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Students from Forest Park Elementary School help build an Interactive Wall
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit Tree Forest Park
  • Circuit-Tree – 01
  • Circuit-Tree – 09

Our most recent project had us team with ADX Portland, Intel, Design Museum Portland and the Forest Park Elementary School to design and build a giant interactive snap-cirucit like installation titled Circuit-Tree. We led the conceptual design aspect of the project, utilizing input from parents and faculty from the school, and the fabrication team here at ADX. Our renderings offered guidance for the students to come into the ADX shop and actually design and build elements for the installation. Kids learned how to solder, design an electrical circuit, use the bandsaw, carve and sand wood, and develop designs for aspects of the wall.

More on this project here:  Circuit-Tree Interactive Wall

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A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units)

“An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a second dwelling unit created on a lot with a house, attached house or manufactured home. The second unit is created auxiliary to, and is smaller than, the main dwelling. ADUs can be created in a variety of ways, including conversion of a portion of an existing house, addition to an existing house, conversion of an existing garage or the construction of an entirely new building.” – City of Portland Development Services

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are growing in popularity throughout the Portland metro area as a way to add a rentable, revenue generating unit to a standard residential lot. ADUs are a great way to increase property value, increase revenue for property owners, and increase density within our residential neighborhoods. Propel Studio recently completed the design of an Accessory Dwelling Unit in NE Portland and we want to share some of the lessons learned.

Section view of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

Considering the size of the project – only 704 square feet – the ADU presented some unique design challenges. The client was looking for a 2 bed, 2 bath unit that he could live in and rent out the second bedroom. Given the size of the existing primary residence – the project had to be less than 75% of living area of the existing home – this became a very tight fit into our limited square footage. We were also faced with the unique challenge of siting our design in the front of the existing house, which is located at the back of the lot, forcing us to design our project as an attached ADU. Finally we had to overcome the obstacle of creating a modern project within the strict design guideline that pushes all ADUs to match the qualities of the existing house.  Follow progress on this ADU by clicking here.

Portland’s Design Standards
Although the city is actively promoting ADUs, unfortunately Portland currently has some very strict design guidelines that limit the ability of creative architects to flex their design muscles. The city’s regulations call for all ADUs to reflect the existing house in style, roof pitch and window proportions. Basically they want ADUs to be mini replicas of the primary house. Through our experience with the NE ADU shown above, Propel Studio has worked within the system, played some design tricks, and accomplished a contemporary NW Modern design that creatively fit within the city’s guidelines.

Economics
The City of Portland currently incentivises Accessory Dwelling Units as a sustainable way to increase density in our residential neighborhoods. When you build a new home, addition, or renovation, you pay System Development Charges into a fund which goes to Portland Parks, Environmental Services, Transportation, and Water Bureaus. However, in order to encourage urban development Portland will not assess these fees if an ADU project is submitted for permit before July 31, 2016. This is a significant savings – about $12,000 for an average size ADU – making it an ideal time to consider adding an ADU to your property. For the ADU that we just got permitted, the fees fell in around $5,000 for a 2 bed, 2 bath unit. Not bad for a $100,000 project that could earn $1,500 a month in rental income.

Portland ADU

Sustainability
At Propel Studio we strive to address the three areas of sustainability – economic, social, and environmental – in each of our projects. ADU’s are a great way of addressing sustainability on a typical residential lot. First they offer property owners a new revenue source which could easily cover the financial investment in getting it built – economically sustainable. ADUs also bring small affordable rental units into the heart of the city, providing affordable workforce housing close to jobs while increasing the density of our neighborhoods – socially sustainable. Finally our design was carefully considered to make the best use of the site and natural resources: shed roofs are oriented to allow for the future installation of solar panels; stormwater runoff is returned to the water table through a drywell on site; landscaping consists of native plants; large overhangs over the south facing windows allow in the winter sun and block the summer heat – environmentally sustainable.

Increasing Density
Another benefit is that ADU’s are a great example of sustainable urban infill development. An ADU built in Portland offers urban living at an affordable price, but the real beauty to the idea of ADU’s is that they work to focus population where city life, services, and utilities are as well. This prevents additional sprawl into undeveloped areas, depletion of additional wildlife habitat. When people live far out, not only are they commuting in, but theres a huge energy cost to building and providing utilities further out as well. (electricity, trash,water to name a few)

ADU’s can provide for many functions such as a guest house, an art/music studio, or other live/work possibilities. …and the time to consider building an ADU in Portland is right now.

Contact us for a free design consultation to discuss your thoughts and ideas on adding an ADU to your property.

