Search results for "multi-family residential"

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5468796 architecture
The Guertin Boatport in Storm Bay, Ontario, is a two-tier viewing deck, completed in 2011.
Courtesy 5468796 architecture

The Architectural League’s 30th annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture at the Cooper Union's Rose Auditorium at 41 Cooper Square in Manhattan. The first lecture takes place on Friday, March 2 at 7:00 p.m. when 5468796 architecture and Inaba will present their work.

5468796 architecture
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Five years ago, two architects brought forth near the longitudinal center of the North American continent 5468796 architecture, a studio dedicated to the proposition that design-oriented architecture has a place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The practice has since grown from its initial duo to a cadre of ten professionals and has been lauded with an impressive array of awards for its inventive portfolio, which includes residential complexes, office buildings, and student centers, among other typologies. But fulfilling the firm’s mission statement has not been easy going.

The YouCube residential project experiments with density and affordability in downtown Winnipeg.

“People see our projects and say we must have great clients,” explained Sasa Radulovic, one of the studio’s founders. “The truth is opposite. Winnipeg is poor in terms of client knowledge. Their expectations are quite mundane. It is necessary for us to figure out how to teach each client so they will appreciate something different. It’s actually very hard, like trying to design a project in a language you don’t understand.”

Part of 5468796’s success in this uphill design battle can be attributed to the firm’s collaborative approach, which is memorialized in its name. “It’s our corporation number,” said Radulovic. “It’s a record in place and time. It creates an idea of a collaborative.”

Clockwise From top: The 24-unit BGBX lofts alternate scales above a commercial base; Bloc10 in Winnipeg attempts to create unexpected moments in a typical apartment typology; the Welcome Place refugee resettlement center in Winnipeg mixes offices, residences, and reception space; Centre Village is a 25-unit housing complex on an infill lot in Winnipeg’s Central Park neighborhood.

Whether through the power of persuasion or by grace of the spirit of collaboration, 5468796 has invigorated Winnipeg’s otherwise drab and conservative built environment with unexpected and exuberant infill projects. Two of the firm’s residential buildings highlight its boundary-breaking work. Most of the city’s housing stock comes in the form of three-story walkups, literal and rectangular blocks of buildings that fill their lots and usher occupants in by way of windowless double-loaded corridors. At Centre Village—a 25-unit, 15,000-square-foot co-op development—the firm broke up the complex’s volume into a series of modular boxes that cantilever off one another in a seemingly random but carefully considered arrangement that clusters apartments around a central courtyard. BLOC10, on the other hand—a 12,000-square-foot condominium development—maintains the “block” profile, but gets creative in the interior, where the designers focused a great deal of attention in staggering the three-story units across the plan so that each features a multiplicity of views and exposures.

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Dwelling on Home
A housing development in the Oude Haven area of Rotterdam.
Courtesy NAi

DASH: Delft Architectural Studies on Housing
Lara Schrijver, Elain Harwood, Dirk van den Heuvel, Pierijn van der Putt, Dick van Gameren, Christopher Woodward, eds.
NAi in association with Delft University of Technology, €35

In the introduction to the inaugural issue of the journal DASH – Delft Architectural Studies on Housing, the editors assert that “the Netherlands has built up a housing tradition that is renowned throughout the world.” I would definitely agree with this statement, having worked on multi-family residential projects spanning from the American Midwest to Asia where modern and contemporary Dutch precedents were mined for inspiration. Yet the editors further contend in the first issue that repetition of tried solutions has become the norm, leading to “stagnation in the development of Dutch residential architecture.” DASH can therefore be seen as a call for a reinvestigation of the typology and for a consideration of overlooked issues, “such as those related to density, privacy, and mobility.”

The periodical, which started in 2009, coincides with a dramatically slower pace of housing construction just about everywhere but China, be it market-rate or state-sponsored projects. In this regard DASH offers the potential for education and discovery that could influence architectural design in housing whenever it picks up again. At least this is the optimistic view.

To date, five issues of the journal of the Chair of Architecture and Dwelling at Delft University (TU Delft) have been published, at the rate of two a year. Each issue tackles a specific theme—in order: New Open Spaces in Housing Ensembles, The Luxury City Apartment, The Woonerf Today, The Residential Floor Plan, The Urban Enclave—through an even mix of long-form essays and case studies. The former are penned mainly by locals, but the latter pulls projects from the Netherlands and beyond, though the ratio depends on the issue’s theme. For example, “New Open Spaces” draws exclusively from Dutch housing, but “The City Luxury Apartment” ventures elsewhere in Europe and overseas to North and South America for notable examples, which is fitting given the lack of this tradition in the Netherlands.

The case studies, what the journal appropriately labels “Plan Documentation,” include floor plans, sections and other diagrams drawn, and colored in the same manner. While this consistency, perhaps a product of TU Delft’s student labor, aids legibility and makes comparison across pages and issues possible, it also points to a reliance on the floor plan as the source of difference in housing. Certainly the sizes and relationships of rooms, distributions of unit types, building footprints, circulation paths, and other plan factors are important, but by their nature these drawings exist out of context, separate from many of the issues DASH aims to overcome. Hence the essays help to fill that void. With its balance of essays and projects, each issue can be read alternatively as a healthy dose of academic history and theory or an architectural stroll through various floor plans. Sometimes these two strands overlap, particularly when essays and case studies share a building in common; this is a rewarding experience, such as the latest issue’s essay on and plan documentation of the Adelphi (Adam Brothers, 1768–1772) and Barbican (Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, 1955–1982), both in London.

These examples point to another commendable aspect of DASH: case studies are culled from recent projects to centuries long gone (the majority are 20th-century projects), so inspiration and influence are allowed to leapfrog across time instead of following the common yet outmoded belief in linear progression, cause and effect. The Adelphi prefigures, through its system of “streets in the air” by the River Thames, the visionary yet unrealized urbanism of Le Corbusier and Antonio Sant’Elia but also mundane developments like Chicago’s Illinois Center, which is decked over former rail yards. It is a cautionary tale for similar projects—Hudson Yards immediately comes to mind—that contend with industrial voids on expensive land.

