough space to have a very nice 1 to 2 bedroom unit. Within this size limitation, there are endless options and creative design solutions to make these projects wonderful places to live.

One of the firms that specializes in creative ADU design is Propel Studio Architecture - www.propelstudio.com. They have designed more than 50 ADUs over the past 5 years and have become experts in designing creative small scale housing that still becomes a great place to call home. They love this project type because it addresses so many of the issues facing our cities - they increase density, they are small and efficient homes and are inherently sustainable, they provide supplemental income to homeowners often preventing displacement and allowing people to stay in their homes, and they are fast paced design projects that allow for creativity and experimentation.

Interior view of The Screen ADU, in Portland, OR designed by Propel Studio Architecture. 
Propel Studio also offers resources for anyone interested in adding an ADU to their property. On their website they have a whole section dedicated to Accessory Dwelling Units, answering many of the common questions like cost of construction, how long it takes to design and build an ADU, and design regulations that affect these project. We highly recommend you check out their resources if you are considering an ADU project for your property: https://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/ 

Although ADUs are small projects, they are still complicated and need a close attention to detail to make them successful. This is another reason why reaching out to an experienced design team is important to achieve a great ADU. Fitting all the parts of a full house in an 800sf size is challenging and needs some creative space planning. Propel Studio has many examples of ADU designs, floor plans, and other info on their website that can help inform your thoughts as you consider adding an ADU to your property. They also offer free consultations in the Portland area if you would like to sit down with one of their designers and talk through your thoughts and ideas.

Rendering of a modern ADU in Portland, Oregon designed by Propel Studio. 
ADUs can come in a variety of styles to fit your needs, taste, and the context in which they are built. Some places have restrictions on what they can look like, but for the most part ADU designs can be traditional, modern, or any look that you would like. The options are endless and they can be custom designed to address your unique lifestyle and tastes. If you are considering an ADU, we strongly urge that you reach out to a talented design team to help guide you through the design, permitting and construction process.

December 4, 2017

David Hammons, Chang Yung Ho, Yona Friedman, and others gather at the 2017 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture in Shenzhen to discuss “Cities, Grow in Difference”

December 4, 2017, Shenzhen

The Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB), the only exhibition in the world to explore issues of urbanization and architectural development, will be opening for its 7th edition on December 15th, 2017. UABB will be held at Nantou Old Town in Nanshan district, an urban village that was once the administrative center of the Bao'An County. Hou Hanru, Liu Xiaodu, and Meng Yan (in alphabetic order) make up the curatorial team, all known for notable accomplishments in their respective fields. UABB is thrilled to host more than 200 award-winning exhibitors from 25 countries to share their perspectives on diversity and urban villages at this year’s biennale. 

Exploring Integrated Diversity in the Urban Context

Cities, Grow in Difference, organized into three sections, will represent the interpretation of Chinese/global urbanization and the future prospects of cities. Shenzhen’s urban villages are a combination of top-down urban planning and bottom-up spontaneous growth, making up 45% of the population while occupying only 16.7% of the space. Cities, Grow in Difference seeks to embrace diversity at different levels of society while resisting cultural centralism by creating alternatives to mandatory planning. UABB’s main venue is Nantou Old Town, an urban village that embodies the past and present, East and West. The exhibition will be spread throughout the community of Nantou, creating an interactive experience for locals and visitors alike. UABB is both an exhibition of the urban site witnessing the most dramatic urbanization in the 20th and 21st centuries.

This year UABB will be partnering with architects, artists, and designers to share their thoughts about urban culture through its first ever art exhibition. UABB 2017 aims to gain examples of urban development in Shenzhen and create a broadened discussion of urban issues. Despite the distinctive venue and topics, this year's biennale is only not restricted to discussions of urban villages in China, but it also serves as an opportunity to experience resistance and find alternatives to mandatory planning. 

Two Worlds Collide: Architecture and Art Connoisseurs Gather at UABB 2017

Under the theme of Cities, Grow in Difference, there will be three sections to provide context, real examples, and interventions to further understand and improve quality of urban villages in China. The first section World | South, curated by Liu Xiaodu, will provide a background for the theme Cities, Grow in Difference. To share a spectrum of perspectives on the relationship between geographical space and urban development, World | South will present the Southern world from dimensions of natural evolution, historical change, geopolitical shift, and world development. It will also explore local-global governmental dynamics and its effect in modern society. This section features Chinese architect Liu Jia Kun whose works have been featured in Germany, France, and Italy.

