landscape design

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.

Approved.jpg

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?

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.

Lents Story Yard Grand Opening

IMG_20140818_180057.jpg

Monday August 18th saw the grand opening of Lents Story Yard, Propel Studio's first public project. Over 100 Lents community members and business owners converged on the site to celebrate with us. With a grant provided by the Portland Development Commission, and collaborating with ROSE Community Development and photographer Dawn DeAno we turned a vacant lot in Lents Town Center into a community asset. We utilized gabion baskets to build walls that defined space, paths, and supported the photography exhibit, and wood benches. A stage was located in the center of the site and we hope it will be activated throughout the next 18 months by local community groups and neighbors. Tis project is a great example of our dedication to Pubic Interest Design. We believe architects have the ability and responsibility to improve our communities and quality of life. We take this responsibility seriously and are looking for new opportunities to collaborate with communities on projects like this. If you want more information about the photography exhibit, or would like to hold an event at the site, visit the website http://rosecdc.org/storyyard/.

Partners:

Portland Development CommissionRegional Arts and Culture CouncilThe Kinsman FoundationLents GrownDawn DeAno PhotographyPortland Youth BuildersLents International Farmers MarketMt. Scott Fuel CoPro Photo Supply

To see the project page with renderings and more information go here: http://www.propelstudio.com/project/lents-grown-story-yard/

What Makes a City Beautiful?

Portland-Oregon-and-Mt-Hood.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Propel Studio Proposal Selected for Lents Urban Renewal Area

Lents-Gabion-Furniture-1.jpg

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

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

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

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

PDC Announcement Link

The Winning Street Seats Design Has Been Built!!

Street-Seat-04.jpg

Congrats to the winner, Bob Trempe, for his fantastic design!  Special thanks to Lucas Gray and folks at The Center for Architecture for the hard work running the competition, managing funding, and obtaining the permit.  The construction was led by Lucawoods Inc. of Portland.  Nick Mira of Propel Studio offered a helping hand on the final installation. 

Street Seat
Portland Street Seat Design

Portland Street Seats Design Competition

The-Portland-Bench-Street-Seats-Design-Competition-Propel-Studio.jpg

We are proud to be the recipient of an honorable mention in Portland's 2013 Street Seats Design Competition. Congratulations to all of the other participants and Bob Trempe for his winning design. If anyone would like to build The Portland Bench outside of your business, let's talk!