Keeping the focus on the latest issue, The Urban Enclave presents large-scale projects from the 13th century—the Groot Begijnhof (community for unmarried women) in Belgium—to recent, realized Dutch projects by OMA and de Architekten Cie—respectively Chassé Park in Breda and Funen Park in Amsterdam. In between are modern urban renewal projects from last century, like the Barbican, which is also described as “a remarkable and unique piece of city-building” in an essay by Elain Harwood. Of course such an appraisal would not be shared by über-traditionalist Rob Krier, who is interviewed a few pages later. Such is DASH that positions are not taken. Instead projects and essays cover a large spectrum, reflecting the multitude of approaches to analyzing and designing housing today.

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Home on the Rails
Del Mar Transit Village in Los Angeles.
Courtesy METRO

Yes, we admit it: the car is still king in California. But from LA to San Francisco an impressive list of new transit projects are beginning to change this. LA, known as the archetypal freeway city, has built or is planning more than ten new rail lines and extensions—largely spurred by 2008 ballot measure R, a sales tax hike providing billions to transit projects. In the Bay Area, recently-completed initiatives like San Francisco’s Third Street Light Rail and the San Francisco Airport extension, as well as future extensions into Silicon Valley and the East Bay, are helping connect a sprawling collection of cities. Meanwhile, California has become a test ground for High Speed Rail, with the stage set for lines running the entire length of the state in coming years.

Los Angeles Metro  
Images Courtesy METRO or BART Unless Otherwise Noted

Thanks to changes in both attitude and development patterns, the growth in transit is bringing with it a lengthy list of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs), projects catering to a combination of mass transit, denser neighborhoods, and mixed-use and pedestrian scale development. And the leaders in TOD are none other than local transit agencies themselves, taking matters into their own hands by making huge investments, often in coordination with the field’s other players: developers, non-profits, and redevelopment agencies. In addition to several transit authorities along the path of California’s high speed rail, the leading agencies are LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). “The public sector creates infrastructure, the private sector creates development. That creates harmony,” sums up Ronald Altoon, a partner at architecture firm Altoon +  Porter and incoming Executive Director at the Urban Land Institute’s LA Chapter.

TOD projects have proven successful in increasing ridership for Metro and BART, containing sprawl, and earning millions of dollars in income for the agencies. Some have won awards for architecture and urban design. But of course, as with any public endeavor, they’ve got their issues. Many complain that their uses are too limited and that their connections to their communities are weak. Others complain that the focus is on the wrong D-word: Development, not Design. As developers, not architects, become TOD point people, originality and innovation often takes a back seat to the profit and practical concerns of developers and bureaucrats. Given this, combined with the high cost of TOD development and the lower incomes in many transit-oriented districts, it’s impressive when thoughtful designs emerge.

Agencies On Board

Metro’s Joint Development TOD program, founded about five years ago, has completed eight projects and is working on close to 30 more. Most are mixed-use projects dominated by multi-family residential buildings either near transit or containing their own transit stations (about a quarter of the units are affordable). Roger Moliere, Metro’s Chief of Real Property and Economic Development, calls Metro’s TOD program the biggest of any transit agency in the country.  In the first five years of its existence it has brought in about $14 to $15 million a year for the agency, said Moliere.

“People want to live in cities,” said Moliere, who insists that the best way to add density in cities is with mixed-use development near transit. “I would not want to be a single family homebuilder right now.”

  Del Mar Transit Village
Del Mar Transit Village

[ 01 ] Del Mar Transit Village

Architect: Moule & Polyzoides
Developer: Urban Partners
Line: Metro Gold Line
Size: 347 Apartments; 11,000 SF Retail
Completion: 2007

Perhaps the most recognized of the completed projects is Hollywood and Vine, a mixed-use complex that contains the W Hotel as well as condos by HKS architects with elements by Daly Genik and Sussman Prejza and a glassy subway entrance by Rios Clementi Hale. Another is Wilshire/Vermont, by Arquitectonica, a mixed-use building lined with retail on its ground floor with a giant mural by artist April Greiman. Other standouts include Michael Maltzan’s One Santa Fe, a sinuous project near SCI-Arc and the Metro Red Line that will include over 400 apartments and over 750,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space, as well as Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists’ Del Mar station on the Gold Line, a New Urbanist-style mixed-use compilation of buildings around a central plaza.

One Sante Fe

  1st + Soto

[ 02 ] One Sante Fe

Architect: Michael Maltzan Architects
Developer: McGregor Company
Line: Metro Red & Gold Lines
Size: 438 apartments; 77,000 SF retail and live/work
Completion: TBD


[ 03 ] 1st + Soto

Architect: Gonzalez Goodale
Developer: A Community of Friends
Line: METRO Gold Line
Size: 41-50 apartments; 14,500 SF Retail; Preschool Facility; Community Space
Completion: TBD


The projects are generally located on land that Metro already owns, often adjacent to existing right of ways or on Metro surface parking lots, which are being converted into parking structures. Projects generally wait until rail lines are completed to begin, and Metro prefers leasing land to selling it, so it can collaborate closely on the types of buildings planned, maintain the character of development over the long haul, and ensure a steady stream of funds.

BART, meanwhile, is involved with 18 TOD projects at its stations, representing over $2.7 billion in private investment. Five have been completed and 13 are either approved or in negotiation. The agency adopted its TOD policy in 2005, hoping to increase ridership and make money. Other benefits, according to BART, include connecting with communities, creating tax revenues for cities, and increasing mixed-use and infill development instead of single use sprawl.

NoHo Art Wave  

[ 04 ] NoHo Art Wave

Architect: A.C. Martin
Developer: Lowe Enterprises
Line: METRO Red & Orange Lines
Size: 15.5 acres; 1.7 million SF
Completion: TBD

According to Jeff Ordway, Manager of Real Estate and Property Development at BART, TOD’s were part of the agency’s original mandate in the 1960s, but that idea fell apart when land use patterns couldn’t keep up. Starting with a modest project in Castro Valley in the late ‘90s, the agency finally got its program underway.