The City | Village section is curated by Meng Yan and will detail the situation of China’s urban villages. Urban | Village consists of four sections: the Archive, featuring architectural photographer Zhang Chao, who has been featured in multiple international magazines, present the origin and development of urban villages; the Armoury details archived cases and proposals; with Iranian-American architect Nader Tehrani alongside Dutch architecture team MVRDV who will exhibit The Why Factory installation. UABB’s premier curator Chang Yung Ho will also be working to make Nantou a cultural stop for the future.

The Art Making Cities marks UABB’s first ever art exhibition, directed by co-curator Hou Hanru, and opening new grounds in the art design world. Art Making Cities explores the unorthodox city-making approaches and its effects on villages. A series of urban art intervention projects will be conducted by exhibitors who have organised their own social experiments: World War II survivor Yona Friedman, will be arriving for his first time to Shenzhen; David Hammons, known as one of the most expensive artists in the world, will be joining UABB for his passion in social issues; Cinthia Marcelle, will bring her award-winning pieces to interpret urban villages; Brazilia artists Boa Mistura will colour the streets of Nantou, while Tatzu Nishi will transform it as he has done with landmarks in Manhattan and Amsterdam.

Rejuvenation and Preservation Intertwine at Nantou Old Town

Experiencing immense pressure from rapid urban growth, the urban village of Nantou underwent spontaneous development due to its historical legacy and local policies. In a rush to meet growing housing demands, villagers built higher levels atop the regulated two-storied residential buildings resulting in high-density blocks of “hand-shaking towers” in the urban village. This presents local governments with a dilemma between protecting historical heritage and renovating to improve quality of life. Refurbishing the venue according to villagers’ feedback serves as an alternative to the demolition old spaces. The exhibition will place art works throughout the village, including lanterns and plants, to create a spontaneous atmosphere for the space. UABB’s design team hopes that their efforts of art and architecture in the venue will help to reestablish opportunities for Nantou Old Town. 

UABB History: Past, Present, Future

Initiated in 2005 by Shenzhen and later co-organized by the two neighboring and closely interacting cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, UABB situates itself within the regional context of the rapidly urbanizing PRD. Curated by China’s “Father of Architecture” Zhang Yung Ho, the first UABB was themed “City, Open Door!”. Since then, UABB has gathered crowds from all over the world, making it an internationally acclaimed event. 2007’s edition was themed “City of Expression and Regeneration” and was curated by Qingyun Ma. As UABB moved from passive observation to active intervention, 2009 was themed “City Mobilisation” and was curated by Ou Ning. Terence Riley was the first non-Chinese curator for UABB in 2011 and curated it under the theme “Architecture creates Cities. Cities create Architecture”. The 2013 exhibition themed"Urban Border" curated by Ole Bouman, Xingning Li, and Jeffrey Johnson explored the distinctions between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, the biennale transformed two neglected industrial sites in the Shekou. 2015 had Aaron Betsky, Alfredo Brillembourg, Hubert Klumpner, and Doreen Heng Liu guiding the biennale under the theme “Re-living the city”. This year, the curatorial team will lead UABB 2017 to greater heights under the theme of Cities, Grow in Difference.

The Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture 2017 (Shenzhen)
December 15, 2017
Nantou Old Town, Shenzhen

November 21, 2017

VIDEO: Starship Chicago | The State of Illinois Center by Architect Helmut Jahn

Architect Helmut Jahn’s kaleidoscopic, controversial State of Illinois Center in Chicago, which shocked the world when it opened in 1985, may not be long for this world. Today the building is a run down rusty shadow of its former self, occupying a lucrative downtown block and deemed expendable by the cash-strapped state legislature. Despite initial construction flaws and hefty refurbishment costs, this singular architectural vision of an open, accessible, and inspiring civic building—defined by its iconic, soaring atrium--remains intact. Four years after the stinging loss of brutalist icon Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago preservationists, along with the building’s original champion, Governor James R. Thompson, are gearing up for a major battle to save the city’s most provocative architectural statement.

