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Modern Residential Design Blog Post Series

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Our team at Propel Studio is passionate about designing beautiful, modern, high-performance buildings that our clients and communities will love. To us, there are a series of primary qualities that lead to a successful project that is loved by its users and meets our design standards:

  1. Beauty
  2. Functionality
  3. Healthy and Comfortable
  4. Energy Efficiency & Sustainability
  5. Durability
  6. Materiality & Tectonics

Over the coming weeks, we will be writing a series of blog posts to elaborate on how we approach each design project and incorporate these qualities into our work. Although these themes can be applied to projects of any genre, we will be focusing on the design of modern residential projects - Single Family Houses and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

Although we have broken down these themes into distinct posts, there are many topics that overlap or bridge between the categories. For instance, choice of materials and how they fit together is an integral aspect of the beauty of a project, sustainable strategies often lead to healthier environments, durability and functionality go hand-in-hand. Through the design process we balance the solutions to hundreds of problems and weigh them against these focusses, and ultimately arrive at a solution that meets our clients’ needs and fulfills our desire to address these important topics.

By no means is this a complete list or cover all the issues and challenges that architects deal with on each and every project. They are just a few of the prominent themes that we focus on throughout our design process as we work with new clients.

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To see how we have incorporated some of these ideas into our work please visit our residential portfolio.

Healthy Learning - Primrose School of Hillsboro

Primrose School of Hillsboro - sustainable site plan
Primrose School of Hillsboro - sustainable site plan
A school design orchestrated by Propel Studio intricately focuses on the interior environment, promoting healthy living and nurturing imagination for early childhood development.

In their latest design project, Nick Mira and Lucas Gray, partners at Propel Studio Architecture in Portland, Oregon, are at the forefront of where architecture meets sustainable design and healthy living. They are leading the design team for a new Primrose School, a national brand of accredited early education schools committed to childhood development, on the outskirts of Portland in Hillsboro, Oregon.

The Primrose School of Hillsboro, is the first project in Oregon for the national brand, and there are plans to create a few more in the Portland metro area. Bringing years of architectural knowledge and sustainable design strategies to the project, Mira and Gray’s focus at the school has been to maintain the exterior aesthetics of the national brand, while developing a healthy and sustainable indoor environment. The mission shared between the clients and design team is to provide a healthy, environmentally friendly, and comfortable space for the teachers, staff, and students of all ages.

Specifically, great care was made on specifying materials that are healthy and not environmentally hazardous in the interior space — from ensuring that materials and finishes do not emit unhealthy gases, and using natural materials wherever possible, to sourcing local materials and products. Propel Studio and their consultant team has also made a dedicated effort to implement a highly efficient heating and cooling system, reducing energy consumption and saving the client money on utility costs. For example, Mira and Gray are incorporating radiant floor heating for optimal user comfort. This feature provides a peace of mind—it will keep students comfortable year around, particularly during the cool autumn and cold winter days, the times when parents are most concerned about keeping their children warm. It also limits the need for utilizing forced air and ducting that can often collect dust and and increase particulates in the air - a particular issue for asthma and other respiratory problems.

The sustainable lighting strategy starts by incorporating as much natural daylight as possible, supplemented with the best artificial technologies. Mira and Gray emphasize extremely energy efficient lighting and therefore have specified LED light fixtures throughout the school. Moreover, the natural and artificial lighting seamlessly balanced throughout the space, creating a mood of tranquility, allowing for maximum productivity and keeping children focused on learning. Finally, great care has been executed towards the acoustical design of the building, including the selection of finishes that are sound absorbent, further creating a soothing environment for children and allowing for a lively, even sometimes boisterous, environment without worrying about an unpleasant, discordant mixture of sounds.

In addition to the classrooms, other areas of the school that received an emphasis on healthy and sustainable environments include the kitchen and the indoor and outdoor play areas.  The school’s kitchen is equipped with energy efficient appliances, once again reducing the operating costs and energy consumption. Further, the school will serve high-quality, wholesome, and nutritious food, encouraging health conscious minds for life. In order to encourage exercise, play, and imagination, the team chose play equipment suitable for each age group.  In order to spark imagination and promote positive development both physically and mentally, this included giant foam blocks which can be creatively assembled to provide an infinite number of environments.