Wilshire / Western   Wilshire / Vermont Apartments
Wilshire / Vermont Apartments
Gary Leonard

[ 05 ] Wilshire / Western

Architect: Archeon Group
Developer: Koar Wilshire Western
Line: METRO Purple Line
Size: 195 condos; 49,500 SF retail
Completion: 2009


[ 06 ] Wilshire / Vermont Apartments

Architect: Arquitectonica
Developer: Urban Partners, MacFarlane Partners
Line: METRO Red & Purple Lines
Size: 449 apartments; 35,000 SF retail
Completion: 2007


As opposed to Metro’s joint development, BART has no pre-determined model. “Each community is unique,” said Ordway, who points to projects that are direct leases to developers, direct sales, land swaps with jurisdictions, and joint-powers authorities for land that is split between the county and the agency. One of the more complicated land deals came about when BART and the city of Berkeley swapped air and land rights to clear the way for Leddy Maytum Stacy’s Ed Roberts Campus, a dynamic facility for non-profits that includes spiraling internal ramps, large skylights, and a memorable glass facade. Ed Roberts got the ground, BART got the air (and subsequent station and parking areas) and the development was on its way.

Ordway also notes that the agency tries to promote transit “villages,” such as the MacArthur Transit Village, a mixed-use collection of buildings located at the MacArthur stop of the Pittsburgh/ Bay Point line. “We’re trying to create something that’s sustainable, not just a building,” he said, noting that the agency will try to phase in projects with local cities and landowners, which can be a financing and zoning headache. But to Ordway, “It’s a superior product.”

Hollywood & Vine

[ 07 ] Hollywood & Vine

Architect: HKS
Developer: Legacy Partners
Line: METRO Red Line
Size: 300 hotel rooms; 143 condos; 375 apartments
Completion: 2009


Bay Area Rapid Transit

Pros and Cons

While there’s no arguing with agencies’ success at creating new TODs and their subsequent spikes in ridership and profits, some questions have arisen, like how these developments fit into their communities and whether their designs are up to par.

“TODs are not focusing enough on putting employment directly on top of transit stations,” said Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director for San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), who argues that the focus on residential and retail should spread to office buildings and other employment centers. A good example, he notes, is San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal’s 1,200 foot office tower. “You want offices because that’s where transit riders are going to,” he said.

“Where are the real jobs? Not just the retail jobs but the jobs that can employ the people that live in the area?” agreed Will Wright, AIA/LA Director of Government and Public Affairs. AIA/LA is trying to promote passage of the Community Plan Implementation Overview (CPIO), a local ordinance that would force new developments like TODs to “start to thinking about their integration into the community” by coordinating more closely with city planning. Wright is critical of Metro’s existing TODs, noting “almost every one has been compromised extensively because Metro wasn’t looking at the bigger picture.” He points to Wilshire/Vermont and Wilshire/Beverly on the Red Line, both with gas stations on opposite corners, which he notes are not exactly pedestrian or mass transit friendly establishments.

Armstrong Place

Armstrong Place   Armstrong Place  

[ 01 ] Armstrong Place

Architect: David Baker
Developer: Bridge Housing
Line: Muni Third Street Light Rail
Size: 130,000 SF apartments; 238,000 SF townhouses
Completion: 2011

Brian Rose

Meanwhile unlike the fairly consistent praise thrown at high-profile, mega-budget high speed rail hubs, local TODs’ architectural quality, according to some, is improving but still not where it needs to be. ULI’s Altoon, who praised Metro’s Moliere for turning around that agency’s TOD efforts, says that TODs have taken huge steps from their early days when designs were very “utilitarian.” But he added that design still suffers, often as a result of the high cost of developing TODs, due to many infrastructure-related burdens, lower income neighborhoods, and density. He recommends more interaction with the community for feedback as well as new financing methods to provide more design funding, like lowering rents, increasing entitlements, providing more tax incentives, or setting up business improvement districts.

Walnut Creek  

[ 02 ] Walnut Creek

Architect: MVE & Partners
Developer: Transit Village Associates (BRE Properties)
Line: BART Pittsburgh / Bay Point
Size: 600 apartments; 18,500 SF retail; 3,500 SF transit and BART police office
Completion: 2016


Metro has shown an ability to add more uses than residential and retail with upcoming projects like A.C. Martin’s NOHO Art Wave in North Hollywood, which combines a city’s worth of uses (the project is still up in the air, however), and Mariachi Plaza in East LA, which is anticipated to include not only apartments and retail but also community and office space.

Meanwhile the agency has design standards for each of its projects, said Moliere, and chooses architects through an RFQ/RFP process and a panel of four or five experts, one of those being an architect/planner. The results“are not cookie cutter by any means. We make sure they work in the context of the neighborhood,” said Moliere.

MacArthur Transit Village  

[ 03 ] MacArthur Transit Village

Architect: MVE & Partners and Van Meter Williams Pollack
Developer: Bridge Housing
Line: BART Pittsburgh / Bay Point
Size: 524 condos; 100 apartments; 42,500 SF retail; 5,000 SF childcare
Completion: 2015

But is design dominant? When asked for the names of the architects on their TOD projects the agency replied, “Architects are a subcontractor to the developer and we do not have that information.” One would hope these names would be at Metro’s fingertips if they had control over their developers’ designs.

After the ULI’s recent TOD summit in Hollywood, LA community activist Stephen Box complained that TODs, often built at a formidable scale, ignore the human experience. “The unique and personal perspective of the individual must never be lost in the awesomeness and hugeness of TOD. Unfortunately, losing that human touch is the norm, not the exception.”