November 18, 2017

Portland Design Events Launches Lecture Series

Portland Design Events Lecture Series

PORTLAND, OR – On a typically cold and rainy November evening, Portland Design Events launched its inaugural lecture series event, Designing for Change, featuring Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects from San Francisco, with an introductory lecture by local architect Amanda Petretti founder of Studio Petretti Architecture.

Portland Design Events is proud to launch this new initiative - a quarterly lecture series, bringing innovative designers from around the world to share their work and process with the Portland, Oregon community. Presentations will range on a variety of topics/interest, with this first lecture focusing on resiliency and equity with LMS Architects. Each lecture will also highlight a local emerging designer, giving them an audience to share their work.

A sold-out event crowd of 175 filled the Ziba Auditorium on November 16, 2017, beginning with a social hour with food and beverages provided by Portland-based Matta Turkish Cuisine.

As guests took their seats, Lucas Gray – co-organizer of the lecture series and founder of Propel Studio and talkitect.com – introduced opening speaker Amanda Petretti of Studio Petretti Architecture. Amanda inspired the audience with examples of her work and philosophy of balancing small and large scale projects.

Michael Norton of Presenting Sponsor Jeld-Wen introduced the evening’s headlining presenters - William Leddy, Marsha Maytum, and Richard Stacy, principals of San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.

The LMS Architects principals, winners of the 2017 AIA Firm of the Year Award, spoke at length of examples of their work illustrating how architecture can help lead the way toward a just, healthy, and regenerative future for all. Examples of their work included education-based projects including UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, and the very recently completed San Francisco Art Institute at Fort Mason Center.

The lecture continued with Maytum and Stacy highlighting their Sweetwater Spectrum Community and Plaza Apartments housing projects. Maytum and Leddy closed the lecture with inspiring stories behind their North Beach Branch Library and Ed Roberts Campus projects – a wrap up that drew cheers and applause from the audience before an inspiring session of questions and answers from the crowd.

The event was filmed and will be available to view on Portland Design Events shortly. Additionally, the event was the first of what will become a quarterly lecture series, continuing in Spring 2018. For more information and updates, please visit portlanddesign.org.

Presenting Sponsor:

Energy Trust of Oregon
Propel Studio
Arbuckle Industries
Architecture Videography Academy
Matta Turkish Cuisine


About Portland Design Events
Portland Design Events is the premier website for finding and sharing architecture and design-related events in Portland, Oregon. We are a master calendar, posting and actively sharing events for dozens of local organizations and individuals through our website, weekly email digests, and social media channels. Our mission is to make it easy for members of our community to find and participate in conversations about the impact of design in our everyday lives.

About Studio Petretti Architecture
Studio Petretti Architecture is a design-driven office focused on thoughtfulness of execution, service, and sustainability. With an extensive background working on significant projects for public and private clients, we embrace opportunities to develop simple, elegant solutions to complex design problems. Our staff experience is fresh and comprehensive across all phases of design and construction. We have led projects large and small, including spaces for higher education, civic engagement, multi-family housing, and creative office use.

About Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
LMS Architects is a teaching practice committed to developing complete, well-rounded architects, leaders in the profession and effective global citizens. Recognizing no distinction between design and the other elements of practice, we encourage staff to become skilled professionals within an open office environment that promotes an educational transparency of purpose, process and action.

All images by Carlos Camarena

October 7, 2017

VIDEO: Camp MINOH designed by William Kaven Architecture

Portland, Oregon - William Kaven Architecture presents Camp MINOH, a short film unveiling the site and surroundings of a rural family retreat located on Lake Michigan. The two-minute film visually explores Camp MINOH in the context of Michigan’s rugged terrain, diverse weather systems, and supernatural winter shores - juxtaposing detailed material studies of the structure’s polished finishes against the powerful forces of the massive lake.

The film is the 3rd installment of William Kaven’s “Modern Condition” film series, which Kaven says was “born from our desire to communicate our design aesthetic in a much more experiential manner. Too often architecture is relegated to static images, even though the inherent art of architecture is three-dimensional and fluid. In film, one can hear and move from one space to the other, which is much more like living and breathing in a space.”

