How Lessons Learned from Accessory Dwelling Unit Design can Help Design Your Perfect Custom Home

At Propel Studio we’ve designed many Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) over the past 5 years. We also design larger custom homes, and recently we started thinking about how the two project types (ADU’s and custom homes) are similar. How do we apply the lessons we learn and processes we use to design Accessory Dwelling Units when we’re designing larger custom homes?

It all starts with our ultimate goal to work with our clients to create a project that is uniquely, creatively, affordably and functionally ‘theirs.’

Much of our ADU design process revolves around reducing and maximizing. That may sound like an oxymoron, but there’s sound reasoning behind it. Because they’re small (under 800 square feet), designing Accessory Dwelling Units forces us to help our clients focus intently on the way they live; the things that are necessary to their comfort and lifestyle. We reduce rooms, spaces and relationships down to functional necessities.

At the same time, we look for creative ways to maximize space. We look for ways to ‘expand’ space physically and visually. The way we define ‘rooms’ has a big impact on the comfort and functionality of an ADU. The way we extend and combine interior and exterior spaces changes how our clients feel in their tiny houses.

Not surprisingly, the same is true in a larger, custom home. The beauty of the experience and process we take from ADU design and apply to custom home design, is what makes your home uniquely and creatively ‘yours.’

As we listen to what’s important to you and learn about how your home needs to respond to your lifestyle, we apply many of those ADU lessons.

The way you live in your house, the way your guests experience your home, the way kids function versus the way adults function in your home all affect how we combine, define and separate spaces and rooms. The way you entertain helps define how your house is placed on your land and how indoor and outdoor spaces work together.

We like to think of it as choreography; movement and experience, light and darkness, sound and silence interact together to form your perfect living space. That’s what we’re after.

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Whether you need an Accessory Dwelling Unit or a larger, custom home, we want to help you create your perfect living space.

If you’ve been yearning for your perfect living space, give us a call. Big or small, we’d love to help you create that space.

The Propel Studio Design Process

If you walked down a crowded Pearl District street in Portland, Oregon and asked people what great architecture is, most answers would probably be something about a building. Either a specific building they admire, or qualities of buildings that they like. Most people understand architecture as the finale - the built representation of many conversations, goals, wants, needs, and decisions.

To us, great architecture has more to do with the process of creation than the final result. It is about how conversations with clients, coordination with other experts, and collaboration with a contractor all come together into a unified design.

This is also the major difference between working with an architect as opposed to hiring a drafter. Good drafters have the technical skill to put a drawing set together, but that’s not architecture. Architecture is about crafting a beautiful building and wonderful spaces out of the many conversations, technical requirements, regulations, and materials that go into each building. Architecture is about the process of creation, turning a client’s needs into a work of functional art.

In the Propel Studio design process we don’t start by drawing a solution, we start by asking clients questions that help them (and us) understand their needs and themselves. We’re careful not to draw things too early. We don’t want to commit our clients to solutions that may not be the right fit. Instead, we start with conversations as well as research to help us understand the existing conditions and the context of each unique site, and the people for who we are designing. We strive to have our designs respond to the needs and tastes of our clients.

Architecture is creative and unique. Every project is different. Every client has complex needs that they might not even know they have yet. We use a similar design process for each project, regardless of the type, to create great architecture. Below is a rundown of our project phases and what to expect when working with us.

Pre-design

It may sound like a contradiction, but our design process begins with Pre-Design. Think of it as an information gathering period. Pre-Design is where we listen and explore and organize. We do background research on the site, the local regulations, and other areas that can affect the design response.

Some common Pre-Design activities include:

  • Client interviews
  • Property visits and surveys
  • Documenting existing conditions
  • Programming: Making lists of spaces, sizes, qualities, wants and needs
  • Researching zoning, historic district and code restrictions
  • Determining feasibility, challenges and opportunities
  • Understand project budgets and financing

Think of Pre-Design as laying the foundation of the entire design process. It’s where we set the starting point so we can get creative.

Schematic Design

This is the fun part. Schematic Design is where we create a variety of approaches and options. We do a lot of brainstorming and work through many iterations en-route to the recommended design solution. This phase is where we work with our clients to set the look, the feel, and the layout of the project.  

During this phase, our goal is to not get caught up in details, but to look at the overall structure and organization of spaces. We’re after a unique style and design intent. We use a variety of media and design tools to experiment with different ideas. Hand sketching, computer modeling, sharing ideas in 3D, and sometimes even VR (virtual reality), to help us see how a design idea looks and functions, while letting our team and our clients consider if we like the way it feels.

At Propel Studio, we ask a lot of questions during this phase. We give our clients homework and ask them questions like: 

  • Do you like this or not?  Why?
  • What do you like about it?  Why?
  • What don’t you like about it?  Why?

At the same time, we experiment with different ideas internally, and share the ones that work the best. We often present a few different concepts and work with our clients to whittle them down until we develop a concept that everyone agrees is the best solution to the design challenge. 

Selection of a General Contractor

Selection of a general contractor isn’t directly part of the design process, but it’s an important decision that we recommend you make during schematic design if not earlier. There are several advantages to selecting a GC at this point, not least of which is simply getting their attention. Most clients are surprised how long the design and construction process takes, so it’s never too early to get on your GC’s radar and calendar.

At this stage, your GC is a powerful ally on the team. We spend Pre-Design and Schematic Design making sense of our clients’ dreams and developing design ideas based on our conversations and research. It’s great to have early feedback from the contractor that can help us compare cost estimates of those wants and needs to the project budget. It’s the type of feedback that can help us set priorities and make design decisions while maintaining our client’s project budget.

The more engaged your contractor is early in the project, the more familiar they will be with the project and the fewer unknowns there will be during the construction process. This can help the team avoid mistakes, delays, and ultimately save the client money. It is always more economical to address design decisions on paper during the design process, rather than in the field during construction. All these things help with the execution of the final design - maintaining the design integrity of your project.

Design Development

This phase consists of refining the schematic design to develop more precise drawings and other documents which describe the size and character of the entire project. This includes more definition of the exterior and interior materials, as well as other functional elements. Our approach to design involves identifying all of the supporting functions early - organizing and incorporating every detail into a clean and simple appearance.

Design development includes coordination with engineers for structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems. This phase is where we bring the architectural design and the various systems together to coordinate the architectural and engineering design work.

Construction Documents

These are the drawings that architects prepare to communicate all the work of the previous phases; they encompass all the dreams, all the decisions, all the feedback in the form of a specific solution. Our Construction Documents translate the unique style of the project into the final solution. They are where design concepts are realized and refined into architecture.

The drawing sets include cover sheets and code analysis which addresses the local jurisdictional life safety requirements, and outlines the project and the drawings set within. We develope dimensioned plans, sections and elevations of the design. We cut sections through the building, highlighting key areas, and construction assemblies. We zoom in on important connections, transitions, and architectural elements, to develop the detail drawings needed to convey the design intent to the construction team to execute. This is also where we specify materials, finishes, systems, and other technical aspects that comprise the final building.

We continue to coordinate the architectural design work with other team members like engineers, consultants and contractors to balance design goals with performance goals, regulatory requirements, and construction costs. We refine our drawings and work with each consultant to dial in their designs into a cohesive whole.

Every last detail drawing is important to us and we believe architectural details are what make or break a great work of architecture.

Permit Acquisition

The next step in realizing a built piece of architecture from the drawings on the page, is getting approval from the local jurisdiction. This permitting process includes submitting the Construction Documents to the local building department along with other forms and information required to review the design and make sure it addresses local zoning rules, building codes, and other life safety regulations. We submit the permit drawing set your behalf and respond to review comments and questions. We act as our clients’ agent to shepherd the design through the permitting process and advocate for your project and the architectural design intent.