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Building A Future: Mapping, Molding and Measuring Educational Success Through Architecture
  • Educational Success Through Architecture – 01
  • Educational Success Through Architecture – 02
  • Educational Success Through Architecture – 03
  • Educational Success Through Architecture – 04
  • Educational Success Through Architecture – 05

A scale model of the neighborhood east of Berlin’s iconic TV tower was recently conceived by the Year 1 class at Berlin Bilingual School. Doused in vibrant colors and with new buildings sprouting from the children’s imagination, this model represents the dreams of our future architects, designers, and politicians. The Junior Architects Project conceived by Jessica Waldera, founder of Kleine Baumeister in collaboration with the AEDES Junior Campus Workshop was a unique opportunity for 6 and 7 year olds to engage their built environment. The ultimate goal was to build a 3D model of the school and it’s surroundings; in the process they achieved much more. This was truly a cross curricular project, where the children applied math skills, had geography lessons, discovered the science of mixing colors, and learned valuable lessons in team work.

The Architecture Forum AEDES is uniquely focused on exposing architecture and urban design through the local and global community. This international association, who runs a gallery and holds workshops for university students, generously donated their facilities and supplies for the children to engage in the creative rethinking of their school’s neighborhood.

This project was the culmination of a larger “building” theme at school, where the children at BKIS had been learning about iconic structures around the world, including Berlin, and the elements of architectural design. Equipped with basic knowledge of construction materials, structure and building features, they were eager to apply their junior architectural skills. This exploration into the world of design began with the children analyzing various chairs around the school and discussing their peculiarities and purpose. Using these observational techniques, they embarked on a local scavenger hunt where they photographed their environment, sketched buildings, counted windows, measured car lengths, read street names, took note of colors, shapes and sizes, and democratically decided how to spend 3€ on a sweet treat for 9 people.

Next the students were given maps of the city, the country and the continent, which they intently and industriously examined. With the help of their teachers and a street index, they found their homes on a large map of Berlin and marked it with a pin and ribbon measuring the distance to BKIS. Surrounding this chart, which is now a permanent fixture in the classroom, are drawings of the students’ homes and their own visionary portrayals indicating their route to and from school. This taught not only map reading skills but also gave the children an understanding of context in relation to the urban environment.

This led up to 3 intensive days at the AEDES campus, where the children were able to explore the current exhibit and make use of the studio space. Working mostly at stations and in small groups, the tasks were laid out in a fashion that allowed the children to work freely and at their own pace. On one large table was an enlarged scale map of the area surrounding Berlin Kids International School. Here each child used tracing paper to contour an existing building they wanted to model. They took this outline, cut it out and pinned it to a piece of polystyrene which they then took to the hot wire cutter – the most exciting part of the process. At this station, which was the only one constantly monitored by an adult, the children used the tool to carve out their building, sometimes doing it twice in order to more accurately represent the scale of their structure.

The next step was coloring their replicas. Some children used pictures that they had taken earlier in the week to guide them in painting a semi accurate representation but most of them just adorned their models in a color they thought to be appropriate with the attitude that “anyone can leave a building white, only we can make it colorful”. As adults and educators, we had to step back and suspend our conventional preconceptions, allowing the children to be masters of their design.

Finally, paper roads were painted, polystyrene trees were planted and water fountains were given life on the model. The climax of the week was a vernissage of sorts in which reporters, parents and peers were present to bask in the children’s vision of our future metropolis. The students presented the result of their hard work – including the older classes who created a newspaper of the project, documenting interviews they conducted as well as stories and poems inspired by architecture and the city. The finished model will now be permanently displayed at BKIS.

Normally children do not find themselves in a workspace containing pristine white walls, high ceilings and designer chairs, so all tolled their conduct in such circumstances was very commendable. They worked with professionalism, pride and proficiency, and despite longer than normal work days, were cheerful and energetic as always. It was amazing to watch the children concentrate so hard when given the responsibility to use the wire cutter or discuss how best to represent their neighborhood.

The significance of a project like this should not be underestimated. The children were able to apply what they learn in the classroom to something very real. They understood why they need to measure or count, why communicating ideas is so valuable and how vital team work is. Moreover, they were able to apply their own special skills and expertise, that do not necessarily emerge in the classroom. The theory of multiple intelligence is truly applied in an activity like this and highlights the advantage of project-based learning in schools. It also gave the students an opportunity to express their creative sides and comment on the state of our built environment. Often architects and elected officials get it into their heads that they know what the best vision for a city is. When offered the opportunity this class of first graders completely re-imagined the city in which they live and gave it a vibrancy lacking in so many cities today.

by Kristi de Bonville and Lucas Gray

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What Makes a City Beautiful?

by Lucas Gray

This is a question I ponder as I visit cities throughout the world. Is it the surrounding landscape – like the snow capped mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans? Is it the awe inspiring skyscrapers or beautiful old churches? Or could it be something else – perhaps a more human scale built environment, or widespread parks, trees and other green spaces?

