Posts tagged with "Seattle":
A whole new breed of architecture can help fight drug addiction and save thousands of lives every year
On January 13, 2016, police found the body of a 31-year-old man, who had been dead for “at least” 12 hours, in a car parked on Pike Street in Capitol Hill, Seattle. He had died from a drug overdose in the shadows, which is common, as drug users often are too ashamed to seek help or use in the open. In the United States, 52,404 people died from overdoses in 2015.
In the eyes of some, this man’s death would have been preventable if he had attended a harm reduction facility—a new typology emerging in the developed world. Just over 100 miles away from Seattle, in Vancouver, one such facility oversees at least one overdose incident every day, on average. In its 14 years of operation so far, the facility has seen more than 5,000 overdoses, yet no one has died there.
The facility, called InSite, is a public place where drug users can go to consume their own substances in a safe, secure, and welcoming environment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For 13 years, the self-described “supervised injection facility” was the only one of its kind operating legally in North America. As of this May, three more facilities—all in Montreal—received approval and two are scheduled to open later this year.
There are now more than 100 legally operating supervised injection facilities across the world, the majority of which can be found in Continental Europe. The first opened in Bern, Switzerland, in 1986, and many European cities have slowly been adopting similar schemes.
None currently exist in the United States, but several models operating abroad and one prototype stateside might offer clues about how to make these places palatable for a U.S. political environment that is more centered around fighting a war on drug “crime” than on treating addiction as a public health issue.
Canadian architect Sean McEwen designed InSite in 2002. With high ceilings, dark walls, and no Plexiglas inside to separate staff from visitors, the space eschews the notions of traditional medical institutions. Russell Maynard, who has been working at InSite for eight years, said that, “from a design perspective, it’s all about controlling the flow; that is more important than security.”
Three-phase-oriented circulation is a constant throughout almost all official drug-consumption spaces and can be summarized as: pre-consumption, consumption, and post-consumption.
Upon entering InSite, visitors are greeted by a receptionist. After providing a name (which can be fake), they are asked if they want to inject or detox and then are placed on a waiting list. The wait time is approximately seven minutes. According to Marilou Gagnon, a nurse at InSite and an associate professor at the School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, this is the period when InSite sees some visitors leave to shoot up outside, in a nearby alleyway, often using puddles to clean their needles.
“Needing to get a hit is like having chopped your finger off—you’re not going to want to wait very long or travel very far to fix it,” Gagnon said. Vancouver is a city of alleyways, and drug users favor them because they are discreet and easy to find. As Gagnon explained, however, this is problematic for two main reasons: Shooting up in an alleyway is unhygienic, and if you overdose, it’s not a great idea to be hidden.
Designing for anonymity and privacy, unfortunately, is paradoxical to health and well-being in the context of addiction. There is no hiding at InSite, but this is a good thing. Within the injection room, there are 13 booths, which line the interior perimeter, allowing nurses a clear line of sight into each.
These booths, each with their own lights, are mirrored to provide nurses and users with better visibility; this is particularly important for users, to help them avoid being surprised by approaching staff and when injecting into their necks. (Staff are not allowed to actually inject for users but can provide advice, prepare drugs, and clean needles, among other things.) Additionally, female users, who on average constitute a quarter of the visitors, often use the mirrors to do their makeup.
As the designer, McEwen also specified comfortable and easily cleanable chairs. “This may be the best seat users sit in all week,” he said. After injecting, users exit to a “chill-out” room, where they can speak to peers (usually former users), counselors, and nurses and find out about detox programs. Maynard stressed that visitors only enroll in such programs of their own accord.
Easing the Stigma
Politically, injection facilities are toxic. InSite went through a court case when the federal government attempted (unsuccessfully) to shut it down. “A common misconception is that people are shit-faced here; that’s not the case,” explained Maynard, speaking of InSite. “There are consumption sites everywhere for alcohol—they’re called bars. When you go into a bar, not everyone is off-their-face drunk, and that’s the case here.”
To avoid public conflict, almost all facilities have anonymous facades, with little or no signage. At InSite, zoning requirements for storefront retail meant the facility had to pretend to be a coffee shop to get development approval. More recently as a trial, the Canadian government funded the Narcomane Research and Help Center in Montreal, which provided heroin to registered users—a first for North American facilities. It was shrouded in secrecy at the time, and is now closed. “Not even the neighbors knew about it,” said its architect, Ron Rayside.
Margot Young, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, is interested in this aspect of the typology. She argues that the sight of InSite fuels the “larger political goal of putting injection drug addicts ‘in the sight’ of policy makers and governments.”
The sight of InSite, though, is in need of work. According to Maynard, the facility is operating at above full capacity, sometimes seeing more than 1,300 visitors a day; Hannah Leyland, a Master’s student covering InSite in her thesis, described it as looking “low budget,” noting chipped paint. InSite has annual operating costs of $2.15 million. A 2010 study into its financial wellbeing touched upon how the facility’s hygienic provisions prevent HIV infections. The study concluded that if InSite were closed, HIV infections would increase by 46 percent, costing Canadian taxpayers $12.9 million (CDN$17.6 million).