Along with sustainable materials and systems, Propel has worked with the developer of the learning curriculum to prepare for increased technology in the classroom - the future of learning. The school will utilize iPads throughout their teaching methods, and as a result, Mira and Gray have incorporated the necessary infrastructure into their design. They have designed extra outlets for charging many iPads at once, and ensured the wifi and internet systems can fully accommodate for simultaneous videos and downloads. The robustness of the integrated technology should have the school well prepared for future advances in technology as teaching tools.  

In terms of the school’s design, there is no question: health, safety, comfort, and functionality were the primary focuses. Mira and Gray worked closely with their clients to develop a design that met the requirements of the franchise while incorporating sustainable strategies to create a healthy learning environment. Propel’s focus is always on balancing the needs of the clients, the project budget, and their focus on sustainable learning environments.

Project Team

Architecture:Propel StudioStructural Engineering:VLMKLandscape Architecture: Ecotone EnvironmentalMEP Engineering:InterfaceClients:Timeless Education Academy, LLC

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 Open House - Design Week Portland 2016

propelstuio office
propelstuio office

For this year's Design Week Portland, Propel Studio will open our doors to the public to showcase our work, and discuss our design processes. We will have examples of our finished work as well as process sketches, models and other explorations that lead to our creative solutions. There will be music, as well as free wine, beer, and small snacks. All are welcome and we look forward to seeing you there!

Address:

5229 NE MLK Blvd. Suite 101, Portland OR 97212 (Our office is on the back of the building and opens onto the parking lot)

Date/Time:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 5:00pm - 9:00pm

Our Vanport Collective collaborators:

- Propel Studio Architecture - www.propelstudio.com - Ecotone Environmental - www.ecotone-env.com - MVMT design + architecture - Alicia Nagel Creative - www.alicianagel.com - Jennifer Reynolds Graphic Design & Illustration - www.jenreyn.com - Allegro Design - www.allegro-design.com

#DesignWeekPDX#PDXevents#DWPDX

How Much Will My Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Cost?

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Sustainable NW Modern ADU in Portland, Oregon
Sustainable NW Modern ADU in Portland, Oregon

One of the first questions we get from every client is: How much does an Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU cost? At the same time, we get a lot of clients that come to us with a budget and ask if an ADU can be built for their available funds. The problem for any designer is that it is impossible to answer that question without knowing more about the unique aspects of the design that addresses the client's needs, wants, and site conditions. However, we thought we should at least share  a breakdown of the costs for a recent ADU project to give a realistic guideline for you to base your budget on.

Below is a rough construction cost breakdown for a 795 square foot sustainable ADU that was built in the summer of 2015 in Portland, OR. This design has a few unique elements that are reflected in the cost breakdown. The design includes a high performance envelope - typical wall construction with standard BATT insulation, plus an additional 2” of rigid insulation on all the walls, 3” of rigid added to the roof, and a fully insulated slab. We also designed in radiant floor heating with an on-demand hot water system. There was also a couple of unique custom windows that are significantly more than a standard window would be - however they were important to the design and function of the spaces.  Finally, this breakdown is for the construction costs and doesn't include architectural or structural design work. The design fees vary depending on the complexity, size and budget of your project. 

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Cost Breakdown

Permits

$10,000

This includes the current Portland SDC Waiver that is expiring in July and all of the individual trade permits.

Excavation

$10,000

around a 600sf slab area including the exterior decks. Also included excavation for a couple landscaping retaining walls on the property.

Footings & Retaining Walls

$20,000

This includes work needed for the ADU plus a couple of retaining walls needed as part of the surrounding landscaping.

Framing and Sheathing

$20,000

typical 2x6 stud wall construction and 2x12 roof joists and supporting structural posts and beams

Siding

$8,000

Hardi siding with vertical tongue and groove cedar highlights in some areas and cedar soffit

Roofing

$10,000

Standing seam metal roof

Windows and Doors

$10,000

2 custom windows, 3 skylights, 8’ front door with side lite, 8’ two panel sliding door, and a few standard vinyl windows.

