Archive for April, 2009

Legislative session ends with at least one good idea: Green Increment Financing

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In Olympia, legislators are patting themselves on the back after closing a $9 billion budget gap. But it’s likely that they have only deferred addressing some of the fundamental structural problems with the state’s finances for another 2 years.

Legislators also took a victory lap after “solving” the viaduct problem by creating a mechanism by which Seattle taxpayers would have to pay for cost overruns on what would be a state project—after Seattle voted down the tunnel option. But that’s a different post.

Two big ideas that didn’t make it out of the regular session had to do with the always unpopular and hard to understand subjects of debt and taxes. The state will eventually have to figure out how to make its tax system fairer and less regressive. An income tax of some kind could be part of that, but that ideal didn’t get far this year.

The other really interesting concept was offered by Rep. Hans Dunshee. His proposal would have authorized the state to borrow $3 billion to retrofit public schools. The bill was missing a lot of critical details, but underlying was a great concept that I called Green Increment Financing.

Like Tax Increment Financing, Dunshee’s bill would have allowed the state to make upgrades and improvements to infrastructure that would pay for the financing of the debt. In the case of Green Increment Financing, the money to pay back the debt would come from accumulated savings as previously inefficient buildings began to realize energy savings. The retrofitting would create new jobs, and reductions in energy use would also reduce green house gas emissions.

Like Tax Increment Financing, the hurdle with this kind of idea is two-fold. First, and probably most difficult, is the terminology which includes words like “tax,” “bonds,” “financing,” “public indebtedness,” and “increment.” Even if legislators understand this concept, debt and taxes are political dynamite.

The second problem has to do with math and forecasting. Will energy improvements actually save enough to pay back the bonds? Savings can be estimated and this kind of financing on projected savings is done locally already. So these numbers can be figured out. But getting the numbers will take time

Hopefully, Green Increment Financing will gain ground between now and the next legislative session along with a more fundamental look at how we generate revenue for public benefits.

Seattle A/E firms still moving and shaking

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Two regional projects by local architects got ink today:

  • GreenMuze has an article on Vancouver’s Convention Centre (note the spelling if you don’t already know which Vancouver I’m talking about), designed by Seattle’s LMN Architects.  The design includes Canada’s largest green roof and a water treatment system that includes blackwater treatment and a seawater heat pump systemthat provides heating and cooling.
  • The Idaho Mountain Express has a story on community support for Callison‘s proposed design for Bald Mountain Lodge in Ketchum.  Apparently, the Sun Valley community actually liking a proposed luxury hotel project is pretty rare. The 85-unit, five-story hotel is for Rock Resorts, a subsidiary of Vail Resorts.

I also got a press release today from local architect HyBrid. They’re having a project release party Friday at their newest project, Remington Court.

The four-townhouse infill project has a gas-fired instantaneous hydronic system, providing both hot water and floor coil heating. They are designed for stack and cross ventilation.

The party is open to the A and E community (and friends) and runs from 5 p.m. to midnight at 1320 E. Remington Court (one block south of 14th and Jefferson). Local art will be on display and food and drinks are promised.

Koolhaas: It’s the end of an era

Friday, April 24th, 2009
"Library Side East" by Stephen L. Rosen
Rem Koolhaas, who designed the Seattle Central Public Library, and more recently the CCTV Building in Beijing, told the Wall Street Journal that money is scarce for megaprojects, even for him.

“I don’t even know about the word ‘downturn,’ ” Koolhaas told the WSJ in his office in Rotterdam. “It seems simply the end to a period.”

Though his firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, hasn’t had any projects canceled yet, Koolhaas said they have several projects on hold.

And they’ve had to make layoffs. WSJ reported that the firm, which had 270 employees last summer, is now down to 220. OMA is working on a theater complex in Taipei, a library in Qatar and new buildings in Holland, WSJ reports.

Has your firm had layoffs too? Respond to the poll on the right (scroll down just a tad) on area layoffs at A/E/C firms.