On a recent trip around the world I visited a vast range of urban conditions that were often disheartening, sometimes stunning and yet often enough too similar. From Japan to Russia and on to Europe cities tended to blend from one to another losing the unique qualities of regional architecture. Landscapes were too often obscured by towers or tucked away below roads, bridges, buildings and other concrete monstrosities. Skyscrapers are all too familiar, boasting smooth glass facades while towering over adjacent concrete apartment blocks. Whether in Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney or Toronto the buildings didn’t reveal the uniqueness of the local climate.

I look at cities that celebrate their unique conditions and that is where I find the beauty. Berlin celebrating the river Spree and its many canals lined with parks and grand public buildings pops into my mind as a beautiful urban environment. Hong Kong with its stunning architectural skyline backed by a beautiful mountain and stunning views of the harbor is another example of a city that is complementing the grandeur of its environment.

Too often in America, cities turn their back on their environment. Elevated roads and rail yards separate downtown districts from adjacent lakes, rivers, or coastlines. Buildings rely on air conditioning and other mechanical systems to ignore the influence of the climate. Other cities blessed with an abundance of stunning landscapes lack great architecture – Portland and Vancouver pop into mind. Montreal turns it back to the St Lawrence River. Bangkok has replaced the majority of its hundreds of canals with roads. At least Sydney has embraced its water front and historic harbors.

I know there is not an easy answer to this question. Cities are huge complex entities that grow and morph over hundreds of years. I believe that urban planning and architecture that celebrates the local climate, landscape, materiality and culture is a step in the right direction.

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Propel Studio Proposal Selected for Lents Urban Renewal Area

The Portland Development Commission has approved three temporary-use proposals on vacant PDC-owned sites in the Lents Urban Renewal Area, and will pursue further discussion of qualifications and feasibility of a permanent project as well. The proposals were among six responses to a PDC-issued Request for Interest in permanent or temporary uses of the Lents properties, which are located in close proximity to the historic and re-emerging commercial heart of the Lents neighborhood at SE 92nd Avenue.
PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton said, “We’re very pleased to see these Lents sites activated with community-driven projects inspired by the Lents Grown brand and adding to the growing positive energy in Lents.”
The Belmont Goats will locate temporarily on the site at SE 93rd and Woodstock; PDC has also offered to work with the project proposers to locate the herd on PDC-owned lots at SE 91st and Foster Road on a seasonal basis when the Lents Farmers Market is in operation.
At PDC’s request, two of the proposers, Propel Studio Architecture and ROSE Community Development, will co-locate at 8801 SE Foster Road. ROSE Community Development’s proposal, “Lents Grown – Our Stories” will be an installation of photographic portraits with text and audio produced through a collaborative effort by members of the community. Propel proposed an installation of gabion (wire mesh) furniture to create a gathering space and placemaking identity. PDC’s evaluation committee, made up of community stakeholders and staff, noted that these two uses combined on one site would be more successful than separated on individual properties.

Nick Sauvie, ROSE Executive Director, said, “As a community builder and property owner, ROSE has a deep commitment to the Lents Town Center. This project is a great opportunity to feature the diversity of Lents and to add life to the town center.”

Lucas Gray of Propel Studio Architecture said, “We love the idea of collaborating with ROSE Community Development and incorporating the stories of local residents as a way to better integrate our installation with the community. We actually met with them last summer to talk about ways we could work together so this is a perfect opportunity.”
Speaking on behalf of the Belmont Goats owners and caretakers, Christopher Frankonis said, “All of us are excited for this next phase of Portland’s original resident urban herd. We look forward to working with PDC and, especially, the residents of Lents to make this ongoing urban experiment in rural community truly Lents Grown for the coming year.”
Each organization will receive a $7500 grant that can be used for design, construction materials or labor, or construction project management. The temporary uses will range from one to three years.
Community members on the evaluation team were Sarah Broderick, Lents International Farmers Market/Zenger Farms; Carolee Harrison, Vice Chair, Lents Neighborhood Association; Jerry Johnson, Johnson Economics/ Neighborhood Economic Development Leadership Group; Ed McNamara, Mayor’s Office.
The evaluation committee also recommended that PDC continue discussions with a Lents property owner who proposed the only permanent use project, a mixed use building at 93rd and Woodstock.

“We’re very pleased to see these Lents sites activated with community-driven projects inspired by the Lents Grown brand and adding to the growing positive energy in Lents.”
- Patrick Quinton
Executive Director, PDC Lents Grown

PDC Announcement Link

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