Located near Charlevoix on the shores of Lake Michigan, CAMP MINOH embodies the rugged ethos of Midwestern life. A legacy of French trappers, Ojibwa Indians, Chicago mobsters, and even Ernest Hemingway adds to the diverse heritage of the site. Nestled among the pine and birch trees, Camp Minoh is positioned to face the strong winter winds that head south across the lake from the Upper Peninsula and Canada.

Designed as a refuge for extended family gatherings, the interior plays between solid and open spaces. The ground floor acts as the main gathering space, with a long linear connected floor plan. Formal polished concrete floors and rugged exposed Doug Fir beams make up the ceiling while a dark and rich palette further anchors the space. The upper floor uses light-reflective oak accents, creating an intentional contrast between the harbored ground floor below. A cantilevered living section and framing views of the lake add to this concept of airiness, serving to connect the interior space with the dramatic exterior environment.

About William Kaven Architecture:
William Kaven Architecture is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Portland, Oregon, working in architecture and interiors. The studio was officially formed by brothers Daniel Kaven and Trevor William Lewis in 2004, continuing a lifetime of collaboration that began as children in their home state of New Mexico. Collectively, the brothers have amassed a significant portfolio in their design careers that includes award-winning residences, energy-efficient high-rise buildings, mixed-use buildings, and environments for corporate clients such as Nike, Converse, Microsoft, and NAU.

Learn more about their work here: http://www.williamkaven.com

June 15, 2017

Continuing Education: Mass Timber Construction

Portland, Oregon is leading the country in designing innovative buildings with mass timber. We currently have the tallest wood building in USA in Carbon 12, designed by Path Architecture, which is 8 stories and about 85' tall. However, this record won't last long as another Portland firm, Lever Architecture, recently received the permit to start construction on the first high-rise wood building, called Framework.

Being based in Portland, I'm familiar with both of these projects and was excited to see one of them, along with Albina Yard, a local low-rise CLT project, being used as a case study in a Continuing Education course through Architectural Record.

Continuing Education: Mass Timber Construction

Although only four stories tall, Albina Yard, a spec office building, stands out among its one- and two-story neighbors in the scrappy residential and commercial district in north Portland, Oregon. Looking up from the street through the horizontal bands of the glass facade, the ceilings of each level—planes of warm Douglas fir—are visible. These elements are not just finish material but the building’s exposed floor plate. Designed by Portland’s LEVER Architecture, Albina Yard, completed in 2016, is one of a handful of buildings in the U.S. constructed using a mass-timber structural system.

The divide between the new office building and its grittier context is bridged by the architect’s use of understated formal moves and a humble material palette. The scale of the street elevation is modulated and delineated in a subtle dance of cantilevers. The second story projects straight out to form a shallow protected zone over the storefront at the ground-floor retail space. The facades of the third and fourth floors twist a few degrees off the grid in opposite directions. The effect is like a stack of books slightly askew. Dark corrugated-metal siding, which clads the side walls and other opaque parts of the building, complements the nearly complete two-story office annex (also designed by LEVER) made of shipping containers and located in the rear courtyard of the L-shaped lot.

Although timber-framed construction has been around for thousands of years, mass timber is a more contemporary spinoff. Instead of solid wood beams and columns made from large trees, mass-timber frames incorporate engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), and nail laminated timber (NLT). Such components bind together small wood elements to form strong structural units.

To Continue Reading the article and to earn CE credits follow this link: http://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/12757-continuing-education-mass-timber-construction

March 17, 2017

Why Architects should consider the use of steam energy on their next building

By Lucas Gray
In 2015, about 40% of total U.S. energy consumption was consumed in buildings. A large percentage of that energy use was for heating. Architects have a tremendous opportunity to dramatically impact our societal energy consumption by designing buildings that are more efficient. One strategy to achieve this is to look at systems on a much larger scale. Rather than thinking about one building at a time, district or city-wide heating systems could quickly and cheaply increase the efficiency of buildings, saving money and resources, and better addressing climate change.

One strategy to consider when designing a new building in a major city is to consider utilizing steam to heat the building. Cities like New York, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, Houston, Los Angeles, St-Louis, Denver and others have central steam plants which can be routed to individual projects. City-wide, or district-wide systems can be more efficient and affordable than having individual furnaces and heating systems in each building. Using steam along with a technology called a Vertical Flooded Heat Exchanger, has many design advantages including not needing chimneys and vents - saving space within the building on top of the energy savings. 

