Category Archives: Challenge

Oso mudslide: Were the risks ignored?

The following post is by DJC staff:

Disaster-resiliency expert Stephen Flynn has posted a piece about the Oso mudslide on Northeastern University Seattle’s Re: Connect blog.
Flynn is a professor of political science and director of Northeastern’s Center for Resilience Studies in Burlington, Mass.

Oso mudslide

He spoke with the DJC in February about lessons from Hurricane Sandy and the need to better prepare for natural and manmade disasters.
In his post he says we tend to ignore the risk of disasters until they happen and says builders, developers and planners have a role to play in changing that.

He writes:

It is purposeful denial, bordering on negligence, which allows residential property development in dangerous areas. That negligence is fed by a self-destructive cycle that begins when builders and developers with short-term interests are granted local permits to build new homes on low-lying barrier islands, flood plains, or near steep hills in the wilderness. These homes then require investments in new public infrastructure, which in turn require additional tax revenues to build and sustain. In order to expand the tax base, towns end up approving new property development adding new fuel to growth. When the foreseeable disaster inevitably strikes, individual property owners are often wiped out and the American taxpayer ends up picking up most of the tab.

Read the whole thing here and tell us what you think.

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What would you do with the old floating bridge?

Sara Strouse, an architecture grad student in the WSU School of Design and Construction, has organized a design competition — there’s no contract at the end but the winner gets a $3,000 prize — to find creative ways to reuse waste material when the old SR 520 floating bridge comes down in 2014.

Photo by WSDOT

A press release from WSU about the competition said replacing the bridge is expected to create enough waste material to fill 67 Boeing 747s.

Strouse said as her final design project for school she wants to see if having a competition will get more people thinking about adaptive reuse — and get a little more attention for her thesis. She hopes to get between 50 and 100 ideas from design teams and individuals.

Submissions are due Aug. 15.

Strouse said she initially thought she would come up with ideas for reusing the bridge materials but she wanted to reach a broader audience and get an up-close look at how design competitions work so she decided to launch the contest. It has been a struggle to get sponsors and design the website herself, but it is giving her an opportunity to network with people and companies in the Seattle design community, where she eventually hopes to land a job.  She graduates in December.

Her father is a local architect, William Strouse of KSI Architecture and Planning.

The contest sponsors are NBBJ, KSI Architecture and Planning, WSU School of Design and Construction, and Kiewit/General/Manson, which is the bridge project contractor.

The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2014. After that, the old bridge will be removed.

Paul Hirzel of the School of Design and Construction said, “Infrastructure is of big interest in the U.S. right now, and encouraging the reuse of an existing structure versus demolition contributes to sustainability measures that are becoming more and more critical.”

The jury includes WSU graduate and architect Robert Hull.

For more information on the competition, see Winners will be announced by Peter Steinbrueck at the Seattle Design Festival Sept. 21. Winning entries will be displayed at the AIA Seattle Gallery from Sept. 18 through Oct. 26.


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Area’s first commercial building made of cargo containers up for sale

In February of 2010, I wrote this story about an office building in Georgetown that was constructed of reclaimed cargo containers. The owner, Jay Stark, said it was the first project of its kind in the country.  I also produced this video-tour of the space at the time. Here is our story from Dec. 16 about the sale.

Now,  nearly two years later, the space is for sale for $1.5 million. Sadly, it was a foreclosure. I

haven’t spoken to the owners so I don’t know what happened but it’s too bad things likely didn’t turn out as planned.

The slight upside is that it will be really interesting to see who buys the site when it sells. I recently spoke to Evan Lugar of Kidder Mathews, who is representing First Savings Bank Northwest on the sale. He said the bank has owned the property since August. He also said it’s a tricky space to sell because it isn’t typical retail or commercial and is unique. He’s targeting creative businesses.