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Permit Acquisition can be expensive and time consuming, but before your GC can start work, permits have to be issued.

Construction Administration

The day construction starts on your project is always an exciting day. This is where months of hard work and coordination between the architect, the client, and all of the subconsultants start becoming a physical reality. Just like design phases we have completed to get to this point, the construction phase is a long process. Questions and challenges are inevitable as design is interpreted into built form. This is why Construction Administration is important to maintain design integrity and the quality of the final building.

It’s a complex process filled with opportunities and challenges. We help our clients and their contractors answer questions and make sure that the decisions being made maintain the integrity of the design concept and intent set from the start. We make routine site visits to check in on construction progress. We also work from our office to answer questions from the general contractor and to clarify our design drawings and details. We review substitutions of materials when proposed and communicate with the GC and clients to make sure decisions or changes meet the required regulations, performance goals, and are acceptable to the clients.

We’re your ally throughout the process of translating the design drawings and turning them into a beautiful piece of architecture.

At the conclusion of Construction Administration we have a full building that has passed inspections from the local jurisdiction and is ready for your to move into. Hopefully the result is a beautiful building that meets your needs and will have a long life. That’s why we’re so adamant about the design process. It’s what insures that the final solution fits the original goals of each of our individual clients. It’s what leads to building something that is beautiful and that our clients will love.

If you're interested in great design and understand that there’s a process to the magic, we’d like to talk. We’d like to listen to your stories, understand your values, and together develop architectural solutions to your needs. How can we help you build great architecture?

A Community of Champions

When Propel Studio was introduced to Jamaal and Christina Lane through our mutual clients, we had no idea where the conversation would lead.

Jamaal and Christina owned Champions Barber Shop. Like us, they were a small, locally owned, emerging business. They’d already built Champions into more than a barber shop. It was as much community center as anything.

Champions Barbershop is a place where you can get a great haircut, bring your family, hang out with friends. It’s a business that enriches the surrounding neighborhood and slows gentrification. Our conversation with the Lane’s revolved around a need they noticed in the community. 

Jamaal grew up a few blocks away Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where most of Portland's African American barbershops reside. “I wasn’t able to go to the barbershop much, which led me to be self taught” Jamaal indicated. His first attempts on his and his friends’ hair developed into a hobby that eventually led him to school. After opening Champions, Jamaal noticed many young barbers didn’t have the skills and training to cut at Champions or the other shops around the neighborhood.  

What came of our conversation was Champions Barbering Institute.

 

Image courtesy of Champions Barbering Institute: https://www.instagram.com/cbi_life/

 

The Lane’s were the type of client we love; engaged and constructive. By partnering with them and Prosper Portland (formerly known as Portland Development Commission, PDC), our team was able to leverage a modest budget to transform a former Police Bureau Office into the first barbering school in Portland in almost 25 years.

The result is a testament to the power of an engaged team devoted to a common goal. It’s an example of the creativity that engaged client and design team can generate as they strategize priorities make design decisions to maximize reuse and minimize demolition in order to stay on time and on budget.

In the end, Portland got a much needed barbering school, Jamaal and Christina expanded their business venture, our community is strengthened and we gained new friends and found a new place to take care of our hair.

How can we help you? Get in touch! We love to support clients who champion their communities.

 

Five Ways to Finance an ADU

For homeowners that are considering building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (or ADU), one of the biggest hurdles is often financing the construction.  It is common practice to begin by figuring out a budget and then design and build to that budget.  The first step should be finding out how much you can qualify for and how much you can realistically afford.  In most cases, an ADU will generate positive cash flow even if it is constructed with entirely borrowed funds.

There are Five ways to finance an ADU.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  The key is to work with a professional with knowledge in each area and develop a funding strategy that best suits the unique situation of the customer.

 

 

#1  HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit)

 A HELOC is a second mortgage for homeowners to utilize to access some of the equity in their home.  These are adjustable rate loans with interest rates around the Prime Rate.  They typically have a 30-year amortization with a 10-year Interest Only period.  So, HELOC customers have the option to pay interest only (like you can do on a credit card) without needing to repay any principal.  After 10 years, the loan goes to fully amortizing, meaning the customer must make a payment high enough to repay all principal and interest in the remaining 20 years of the loan term.  HELOCs are good for smaller loan amounts that can be paid back in a short term.  HELOCs can have a loan to value from 80% to 100% of the appraised value of the home.

#2  Cash Out Refinance

A cash out refi is a mortgage that pays off an existing mortgage and gets additional cash out.  These loans typically have a fixed rate and a 30-year amortization.  There are closing costs associated with a refinance, but they are rolled into the new loan amount and are not required to be paid out of pocket.  The payment will be higher than a HELOC because the borrower is making a fully amortized payment from the beginning.  The benefit of a refinance is that the principal and interest payment will remain constant over the life of the loan.  Most cash out refinances can go to 80% of the appraised value of the home.

#3  Construction Loan

A construction loan is a specialized loan product where the appraisal is based on the after completed value of the home.  The closing costs and interest rates on construction loans are typically higher than on a standard refinance.  If a borrower wants to remodel their home and does not have sufficient equity based on the current home value, a construction loan, looking at the after improved value instead of the current home value, may be necessary.  

Example:

Standard refinance

  • Current home value: $400k
  • Current loan amount: $200k
  • Standard cash out refinance to 80%: $320k.  
  • Cash out: $120k minus closing costs.

Construction loan

  • Current home value: $400k
  • After renovation home value: $500k
  • Current loan amount: $200k
  • A construction loan to 80% of after improved value: $400k.  
  • Funds available for construction: $200k minus closing costs.

 

 

#4  Personal Line of Credit

Many banks offer personal lines of credit for borrowers with good credit scores and income.  These lines are typically free to set up and can range from $10k to $50k.  They are, however, at higher interest rates than mortgages and HELOCs.  They typically require less documentation than a full mortgage.  

#5  Cash/Other  

Some people have cash on hand for home renovation/remodeling projects or pull cash from retirement or investment accounts.  There are no costs for using these funds unless they are pulled from an IRA or 401k where there are early withdrawal penalties.  The only “cost” associated with using these funds is the opportunity cost of not being able to utilize these funds elsewhere.

This was a guest article provided by Eric Dunlap, a mortgage advisor at Peak Mortgage.  

Eric Dunlap
503-546-0460
edunlap@peakmtg.com
We Lend Where We Live

If you, or anyone you know, are thinking about financing and building an ADU, give him a call!  He will be happy to help and would love to be a resource for you. 

 

Our Approach To Multi-family Housing Design In Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is a beautiful place to live, and thus a desirable city to relocate to, for people across the country and around the world. It is projected that there will be 400,000 new residents in the Portland Metro Area by 2035. As residents and architectural design professionals, we watch Portland housing trends, zoning changes, and population projections with great interest as it affects our work and can reflect future growth for our profession and firm.

 

 

What we've been noticing, is that the projected population growth will vastly outweigh the existing housing supply, and we aren’t building fast enough to accommodate the new people moving to the region.

We’ve written before about housing and some strategies for accommodating increased housing demand. We shared our knowledge of Accessory Dwelling Unit development in “5 ways Portland, Oregon Community Development Corporations (CDCs) can Benefit from the ADU Craze.” In “Why Affordable Housing is Important to the Quality of Living for Communities,” we discuss the importance of diverse housing types.