Concrete Slab

$5,000

exposed concrete slab for floor of main level

Plumbing

$12,000

includes radiant floor installation and on demand hot water system

Electrical

$11,000

electrical panel, electrical wiring and outlets

Insulation

$9,000

batt insulation in walls and ceiling stud cavities, 2" rigid on exterior walls and 3" rigid on roof

Sheetrock

$8,000

drywall, mudding, taping

Interior Doors

$1,000

2 standard doors, 1 pocket door and 3 closet bi-folding doors

Paint - Exterior

$4,000

Paint - Interior

$7,000

Trim Work

$3,000

painted MDF, plus clear coated fir window sills

Cabinets

$4,500

Ikea kitchen and some custom work

Countertop

$2,500

Wood butcher block

Tile

$6,000

Kitchen backsplash and shower - materials and labor

Staircase

$2,500

off the shelf spiral staircase

Flooring - loft

$2,500

solid white oak, prefinished

Cable Railing

$2,500

off the shelf system

Appliances

$4,500

stove, oven, washer, dryer, refrigerator

Electrical Fixtures

$1,500

lighting fixtures, installation, etc.

Additional Plumbing

$1,500

plumbing fixtures, installation, etc.

TOTAL

$176,000

Includes all materials, labor and contractor fees

This is a relatively typical cost breakdown for the ADUs we work on. This isn't an extravagant project, and although there are a few places where the client invested in a bit of a premium (custom windows, skylights, radiant floor heating), the rest of the project is pretty straightforward. I think this is a good resource to base your project's budget on.

One thing of note, is that each site condition is different. Excavation and concrete work costs can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the site, ease of access, and amount of fill to be added or removed. Cost can also rise dramatically depending on the exterior siding materials and interior finish materials. There were some unique aspects for the concrete work that drove up the cost and we did have some premium siding materials in certain areas of the exterior. Even then we don't really see the cost of a custom designed ADU dropping below $150,000 when all is said and done.

It is also important to consider that a cost per square foot calculation is not a great way to determine the cost of a project like this. With smaller projects, the money that goes towards the expensive parts of a house - kitchen, bathroom, mechanical systems, excavations and concrete - don't get offset by the cheaper square footage of bedrooms, dining rooms and other spaces.

If you have any questions don't hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to talk about the unique aspects of your projects and discuss your ideas and goals for a sustainable Accessory Dwelling Unit. If you would like to see some of our other ADU designs click here.

Young Firm Propels School Project - from the DJC Oregon

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Funds are still being raised to build an outdoor classroom and community garden for the Vernon School in Northeast Portland. Propel Architecture has donated its design skills to help build the project that was originally conceived by middle school students at the school. (Courtesy of Propel Studio Architecture)

http://djcoregon.com/news/2015/12/15/young-firm-propels-school-project/By: Beverly Corbellin Architecture and Engineering, NewsDecember 15, 20153:29 pm

When Lucas Gray and his girlfriend, Kristin Slavin, bought a house in Northeast Portland a few years ago, they quickly became involved in their neighborhood.

Both have their master’s degrees in architecture, so they approached the Vernon School PTA and offered pro bono professional design services.

“We said, ‘What do you want? Is there anything you need professional design services for?’ ” Gray said.

As it turned out, the K-8 school had a play area that flooded in rainy weather, Gray said, so a team from the firm he co-founded three years ago, Propel Architecture, designed a covering.

“The idea was to do a quick rendering to get people excited (and) to put on their website,” Gray said. “Then the PTA talked more and discussed more with the parents at the school what they really needed, and narrowed it down to focusing on the community garden.”

The little garden on the school’s west side is open to both neighborhood residents and students, and the PTA decided that it could become more of an educational tool if an outdoor classroom were created. Propel donated design services and finished preliminary plans. Fundraising has begun – though more dollars are needed to cover the cost of construction and materials.

“We’ve designed a split-roof structure with the idea that one of them will be a planted roof facing south,” he said. “The other will be a metal roof to collect rainwater, and they can use the rainwater to water the gardens and keep the plants growing.”

The project will create opportunities to teach kids not only about gardening, but also about sustainable building and making a structure “environmentally conscious,” Gray said.

The project started with contributions from students and plenty of input from PTA members, said Eileen Hendrickson, PTA committee chairwoman for the outdoor classroom. About three years ago, students in grades 6-8 created concepts that the professionals were able to build on, she said.

“Propel and parents (on the committee) took it through several iterations to enhance the durability, simplify the mechanics and try to find an affordable way to build,” she said. “I’ve been really touched by this team’s work, which is not just four posts and a roof. They’re doing it in a very thoughtful manner.”

Propel has provided leadership via “constant attention and feedback over the course of the last year,” Hendrickson said.