Ad hoc America
In the U.S., however, a cheaper solution is more politically viable. Dr. Gregory Scott, a visual sociologist, who has 17 years of experience in the field of drug-use harm reduction, is pursuing this route. He is traveling the U.S. with SAFE SHAPE, a “pop-up public health exhibit” that acts as a mock safe-injection site.
Scott designed SAFE SHAPE with architect Andrew Santa Lucia, of Portland, Oregon–based firm Office Andorus. The ten-square-foot pavilion uses two-inch-thick aluminum tubes to compose a white frame over which a bright-white, translucent spandex shell is stretched. It weighs less than 100 pounds and can be broken down and packaged into four ski bags and two storage tubs, allowing it to be easily transportable by plane.
“For me, design and aesthetics become heavily politicized in terms of the stigma associated with drug addicts,” said Scott. He wanted something that didn’t leap out at people as a place for users, instead adopting a “high-design” look that, semiotically, didn’t reference preconceived ideas surrounding drug addiction.
“Using a taut skin, we were able to produce a bright image that stands out in almost any landscape and becomes an icon,” explained Santa Lucia.
So far, only one SAFE SHAPE has been built. Scott erected the pavilion in Chicago as an actual consumption facility for both injectable and smokable (usually crack cocaine) drugs, albeit temporarily and illegally. Despite its small size, SAFE SHAPE is able to cater to two injectors or three smoking users at a time. The latter is a rarity for the harm reduction typology, due to issues of ventilation. SAFE SHAPE’s varied-height apertures, however, allow for such use.
Additionally, its size may be an advantage in terms of providing a safe place for drug consumption that can cater to drug users quickly and efficiently, but one thing SAFE SHAPE doesn’t provide is permanence. Many visitors to drug-consumption spaces do not have registered addresses, and time spent in such facilities can provide private moments to feel at ease and escape street life.
Another site that caters to smoking users is H17, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Occupying a former slaughterhouse in the gentrified, artsy district of Vesterbro, H17 cost $4.4 million and opened in August. It is more than 1,000 times larger than SAFE SHAPE and was designed by Copenhagen firm PLH Arkitekter. To Scott, “H17 is a fine example of bringing design and function together for the purpose of interrupting a criminalizing, moralizing discourse that really does harm people.”
PLH used a technique the firm calls “nudging” to encourage visitors on a linear path through the building and to separate pre- and post-consumers. “There are no 90-degree or smaller corners,” explained Lars Toksvig, a partner at PLH Arkitekter, which worked on H17. The facility’s entrance is open and employs a palette of cool “calming” colors.
The injection booths at H17 are wide and mirrored, and each has a hole on its stainless-steel desk that allows easy and safe disposal of used syringes, etc. A chill-out space is also provided, where inflatable furniture and warmer colors create a calm and less-clinical environment. “When we looked at precedents, we found many were insufficient in size,” said Toksvig. “When they get too small, users can become stressed inside and outside. It is important to cater to this.”
What is Next?
In Canada, some architecture firms are becoming more familiar with designing injection sites. Rayside said his Montreal practice, Rayside Labossière, has worked on five such facilities, most recently Spectre de Rue and CACTUS, both in Montreal and on course to open this year.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., in Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray granted approval for two injection sites, officially known as “Community Health Engagement Locations.” The two facilities could be America’s first. Currently, officials are in the process of finding the right locations and working out funding.
However, according to Mark Townsend, former executive director of the PHS Community Services Society, NIMBYism can slow proceedings. “Ideally, you want these spaces established before there is an overdose epidemic,” he said.
In addition to saving lives, drug consumption facilities can serve as paradoxical stepping-stones toward detox. They bring the very real work of designing for harm reduction into the public eye, while also providing private, dignified spaces that benefit both users and nonusers. Though these facilities are sadly only born out of crises, the progress in their design represents a change in public and political attitudes, an area in which the U.S. still has a long way to go.
In a Seattle neighborhood of traditional family homes, Heliotrope Architects create a modern abode using local materials
In a hip and funky part of Capitol Hill—Seattle’s answer to Brooklyn—sits one new home that is unlike the others. Amid the surrounding sea of bungalow and cottage-style homes is a new residence designed by Seattle and-Portland-based Heliotrope Architects. With its stained-cedar facade and abstract gable roof, it is contemporary yet quietly different, its boldness found in soft details, a monochromatic color palette, and honest materials.
An engineer and an artist—the former an online-retailer employee and the latter a graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—initially reached out to Heliotrope for the project. The couple had big plans to create a home on an empty mid-block lot (the former cottage-style home on the lot was razed) that could house a shared art studio space and feel airy, light, and cheerful.
The interiors take inspiration from white-walled contemporary art galleries, providing a neutral backdrop to a clean, clutter-free space filled with smart furnishings and Arne Jacobsen lighting fixtures. “The approach is not indulgent,” said Heliotrope co-founder and principal Mike Mora. “It’s relatively modest.”