The building is made of 80 percent recycled materials by weight. The complex has two buildings, which are each made of six cargo containers that came from the Port of Seattle. They have halogen and fluorescent lighting, an efficient reverse-cycle chiller HVAC system, and windows with argon gas sandwiched between the panes for increased insulation. There is a rooftop deck with views of downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier.

Typically – the super green, innovative projects that have been built have been created with the intent of the owner using it for many years. (Houses don’t count). The greenest commercial projects I’ve profiled over the years have been built or are being built by the Bullitt Foundation, the U.S. General Services Administration, a consortium involving the city of Portland, universities or by firms that intend to stay in a space for a long time.

My point is: they don’t turn hands. Because of that, there isn’t much information about the resale value and market for super green projects in the U.S. created for a specific client. People hypothesize uber-green buildings hold their value better and that there’s more demand, but it’s hard to prove – without proof. No matter what, this is just one building. But the more sales we see, the more accurately we’ll be able to guage the true value of innovative sustainable buildings and whether it’s the LEED credential or a building’s inherent sustainability that translates as value.

As a sidenote, this is the second time spaces made of cargo containers or using “cargotecture” has been in the news in a week. Earlier this week, the DJC covered a new pilot project Starbucks drive though in Tukwila made of cargo containers. Here’s our story and here’s the story the AP ran based on our story.

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Northgate – what exactly is light rail’s urban development responsibility?

On Nov. 17, the DJC published this article I wrote about Sound Transit’s Northgate light rail station. The Northgate station is one of three that will be part of Sound Transit’s North Link light rail extension, running from the University District to Northgate Mall. The Northgate station is the only one that it above ground. Because of this, and a number of other factors, it is also the most complex of the three. It is designed by Hewitt.

The article centered on the station’s design, and was based off a Seattle Light Rail Review

ST PowerPoint Template
Panel meeting I attended. The panel, which reviews the station’s design, had a lot of criticism that is detailed in the story. Their main point was that the structure wasn’t living up to its responsibility in helping to transform the neighborhood.

This is from the story:

Julie Parrett, who is on the review panel and the Design Commission, said this station is unique because the area around it is going through a transformation. Northgate was built for cars and a more suburban lifestyle, but today there is a city-wide effort to make it a place that works for pedestrians, residents and the surrounding community.

Thornton Place, she said, has helped set a standard for new development and the station can reinforce that. She said she doesn’t view the current design as helping shape a new Northgate.

“These are buildings and projects that are going to last for 50 to 100 years and we can’t forget that,” she said. “They do have a civic responsibility and right now, I feel like this building is really turning itself inward and not reaching out and not thinking in a conceptual way what its role (is) as a precedent or precursor in this area.”

After publication, Ian Hernandez, a friend of mine, posted this comment on my personal Facebook page:

“Speaking of, great article on the North Link Northgate station the other day! Some of those panel comments crack me up – it’s like they think that Thornton Place somehow turned that area into a shining jewel of urban transition, when it’s really still just a bunch of crapshacks bordered by a giant movie theater and ugly parking garage.”

Image courtesy Sky-Pix
Big, boxy Thornton Place certainly isn’t perfect but it’s better than the empty parking lot that used to be there. At least the space now offers movies and a few retail and eating options. Whether you like it or not, it’s there. The question is what happens next and what is the light rail station’s responsibility in helping to guide that change?

When I went to the last Northgate station open house, the audience members seemed generally pleased with the station design and some even commended Sound Transit for its work. The Light Rail Review Panel was quite critical, but it looks at the project with the eyes of people who have a responsibility of curating the city’s future through projects and urban development.

Here’s what’s sure: The Northgate area is changing and light rail will be transformative, no matter what it looks like. Given these two things, how much does the station’s design really matter? Does it need to serve as a bridge to the future or does it just need to be there? In a perfect world, what would you like to see the station look like?

Also, as a sidenote, this station will have restrooms unlike the ones at Brooklyn or Roosevelt.

Also, if you’re really intersted in this topic, go to this open house on Dec. 8 at Aljoya Senior Apartments (a part of Thornton Place). Sound Transit says it has drawn up a “few options that show future urban design and development possibilities for this area south of the mall.”