Ed Roberts Campus   Ed Roberts Campus  

[ 04 ] Ed Roberts Campus

Architect: Leddy Maytum Stacy
Developer: ERC Partners
Line: Richmond Line
Size: 149,000 SF
Completion: 2011

Tim Griffith

When asked where design fell in the mix at BART, Ordway admitted it wasn’t the top priority on the list. “We look at capability, experience, concept. An understanding of what the local jurisdiction is doing.” But he said that both design and practicalities have to be right. “It’s got to work physically. It has to relate to the street. It has to relate to the transit function. But it also has to work financially, so it’s a mixture.” Sometimes, like in Pleasant Hill, BART invited the community in for a charette.

Dublin Pleasanton   Coliseum

[ 05 ] Dublin Pleasanton

Architect: MVE & Partners
Developer: Windstar Communities
Line: Dublin / Pleasanton
Size: 659 apartments; 22,500 SF retail and hotel
Completion: 2016


[ 06 ] Coliseum

Architect: MVE & Partners
Developer: Oakland Economic Development Corp.
Line: Fremont
Size: 800 apartments; 5,000 SF retail; 1 million SF commercial
Completion: 2016


Many of BART’s TODs are being designed by the same firm, McLaren Vasquez Emsiek & Partners, which belies a lack of architectural variety. And some in the Bay Area have criticized the agency’s TODs for not being on the cutting edge design-wise. Still the agency has pulled off some triumphs, like Leddy Maytum Stacy’s Ed Roberts Campus, and has created some livable new places, especially with its transit villages. Metro’s ability (with their developers) to draw top architectural talent like Maltzan, Arquitectonica, A.C. Martin and others has been a good step on their path from “utilitarian” structures to top notch architecture and urbanism.

Bill Leddy, a principal at Leddy Maytum Stacy, admitted to the challenges of working with BART, from meeting the agency’s many bureaucratic criteria to “making sure the right people were at the table.” The process took ten years. But in the end it was “made manageable by the key folks, like Ordway, who wanted to see this project succeed.”

High Speed Rail Joins The Party


Courtesy HOK


Architect: HOK
Developer: City of Anaheim and Orange County Transportation Authority
Size: 66,000 SF station; 16-acres mixed-use development
Completion: TBD


The newest player in the TOD game is high speed rail. Because it’s still early, the only developments that have been fleshed out are a few hub stations, produced through public private partnerships— the ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center) Station in Anaheim and the Transbay Center in San Francisco.

Transbay, led by a team that includes Pelli Clarke Pelli and developer Hines along with the Transbay Joint Powers Authority—a collaboration of several Bay Area government and transportation agencies— is a multi modal hub that will include facilities for Cal Train, high speed rail, bus ramps, and a major office building. The station itself includes an undulating glass facade, a glassy atrium full of public art, and a 5.4-acre working park on the roof.

Transbay Center   Transbay Center  
Courtesy Transbay Joint Powers Authority

Transbay Center

Architect: Pelli Clarke Pelli
Developer: Hines with Transbay Joint Powers Authority
Size: One million SF transportation hub
Completion: 2017


Artic, produced by HOK, the city of Anaheim, and the Orange County Transportation Authority, consists of a multi-modal link of high speed rail, commuter lines, Amtrak, and local and regional bus lines. The new station’s vaulted steel design will be inset with a pillow-like ETFE membrane. A lofty, wide-open hall—with a ceiling measuring over 150 feet high—will be surrounded by shops and ticket booths and bordered on its southern end by train platforms and tracks.

The areas around both developments are zoned for Transit Oriented Development. For instance Artic will contain retail space inside and out while the zoning around it calls for commercial, residential office, and institutional uses. Meanwhile the Transbay Redevelopment Plan will facilitate the development of nearly 2,600 residential units, 3 million square feet of new office and commercial space, and 100,000 square feet of retail.

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Billings Bummer Yet Again in July
For the fifth straight month the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) has posted negative figures, with the only positive number on the chart coming from billing inquiries. The overall number dropped from 46.3 in June to 45.1 in July (any ABI number below 50 is considered negative). AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker once again pointed to the larger economy as the source of industry woes. “The stuff that’s going on with the national level is consistent with what we’re experiencing,” said Baker, adding that given the current political situation he didn’t think another stimulus package would make it through Congress. “The politics of that is going to be tough; there’s a problem with increased spending,” he said. Even if it did, the last package didn’t really trickle down to the industry. “I have a hunch if there’s a chance it would go through, it would look a lot like the last stimulus and architects didn’t get a lot from that,” he said. There were no regional leaders this time out, with all areas falling below 50. The West went from 51.7 to 46.6, the Midwest 44.6 to 44.9, the South 47.3 to 46.9, and the Northeast went from 47.6 to 46.4. In the sector breakdown, mixed practices dove from 51.7 to 47.1, while commercial/institutional slipped from 50.0 to 47.9. Multi-family residential fell from 49.6 to 44.7, and institutional shifted from 45.9 to 47.2. Meanwhile, last month’s light at the end of the tunnel, a project inquiry index of 58.1 got a lot smaller, falling to 53.7. While still a positive number, Baker said last month’s inquiries didn’t translate into good numbers for this month. “It’s going to take a broader turnaround in the economy,” he concluded.
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Billings Downer
Billings (blue) and inquiries (red) for the past 12 months.
The Architect's Newspaper

The latest Architecture Billings Index (ABI) dropped from 47.2 in May to 46.3 in June. The drop represents the third straight month of decline, with last month’s low already the worst since February 2010 when the ABI was 44.8. “Every month, I keep waiting for it to break loose, but it wasn’t in June,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. As he has said before, Baker pointed out that economic and political issues beyond the industry inevitably take their toll. Daily headlines, like the President and Congress wrangling over the debt ceiling, could lead to higher borrowing rates for real estate projects, spelling potential catastrophe for the sector should they then default.

As the index provides a snapshot of the big picture, anecdotally the reality remains a bit more diverse than numbers might suggest. More than a few firms report that they are signing more contracts and that the work stream is getting steadier. “Comments from architects are all over the board,” said Baker. “Some say it was their best year ever and others are more like, ‘What recovery? I haven’t seen work in a year!’ But that’s the nature of the beast for the type of small businesses that architecture firms tend to be.”