As multi-family housing developments pop up around the city and sometimes take over entire streets or neighborhoods, we’ve watched with keen interest. We’re not opposed to mixed-use apartment projects and believe that increased density brings a lot of community benefits. We’ve been involved with many multi-family projects in Oregon and California, including projects that located along NW 23rd and SE Hawthorne Street. However, it is vital that these projects are designed with the community in mind, and contribute to a good pedestrian focused urban environment.

If you notice one theme that runs through our philosophy and work at Propel Studio, we hope it’s that we have a deep love and concern for our community. At the heart of our work is the desire to make our city a better place for people. This means we design with a tripple-bottom line philosophy, where our buildings address environmental, social and economic sustainability for our clients, the tenants and users of our projects, and for the community at large.

Market-rate housing is much needed in Portland, as proven by the high demand and skyrocketing rental rates. As a city we need to continue to build and prioritize housing projects in all neighborhoods. However, we also know that in order to sustain and even thrive, our communities need more diverse options, and the market won’t always deliver the variety of unit types that are needed. While we understand there is a financial model developers use as they consider the value of each available parcel they pursue, we as designers, residents, and community members also want to think about the impact of these projects on our neighbors.

We’re excited by the prospect of creating multi-family projects that consider and fit into our neighborhoods. For instance, there is a lack of units with multiple bedrooms and the space needed for families. There is also often a lack of response to context and scale in the design of new developments. We enjoy the challenge of designing within an urban context, in a way that respects the past but provides the needs of current and future generations.

The truth is, not everyone needs or can afford the 1-bedroom or studio apartment units that make traditional pro-formas work. That’s why we enjoy being part of the conversation where we combine our expertise in creating efficient dwelling spaces for a variety of family sizes and lifestyles with our experience in designing multi-family and mixed-use housing projects.

We’re passionate about bringing our commitment to durable, high-performing, sustainable designs to projects that build value into a community. That theme that runs through Propel Studio, the thread that binds our work together, drives us towards projects with strong community components, affordability, and shared public spaces.

Let’s talk about ways to help Portland continue to grow, but let’s do it in a way that strengthens and supports our neighborhoods and all our neighbors. Let’s do it in a way that we’ll all be proud of for decades to come. Let’s do it in a way that prioritizes people, and makes places that welcome both newcomers and existing residents.

If your mission includes fostering community and improving the quality of life and housing options for all our neighbors in Portland, we’d like to talk. Let’s make Portland better, together

Propel Studio Award for Design Excellence 2017

We are proud to announce that the innaugeral winner of the 2017 Propel Studio Award for Design Excellence is William Chandler.

 
 
 

We recently partnered with the Portland State University School of Architecture to create an award for graduating architecture students: the "Propel Studio Award for Design Excellence." We are giving a $500 prize each year to a student based on their body of work during their studies with an emphasis on design quality. The faculty of the School of Architecture will be selecting the winner each year.

Our goal is to build a strong relationship between our firm and the university as well as support Emerging Professionals as they continue their career growth. The one requirement for the award is for the student to visit our office and present their work to our firm. 

For more information about the PSU School of Architecture, click here: 
https://www.pdx.edu/architecture/

ADU Requirements around Portland Metro

Lately we've been branching out and providing ADU design outside of Portland. Since the requirements for ADU's can vary depending on your property's town or county, we decided to share these requirements in the list below.

Although there are many similarities with requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units in areas outside of Portland, Oregon (or even Washington and California) there are aspects of the general requirements that we also see vary by town or county jurisdiction.  What we've noticed that can change across jurisdictions are:

  • the size of ADU's (ex. 400-1000sf)
  • the types of ADU's allowed (ex. Detached, Attached, Basement, Garage..)
  • the number of bedrooms (ex. 1, 2, no limit)
  • and how ADU requirements vary within a jurisdiction by zone (ex. allowed, not allowed, 500sf max, 700sf max..) 

The common theme is that town planning departments and communities generally accept Accessory Dwelling Units, although they aim to "maintain the character" of the neighborhood, and this sets the setback(s) and/or limits the height so that the primary residence remains the dominant element present to the street. We also see some towns imposing different aesthetic requirements.

In order to help clarify all of these differences, please see our list below. While we're only covering a few of the towns outside Portland to the south and west, we hope to add more to this list over time, so if you would like us to look into and add your town to this list, please get in touch!

Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU Requirements, by town:

Clackamas County ADU Requirements

Clackamas Maps

Clackamas County Zoning Map (PDF)

Clackamas County Zoning Code Table 315-1: What Zones are ADUs allowed in

Gladstone R-5 ADU Requirements

Gladstone R-7.2 ADU Requirements

Milwaukie ADU - Attached

Milwaukie ADU - Detached

Oregon City ADU Requirements

Tigard ADU Requirements

Portland ADU Requirements

How to select a construction contractor for your project

One of the questions we get a lot at Propel Studio, whether for a large project or small project, is “Who should we hire to build our project?” It is an important question and an vital decision to get a high-quality end result. 
 
Our team likes it when our clients ask us to recommend a contractor for their project because we understand how important a good relationship between the design and construction team is. We always have a recommendation at the ready for a wide variety of project types to help find the right fit for each unique situation. We find it is important to find contractors with experience and expertise in the project type we are designing. 
 
The most common follow up question after the recommendation is: “Why do you recommend them?” We always recommend someone we know we can have a good working relationship with. Open communication and trust are the most important things to consider when selecting a team to construct your project.  
 
That’s usually the factor that determines whether or not a construction project follows a smooth process and has a positive outcome. Because of this, we’ll always suggest that you ask your architect first when you start looking for a contractor. Find out who they’d recommend, who they have worked with before - and who would have the experience needed to deliver a great result - while working well with the owner and architect along the way.
 


Our recommended process is for you to bring your architect and contractor together at the beginning of the project. The contractor can be a great resource for the design team as we work through concepts, layouts, details and other important design decisions. This strategy can help set workable budgets and even expedite portions of the design process. This also allows the contractor to build an intimate knowledge of the design before construction begins which can prevent errors or missed information.
 


As with every important decision, we recommend you reach out to a few contractors and interview them to understand how they work and to get different perspectives on how they would approach the project. During this process ask for the contact information from previous clients so you can hear first hand, what it is like to work with them and how they manage the job site and communicate with the owner and design team. Also visit their website and social media pages to get a sense of their work style, quality and values. 
 
If you are struggling to find a contractor that is right for your project, you can always reach out to friends, neighbors, community groups or your architect for additional recommendations. It’s possible that none of the people that fall into these categories are experts in the design and construction fields, but word-of-mouth is powerful and incredibly valuable.
 
What do you do once you’ve assembled a list of potential contractors? What are you looking for in order to narrow that list down? 
 
Talk to the contractors you’re considering. Ask them direct questions like:

  • Who are a few past clients I can talk to?
  • Have you worked with architects before?
  • What types of projects do you like to work on the most?
  • Are there any projects you have recently completed that I can visit?

When you follow up with their past clients, ask them:

  • What type of project did they build for you?
  • Did you enjoy the process?
  • Would you hire them / work with them again?
  • Was the construction on budget?
  • Was the construction on schedule?
  • How did they contractor communicate with the project team?
  • Were there any issues along the way? And did the contractor do a good job at responding to and addressing any concerns?
  • Did they keep your project site clean, organized and safe?
  • Were they reliable?

The answers to these questions should help you narrow your list down and ultimately decide who to hire. However, we recommend you take your time and make sure you are comfortable with them. Construction can take a long time and it is important that you trust and have a great working relationship with the Contractor you hire. 
 