Cities aren't the only places you can find steam systems available. Major hospitals, big university campuses, and other institutions often have steam available on site. It is also worth considering this sort of shared system when designing and building larger scale projects, corporate campuses, new urban districts or neighborhood developments. It is important to consider this sort of technology early on in the planning phases of larger scale developments. 

Using a vertical flooded steam heat exchanger is basically using a Steam Fired Boiler - heating a complete hot water or glycol loop with high pressure steam instead of using natural gas or oil. This is a great way to move away from carbon based heating systems.

There are many advantages to using high pressure steam and a vertical flooded heat exchanger including the following:
  • Takes up to 40% less space in the mechanical room
  • The unit is built with a high pressure ASME stamp to avoid the need for a steam pressure safety valve, meaning no need for a safety vent to the roof or exterior wall.
  • The vertical flooded steam heat exchanger design (VFSHTD), does not require any condensate pump, again there is no need for a vent to the roof or exterior wall for the flash tank.
  • Because there is no combustion, there is no chimney and no gas vents needed on the exterior
  • LEED Credits: Central Steam is most often produced by burning natural gas to generate electric power through a steam turbine or gas turbine. It is a relatively green energy and qualifies for LEED points.
  • The VFSHTD requires much less maintenance that conventional steam heat exchanger designs.
  • Steam is very reliable. In particular, if there is a steam leak it is relatively safe on not considered an emergency. You can continue to run the building heat or domestic hot water system and wait for the next scheduled shut down. 
  • Because the flooding design works at a constant steam pressure, they don’t need any vacuum breaker. Meaning that they don’t inject O2 in the condensate return time, resulting in about 5 times less corrosion than a conventional design.
  • It requires much less maintenance than a natural gas boiler or domestic heater
  • EPA Rules: The Environmental Protection Agency has been increasing regulations for air pollution control. Major cities and universities are required to produce air pollution reports for every chimney they have, including smaller ones. This mean more tasks for facility managers. With a chimney free design, this can save a lot of time and money.
By integrating a steam energy system, an architect can deliver a better looking building with less demand on access to the facade or roof, saving space with a smaller mechanical room to produce building heat, and offering a system that requires less steam to do the same job, with lower maintenance than conventional steam system design. Architects often look to design their buildings with minimal interuptions on the facade and don't want to have exposed mechanical units on the roof. Utilizing a shared steam system would be a great opportunity to increase the freedom for design expression. 

Maxi-Therm offers a complete solution with easy start-up and shut-down sequencing, web access to the control panel, thus offering immediate assistance, complete custom made skid packages which are easy to install, energy savings and a complete technical support for engineers and building owners.

To learn more about Maxi-Therm’s Vertical Flooded Steam Heat Exchanger visit: www.maxi-therm.net or call (514) 351-1001

March 10, 2017

9/11 15 Years Later - Global Memorial Visions for a Global Event

In 2003, a global competition was held to design the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan – 5,201 entries from 60+ countries from architects, artists and inspired amateurs. Each entry was photographed and put into an online archive, where they exist today: http://www.wtcsitememorial.org/submissions.html .
Until 2011, no one since the jury had ever explored these ideas. I became curious, searching for memorial ideas beyond traditional greyscale structures with water, flowers and trees. After more than 7 months of review, I narrowed it down to a few hundred. They were colorful; they were “powered by” technology, they engaged and involved visitors in unique ways, a few categories that later became the book chapters.
They just made me more curious: Why did these people believe a memorial should be dramatically different? How did they come up with these designs? Was it something about 9/11? I decided to ask them…
Four years searching and interviewing enabled me to learn their stories and compile them into a book. It was a soulful journey. Some people had died and I wound up talking to family and friends. Some people I never found. Very few did not want to be involved.
So a few examples to whet your curiosity...
Stuart Math told me his inspiration was something that focused on “people, not murders” with memory represented as “ephemeral, not concrete.” Stuart’s design envisions a means for a visitor to select a victim’s name and then…
“…reads the name into a microphone…software randomly plays back the recorded names...At the same time the name is being played back, the name is highlighted on…computer monitors (as if lighting a candle). The audio is processed on playback so the playback sounds like a whisper.”
Ehren Joseph envisioned lighted vertical beacons to represent the dead, the colored lights for each being unique through their “Southern Blot DNA patterns”, using red, white and blue glass lights:
The idea mainly came from his work with the victim’s families, knowing that DNA patterns were being used to identify remains. He and they struggled with “how could they create memories” if there were no remains.
Perhaps even more interesting, Ehren told me that his family came from Iraq and he was fascinated by the use of mathematical constructs in Islamic art – the DNA patterns are similar…
Christopher Wright’s design features a “people-powered turntable” engaged by visitors to symbolize working together for “peace, hope and progress – the opposite of terrorism, grief and loss.”