Perhaps the biggest regional surprise was that the West, which has been floundering for some time, came out on top as the only area pulling positive numbers (any ABI number below 50 is considered negative). The region went from 49.3 in May to 51.7 in June. The South dipped negligibly from 47.5 to 47.3, while the Northeast also slipped a fraction. The Midwest continued their unabated decline, going from 45.9 to 44.6.


In the sector breakdown, mixed practices rose substantially from 45.2 to 51.7, while commercial/institutional broke through to 50.0, up from 46.5. Multi-family residential didn’t fare as well, dropping from 53.6 to 49.6. Institutional shifted from 44.9 to 45.9.

If any good news was to be gleaned from the report, it was that project inquiries jumped from 52.6 to 58.1. Does this mean relief is in sight? Baker reacted cautiously and explained the discrepancy of bad billings alongside a lift in inquiries. “In general, better inquiries rise in association with better billings, a month or two down the road, but it is also typical for inquiries to be all over the map.”

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Pace Yourself
Billings (blue) and inquiries (red) for the past 12 months.
The Architect's Newspaper
  According to the AIA, February Billings stagnated at 50.6, a fraction higher than January’s 50.0. Though any number above 50 is considered positive territory, AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker found the new results tepid at best. “Overall demand for design services seems to be treading water over the last two months,” Baker said in a statement. New inquiries also maintained a hovering action, hitting 56.4 in February, from 56.5 in January. February Billings
Billings by region: Northeast (orange), Midwest (blue), South (red), West (green).
The Midwest leads the national pack, with an index reading of 55.3. The area outperformed the rest of the country but dropped ever so slightly from its January high of 56.4. The South followed with 50.1, while the West and Northeast fell into negative territory at 49.1 and 46.4 respectively, with the West finally ceding its long held last place position to the Northeast.   The sector breakdown took the commercial/ industrial index to 55.0, up from 54.6 last month. Mixed practices pulled out of the negative territory from 48.7 up to 51.3. Multi-family residential dipped to 49.7 from 53.7, and institutional moved slightly from 48.7 to 48.9. Project inquiries remained fairly steady at 56.4, though down marginally from 56.5. February Billings
Billings by sector: Residential (green), commercial/industrial (pink), institutional (gold), mixed-use (purple).
While construction added 33,000 jobs, architecture firms dropped 1,000 after a mid-2010 uptick in hiring. An AIA survey panel found that nearly a quarter of all firms surveyed (24 percent) received some form of revenue resulting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The flat results of the first two months of 2011 dampened the hopeful mood resulting from an upswing in the fourth quarter. Still, in the end Baker found the glass to be half full. “We’ve been preaching patience and cautious optimism for a full recovery because there continues to be a wide range of business conditions for architecture firms that are also influenced by firm size, practice specialties, and regional location,” said the economist. “We still expect the road to recovery to move at a slow steady pace.”
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Billings Dips But Stays in Positive Territory
The Architecture Billing Index (ABI) dropped nearly four points in January, but just managed to stay in positive territory with a score of an even 50 (any score below 50 indicates shrinking billings). The new projects enquiry index also fell significantly from 61.6 in December to 56.5 in January, but remained comfortably in positive territory. Even with the fall in the indexes, the AIA believes the overall trend is stable with mild growth. "We've been taking a cautiously optimistic approach for the last several months and there is no reason at this point to change that outlook," said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker in a statement. Significant regional differences persist. The Midwest led in January with a score of 56.4, the South picked up with an index of 51.3, and the Northeast stayed in positive territory at 50.4. The West continued to drag down the overall index with a score of 47.3. The differences were smaller across sectors. Commercial industrial billings scored 54.6, multi-family residential came in at 53.7, and institutional worked billings totaled 51.3. The mixed-practice index was lowest at 48.7.
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Spring Thaw as West Coast Architects Begin Hiring
Clive Wilkinson Architects Santa Monica College satellite campus project
Courtesy Clive Wilkinson Architects

The gloom has not fully lifted, but the clouds have parted enough to let in a little sunshine. And the forecast is for better weather ahead.

That’s the meteorological take on what West Coast architects are saying about their businesses following two grim years of recession and layoffs. Some are hiring again, although not in big numbers, and are preparing for a backlog of stalled local projects to start moving forward.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said William H. Fain Jr., a partner at LA-based Johnson Fain. While the domestic construction field is still weak, he said he is receiving calls from U.S. clients who “can’t postpone planning and positioning any longer.”

Santa Monica College satellite campus
Lobby view of the Santa Monica College satellite campus.

At the depth of the recession Johnson Fain downsized dramatically, from about 100 to a low of 43 staffers, but recently climbed back to about 55. While large urban planning and residential projects in China and Taiwan have been major sources of work, the firm has recently taken on domestic planning projects for the HemisFair Park in San Antonio, Texas, and some older LA school campuses.

“We are not through it yet,” said Donnie Schmidt, a senior associate at Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects in LA. “But I’m glad to see the U.S. is beginning to show some life again.” His firm recently signed on two consulting architects to help with new office and housing projects. A mixed-use building and resort plan in Hawaii is also on the horizon.

There is a large pool of unemployed architects to draw from. When Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects ran an ad on in December, they received about 350 resumes the first day, with applicants ranging from recent grads to “senior people with 20 to 30 years of experience,”said Schmidt. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

The recession pushed the West Hollywood-based Clive Wilkinson Architects to diversify beyond its workplace design specialty, according to vice president John Meachem. One of its current big projects is design of a satellite campus for Santa Monica College¹s media and technology programs, including three buildings and a garage. The firm also pushed for more international work, such as office design for 3,000 employees in a new ten-story bank building in Sydney, Australia. With all that, the firm, which has about 30 employees, was able to limit cuts to two layoffs and has hired six people in the last six months.