It’s probably obvious by now, that this is a question that we really care about and believe is important for our clients. We care about it because a good project team (your architect, your contractor, and other consultants involved) is the key to a successful project. 
 
A good project team will anticipate and head off issues that may come up during the process. 
A good project team will work well together and be responsible to each other. 
A good project team will make your life easier and the process more enjoyable for you … and to us.
A good project team will have open communication, be transparent on how decisions are made, and be honest when inevitable issues arise. 
 
If you’re wondering who you should hire to build your project, give us a call. We’d love to talk and make a recommendation. We’d love to help you assemble a great project team that is tailored to your specific needs.

Why Affordable Housing is Important to the Quality of Living for Communities

Have you ever lived in a city where you couldn’t imagine a day when you could afford permanent housing, whether a renting or owning a home? Is Portland, Oregon becoming that city?

Consider this quote submitted as part of Portland for Everyone’s “My Housing Story” initiative:

“I am a 26 year old renter who can’t imagine buying in Portland as it is currently zoned. I work for a non-profit. Can I even live here long term? My long-term stability and the health of my neighborhood will be strongly affected by the diversity of the neighborhood. I wish I knew I could stay here long-term. More diversity… more opportunity.”

As architects and designers, at Propel Studio we understand the cost and economics of profitable development, while at the same time we realize Portland is facing a housing shortage and an affordability crisis. Affordable housing is a vital aspect of the livability and vibrancy of our communities. This is why we’re committed to a triple bottom line approach to our business and to partnering with organizations that share a similar commitment. It’s one of the reasons our co-founder, Lucas Gray, has become a SEED certified professional.

We believe that balancing social, environmental and economic impacts are important to the sustainability of both our practice, the projects we work on, the communities we work with, and our city. This begins with housing, but spreads to all project types. 

Since we’re active members of our communities, we’re passionate about building community. Whether that means partnering with developers and organizations to design sculptures to satisfy 1% for art requirements, working with community groups on creative tactical urbanism installations, or designing multi-family housing that provide much-needed housing, we’re all in. 

A strong, diverse stock of affordable housing is important to the quality of life in all Portland neighborhoods. We strive to work with people, organizations, developers, and communities to design housing that addresses affordability, equity, diversity and creates thriving neighborhoods and wonderful places to call home. Similar to the holistic triple bottom line approach we use in our architectural work, Public Interest Design that focuses on all aspects of quality of life and affordability is vital for our city.

It’s not surprising that our market has plenty of beautiful, one bedroom and studio apartment options that are priced for young professionals and upper-income couples. If you’re a single person or a young couple there’s probably an option that fits exactly what you need. However, we are missing diversity in the housing options being built, and we aren't providing housing diversity in all neighborhoods throughout Portland. This is why we are so interested in Missing Middle housing options, and finding creative ways we can fit higher density housing options into our existing neighborhood fabric without dramatically impacting the quality of life people in those neighborhoods are accustomed to.

What if you’re a young family with small children, a single parent, a multi-generational family unit or an aging couple? How can we as a community meet the affordable housing needs of all our neighbors? How can we give people choices on where they live - allowing affordable options close to the city center, in desirable neighborhoods, close to schools, jobs and other amenities?

We’re excited to join the discussion and partner on projects that range from tactical urbanism to multi-family projects; including renovations, designing to anticipate for the residential infill project, or creating accessory dwelling units; that consider historic housing types and walkability. We want to build lasting relationships with for-profit developers, Community Development organizations, non-profit organizations, affordable housing developers, and government agencies, to design impactful projects that address our housing needs with beautiful and sustainable architecture.

If your mission includes fostering community and improving the quality of life for all our neighbors in Portland, we’d like to talk. Let’s get to know each other and figure out how we can work together on something large or small. We are looking to build lasting relationships and are passionate, energetic and ready to make a positive impact on your next project!

Affordable housing is important to us because it’s important to our community and our neighbors.

Why do Architects Think so much about Design, Learning and Education?

At Propel Studio, we think a lot about the role design plays in learning and education. We imagine many architects do the same. This is because, as architects we don’t just accept the way things are or the way things have always been done. We’re trained to see possibilities; to think about how we can make things better.

That’s why we relish the opportunity to be a part of the process of thinking about, discussing, and designing ways architecture can impact learning.

The team at Propel Studio is inspired by ideas like Integrated Curriculum. We love the opportunity to discuss topics like this, but we want to take it even another step further.

Let’s not only talk about how to integrate studies across subject matters in order to discover important connections. Let’s also talk about how to integrate learning, playing, and exploring with the physical design of our buildings and outdoor spaces. Architecture itself can actually become a tool for teaching and learning.

We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Portland-area Parent-Teacher organizations and public schools like Vernon Elementary and Vestal Elementary to create visions of outdoor classrooms and covered play areas. These are places that will encourage kids to get outside and do activities in fresh air and learn from the natural environment around them. They are spaces that will create connections between what students read in a book and what’s crawling around on the ground outside.

 

 

We’re inspired by projects like Tezuka Architects’ “Ring Around A Tree School” in Tokyo. It’s a place where kids are safe and secure and encouraged by both teachers and the building design, to explore. In this example, the architecture becomes the playground, and the children are free to climb, run and interact with the building in playful creative ways. It gets them to think creatively and look at their environment in new ways.

In our minds, like the Ring Around A Tree School, architecture should trigger the senses and develop occupational familiarity with 3D space. Movement and playing in 3 dimensions should happen indoors and outdoors. As children play, they learn to cooperate, share, take turns and communicate with their peers. Our designs should create buildings and landscapes that integrate the inside and the outside with the curriculum and the life experience.

 

Ring Around the Tree School in Tokyo, Japan by Tezuka Architects

Ring Around the Tree School in Tokyo, Japan by Tezuka Architects

 

The last thing we want to do is a design a box to contain teachers and students and then select generic, prefabricated play equipment to place in the middle of a mulch bed. We can and should do better, and a collaborative design approach can lead to inspiring new school designs.

As architects, it’s our job to design safe, healthy and responsive buildings. As school architects, why can’t we create safe, healthy places for kids to explore? Why can’t we create places where the learning, the experience and the designed environment are all integrated as one - where the school’s architecture becomes integrated into the educational curriculum?

If you wonder about the same things, let’s talk!

How Propel Studio uses VR and why it Matters to our Clients

Most tech experts agree that VR (virtual reality) is the future of experiential technology, but how do Architects use VR and why does it matter to their clients?

At Propel Studio, we already use virtual reality to help design our projects. We also think VR technology is a powerful way to help us communicate our designs to our clients and the public. But, there are even larger implications for the success of our projects so we continue to push the bounds of how we are using VR and introducing it to the people we work with.

If you’re familiar with virtual reality, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that sometimes we sit in our office, stare into our VR goggles and “experience” a project we’re working on. As a client, that should make you happy. We’ve been sketching and drawing and building for years, but now we can experience a project before the first shovel breaks the ground.
 

-Please enjoy our VR visual. You can use your mouse (or finger on mobile) to view-

Admittedly, as a small firm, we have an advantage in that we can discover new technology and implement it in our office almost immediately without the burden of spending the thousands of dollars and hours necessary to take similar steps in larger firms. We love incorporating tech tools, like our VR goggles and Google Pixel Phones and visualization and modeling software like SketchUp, Revit and Photosphere renderings into our design process. It’s amazing to take an idea from our minds to paper to a computer and suddenly be able to ‘walk through’ it using virtual reality.