“The memorial is…a symbolic tool for changing the world – pointing out that each individual plays a role in determining the direction of the world.”
My editor asked me to write an “ending” – asking “what did you learn?” Thinking about my journey, I wrote that these creative responses to 9/11 were wrestling with a few basic questions:
  • What is a memorial for?
  • Who is a memorial for?
  • What about 9/11 required a different kind of memorial?
  • What will (or should) 9/11 mean in 10 years, 50 years or more?

The 15th anniversary calls us to continue the dialogue.

February 20, 2017

Where We Stand: AIA Statement on Immigration and Travel Restrictions

As discussion on immigration continues, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) today joins with many American businesses, industries and universities in calling for fair and impartial immigration policies, and in expressing deep concern about policies that restrict immigration from specific countries or regions based on overly broad factors, including religion.

“Beyond the essential considerations of fairness and equity, restrictions targeting specific areas of the world can have profoundly negative business impacts,” said AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA. “Professional service exports are a key contributor to AIA member firms and their earnings. In fact, the entire international building development, design and construction sector relies heavily on reciprocal treatment and on the fair and ethical ability to travel, reside and work across national boundaries.”

In addition to the need for regular legal travel by employees, clients and associates, many American architecture firms—like other industries and businesses—must be able to attract and retain qualified, skilled people from other countries in order to remain competitive. Targeted immigration restrictions, particularly when applied unfairly and without warning, can thwart recruiting efforts. They can also greatly inhibit business activity.

Finally, unilateral travel restrictions can damage the future of many professions, from medicine to architecture. In higher education, international students and faculty are essential to the future of our profession. The AIA also participates in international professional bodies which sponsor programs and activities that rely on the necessary movement of all parties.

The following statistics further support AIA’s concern about the impact any newly imposed immigration or travel restrictions will have on the broader design and construction industry:
  • Immigrant labor accounts for 23% of the total construction workforce in the U.S. (Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, American Community Survey.)
  • In 2015, billings by U.S. architectural firms for international projects totaled $1.6 billion. Projects in Middle East countries accounted for 18% of those billings. (Source: AIA Firm Survey Report, 2015.)
  • Half of U.S. large architectural firms have offices in the Middle East/North Africa, which is the largest reported share of international offices. (Source: AIA Firm Survey, 2015.)
  • In the 2014-2015 school year, 4,283 architecture students at accredited programs were nonresident aliens. This represents 18 percent of the total—up from 6 percent in 2009. (source: NAAB annual report)
  • In 2015, 889 of the 6,348 total degrees (14 percent) were awarded to nonresident aliens. (source: NAAB annual report)
  • The AIA has 1,538 members licensed outside U.S. (887 International; 651 within U.S.).

The AIA stands for values and principles that promote free movement and association. Our profession, like the entire building industry, benefits from the contributions of immigrants and others outside of the United States, and from visa and immigration policies that are uniform, transparent, fair and free from arbitrary implementation.

About The American Institute of ArchitectsFounded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects consistently work to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through nearly 300 state and local chapters, the AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. The AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. Visit www.aia.org.

August 30, 2016

Portland Zoning Code Limits Affordability, Diversity and Design freedom

Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism. 
-Anthony Flint 

 Despite the best intentions and goals of zoning codes for cities in general and Portland in particular, it is clear that our current code is grossly complex, beneficial only for a few at the expense of the many, bogging down the permitting process, and vastly increasing the cost of new construction (making it impossible to build affordable homes without government subsidies, in a time of an affordable housing crisis). The purpose of codes should be to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Our current zoning code goes so far beyond those simple straightforward goals that it is a burdensome rule book without much benefit to the city or it’s residents. It often has racist roots, implemented to prevent certain people from living in certain neighborhoods, or creating land values that keeps the wealthy and low-income residents separated. Our zoning code is broken and not enough people are talking about ways to fix it.