In January, 30 job postings from Southern California firms on Archinect were more than double the number in November. Nicci Solomons, executive director of the AIA’s Los Angeles chapter, said her organization’s website job listings are also up. At the worst of the downturn, there might have been just three postings—now it is more common to see a dozen or so. “It’s certainly a thaw,” she said, adding that there is a long way to go.

Nadel Architects Dalian, China Convention and sports center in Dalian, China

Nadel Architects Dalian, China Convention and sports center in Dalian, China
Courtesy Nadel Architects

At AC Martin Partners in LA, president Kenneth Lewis said the Southern California economy remains a question mark. His firm has long had a major hand in higher education, but state budget problems will probably reduce  construction at public universities, he said.

Like those at other firms, Lewis is finding that certain niches, such as multi-family residential buildings, retail, and adaptive reuse, are coming back locally and leading to more hires. His staff, from a high of about 100, is now at about 70, he said, thanks to assignments like retrofitting the Hall of Justice at the LA Civic Center and work on the proposed Wilshire Grand hotel, office, and residential towers in Downtown LA. At Valerio Architects, a 25-person LA firm that specializes in retail and restaurant design, an uptick in work has led to hiring five people over the past six months, according to Damon Pressman, business development coordinator. And West LA-based Nadel Architects, which had cut employment from about 200 to 100 in recent years, has hired back eight people in the past few months, mainly to help with international projects like a convention and sports center in Dalian, China. Domestically, the firm has worked on several multi-family rental residences and is starting to hear from a range of other potential clients. “The indicators are that there will be more activity in the near term, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet,” said Patrick Winters, a firm director. The mantra for many remains, wait and see.

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Developing Stories
Magellan's Lakeshore East from the air.
Okrent Associates

The New Neighborhood: Magellan Development Group

The undulating balconies of Aqua are the newest landmark on the Chicago skyline, and the building has cemented Studio Gang’s reputation as one of the city’s leading high-design firms. It has also signaled the ambitions of the project’s developer, Magellan Development Group, as one of the most innovative and design-minded in Chicago.

As impressive as Aqua’s profile in the skyline may be, it is only one piece of the Lakeshore East development, the large mixed-use area just north of Millennium Park developed entirely by Magellan, which has helped infuse downtown with residents and activity. When it is complete, Lakeshore East will have approximately 5,000 units of housing—3,000 of which have been built—along with 1,500 hotel rooms, 2.2 million square feet of commercial space, and a 6-acre park. Built on 28 acres of a former golf course, Lakeshore East is one of the largest developments within a central business district anywhere in the United States. “This site was in front of all of our eyes,” said James Loewenberg, co-CEO of Magellan. “Timing and luck are the most important things. And the timing was right for Lakeshore East.”

A 6-acre park at the heart of lakeshore east will eventually be ringed by 5,000 units of housing.
skorburg & associates


the parkhomes at aqua, designed by studio gang.
COURTESY magellan

Based on a masterplan by SOM and built around a park designed by the Office of James Burnett with Site Design Group, the project includes buildings designed by DeStefano + Partners, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Steinberg Architects, and Studio Gang, all within walking distance of the Loop and the lakefront. Aqua is only the latest amenity in this quickly evolving neighborhood. “Aqua is a one-of-a-kind building, and it’s definitely got a lot of cachet in the architecture community,” Loewenberg said. “From the beginning, we wanted buildings by different architects with different points of view. We think variety is a really good thing, as long as we maintain high quality.”

According to Loewenberg, the build-out of Lakeshore East is on schedule, with eight of the 13 major buildings completed. Though the most recent buildings are smaller scale, such as the Studio Gang–designed townhouses known as the Parkhomes at Aqua, the market is picking up again. “There has been a dramatic turnaround in the last 60 to 90 days,” he said. A new building, likely rentals, is in the works, designed by Brininstool, Kerwin and Lynch (BKL), a firm in which Magellan is an investor. “The condo market is still fractured, but rentals have improved dramatically here,” he said. A condominium building by Arquitectonica is on hold until more financing can be secured. “It will come back,” Loewenberg said of the project.

Loewenberg believes that the location of Lakeshore East has made it a durable investment even during the downturn: Aqua is 85 percent sold, and the other buildings are performing just as well. And, the developer adds, Lakeshore East’s prospects look strong to banks. “There’s a lot of lending interest out there,” he said.

Even as the firm works to complete Lakeshore East, Magellan is looking for new opportunities in the Chicago area and beyond. Through working on a proposal for the athletes’ village for Chicago’s Olympic bid, Loewenberg formed a relationship with Thomas Kerwin, who was then working for SOM. When Kerwin decided to join David Brininstool and Brad Lynch in starting a new firm, Loewenberg sensed there was an opportunity for further collaborations. An architect by training and a principal of Loewenberg Architects—also affiliated with Magellan—Loewenberg believes the company’s relationship with BKL will allow it to pursue development opportunities abroad (Kerwin has extensive experience on large-scale projects in Asia from his time at SOM). “It’s a part of the natural evolution of things. They’ll go after a project on their own, and we’ll pursue things together when it’s appropriate,” he said.

Back at home, Magellan is working on a proposal for a grocery store, retail center, and parking garage to be built on a surface lot in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Smaller projects like these are part of Magellan’s pragmatic strategy. The company has a strong relationship with the owners of Roundy’s Supermarkets, and realized that the site, close to transit lines and a compact residential neighborhood, was ideal for a grocery tenant. The company is waiting for approval for tax increment financing funds from the city. “We’re always looking for opportunities,” he said.

Loewenberg credits the company’s success to following the market, along with a large measure of good luck. At Lakeshore East, good planning, innovative design, and an incredible central location might also have played a role. “My love has always been designing and developing highrises,” he said. “I knew that was a niche we could fill.”

CMK's 235 Van Buren, in foreground, designed by perkins + will.
Padgett & Company

a profile and detail of 235 van buren. 
padgett & company


Selling High Design: CMK Companies

With 1,977 units and $1.1 billion in construction under their belt, CMK Companies can hardly be called an emerging development firm. Founded in 1995 with a few single- and multi-family projects, the company quickly gained the confidence of lenders, allowing them to move up to larger projects. A commitment to contemporary design runs through all their work, which quickly and steadily began to attract buyers.