Developing the drawings for design and engineering of the outdoor classroom and garden has been a tedious and time-consuming task, Hendrickson said, and Propel has been a guiding force.

“Propel has always been on the forefront, helping our PTA moving forward,” she said. “But it has very much been … a collaborative effort, with other parents who are architects and engineers who have worked with Propel.”

Hendrickson said she hopes that Propel’s involvement will encourage other design firms to get involved with community projects.

“It is very beneficial to have a local architecture firm doing a lot of the grassroots projects and outreach,” she said. “By the very nature of them talking with other groups and companies it encourages others to build community where it needs to be built.”

But construction costs money, Gray said, and the Vernon School project will receive none from Portland Public Schools. His conservative cost estimate is about $50,000, but that would include donated materials and reliance on volunteers to contribute some of the labor.

Hendrickson said a general contractor is needed, and she is hoping that a local construction company will contribute some man-hours.

Donations of cash as well as materials to the Vernon PTA are tax-deductible, Hendrickson said. Anyone who wants to help can contact Gray at lucas@propelstudio.com.

“They can contact me and I’ll put them in touch with the right people,” he said.

Project construction is just the beginning, Hendrickson said. She hopes the outdoor classroom will become an evolving space based in part on input from future students.

“The subcommittee working on the drawings was also thoughtful on how the structure can evolve,” she said. “We hope to have future students play a role – maybe an art project or some other idea so that students will have hands-on experience.”

--- To Download a PDF of this story click here.

Portland City Council Approves Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Zoning Code Updates

Small Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are now allowed in setbacks
Small Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are now allowed in setbacks

After recommendations from an exploratory committee and feedback from stakeholders, the Portland City Council voted 4-1 to approve the new Accessory Structure zoning code. This has created a single set of rules that regulates all accessory structures, from ADUs to Garages. If you have been wanting to build creative Accessory Dwelling Unit, the new rules will be a welcome development by loosening the design restrictions. Further, they incentivize building small which leads to more sustainable and affordable housing.The biggest change is that they now have two sets of rules. One that regulates small ADUs under 500 square feet, and a separate one for larger ADUs, 500-800 square feet. Below is a list of the updated rules that will have biggest impact for each project type and some personal thoughts on each.

Small ADU’s - Less than 500sf, less than 15 feet tall  
  • - No design limitations - Windows can be any proportion - exterior material palette is not limited to what exists on the main house - can be built in the property setback - roof can be any slope

These are the biggest changes and the ones we are most excited about. Basically what the city is saying, is that if your ADU is a small structure you are free to make it any style you want. This makes sense as smaller, lower structures have less of a visual impact on your neighbors and from the street. We still wonder why the ADU zoning code regulated style at all. We can’t wait to work with clients who want to explore the new design options this allows.

The loosening of the design restrictions is particularly good for people looking for a more modern or contemporary aesthetic. Most of Portland’s housing is more historical in aesthetics yet lifestyles and taste have dramatically changed. Especially with small living units like an ADU, connection to the outdoors is vital to make the space feel larger and spacious. In our relatively moderate climate making use of outdoor rooms as part of the living area makes sense. Many of our clients have asked for glass walls, large windows and a modern aesthetic and until now the city code limited what they could do by forcing them to match the style of the main house. Fortunately this silly regulation has been removed for the smaller ADUs.

Another huge advantage to the new rules is the increased flexibility of locating the project on a site due to the ability to now build within the property setbacks. For smaller properties or situations where you are trying to maximize usable yard or avoid significant trees, this opens up the ability to make full use of your property. It also gives additional flexibility in siting an ADU to optimize its orientation for solar panels, natural lighting, and other sustainable strategies.  

Large ADU’s - over 500 sf

Unlike the smaller ADUs, not as much has changed for the regulations of larger ADUs. The main change is that the previous height limit of 18 feet has been increased to 20 feet.  This is particularly good for those considering a 2 story ADU or dwelling over a garage. There were also some small tweaks to the design constraints, that we think are a small step in the right direction - giving increased options for designers and owners.