Why does all this matter to our clients though? Let’s imagine a few, realistic scenarios: Have you ever looked at a floor plan? Maybe it was for your new house. You saw all the lines that represented your home office and heard your Architect promise that all your furniture would comfortably fit in the room and that there would be beautiful natural light that would be easy to work by, but you really didn’t understand what the room was going to look like. Now imagine you’re sitting in Propel Studio, looking into our VR goggles and virtually seeing your furniture and all that natural light. Virtual reality can help us communicate our designs to our clients more clearly.
 


What if you were ‘walking through’ your new house through our VR goggles and you noticed the kitchen didn’t function quite as well as you hoped it would. Imagine having the ability for Propel Studio to change the design of the kitchen before construction begins; before that realization becomes a change order. Virtual reality can save our clients time and money. You’ve may never have designed a project for a Portland neighborhood. You may not have had to balance the needs of your client and the concerns of the neighborhood. Imagine you’re an Architect that’s able to ‘see’ all aspects of your design before it’s built. Virtual reality helps us make sure we’re serving our clients and being true to the neighborhoods where we work.

Is VR the future? At Propel Studio we don’t think so. We know VR is the present and that matters. That matters because as our client it helps you understand exactly what we’re designing. That matters because it can help us save our clients money by heading off problems. That matters because it helps us know that we’re doing the right thing for everyone involved.

If you’d like to know exactly what we’re using and what it’s like to work with Propel Studio, please schedule a consultation with us. It’s free!

For additional VR tours, visit the project links below and scroll to the bottom of the page:

Architects in Schools (AiS): Working With Kiddos by Sam Sudy

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a volunteer program called Architects in Schools for 5 years now. As an architect/design professional, you apply and get assigned to an elementary school by the Architecture Foundation of Oregon staff. In the past I have worked with 4th and 5th graders, but this year I was chosen to work with a third grade class at Creston Elementary School, alongside my friend and old schoolmate Rachel Zanetti, who currently works for FFA. 

From past experience, I’ve realized that there is large learning gap between 4th and 5th graders. This year I came to discover that gap is even greater between those grades and 3rd graders. Even so, the class this year was spectacular and still exceeded my expectations as far as what they were capable of, especially the level of their creativity. 

The way their minds work is astonishingly unique from individual to individual. Yet, no matter what we threw at them, they were able to really take it and make it their own. This year we focused on having the kids create their ideal city. This involved not only the programmatic designations of their buildings, but also the structural integrity of their building frame. They also had to consider how those buildings related to each other on a block, and how those blocks worked together to form an urban environment. But that’s jumping ahead a bit. 

The first few weeks of lessons we like to think serve as the building blocks for what the kids will need to know in order to execute the final project. We started with a brief historical background of iconic historical architecture, while also touching upon how those buildings perform structurally. To do this, we had the kids use their bodies to mimic the structures. For example, a flying buttress (like those seen in the Notre Dame) were demonstrated by having the kids lean against a nearby wall, while trying to hold it up with their hands and arms outstretched. For the Roman Coliseum, we had the kids join hands in a circle and slowly lean outward. Architects in Schools is all about making the field of architecture fun for kids. 

To teach the kids about the roles and responsibilities of an owner, an architect, and a builder, we had them take turns playing each role in order to complete a paper mask. They learned quickly that being the client means you get to make decisions, but if you’re not thorough enough in explaining what you want, the architect could design something else. As the architect, they learned that they need to draw and label all aspects of their design for the builder, or else gaps in their information could get filled in incorrectly. The builder learned that working to satisfy both the client and architect can be a losing battle sometimes. In the end, I think the kids finished that lesson with a better understanding of how all of those roles can be really challenging and complex at times.

A brief video of students participating in Architects in Schools lead by Sam Sudy of Propel Studio Architecture in Portland Oregon.

As you can see, a series of 1.5 hour lessons can be really impactful, especially with adolescent brains, sponges more like it! I’d encourage any other architects or designers in the industry to volunteer their time and sign up for Architects in Schools. They consistently have more schools and classes that would like to participate, but there just aren’t enough professional volunteers to go around. And, working with kids isn’t just fun for them, you’ll have a blast doing it! Just look at the pictures if you don’t believe me!

5 Tiny Tips for Designing and Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in Portland, Oregon

ADU’s are hot. High land costs and permitting concessions from the City of Portland have made the thought of building an Accessory Dwelling Unit popular among homeowners and want-to-be homeowners in the last couple years. Have you ever thought about building an ADU? 

Over the course of our past couple articles, I’ve talked about reasons most people want to build an ADU and a few things that surprise most people who start the process of designing and building an Accessory Dwelling Unit.

Today, I’d like to wrap up our series on Accessory Dwelling Units by sharing a few tips that may help you in the design and construction process. Some of these tips are covered in our free “ADU Inspiration Book” so I hope you’ll download that free guide if these articles have piqued your interest.

1. Think about WHY you’re building an ADU

This is the tip I can’t stress enough. You need to understand WHY you’re building an ADU before you do anything else. 

Are you building a place for your parents to live so they can be close to the grandkids? Are you providing a home base for your parents when they’re not traveling? Are you investing in a unit to list on AirBnb? Are you creating a backyard apartment? Are you building a home so you can downsize?

Whatever the reason, WHY you are building an Accessory Dwelling Unit will dictate many of the design and budget decisions you make. Let’s get that nailed down first.

2. Tiny Houses really are tiny

Tiny houses can live large. We set out to design Accessory Dwelling Units so that they are comfortable and livable similar to any other home, but ADU’s in Portland, Oregon are limited to 800 square feet in size.
That means, we have to make smart decisions and set real priorities. Are you willing to give up a full size refrigerator and stove to gain a dedicated work space? There are lots of tiny options out there. We need to figure out what’s really most important to fit into your tiny house.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Plans

3. Understand your budget

If you read “5 Biggest Surprises our Clients Discover when Designing and Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland, Oregon” you know that, although tiny houses are tiny, they don’t necessarily come with tiny price tags. 

You need to understand your budget. How will you finance your ADU? Is it an investment property? Will you split the cost with your parents or tenants? How much money do you have available?

Once we’ve determined a realistic budget, we can talk about priorities and ways to maximize your tiny house.

4. Educate yourself

The best consumer is an educated consumer. The same goes for ADU clients. 

As you decide WHY you want to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit and start to understand your budget, look around. What are other people doing in your neighborhood? Do a little research. Download our free “ADU Inspiration Book”. Understand what you like and don’t like; what you need and don’t need. Be proactive, talk to an Architect, understand the process.

This can be a lot of fun, but it’s a journey that can be full of surprises if you’re not prepared. 

Portland Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit.jpg

5. Your Architect is better than your best friend

Even though it sounds a little self-serving, this is my favorite tip. An Architect may be a total stranger, but we can help you make the best decisions in what can be an emotional process, especially if parents and family are involved. An Architect is sometimes your counselor. 

Talk to an Architect sooner than later. As you decide why you’re doing this and you get a sense of what your budget, we can help you dial in what you can really do and what you can really afford. We’ll help you be proactive, we’ll provide research, we’ll guide you through the process of creating your Accessory Dwelling Unit.

I hope this series of articles about designing and building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Portland, Oregon has been interesting and helpful. If you missed the previous articles, you can click here to read “Why do You want to Build an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland, Oregon?” You can click here to read “5 Biggest Surprises our Clients Discover when Designing and Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland, Oregon

If you haven’t already, please download our free “ADU Inspiration Book” and start dreaming about your Accessory Dwelling Unit project.