Local A/E firms go head to head on two wheels

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
SvR won last year's Golden Helmet award
It’s time for the third annual A/E bike to work challenge. The challenge, which mirrors the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Bike-to-Work Month Commute Challenge, pushes employees of Seattle-area architecture and engineering firms to compete for the most miles ridden by firm and by individual. It starts May 1.

Last year, 22 firms with a total of 368 riders participated, riding 43,075 miles. Mithun rode the most miles: 6,096.

The firm with the highest percentage of riders was SD Architects, with three out of four employees riding to work in May of 2008. SvR Design won the “Golden Helmet,” the competition’s unique award that calculates the overall miles ridden, factoring in the percentage of possible firm riders who rode and the percentage of possible commute trips ridden

The top rider in the challenge was Igor Rozanski of Notkin Mechanical Engineers, who rode 1,018 miles commuting from South Everett to Seattle. Other top riders included Chris Robertson of Shannon & Wilson at 855 miles, and Joe Llona, formerly of TetraTech, at 769 miles.

A/E firms interested in participating in the 2009 contest should contact SvR’s Maika Nicholson or Tony Dollar at (206) 223-0326.

Steinbrueck heads to Harvard

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Former Seattle City council member and architect Peter Steinbrueck just announced in a press release that he will spend a year in Cambridge as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design beginning in September.

Steinbrueck will research U.S. urban policy and global environmental challenges. The Loeb Fellowship, founded in 1970, provides a year of independent study at Harvard for outstanding mid-career professionals in fields related to the built and natural environment.

I guess that answers the question of if he’s running for mayor. . .

Where you live DOES matter

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Earlier this year John Fox, leader of the Displacement Coalition, organized against House Bill 1490 titled “reducing greenhouse gas emissions through land use and transportation requirements.”

Fox took issue with many parts of the bill, including the claim that it would wipe out existing affordable housing and replace it with out-of-scale condo developments for the rich. Fox and supporters of the bill argued over whether the bill would really reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are hundreds if not thousands of low income and minority households all along the transit route whose homes would be turned into rubble,” he said. “What’s green about tossing that into a landfill and pouring tons of concrete for all the new high density development?”

The fight was over how to quantify whether the high density development proposed in the legislation would cut green house gas emissions or if the demolition and construction would actually increase emissions. Fox argued, without substantiation, that the bill would actually make things worse. Advocates were caught somewhat off guard. But a recent study sheds some light on the debate (although the bill is dead).

The authors of the study, published in The Journal of Urban Planning and Development, quantified the emissions from building materials and construction, home heating and power demands, and transportation energy, in both urban and suburban neighborhoods in the Toronto metro area.

They found that downtown residents use radically less energy, and consequently emit about two-thirds less climate-warming CO2 than their suburban counterparts.

While the study has its limits — it compares just two neighborhoods in a single city– it points, as other studies do, to the evidence that sprawl and car dependence are closely linked, and are responsible for a disproportionate share of GHG emissions.

This study or dozens like it probably won’t persuade John Fox. But it is an early indicator that indeed high-density development really does produce fewer green house gas emissions than low-density sprawl.

Read more about the study at the Sightline Daily Score Blog.

One Seattle A/E firm’s $5,095 office remodel

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
Build LLC's new office
No, I didn’t forget any zeroes.

Build LLC, a four person design-build firm, recently remodeled its Seattle office for $5,095. The project took six weeks and the firm’s own members did the work.

The remodel also included some interesting reclaimed materials, scrap wood and some salvage finds from Boeing Surplus (RIP).

Check out the details, including video and a materials list, on Build’s blog.

Celebrate Seattle’s female architects tonight

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
Carolyn Geise of Geise Architects is one of the women featured
The Seattle Chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ Diversity Roundtable, in partnership with the Association for Women in Architecture, is holding a celebration and program honoring women in the field of architecture tonight at the UW.