  • EXTERIOR FINISH MATERIALS:The exterior finish materials on the detached covered accessory structure must meet one of the following:
  • - The exterior finish material must be the same or visually match in type, size and placement, the exterior finish material of the primary structure; or
  • - Siding must be made from wood, composite boards, vinyl or aluminum products, and the siding must be composed in a shingle pattern, or in a horizontal clapboard or shiplap pattern. The boards in the pattern must be 6 inches or less in width.
  • ROOF PITCH: The roof pitch of the detached covered accessory structure must meet one of the following:
  • - The predominant roof pitch must be the same as the predominant roof pitch of the primary structure; or
  • - The roof pitch must be at least 6/12.
  • TRIM: The trim on the detached covered accessory structure must meet one of the following:
  • - The trim must be the same in type, size, and location as the trim used on the primary structure; or
  • - The trim around all windows and doors must be at least 3 ½ inches wide.
  • WINDOWS: The windows on all street facing facades of the detached covered accessory structure must meet one of the following:
  • - The windows must match those on the street facing façade of the primary structure in orientation (horizontal or vertical); or
  • - Each window must be square or vertical – at least as tall as it is wide.
  • EAVES: The eaves on the detached covered accessory structure must meet one of the following:
  • - The eaves must project from the building walls the same distance as the eaves on the primary structure;
  • - The eaves must project from the building walls at least 1 foot on all elevations; or
  • - If the primary structure has no eaves, no eaves are required.

Although we still believe there should be no restrictions on the style or aesthetics of an ADU, or any building for that matter, we think the new rules are at least a step in the right direction and we are excited to explore what these new rules allow as we start designing new ADUs.

Conclusion

The updated zoning code and loosening of the design restrictions is great for everyone looking to build an ADU on their property. We have to applaud the Portland City council for their forward thinking and voting to approve the new rules. We also thank all of the people who testified or wrote in to support the adoption of these rules. Without the grassroots advocacy, improvements to our zoning codes wouldn’t happen.

The Zoning Code updates provide more flexibility to the design team by reducing restrictions and hurdles. High quality design increases the value of these structures and should be incentivized and celebrated. Further, the zoning code is about protecting the health safety and welfare of the public and should have absolutely nothing to do with dictating style or aesthetics. The new rules move in this direction and allow creative designers to provide clients with better buildings that fit their unique site and style.

This is especially true for those looking for modern or contemporary styles for their ADUs. We tend to design with a Northwest Modern aesthetic and look forward to exploring the creative flexibility the new rules will permit. This includes the ability to do low pitched or even flat roofs on the smaller ADUs and move towards a very modern look and feel. There is now the opportunity to create wonderful spaces that open up to the outdoors, blending the interior and exteriors. We can also explore rooftop decks and terraces, planted green roofs, and other beautiful and sustainable ideas. We look forward to collaborating with a client who shares in the vision to push the limits of what these new rules allow.

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If you want more information on ADUs, our design process or frequently asked questions please visit our Accessory Dwelling Units Design page: http://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/

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

Passive House Architecture

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Passive House Architecture Explained in 90 Seconds from Hans-Jörn Eich on Vimeo.

We are always trying to push the boundaries of sustainable design and look for clients who are passionate about this as well. Passive House architecture is one approach to building that drastically reduces energy consumption and thus the lifespan costs of a building. The video above gives a brief overview of Passive House principals. If this interests you and might be applicable for your building project please get in touch!

Creative Office Space Design Considerations

Portland Creative Office Design
Portland Creative Office Design

We have witnessed an evolution of office trends over the years. Days of the cubicle focused office are slowly fading and we now look towards designing spaces that contain a diversity of influences and address various needs. A major consideration of office design is human need and increasing the efficiency of Human Capital, one of the most valuable assets any business has. The macro trend is spotlighting people, from consumers to individual employee and teams. Advancements in technology changes the way people work, and are key factors in how design is accommodating for a new era of offices.

Creative office space design considerations include looking at a combination of factors including, the culture of the office, flexibility, various work tasks, and technology. These must be correlated to the individual needs of each employee, project teams, and management. The individual needs of the employee arise from influences such as:

  • Work DemandsMoodRitualsHabitsCollaborative Work vs. Focused WorkPersonality
  • Choice

Employee choice is a key element in designing spaces that foster creativity and allow people to work in various environments. The habits and rituals of the employees must be balanced with the demands of the work objective. These can be surveyed or observed by designers to best accommodate the business and employee needs during the design process. Having an architect on board early on in the process of considering a new office space can allow them to observe how your existing space functions and ways to increase productivity by designing for the unique aspects of your employees, project teams, and management style.