When you’re ready to get started, give me a call at Propel Studio by dialing: (503) 479-5740

5 Biggest Surprises our Clients Discover when Designing and Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in Portland, Oregon

Many of our clients are surprised by some of the things they learn during the ADU design and construction process … and that’s ok! 

How many times have we talked to a friend or read an article or seen something on tv only later to find out that what we’d heard didn’t tell the whole story?

We don’t expect our clients to be experts on design and construction when they walk in the door. That’s our job! That’s why we wanted to share 5 things that often surprise our clients when it comes to the design and construction of Accessory Dwelling Units in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

1. ADU’s are not one-size-fits all. 
In our first article in this series on Accessory Dwelling Units in Portland, Oregon, I asked you to consider WHY you want to build an ADU. There’s good reason for this: ADU’s are not one-size-fits all. Not every ADU design is fit for every ADU dweller. 

A place for your parents to live is different than a place for a family. Long-term renters (think apartment) have different needs and expectations from short-term renters (think AirBnB or hotel).

Before you take the leap, please think long and hard about WHY you want to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit. Then, let’s talk about how that WHY will guide the design of your ADU.

2. There’s a limit to every ADU.
There are different reasons to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit. See “ADU’s are not one-size-fits all” and “Why do You want to Build an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland, Oregon?” 

While an ADU for your parents or for yourself will be different than an ADU you plan to list on AirBnB, the size of every ADU in Portland, Oregon is limited to 800 square feet. That means that all the design considerations we need to make for your ADU dweller, even if they’re in a wheel chair, has to fit within that tiny size limit.

3. Tiny houses don’t necessarily come with tiny price tags.
This may be the biggest tiny house surprise of them all. Even though you’re building a tiny house that’s limited to 800 square feet, your Accessory Dwelling Unit may not come with a tiny price tag. 

The reality of the situation is that even though you’re ADU is limited in size, you’re still building a kitchen and bathrooms and bedrooms. And, if your project is in your back yard there are often logistical challenges for your contractor. 

There are important design and budget decisions we need to make (do you really need your full-size, side-by-side refrigerator in your tiny house?) that will affect the cost of your ADU, but the bottom line is: don’t expect your tiny house to have a tiny price tag. 

4. All ADU renters are not created equal.
One common reason homeowners build an ADU on their property is to generate income. They envision renting the tiny house like a backyard apartment or for overnight guests like a hotel or AirBnb. The problem is, a long-term renter and a short-term renter are different. They have different needs and wants, both inside and outside.

Before we start designing your Accessory Dwelling Unit, we need to understand who’s going to be living or staying there. We’ll consider what they want in terms of privacy and amenities. We’ll even consider the quality and durability of materials that are necessary for your ADU to be manageable long-term.

5. Your parents may not want to live in your backyard.
Wouldn’t it be great to have your parents living in your back yard? They can be close to their grand kids and can help out as they get older! Did you ever think that your parents may not want to live in your backyard? I don’t mean that literally because hopefully, if you’ve decided to build an ADU for your parents you’ve already talked with them about it. 

Think about living in your backyard from your parents’ point of view. There are a number of things to consider when designing an Accessory Dwelling Unit for your parents. Things like their needs today, as well as in the future are important considerations. Privacy and the feeling of a place for themselves can be critical. You even need to talk about who’s paying for the project and how. 

When we sit down with you to design an ADU for your parents to live in, we’ll probably ask you to bring them to the table for some of the meetings.

 

 

Are you surprised?
These are some of the things we’ve found that usually surprise our clients that decide to build Accessory Dwelling Units on their property in Portland, Oregon. Did any of the things on our list of 5 things that surprise our clients surprise you? 

We don’t expect you to be an expert and we don’t expect you not to be surprised. Just like every design and construction project, there are lots of things to consider and lots to learn. We’re here to be your guide, sometimes even counselor, and help you through the process.

It’s important to understand that every scenario comes with it’s own design challenges and opportunities. Each requires special considerations in order to make the project successful.

If you’re thinking about an Accessory Dwelling Unit, please download our free “ADU Inspiration Book”. If you haven’t read it already, you may be interested in our previous article: “Why do You want to Build an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland, Oregon?” We hope you’ll also watch for the final article in our ADU series where we’ll cover helpful tips for designing and building an ADU.

Why do You want to Build an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in Portland, Oregon?

ADU’s are hot. High land costs and permitting concessions from the City of Portland have made the thought of building an Accessory Dwelling Unit popular among homeowners and want-to-be homeowners in the last couple years. Have you ever thought about building an ADU?

Over the course of our next few articles, I’ll talk about reasons most people want to build an ADU, several tips that will be helpful if you decide to take the leap and even a few things that surprise most people who start the process of designing and building an Accessory Dwelling Unit.

I’d like to start our series on Accessory Dwelling Units by asking you to consider WHY you want to build an ADU.

 

 

The Parents

The idea of downsizing is not new. Many more mature adults decide to move into a smaller home when they retire or when the kids leave home or even when they begin to travel and need a more modest home base. Sometimes those decisions are financial and sometimes they’re based on the amount of time and effort that goes into keeping up a larger home.

The emerging popularity of Accessory Dwelling Units in Portland have given downsizing homeowners a new option to consider. Whether it’s an ADU built in an adult child’s back yard that allows grandparents to be close to grandkids or a tiny house on the parent’s property to give a young-adult child a jumpstart or an ADU in the neighborhood that downsizing parents love and don’t want to leave, ‘The Parents’ is one popular reason to decide to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

The Income Generator

It’s not hard to figure out. If you’ve lived in Portland long, you know land costs and housing costs are high. Designing and building an ADU to rent out on your existing property is a popular idea for homeowners who want to generate some extra income that may help cover those high costs.

When planning and designing and building an Accessory Dwelling Unit that becomes an income generator, most homeowners consider one of two types of renters: long term renters and short term renters. Keep in mind, there are important factors to consider after you’ve decided which type of renter you want to attract. Think about the different wants and needs between someone that rents an apartment and someone that rents an AirBnB or hotel room.

 

 

The Money Saver

What happens when your income changes because you’ve changed jobs or careers or you’ve retired? What happens when you have your first child or your children go off to college? Costs and mortgage payments rarely go down. That’s why some homeowners look at ADUs as money savers.

This scenario is much like the Income Generator, but opposite. Some homeowners decide to invest in designing and building an Accessory Dwelling Unit on their property so they can move into it and rent the main house. It gives them the opportunity to save money on their own living expenses while generating income on the house they used to live in.

Does one of these scenarios speak to you? Do you have parents that want to downsize? Maybe you are an adult that’s ready to downsize. Are you interested in generating some extra income on property you already own? Or, would you like to save money while generating income?

These are all common reasons homeowners in Portland, Oregon decide to build Accessory Dwelling Units on their property. It’s important to understand that each of these reasons comes with their own design challenges and opportunities. Each requires special considerations in order to make the project successful.


If any of these reasons interest you, please download our free “ADU Inspiration Book” and watch for the next couple articles where I cover helpful tips for designing and building an ADU and also things that often surprise our ADU clients.

Article 2 of 3 in this series is "5 Biggest Surprises our Clients Discover when Designing and Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in Portland, Oregon"

Article 3 of 3 in this series is up next!  Stay tuned!

How an Architecture Firm Can Help You Apply for Grants

If anyone reading this has prepared a grant application before, then you know it can be an extremely daunting task.  Collecting data, writing testimonials, narratives, finding supporting documents and all the information that goes into a grant application is enough to want to throw in the towel.  What if you had a field expert to help gather information and write it in a way that would effectively appeal to the foundation or organization you’re applying to?  That’s where an architect can help.  That’s right; an architect.  Below are a few specific ways in which an architectural firm can make your search for project capital much easier.