The free event is open to all within the architectural community and will highlight the work of Seattle women architects on nearly 60 projects from about 35 different firms. It runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight at the UW’s College of Built Environments at Gould Hall at 3949 15th Ave. N.E. No reservations are required.

The program will also honor Jan Gleason, who recently retired from her role as executive director of Environmental Works. Gleason will speak at the informal gathering, which will include work by women architects on display and representatives from government agencies interested in helping women and minority-owned businesses succeed.

Work from architectural professionals from all over the region will be included in a presentation made at the program.  Participating firms include:  4D Architects, Arellano – Christofides Architects, atelierjones, Bassetti Architects, Belt Collins, Boxwood, Christina Pizana, CLARK DESIGN GROUP, DKA, DLR Group, Dr. Sharon E. Sutton, FAIA, FORTE ARCHITECTS, Geise Architects, Hewitt, Hutteball & Oremus, Irwin-Pancake Architects, Johnston Architects, Julie Kreig Architect, Kennan-Meyer Architecture, MAGELLAN ARCHITECTS, Mahlum, McNELIS ARCHITECTS, Mulvanny G2, NBBJ, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen, PATANO+HAFERMANN, Perkins + Will, Rolluda Architects, Schacht|Aslani Architects, schemata workshop, VIA ARCHITECTURE, and ZDS Architects.

AIA has indicated you are friends. Confirm you are friends with AIA?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Eds Note: Having a hard time joining this conversation?? AIA’s Facebook page for this event can no longer be found by just  searching for it. See updated instructions below to join in.

Next week, from April 13 to 19, AIA will be holding its annual National Architecture Week conversation– but this year it will be on Facebook.

The Virtual National Architecture Week group Facebook page will be used to release information and resources throughout the week.  AIA wants local chapters and individuals to use the social networking site to post information about firms, awards, videos, or local advocacy and public outreach initiatives.

Facebook members: Log in to FB and search for “The American Institute of Architects” in the search bar on the right. Click on the AIA’s group and then look under “Events” on the AIA Group page. The Virtual National Architecture Week should be the first one listed. Click on it.  (If you’re not a member, go make friends with your firm’s intern architect and they’ll tell you what to do, but they might Twitter or even Flutter about how out of it you are). You can view the resources, add resources and comment.

AIA has this schedule for each day’s specific focus: April 13 – Community Revitalization, April 14 – School Construction,  April 15- Affordable Housing,  April 16 – Sustainability, April 17 – Inclusiveness, April 18 – Historic Preservation and April 19 – The Future of the Profession.

How did this happen–again??

Monday, April 6th, 2009

If you’re taking a stroll up lively Pike Street sometime, take a right at Seventh Avenue and proceed along that block’s western side.  If you haven’t been there already in the past year and a half, you’re in for a shock.

The Sheraton hotel’s two-tower complex uses Seventh Avenue as its alley, with a block-long blank facade, punctuated only by a metal man-door where you’re likely to find hotel catering staff hanging out on their smoke breaks.  The only good thing about walking on this side of Seventh Avenue between Pike and Union Streets is that you get a great view of the landmark former Eagles Temple.

An April 1983 Time magazine article mentioned the then-new first Sheraton hotel tower as an example of nation’s “worst offenders” among modern buildings that present blank facades to the streetscape and deaden city center street life.  Any of us urbanistas who care about Downtown’s streetscape waited 25 years for something to improve that situation: a remodel, an addition, an improvement scheme – anything.  Well, “anything” came in 2007 when the second Sheraton tower opened, but the the 25-year wait was in vain because things just got worse, as you’ll see on your stroll along Seventh Avenue.

The real question we’re left with is: how was this possible?  Don’t we have regulations against such things?  Isn’t there a Design Review process? Shouldn’t have 25 years of lessons-learned informed the decision-makers this time around? A longer editorial on what went wrong ran in today’s DJC (no subscription needed to check it out).