community design

Social Sustainability: How Propel Studio approaches Design for Communities

We were thinking recently about how our work impacts Portland, Oregon. Whether we are designing small urban installations, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), or larger commercial and multi-family housing projects, each can have a large impact on the surrounding neighborhood and the city as a whole. Architecture has a big effect on all of us and we take that responsibility seriously. 

We believe our designs have an impact on the sustainability of the areas of Portland where we work. That’s one of the reasons we at Propel Studio are dedicated to creating projects that have minimal impact on the environment. This is also why we are so concerned about Social Sustainability. What if the value of our work is less about specific design of space than about the reason for the space to begin with? We’re not discounting the value (or our love) of good design. We’re simply thinking about the broader impact we can lend to a community.

We love working on projects that create places for people to connect and interact; spaces for conversations that preserve and reflect what’s important to their community. Some of these projects, like the work we have done in Lents - Story Yard, the Park Pavilion, and Kiosk - may be temporary, or even conceptual and relatively small scale. Others, like the Masterplan for Park Avenue, Milwaukee, Oregon and Sugar Shack masterplan are larger scale explorations of how we can permanently build better communities through design. In both cases, we are looking for ways that our designs create spaces that bring people together, and ways that our work can foster dialogue and community interaction. 

 
 

When we’re thinking about Social Sustainability, we’re always considering how we can preserve social connections that already exist and how we can enhance what’s culturally or socially important to the area where we’re working. As an example, how can we wrap everything that Champions Barbershop means for the community into a design for their new Champions Barbering Institute? In this project we spent a lot of time listening to the clients to better understand their business, how it relates to the community they serve, and how our design can reflect the values that they hold dear. It is now a successful space that fosters an inspiring educational experience for their students as they get job training.  

Social Sustainability may be hard to define, but we think it’s an important mission. Change is inevitable. However change doesn't have to be a negative force. At Propel Studio, we want to instigate change that benefits the neighborhoods where we work and the people who call those places home. When it comes to design, we want to foster creative community engagement. We want to be community advocates because we’re creating environments for community members.

When we work within new communities our process includes asking questions and listening to feedback. We want to know how can we help you enhance your community? How can we support the best of what your community has to offer while providing places that build a better tomorrow? That’s the impact that Propel Studio wants to have on Portland, Oregon and the other places where we work.

 

 

If your community has a need you think we can help with, give us a call. Big or small, we’d love to help with your project.

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.

 

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

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.

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!

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

5 Ways Portland, Oregon Community Development Companies (CDCs) Can Benefit From The ADU Craze

As housing costs in Portland, OR continue to escalate, while access to affordable housing redefines crisis levels, it is increasingly difficult for organizations to meet their housing driven missions.

Many Portland-area Community Development Corporations (CDCs) meet their housing access missions by developing multi-family housing projects or purchasing and renovating or constructing new single family homes. Their portfolios are effective in meeting their mission, but are ultimately hamstrung by a number of factors.

As your organization looks out 5, 10 or even 15 years, does your current redevelopment model eventually lack in housing diversity? Will your budget strain under the costs of deferred maintenance? Are you ultimately limited by the physical footprint of your CDC area? Will your tenants have the ability for their families to grow and change without being dislocated?

You’re surely familiar with the recent explosion of popularity that Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) have enjoyed in Portland and in many other cities. Last year alone, the City of Portland received more than 250 ADU permit applications. These are great ways to add new housing stock to land you already own. Many individuals have already asked the question "Why not build a small-scale house in your backyard?" Their parents could live there; renters could live there as they generate rental income; or they could live in the ADU themselves and rent the main house to a family.

Those are all great reasons to consider building an ADU, but how can your CDC benefit from the ADU craze? At Propel Studio, we believe there are 5 key ways your Portland, Oregon CDC can benefit:

1.  Quickly and inexpensively expand your housing stock within the existing footprint of your CDC.

After a thorough analysis and inventory, we can help you identify the development opportunities that exist on the properties you already own. Imagine doubling your housing portfolio without incurring any land acquisition costs. Almost every property in a SIngle Family Zone within Portland can accommodate an ADU. Often the biggest hurdle to providing more housing is the costs involved in acquiring new land. In this scenario, we can build new housing opportunity and eliminate the hurdle of purchasing the land as it is already in your portfolio. 

2.  Expand your housing stock without displacing current/long-term residents.

Developing multi-family projects is an effective way to meet your housing access goals, but these projects tend to displace neighbors and sometimes lead to gentrification in the neighborhood. Imagine developing a significant increase in your housing stock without displacing a single family. Instead, you can keep families in their long-term homes and potentially allow for these families to grow or multi-generational living to happen on a single lot. 

3.  Diversify the product mix in your housing stock.

Many times, financing and market forces dictate that a CDC’s portfolio grows in a certain direction. Maybe you’re heavy on single family homes or maybe it’s been more feasible to develop multi-family projects lately due to funding available. What if you could introduce a product mix that not only diversified your housing portfolio but also diversified residents you’re able to serve? Accessory Dwelling Units can take a lot of forms and can offer a wide range in housing types. We can design two storey 2-bedroom units for young families, or single level versions that are fully ADA compliant for ageing-in-place. There is also the option to create smaller, more affordable studio apartments. These are just a few of the wide range in housing types that can be offered through this creative project type. 