Project Narrative

Many grants require a persuasive narrative that should be equal parts descriptive and technical information.  If you think you may be out of your technical element, don’t fake it. The people reviewing these applications are likely professionals in the field and if they see information that doesn’t seem professional, they will toss your application on the spot.  Architects have the technical industry knowledge to help prepare a fantastic narrative.  Further, they are experts at marrying the technical with the emotional - capturing people’s imaginations while grounding your project in reality.  If you have an idea or a concept that you think is impactful to the project narrative, an architect can help supply supporting statistics and data that will back up your claim.  

Visuals and Graphics

Visuals are a high impact way to drive your point across and convey the big picture.  Architects are literally experts in creating models, renderings, plans and other visuals to reference in your grant application.  While most granting foundations are more interested in the details, providing a few well positioned visuals can separate your project from another competing applicant. Talk to your architect about the different visuals they can provide.  In our digital age, architects have the tools and expertise to generate renderings, walkthroughs, flyovers, animations, site and floor plans, and even 3-D models.

 

Presentations and Interviews

On larger scale grant applications, you may be asked to present your project or attend an interview – most likely with a panel of people or judges. Having an architect that knows your project there with you will not only help you answer questions correctly, but will also give you a professional appeal to the other side of the table. If they see you walk in with an architect, they will know you are taking the project seriously. Beyond the clout of having an Architect on your team, and the graphics architects create, they are also (generally) very good at giving presentations and talking to groups about conceptual ideas, design features, and the technical aspects of design and construction. They know how to appeal to different audiences and also how to say (and not say) the right things. 

If you have a great idea or an inspiring project in need of funding and feel overwhelmed with grant writing, visit Propel Studio to discuss your project.  Involving us at the beginning of a project is ideal so we can best help you focus your ideas and help tell the story of your project. Not only does adding an architect to your team add project value, it can also help rake in the capital to make the project happen.  

Tell us how we can help with your project by filling out our contact form here: https://www.propelstudio.com/contact

Hire an Architect before you sign a Commercial Lease!

We understand that opening a business is a gigantic undertaking.  Thousands of hours are spent honing your craft, creating a business plan, branding and marketing, licensing, registrations, and more. The process is long, exhausting and takes a lot of care and attention. When it comes time to decide where to locate your business, we understand the urge to want to jump on the first commercial space that feels like a good fit and works with your budget.

However, there is more to consider than just location and area of a potential space. At Propel Studio we have worked with many clients who have opened their small business in existing buildings. These businesses have included restaurants, bars, cafes, yoga studios, creative office space, and many other business services. Depending on the condition and configuration of an existing building - opening a new spot can be simple and straightforward - or it can be complicated, time consuming, expensive, or not even feasible. We want everyone to succeed, so here are some of our recommendations on things to consider or questions to ask before purchasing or leasing a commercial space.

 

 

Are you Changing the Occupancy or Use of your space? 

If your business will use the space differently than the previous tenant, or there was no previous tenant because it is a new building, you may need to apply for a Change of Use or Occupancy of the space as part of your commercial permit. This process can trigger a re-evaluation of the entire building and systems against today's code and safety standards, requiring new costs that you might not have anticipated, such as fire protection sprinklers, seismic upgrades, or increased mechanical systems.  

It is very common even in a new mixed-use development to leave the ground floor commercial level unfinished, allowing flexibility for the future tenants to customize it for their business needs and style.  This is referred to as permitting the ground level as a “Shell” space, meaning it is not ready for occupancy.  In these cases an architect can help you determine what is necessary to establish the appropriate use and occupancy for your business and apply for a Tenant Improvement Permit.

Are you increasing or reducing the number of plumbing fixtures?

You may not even know the answer to this question - and you’re not alone if you don't. Determining the number of plumbing fixtures to serve a project is not an easy task. It comes down to the anticipated population for each space based on the floor area and function determined by the Building Code. Furthermore, sometimes there are requirements for separate men’s, women's, gender neutral, and ADA accessible bathrooms. Adding or changing bathrooms can be some of the more costly parts of a construction project so it's good to find out if this type of work will be necessary on your project.  

Are you adding a kitchen or kitchen appliances?

If you are planning a Commercial Food Establishment in Portland, Oregon, Washington, or beyond, it’s important to understand exhaust and ventilation requirements based on the appliances you will have - including any cooking, frying, or dishware cleaning activities that are anticipated. Type I kitchen exhaust hoods are more intense and installed over cooking areas or appliances that produce grease while Type II hoods are simpler and used at areas which produce only steam or heat.  Adding a Commercial Kitchen hood is one of the largest single expenses in most kitchens and it’s important to know what you have and what you will need to open your doors.

Kitchens also produce a lot of water and grease that ends up down the drain. These days, almost every food or drink serving establishment would also be required to have a Grease Trap. These are containers designed to capture waste grease, allowing only water to continue through into the city’s sewer system.  These need to be installed below the kitchen floor and in some cases this may involve cutting concrete which can be expensive. With any cooking establishment, there are small details like this that we can help you identify early on so you can decide if a space is right for you.

Do you know the annual heating and cooling costs of the space? 

If you can, we recommend reviewing past utility bills of your space in order to determine any costs to operate and maintain interior comfort throughout the hot and cold seasons.  If utility bills are high it can be indicative of a poorly functioning mechanical system and little (or no) exterior wall insulation. Converting an uninsulated or unconditioned building to meet a use which will be heated or cooled will trigger insulation requirements, so exterior building envelope upgrades and associated costs should be considered.  

Would any Structural Seismic Strengthening Upgrades be triggered by your alteration project?

Portland City Code, Title 24.85 contains criteria that may trigger requirements for additional seismic strengthening when the work involves an existing building. There are many nuances to this title, but three of the main triggers for seismic strengthening occur if:

  • Percentage of net occupancy area change is greater than 1/3 the total area
  • Cost of alteration is greater than $40/sf
  • Increase occupant load by 150 or more people

We can help you determine if seismic strengthening will be required for your project.

Would any ADA Accessibility upgrades be required as part of your alteration project? 

If you are locating in an older building, there is a pretty good chance that some aspect of the parking area, routes to (and through) the building, as well as toilet and other plumbing configurations may not meet current standards.  It is a good idea to work with an architect early on to identify what you may expect to allocate to accessibility upgrades according to the Accessibility Upgrade Requirements in Existing Buildings (25% Rule)

Does the building you would be locating in meet current Planning and Zoning Requirements?

We recommend looking into whether the building you are considering locating to has any shortcomings with regard to city planning and zoning requirements.  With any alteration project, even one with interior work only, it will be reviewed by planning staff to determine if the building site meets current standards for quantity of vehicular/bicycle parking, trash/recycling, loading/unloading areas, landscaping and other site design elements.

As you can see, there are many considerations when developing and building out a new commercial business space.  Whether you are looking to open a brewery, restaurant, retail shop, office space, or other professional office, our staff would be happy to meet with you and help you understand all of your project's needs and analyze the spaces you’re considering so that you can avoid unnecessary challenges.  We want you to open your business in a space that is a great fit, without any surprises or unexpected costs.  

Please contact us today if you think there is any way we could help!