“Our projects have a more modern feeling, with clean lines that stand apart in the marketplace,” CMK founder and president Colin Kihnke said. “A lot of buyers can tell it’s one of our projects just looking at the building. You enter the unit and you can sense it.”

Scott Osterhaus, principal of Osterhaus McCarthy, who worked on a number of smaller and mid-scale projects for CMK in the late 1990s as well as more recently, said Kihnke was a good client from the start. “He was looking for something that was interesting and more modern than was the norm in the speculative market. He’s always been a bit of an architecture buff,” Osterhaus said. He believes Kihnke not only connected with buyers but also helped to push residential design forward in the city.

Ralph Johnson, design director of Perkins + Will in Chicago, agrees. “For a long time the city was pushing really retro stuff. That was what you needed to get approved. Colin really worked to resist that,” he said. “It’s been a breath of fresh air for Chicago. He’s done a lot to bring modern residential architecture back, and he’s put himself on the line to sell it.”

Johnson first worked with CMK on the Contemporaine, a highly sculptural, 28-unit condominium building in River North. The building went on to receive critical raves, and sold so well that CMK asked Johnson to design a much larger, moderately priced project, the recently completed 235 Van Buren. “He said he wanted to do something for more of an entry-level buyer,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a good challenge.” The 714-unit building has a glazed south facade with concrete balconies that appear to float. As Kihnke said, “Unique architecture has value.”

Aside from Johnson at Perkins + Will, CMK has worked with Brininstool and Lynch (now Brininstool, Kerwin and Lynch) on large projects including 1620 and 1720 Michigan Avenue in the South Loop, both of which are sold out, and John Ronan on the renovation of the company’s offices. Ronan has also worked on a project in the Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean that has yet to break ground.

Kihnke believes that though the market still has a lot of excess inventory, especially in condominiums, there is activity. “If your project has momentum, you can still do well,” he said, noting that 235 Van Buren has ten to 12 closings per month. For the near future, he plans to focus on smaller projects, more along the lines of those he started in the beginning. “I live and breathe real estate development,” he said. “I get as much pleasure out of developing a 50-unit building as I do a 500-unit building.”

Osterhaus added, “As an architect, you wish there were a lot more Colins out there.”

The Greenway Garage, developed by Friedman Properties and designed by HOK.
Hedrich Blessing

The Placemakers: Friedman Properties 

With its restaurants and showrooms, lovingly converted old buildings, and busy new hotels, it’s easy to forget that River North wasn’t always a nice place to live, work, or go out at night. “Fifteen years ago, this place was blighted. People thought we were crazy,” said Robert Lopatin, chief operating officer of Friedman Properties, one of the principal forces behind the area’s renaissance. “Now it’s the hottest area in the city.” The company manages more than 50 properties, many in River North, with a total of more than 4 million square feet of holdings.

Through historic preservation projects—like the conversion of Reid Murdoch Center from a warehouse into a combination of office, retail, and restaurant spaces—and new construction, Friedman has been a leader in turning the area into a vibrant, and highly sought after, mixed-use neighborhood. With many buildings converted to retail and restaurants with office space above, River North has also extended Chicago’s central business district beyond the Loop.

the Greenway garage's green roof will connect to a new 40-story residential tower next door.
hedrich blessing
“Albert Friedman has been truly innovative. He started buying up properties in River North in the ‘70s, and began creating value out of classic old buildings,” said Todd Halamka, design director of HOK Chicago, referring to the firm’s president and founder. “He has a good eye for design, and a commitment to well-crafted buildings, and he understands the importance of human, street-level scale.” HOK has worked with Friedman on a number of projects, including the recently completed Greenway Garage.

The sustainably designed garage shows the company’s commitment to adding contemporary new construction to its extensive portfolio of rehabilitated properties, as well as its continued belief in mixing uses and adding urban amenities. Built on the site of a former surface parking lot, the garage has ground-floor retail and a multi-story corkscrew wind turbine at the corner, which will generate enough electricity to power the garage and even supply a couple of electric car–charging stations. Cisterns collect rainwater, and the building will have a green roof that will be accessible to a new 40-story residential tower next door, developed by AMLI with Friedman.

According to Lopatin, vacancy rates are very low and new businesses, especially restaurants, continue to open in the neighborhood, even in the slow market. “Younger people are living in the city again,” he said. “They want the amenities close by.” With these demographic trends and the company’s long view, Friedman’s commitment to River North looks like a good investment that will continue to grow over time.

Working Hard But Hardly Working

Last week, the American Institute of Architects said it expected a rebound for firms by year end, and new numbers this week present more encouragement, albeit lukewarm. The latest AIA Architecture Billings Index, released Wednesday, found that payments in June rose a nominal two-tenths of a point to 46.0 from 45.8 in May. It may not be much of an improvement in a decline that now stands at 29 months, but at least work is headed in the right direction after May’s numbers halted a three-month rally this spring that reached 48.5 in April.

“Conditions at architecture firms continue to remain very soft, but we’re optimistic that they will improve before the end of the year,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a statement.

There were a few positive signs, as inquiries for new work rose to 57.7 from 55.5 in May, though that is also short of the 59.6 registered in April. A reading above 50 means the index is rising, and below that it is falling; the greater the difference, the steeper the rate of growth or loss.

The industrial/commercial sector remained the leader for work, the only indicator still in positive territory, though it did fall slightly, to 50.6 from 51.3 in May but remains above April’s 48.5. And while it still remains in negative territory, the institutional sector bounced back to 45.0 from 43.4 in May, though still below April’s 46.8. Mixed-use work fell the most of any sector—2.1 points to 44.7 from 46.8 in May, continuing a two-month decline. And multi-family residential work continues its long slide from January, when it hit 50.1. It dropped to 46.5 in June from 46.9 in May.