White-painted sheetrock adds tranquility and calmness without feeling sterile. There are Northwestern myrtlewood floors in the peripheral spaces and wood-look tile and concrete flooring (with radiant heat) in the main living areas. The kitchen features custom cabinetry and walnut butcher-block counters, and the living room has custom bookshelves, all crafted by local builder Dovetail (known for building out local Seattle eateries like Joule and Mezcaleria Oaxaca). Ample glazing and skylights bring daylight inside, valuable in a region that can have nine months of cloud cover each year.
“It’s not just a two-story box,” said Mora, explaining why they focused on keeping the house low instead of maximizing the building envelope.
There is a thoughtful balance and unity between contemporary and warm, indoor and outdoor, public and private. As Mora explained, the design relies on a checkerboard layout—a careful juxtaposition between the interior and two ground-level gardens that help distribute natural light throughout the home (there’s also a rooftop garden as well). The master suite is split between two levels: The master bedroom is on the upper floor and looks over the double-height artist studio, while the master bath downstairs includes a custom Japanese soaking tub and cedar countertops. The guest suite lies underneath the gable roof, separated from the master suite.
In the end, Heliotrope was driven by its clients’ close connection to design. “Physical objects are important to them,” said Mora. In fact, the couple is so meticulously organized that the house required just five minutes of staging before the photographer came to shoot this feature.
Like many regions across the country, Seattle is still recovering from the Great Recession, especially when it comes to housing construction.
According to the Seattle Times, rents citywide went up 9.7 percent last year, outpacing increases in every other American city and fueling displacement, gentrification, and overall income inequality. At the same time, the economy has picked up: A recent report by consultants Rider Levett Bucknall listed Seattle as having 58 cranes in operation, more than any other city in the country. Not only that, but the Seattle region added roughly 700,000 residents (roughly the population of Seattle proper) between 2000 and 2014 and is expected to add at least as many in coming decades.
As the economy surges, so does development. This is especially true of projects fueled by—and for—tech-industry juggernauts like Amazon, which is building a NBBJ-designed, 3.3-million-square-foot headquarters in Seattle’s Denny Regrade neighborhood. A condominium tower suburb is sprouting up alongside the new headquarters, too, with an untold number of high-end and luxury units due to come online in that corner of the city over the next few years. There are at least 26 new high-rise developments in the works in the area, with between 10,000 and 30,000 units currently permitted or in pre-development according to a study by Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty.
In step with the building boom, a different sort of pro-growth tide is washing ashore: YIMBYism. The so-called YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) movement is growing rapidly in many American cities, especially across the West, where high rents, increasing urban density, and social justice issues are bringing together broad—and sometimes uneasy—coalitions of more-or-less pro-development voices. The difference is that the voices at the table—anti-displacement working poor communities, pro-density yuppies, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement—are more focused and diverse than your run-of-the-mill “build, baby, build!” crowd.
This new crop of urbanists advocates development to address complex, intersecting issues like mitigating climate change, increasing access to affordable housing, expanding transportation options, and building design justice into the urban fabric.
The groups have rallied around disparate causes, either advocating for or against new development and so far, they’ve had several successes.
One of the groups’ most notable achievements was to block the construction of the $149.2 million North Precinct police station in Seattle. The project, designed by Portland, Oregon–based SRG Partnership, would have brought a 105,000-square-foot facility to a northern part of the city. The project, dubbed “The Bunker” by the BLM activists and a group called Block The Bunker who most fervently fought the proposal, was widely seen as an extension of the city’s ever-growing police state and represented, in the minds of these activists, a misallocation of community resources. Though these groups are not formally affiliated with other pro-development YIMBY groups, their efforts to bake racial and design justice into Seattle's urban fabric add a much needed anti-racism component to the city's chorus of urbanist voices. After a coordinated and cooperative protest in the streets and at city council meetings by anti-Bunker activists, the project was terminated. In his announcement, Capitol Hill Seattle reported that Mayor Ed Murray said the following about the station: “I inherited the [North Precinct] proposal and I made a mistake about not stopping [it].” He added that his office neglected to abide by the city’s racial equity toolkit while pursuing the project. Activists sought to redirect funding for what would have been the most expensive police station in the country toward beneficial community uses—they argued that the money should be used to build 1,000 units of affordable housing.
Another group called No New Youth Jail—also led by people of color and anti-racism advocates—is fighting to stop the construction of a new King County-funded youth detention center in the city, as well.
A different coalition came together this fall to pass Proposition 1, a ballot ordinance to raise $54 billion to expand transit options in the city. The proposition, also known as “Sound Transit 3,” passed with 55 percent support across a three-county area. The proposition aims for a new round of permanent tax increases to fund 10 light rail extensions and three bus-rapid transit extensions across Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties by 2041. As the name implies, Sound Transit 3 represents the third such measure to pass since 1996.
Activist urbanists were also instrumental in pushing Mayor Murray to increase the zoning density allowed around north Seattle’s U-District, adjacent to the University of Washington. The change is the first to be implemented since the city adopted a new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA-R) policy requiring developers to either include affordable units in every new multifamily residential and commercial project in upzoned areas project or pay into a fund used to build affordable units off-site. The U-District upzone calls for raising maximum building heights from 65 feet to 320 feet, among other things, and was designed in anticipation of a new Link light rail line expected to open in 2021.