 To address some of these issues, I believe we need to review our existing zoning code and streamline it significantly. It has to be easy to read and easy to understand for everyone - not just trained architects and the code reviewers in the Bureau of Development services. Even these “experts” are often wrong when interpreting the code or have different interpretations, further muddying the permitting process and giving people wrong or misleading information. When multiple people in the city permitting office interpret the rules differently something is terribly wrong.

Our zoning needs to be simple, clear, concise and be based on common sense, not layers of rules that have changed over time, adding more and more restrictions on what people can build. The majority of our existing building stock wouldn’t even meet our current zoning requirements. Most importantly, it needs to be universally applied in all neighborhoods and districts across the city. We don’t need any special neighborhoods and confusing overlays, rather we need one rule book for the entire city.

An example of the absurdity of our current rules is the small part of the zoning code that guides the design and construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). These code requirements don’t focus on health and safety of the building, but rather dictates what the building should look like - forcing designers to match the style of the existing house (regardless of the design quality of that house). This has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the health, safety or welfare of the public, and it actively prohibits property owners from designing and building a project that meets their stylistic preferences. It puts the desire of NIMBYism and the status quo over that of individual choice and innovation. This not only stifles creativity but also lengthens the review process and thus cost of projects for no beneficial reason. There is absolutely no legitimate reason that the zoning code should dictate the size or shape of a window, the siding material, the slope of a roof, trim size, etc. I could somewhat understand limitations on size, height and building within a property setback, but dictating style is just plane wrong.

Even property setbacks have questionable value. Yes, you could argue that they might prevent the spread of fire, or solar access for each property, or views. However, they also waste the usability of a vast area of land within our city. And by dictating minimum and maximum front setbacks the city limits the ability to create innovative new property layouts. Why does the house have to be in the middle of the property with both front and back yards? What if a property owner wanted to build a house against the rear setback (perhaps along an alley) and have a larger front yard for gardening or creating a green break in the street front? Would this be bad for their neighbors? Or conversely, why can’t we build right up to the front property line, where the spread of fire isn’t an issue? This would allow for larger contiguous backyards. It would also limit the distance we need to run plumbing pipes, electrical wires, driveways and other infrastructure. Even a savings of 10 feet, when multiplied by the thousands of houses built in the city would be a huge savings of cost and resources. This would also create a more European street feel where the sidewalks and building edges create an urban street that tends to be focused on pedestrians, rather than setback houses with driveways and garage doors more typically reminiscent of suburban developments. I would argue that Portland has too much of the latter and not enough of the former within the Urban Growth Boundary.

Further complicating the zoning code impact on our city is the ability for each neighborhood or some developments to impose further regulations as an overlay above and beyond regulations imposed by the city. Again, this limits an individual's right to use their property as they like. I had a client who wanted to build an ADU only to find out that the neighborhood where her parent’s property was and where the ADU was going to be built, had a rule against detached ADUs. This unnecessary regulation prevented her from building an affordable home for herself near her aging parents. Who does this benefit? Why does the city allow or support these sorts of cumbersome rules? It is clearly a case of wealthy individuals trying to prevent change and limit who and what can be built in their neighborhood. It is a restrictive rule that limits affordability, equity and freedom.

In a city with an urban growth boundary and a growing population it is ethically questionable to enforce single family residential zones, particularly R7, R10 and even R5 within the UGB. You can’t have a sustainable and affordable city without vastly increasing the density of our city. Density also creates a more vibrant and diverse place to live and helps small businesses and commercial streets thrive. At the very least, allowing for multiple units within existing houses, multiple ADUs (attached or detached) within a property, or tiny houses on wheels on residential lots should be allowed and even incentivized within Portland. We can’t give in to the loud voices of NIMBYism and wealthy people trying to protect their property values at the expense of everyone else. We need to think progressively and open up our zoning to allow for a wide range of buildings in all neighborhoods.
If we don’t just get rid of the zoning code altogether, I think we could simplify our city’s zoning code to have 2 zones: Industrial - meant for uses that are hazardous to human health, and mixed use - for everything else. At the same time this new zoning should be performance based rather than use based. Within the mixed use zone for instance there could be simple overlays that dictate performance aspects of a project that would impact the safety of the public. For instance, height limits for safety within the airport approach lanes, limits to how far shadows are allowed to encroach on adjacent properties, limits on the decibel level of noise at a given property line, or limit the measure of light overreaching the property line at night. By moving to a performance metrics, rather than a restrictive use metric, we can allow for more variety of uses within our city without drastically impacting the quality of life.