Regionally, the June numbers were far worse, as both the Northeast and Midwest continue to decline. The Northeast fell out of positive territory, all the way to 47.4 from 50.6 in May and 51.0 in April. The Midwest, the first region to break 50 back in March, hit 46.3 in June, down from 48.5 in May. The South and West, which have struggled for months, both saw gains, but they remain in foul territory. The South rose to 46.7 from 45.6, its best performance since the fall, while the West rose to 43.6 in June up from a dismal 42.9 in May but not quite the 44.7 the region saw in April.

“The steep decline in nonresidential property values has slowed investment in new facilities,” Baker said by way of explanation in his statement. However, in an interview last week, he expressed confidence that the industry would recover, and that there were limited economic indications of the much-feared “double dip” recession.

For proof, architects can perhaps look to their cousins in landscape architecture, where the American Society of Landscape Architects released its quarterly billings report yesterday. The group found that 65.4 percent said billings had improved or held steady during the second quarter, up from 56.4 percent in the first quarter and a miserable 32 percent this time last year.

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Rounding the Bend
Billings (blue) and inquiries (red) for the past 12 months.

Oil spills, Greek riots, and stock market selloffs be damned, the rebound in the architecture industry continues. In April, the AIA Billings Index reached its highest level since January 2008, when the architectural recession began. While the index has not yet crossed the boundary into positive territory, its continued rise, now for the fourth straight month, suggests that demand for work has finally returned.

“It appears that the design and construction industry may be nearing an actual recovery phase,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a release.

April billings, which were released today by the AIA, rose 2.5 points to 48.5 from 46.1 in March and a recent low of 42.5 in January. The continuous rise is a good sign because the index spent pretty much all of 2009 fluctuating in the mid- to low-40s, and only twice enjoyed consecutive months of improvement. It also brings the index closer than it has been in years to the coveted 50-point threshold at which billings are rising instead of falling. The last positive reading was 51.1 in January 2008. Another positive sign is that inquiries for new work have rebounded from a dip over the past few months, reaching 59.6, up from 58.5 in March and 52.0 in February.

Billings by Region: Northeast (blue), Midwest (red), South (green) and West (purple).

There has been no particular panacea over the past few months, as the various sectors and regions have fluctuated widely, a trend that was reversed last month when all eight rose in concert for the first time since the recession began. That trend did not continue this month, as some regions and sectors dipped down, though others still passed critical thresholds.

The most notable was the Northeast, which reached 51.0, up from 47.0 in March. The Midwest, which was the first region to cross the threshold, doing so in March, dipped back down slightly, hitting 49.2, falling from 50.5 and breaking an 11-month streak of improvement. The West, which has struggled throughout the recession, also slid, reaching 44.7, down from 46.0, while the South recovered to 46.5 from 44.4, its third month of gains following a rough fall. It is the strongest showing for the region since July 2008, though the potential impact of the oil spill, both physically and psychically, to the local economy remains an open question.

Billings by Sector: Multi-family Residential (blue), Commercial/Industrial (red), Institutional (green), Mixed-use (purple)

The sectors were mixed after a few consistently good months, though all still remain in good territory. The big surprise is multi-family residential work, which broke 50 in November and January, the first set of billings to do so, but has since struggled, falling to 45.3 from 47.3 in March, making it the weakest sector. Meanwhile, institutional work posted no gains, holding steady at 46.8. There is good news, though, as mixed-use projects made a big jump, to 48.4 up from 45.0 and commercial/industrial leapt even higher, to 48.5 from 44.7, leaving both sectors poised for a positive turn.

“The economic landscape is improving, although not across the board, but doing so at a gradual pace,” Baker said. “It is quite possible that we will finally see positive business conditions in the foreseeable future.”

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Far From Over

Despite growing sentiment that the recession gripping the world economy is most likely over, the architecture industry continues to suffer with no strong signs of growth over the past six months. During that period, the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index has yet to record any significant growth in payments to architects, with billings slipping 1.5 points for the month of August.

“We’re stuck in slow decline mode,” Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist, said in an interview. “Firms are telling us business is still deteriorating but deteriorating very slowly.” Baker expects an equally plodding recovery.

billings by Region, January-August 2009: Northeast (blue), Midwest (red), South (green), West (purple).

In August, nationwide billings fell to 41.7 from 43.1. A reading above 50 means payments to firms are rising while any number below means they are falling. Starting in January, the index began to rally from the low 30s, but it has gyrated in the low 40s since March, even dipping into the high 30s in June. “I don’t read too much into a one-and-a-half point decline,” Baker said. “I look at this as we’re six months into no growth.”

Inquiries for new work took a big jump, however, to 55.2 from 50.3, reversing a four-month decline. But because inquiries have hovered in the mid-50s since March with no comparable rise in billings, Baker has begun to regard inquiries not as a leading indicator of work to come, as it has been in the past, but simply as a sign that clients are not yet ready to kick off new projects or are casting a wider net to take advantage of the depressed markets.

Billings by sector, January-August 2009: Multi-family residential (blue), commercial/industrial (red), institutional (green), mixed-use (purple)

Oddly enough, most regional and sector indicators are up, if only slightly, but Baker explains that this is because they are calculated on a three-month rolling average due to a smaller sample size.

The Northeast and Midwest have made considerable gains, respectively, to 45.2 from 37.8 and 43.0 from 36.9. The South increased slightly to 44.1 from 43.4, while the West continues to languish, dropping more than two points to 37.5 from 39.7. Meanwhile, multi-family residential work is up slightly to 43.4 from 40.7, as is commercial/industrial, reaching 45.6 from 42.9. Institutional work rose meagerly to 37.5 from 47.1, though this is a reversal of a five-month decline. And mixed-use work slipped to 41.4 from 42.9.

While things still look bleak, Baker noted that a few areas, such as the Northeast, Midwest, and commercial/industrial work are all within striking distance of positive territory. Were they to cross that threshold, Baker said, “then there might actually be room for celebrating.”