4.  Leverage available financing vehicles to cover deferred maintenance costs.

It’s no secret that it’s easier for a CDC to get financing for new construction than it is to find a way to cover maintenance costs. Many organizations like yours struggle with deferred maintenance costs. What if building a fleet of new ADUs helped generate the funds to cover much-needed deferred maintenance projects? One of the things we have been interested in, is using ADUs as a means to generate funds that can further your mission. ADUs can be rented as affordable units to low-income residents, but they could also potentially be rented as market-rate apartments, bringing in much-needed revenue that can be used for deferred maintenance and other costs on your existing assets. 

5.  Leverage existing incentives to save on development costs.

You already know that development costs in Portland are high and prices for land and construction costs are rising. What if you took advantage of the City’s ADU incentives and saved as much as $10,000-$20,000 per ADU unit in development costs? Currently, the City of Portland is waiving the majority of SDC fees until July of 2018, and permitting detatched Accessory Dwelling Units can be as low at $4,000-$5,000. Compare that to the permitting costs of a new single family house and you can see that now is a perfect time to maximize the benefits of investing in these projects. 

If your organization is looking to the future and thinking you can do more to provide better access to housing; if you’re thinking you can do more to support your neighborhood and it’s diversity, consider adding Accessory Dwelling Units to your properties in Single Family Housing zones.

ADUs in Portland, Oregon can currently help you quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively increase your housing portfolio. They can help you grow and diversify your housing stock without displacing your neighbors. They can even help you save money and solve the deferred maintenance crisis you may be facing.

If you’d like to know more about our experience with the benefits of ADU development, let us know. We’ll be glad to help. 
 

The Power of Partnerships: How can a small Architecture Firm in Portland, Oregon be a Valuable, Collaborative, Partner in Vietnam?

Vietnam does not have a shortage of architecture firms. In cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, there are a number of quality firms, whether operating as outposts of multinational firms or Vietnam-based. However, there are still many under-served communities throughout the country.   

When Tuan Vu was a child, the walls of his family’s small tube house in Hanoi were his drawing canvas. His early design efforts understandably upset his parents, but he had dreams of one day designing something that would contribute to the environment around him.

Today, Tuan is a Partner at Propel Studio in Portland, Oregon. He’s part of the team that has built an international reputation for engaging with communities to design creative solutions for the challenges they face.

 

 

Many architecture firms say they take a “collaborative approach” to design. For Propel Studio, success is defined by collaboration. They are small and nimble; the exact characteristics that have allowed them to be valuable community partners from the Foster-Powell and Montavilla neighborhoods of Portland to Aridagawa, Japan.

For underserved communities in Vietnam, a firm that values relationships and research, cultural understanding and honesty before a project even begins, can be the perfect partner.

Propel Studio’s innovative designs and expertise in high performance architecture combined with their dedication to understanding local culture allows them to partner well with firms in locations across the globe.

Long-distance collaborations are not without their challenges. Language barriers and time zone differences, logistical hurdles and technology restrictions can all stand in the way of a successful partnership, but Propel has proven to be up to the task. Their experience in Pan-Pacific working environments and multi-cultural makeup break down communication barriers. Their size and flexibility give them the ability quickly co-locate, when necessary.

The one factor that makes Propel Studio a valuable, collaborative partner for firms and communities in Vietnam and beyond is their commitment to a shared vision; one that focuses on the environmental, economic and social sustainability of a community.

According to Tuan Vu, “We’re not looking for a project to be on the TV news. The most satisfying thing is to see a client smile or people using the space the way it was intended to be. It’s great to contribute something contextual, something that’s a good addition to the community.”

 

Aridagawa Design Charrette with Propel Studio and PLACE

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Propel Studio  traveled to Aridagawa, Japan last October to run a community design workshop in collaboration with PLACE and the Portland Development Commission. The local town government is interested in the Portland planning process of engaging the public and community members. Our team ran a series of workshops to explore ideas for how to reuse a soon to be closed Nursery School building as a community focused entrepreneur center, how to activate a bike path that runs through the town, and how to make the town a more livable, sustainable and attractive place to live.

This video shows the design team working at PLACE's creative office space, developing our design ideas to present to the town this June.

Thank you to PLACE for producing the video - http://place.la/

Propel Studio + PLACE run a series of community design workshops in Aridagawa, Japan

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【有田川という未来vol.3】まちづくりワークショップ@ポッポみち from まっくす on Vimeo. 有田川という未来vol.3まちづくりワークショップ 「あったらいいね!」を自分たちで描いてみよう! ********************* ポートランドのまちづくりチームが再び有田川にきて 住民の皆さんと一緒になってワークショップを行いました。 有田鉄道の線路跡から生まれたポッポみち。 みなさんから「もっと楽しく使えそう!」という声が 多く寄せられる有田川町のお宝について 暮らして楽しいまちになるための人が集まる 繋がる必要なものがなんなのか アイディアをみんなで出し合いました!

Nick and Lucas recently traveled to Aridagawa, Japan to run a community workshop with PLACE and the PDC. The local government is interested in the Portland planning process of engaging the public and community members. Our team ran a series of workshops to explore ideas for how to reuse a soon to be closed Nursery School building as a community center, how to activate a bike path that runs through the town, and how to make the town a more livable, sustainable and attractive place to live.

‪#‎Japan‬ ‪#‎Portland‬ ‪#‎CommunityDesign‬ ‪#‎PublicInterestDesign‬ ‪#‎ilookup‬