Even a form-based zoning, which is more concerned with building size and how they relate to each other to form a streetscape, rather than the use within the buildings, would be a huge improvement over the mess we currently have. For more information on Performance based Zoning check out this fantastic article: http://www.citylab.com/housing/2014/08/braving-the-new-world-of-performance-based-zoning/375926/. It is also worth becoming familiar with the Form-Based Code Institute: http://formbasedcodes.org/

Further, many people have to understand and accept that just because a single family residential neighborhood gets rezoned to allow for more uses doesn’t mean that all of the existing building stock will all of a sudden transform. Our single family residential neighborhoods will stay intact for generations. However, over time these neighborhoods will evolve into higher density neighborhoods, giving more people choice in where to live and making our city more affordable and equitable in the process. A city, like any organism, transforms over time and adapts to new needs, stresses, and influences. Residents have to accept and help guide change rather than fight it to preserve what is theirs at the expense of future generations.

These sorts of dense mixed-use neighborhoods are often the most desirable places to live in cities around the world. The alphabet district in NW Portland is a perfect example. There are small apartment buildings and condos interspersed with single family houses. There are small restaurants and cafes dotting the urban fabric. There are primary commercial streets and corner stores. This makes the streets vibrant, safe and the neighborhood more diverse. This same ambiance is seen in cities across America and around the world, and it usually representative of the neighborhoods that people want to visit and live in. However, our current laws prevent this sort of neighborhood from developing in any other part of the city. Why do we accept that as the best solution to our city? I know that I would much rather have my neighborhood in NE Portland off Alberta become a more more dense and diverse place to live.

I haven’t even gotten into the issues regarding parking requirements which further stifles affordability and forces people to spend money on building parking whether they want it or not. Again, this has nothing to do with the safety and health of the pubic and a rule that needs to be struck from books despite the complaints of our car centric neighbors. Parking should never be a requirement as it is a luxury, not a need. It can be suggested but if someone wants to build a house or development  without a garage or driveway why should the city say that it isn’t allowed? Not everyone owns a car or needs a parking space and we are forcing people to pay for them. (more arguments against parking requirements: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2016/06/06/americans-cant-afford-the-high-cost-of-parking-requirements/, and this one about how “poor people pay for parking even when they can’t afford a car”: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/15/why-free-parking-is-a-big-problem/

Currently our zoning codes prohibit developments of neighborhoods that offer a range of housing types. They also increase the cost and time needed to build new developments. This does everyone a disservice and is indicative of over regulation to the detriment of urban quality. I think the Bureau of Development Services and our city council is failing our city by enforcing an overly complex zoning code that doesn’t benefit the majority of people. We need performance based regulations and a much simpler streamlined code that gives people choice and allows for creative developments and innovation within the city.

Here is an interesting white paper on issues caused by zoning: http://www-pam.usc.edu/volume1/v1i1a4s1.html#ottensmann_intro

Here is an article on “How Zoning Laws Exacerbate Inequality”:

Here is a great article focusing on the “Problems with Parking Requirements in Zoning Ordinances”: http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/ProblemsWithParkingRequirementsInZoningOrdinances.pdf

“After about 1970, though, zoning’s negative economic effects began to grow. Before then, housing prices were more or less the same across the country. Since then, prices in the metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast have risen much faster than in most of the rest of the nation -- in the process increasing inequality, thwarting residential mobility and slowing economic growth. Ever-tougher zoning rules and restrictions on growth appear to be a major cause. Fischel has a long list of explanations for this intensification of zoning that I won’t go into here, other than to mention the one that drives me the craziest -- the dressing-up of self-interested economic arguments in the language of environmentalism and morality.” 

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