 

 

Feasibility Study

When working with new or existing buildings, our first recommendation in order to check the considerations above is to perform a project feasibility study.  This is the first phase of our architectural services and we typically perform the following tasks:

  • Create a list of spaces, their sizes, and ideal adjacencies for your businesses function
  • Visit your city’s historical permits and obtain any existing plan information on your building.  We then measure the existing space and provide CAD base drawings for design discussions over an accurate scaled plan.
  • Construction cost estimation - we work with some great commercial contractors in the Portland area who would be able to quickly provide cost feedback in order to guide your project based on your budget.
  • Create a Life Safety summary of your building project, which is necessary information to prepare and submit on commercial projects for permit.
  • Estimate permit fees - Plan Review + System Development Charges (Transportation, Water, Parks, Urban Forestry, Environmental Services)

After the Feasibility Study, the next steps in our full architectural services are Schematic Design, Construction Documentation, Bidding and Permitting, and Construction Administration.

We are a licensed architecture firm in Oregon and Washington and aim to provide service in these states and beyond.  Follow this link to view our Commercial Design Portfolio if you’re interested in seeing how we’ve helped other businesses open beautiful commercial spaces that work for their unique needs.

Additional Resources

City of Portland’s Commercial Alterations - Tenant Improvement Resources Page https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/38578

City of Vancouver Commercial Building Permit Information http://www.cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/commercial-building-permits

City of Hillsboro Commercial Building Permit Information
https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/departments/building

City of Gresham Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
https://greshamoregon.gov/permits/

City of Seattle Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/permits/permittypes/constructionaddalt/default.htm
http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/permits/permittypes/constructionnewbuildsingle/default.htm

City of Bend Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
http://www.bendoregon.gov/government/departments/community-development/building-safety-and-permit-services

Lake Oswego Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
https://www.ci.oswego.or.us/building

Creative Passageways

In many historic urban cities around the world, alleyways have been integrated into the urban landscapes, playing an important role in shaping the cultural, social and civic activities.
 


Alleys in some younger modern cities, however, have been viewed as service corridors between buildings, associated with crime, trash, and unpleasant for public use. How to creatively reverse this perception is the key to turn these alleys from eyesores to assets to their urban environment. By removing these passageways’ traditional role as means for commercial delivery and trash collection, many alleys have been redesigned to be a more vibrant, environmental, pedestrian-friendly, and economically viable space.

How to creatively transform underutilized alleys into urban assets?

These renovated alleys enhance safety, walk-ability, promote local businesses, and engage the surrounding community. They become spaces for people - places to gather, drink, eat, play, work, hang-out and socialize. Well-kept, pedestrian friendly, and visible-to-the-public alleys promote public presence and activity, eliminating safety issues. Revitalized alleys also bring environmental and health benefits. An alley renovation might also utilize reclaimed materials in replacement of using new resources. Alleys can also be interconnected with each other to create pedestrian networks, which encourage people to drive less and walk more. Placing public transit hubs near these alley networks can also enhance walk-ability.

Great examples of successful transformed alleys:


What are  these alleys’ key design principles?

  • Inviting space with colorful and vibrant surface treatment
  • Lighting and signage
  • Environmentally responsive design with strategic trash/recycling enclosure,
  • Pervious surfaces intertwined with landscaping
  • Active ground level with community activities, combined with storefront + retail space
  • Restricted vehicle access - pedestrian friendly environment
  • Organic and engaging design process involving surrounding communities
     
Design elements to reviltalize urban passageways

Design elements to reviltalize urban passageways

At Propel, we are interested in finding ways to bring inspiration from around the world, to transform the alley networks found here in Portland. There is so much opportunity to transform these under utilized right-of-way corridors into community assets. We are actively looking for opportunities and partnerships to start pilot projects and activate these urban spaces. If you know of any organizations, individuals or community groups exploring how to better utilize alleyways here in Portland, please let us know. 

In the meantime, if you are interested in reading about some of Propel Studio's tactical urbanism projects, visit here.

What if You were able to Double Your CDC’s Housing Portfolio this Year?

What if you were able to double your Community Development Corporation’s (CDC’s) housing portfolio this year? That may sound crazy but think about it, what if you were able to double your portfolio this year?

We understand that financial and physical resources are very limited. There’s only so much money in your budget and while you may be able to secure financing for new construction, deferred maintenance of your existing portfolio looms large. We also understand that your CDC has a limited physical footprint, so how could you possibly double your housing portfolio with these parameters in place?

Just last year, the City of Portland received more than 250 permit applications for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). If you dig into the reasons for the recent explosion in popularity of ADUs, you’ll find that our unique housing market and zoning codes offer opportunities for CDCs to maximize their portfolios and develop new streams of income by adding ADUs to their existing single family properties. 

ADUs are a great idea as they increase the housing stock without requiring you to purchase new land. Why not build a bunch of these small-scale houses on property you already own? They can be homes for the elderly and homes for the young. They provide rental income, investment opportunities and much needed, affordable housing … all in your backyard.

If you review your CDC’s portfolio of properties and own any properties that are zoned residential, then you have property where ADUs can be developed.

Even better, the City of Portland currently offers incentives that may allow you to save as much as $20,000 in development fees on each ADU you build. The City is currently waiving the System Development Charges (SDCs) for these project types. However, this waiver is set to expire in July of 2018, so now is the perfect time to take advantage of this savings. 

Another great cost-savings opportunity for these project types is to develop a series of prototypes that can be adapted to work on each of your properties - and rolled out simultaneously. This can save you time, construction costs and increase the economy of scale with these small projects.

There is also the option of building modular designs that can be fabricated off-site and installed in only a few days - meaning a minimal impact to existing tenants. Further, this would allow us to permit these projects through the State Of Oregon, and permit multiple projects at once. This could create even more savings. 

Are your existing properties beginning to feel the effects of deferred maintenance? Would quickly and efficiently developing a large number of income-producing properties help your pro-forma?

We’re at a unique point in our city, where land acquisition costs are high and access to affordable housing is scarce. Yet we, at Propel Studio, believe your CDC has the opportunity to meet your housing-driven mission, maybe even double your portfolio this year.

If any of our questions intrigue you, let us know. We’ll be glad to talk about them.

In the meantime, you may also be interested in reading some of our other ADU-related articles including: “5 Ways Portland, Oregon CDCs Can Benefit From The ADU Craze” and "Frequently Asked Questions about ADU Design and Construction."

 

Sketching Abroad

When travelling to new places, taking photographs is a great way to remember everything you've seen and experienced. At Propel Studio, we love taking photographs too. However, we find that nothing compares to hand sketching as a way to carve our experiences into memory.

 

 

Most recently, our youngest employee, Sam Sudy, went on a trip to Beijing China. The following is her opinion on how sketching has changed the way she looks at travelling and experiencing new environments.

 

 

I love sketching. Whenever I travel some place new, I try and lug my giant sketchbook with me. Usually my sketches take about 30-40 minutes, but to me it is well worth the time it takes to have a document of that experience. Since getting into this habit of drawing what I see instead of snapping a picture, I have found that I forget my camera at home. There's something more vicseral about it. Don't get me wrong, I love looking at photographs, but when I flip through my sketchbook, I remember things I would easily forget looking at a picture that I took.

I remember the hard, uneven rocks I was sitting on.
I remember the smell and weight of the air I was breathing.
I remember the heat from the sun that was hitting the back of my neck.
I remember the details I was trying to capture through my pencil.
I remember the awkward feeling of being stared at... 

 

 

Even with the awkward stares, I still think it's worth the final result. 

 

 

Now, I know that my sketches won't be hanging in the Louvre anytime soon, but the way that looking at them when I return home can bring me right back to that moment when I was putting pencil to paper, I wouldn't trade that for anything.