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Will private developers pick up living buildings?

In Fremont, a different kind of living building is in the works: it’s being built by a private developer.

The five-story, 120,000-square-foot building is being developed by Skanska and

is Skanska USA’s first development effort in the Seattle market. (Talk about a way to come to the market with green guns-a-blazing!)

Brooks Sports is the anchor tenant and will take 80,000 square feet and move 300 employees into the space in late 2013.  Skanska said it would lease the site from the owner, Fremont Dock Co. The site is at 3400 Stone Way N., next to the Burke Gilman Trail and near Lake Union.

This project is of course fascinating because it’s a living building, widely considered the toughest green building certification on the planet. But another thing that makes it stand out is who’s building it. All living buildings on this coast that I’m aware of are built by schools (University of British Columbia’s CIRS project); nonprofits (the Bullitt Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle); consortium’s of city groups or donors (The Bertschi School Science Wing); or partnerships involving all of the above (the Oregon Sustainability Center in Portland). There’s also a few home projects thrown in. These groups have various resources (tax credits, donors, endowments etc.) that a standard developer doesn’t have access to.

Skanska’s project in Fremont is the first I’m aware of to be built by a commercial developer on its own. Granted, it is being self-financed. But the fact that Skanska is building it means the company sees a future in living buildings. It’s taking a chance! In the scale of things, it will be incredible to see how this project works out because it will inevitably be used as a living building test case for other developers.

Living buildings are fascinating creatures but they’re not cheap. Generally, I’m hearing that developing a living building costs a third more than a standard project. Schools and nonprofits are willing to make that investment. But the formula gets more complex with private development. Adding to the complexity, Skanska is aiming for its project rents to be market rate.

Chris Rogers of Bullitt’s development partner Point32 says Bullitt’s space will be market rate too, though it’s being marketed towards environmentally-minded businesses and organizations. The Cascadia Green Building Council is one tenant. For these organizations, the environment is a critical part of what they do. For Skanska’s more mainstream tenants, locating in a living building says they care. But Skanska’s also got to do more convincing.

In this DJC article from last June, Peter Busby of Vancouver’s Busby Perkins + Will said it cost his team $100,000 to go to living building status on two Vancouver projects. He said it generally costs $40,000 to have a project certified LEED gold. The Bullitt Center project is costing about $30 million, with Bullitt putting up half that amount and borrowing the rest from US Bank. Rogers of Point32 says a lot of the cost is a first-cost premium, because it’s the first time his team (or any team) is moving through a living building project of this size with the city. But there’s still a premium.

According to the International Living Future Institute, it costs $20,000 for living building certification of a building that is between 107,640 and 538,195 square feet.

Skanska’s project is also interesting because of what it could bring to the neighborhood. The end of Stone Way near Lake Union has a handful of stores but is kind of a dead zone. In a Seattle Times story, Ryan Gist, a neighbor called it “an odd, pseudo-industrial street that really doesn’t do much for the neighborhood.”

Once complete, the ground floor of this building will house Brooks’ first ever retail concept shop. The goal is for the shop to act as a gathering place for the community and trail users.

There are some neighborhood concerns about the structure’s height. Here’s hoping a clean agreement can be made on that topic so this revolutionary project can move forward.

By the way, back in January, I wrote this post about the launch of Skanska’s Seattle commercial development division. In it, I said:

“I’m curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn’t be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.”

I don’t want to say I told you so but it’s fair to say this project falls to the later half of that spectrum. Now the question is to see how it plays out.

P.S. It’s interesting to see the architecture firms with living buildings under their belts. This project is being designed by LMN. Bullitt’s is designed by Miller Hull. The Bertschi project was designed by members of KMD Architects. I’m going to be waiting to see how long it takes for the area’s other big green architecture firms to add a living building to their project list. At the current pace, I’d bet we’d see another two or three pop up.

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