In order to create environments that workers enjoy, designers must provide a variety of spaces that enable people to work the way they choose, based on their current mood. Sometimes someone will be more efficient in an open office setting, with lots of activity and noise. Other times they might want to recede into a solitary quiet area to focus on a particular task. Choice is a key component to worker satisfaction. Offering these types of spaces and allowing employees to chose the environment that best suits them at a given time can greatly increase their productivity, happiness, and the business's bottom line.

Encouraging workers to get up out of their desks and engage with one another is a key in collaborative design but also aids in the health of the workers. Casual conversations, physical activity, and observing other projects can all spark the imagination and lead to creative problem solving. Many tech start-ups and other creatively focused companies design spaces that foster interaction between teams and people with various expertise. By talking to people with different perspectives and knowledge bases, new concepts could arise.  These ideas could lead to new products, new solutions, or more efficient ways to solve a problem.

Another attitude shift in designing for office spaces is that it is now equally important for office spaces to be functional but also beautiful. Employers are now concerned with the aesthetic value of the workplace as a branded environment that reflects their company's ethos. There also is an emphasis on creating elegant spaces in order to allure and retain workers who are now less influenced by money alone. Working in a beautiful space is a perk that companies use to attract the best talent. Design excellence is proving it's value by showing that the best people want to work in great spaces.

 

An open floor plan encourages collaboration but doesn't work for everyone, so a variety of shared public and more private spaces is encouraged.

An open floor plan encourages collaboration but doesn't work for everyone, so a variety of shared public and more private spaces is encouraged.

 

In contemporary offices there tend to be less fixed offices and more shared spaces allowing for shared amenities. However, these type of work environments should also maintain the balance between introverted vs. extroverted workers and accommodating for both personalities and their preferred working environment. Public vs Private rooms must be carefully considered. The configuration of these must reflect the preference of workers and percentage of use that is considered over the work week and year for efficiency. Having these be flex spaces, that anyone can use can also accommodate the changes throughout the day in an individuals mood, needs, and task. It also allows for the flexibility of people working remotely and coming into the office only occasionally as needed.

As we start space planning and working on the programming for a new office, the balance of shared spaces to private spaces can be accurately determined while reflecting the values of the workers by engaging them in the design process. We see tremendous value in including our clients in the design process. To us, clients aren't just the ones paying for the project but also the users themselves. We strive to listen to and observe how the users work and what they think they want and need in a space before we make final design decisions. Their input can be key in determining the most efficient layout and having environments where they can thrive. This will be the best method to increase productivity that leads to happy workers thus happy customers.

New technology allows work to happen from anywhere yet face to face interaction and spontaneous connections are necessary to support an organizational community and thriving social needs. Successful design must respond the unique work culture of your company while establishing priorities for human health and happiness. It is important that the organization’s mission and goals are reflected through the design while accommodating personalization and individual team members. The design must inspire employees, reflect the organizational mission, and create a workspace that they want to spend time in.

Dynamic design solutions best accommodate a wide range of tasks, attitudes, settings and individual needs while being a beautiful space to work.

Custom Residential Design - Construction Update

Custom Residential Design - Construction Update! Here are some quick construction photo updates for one of our custom residential design houses in Portland, Oregon. Together with our client, we created this unique and sustainable home.

For more information on this and other ADU's we've designed, check out the links below: 
Propel Studio's  Portland Custom Modern Home Designs
 

For more information on our ADU design services, please follow this link: http://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/

Portland Oregon’s ADU resources and information: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/36676

Completed Portland ADU

Completed Portland ADU
Completed Portland ADU

We designed this ADU a couple years ago and construction was completed last summer. This spring the landscape was updated as the last step!  We also have a few ADU renovations that are complete, and 4 new ADUs under construction. Still, this is the one that got the ball rolling. Thanks to Brendan for being a great client!

For more information on this and other ADU's we've designed, check out the links below: 
Enright Accessory Dwelling Unit
Sustainable Portland ADU
Northwest Modern ADU

For more information on our ADU design services, please follow this link: http://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/

Portland Oregon’s ADU resources and information: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/36676

 

A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) - PART II

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Cut away view of a 2-level, spatially efficient ADU.
Cut away view of a 2-level, spatially efficient ADU.

When thinking about building ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) it is imperative to not think of them as full houses. That is the first thing you need to realize when deciding to build one of these Accessory Dwelling Units on your property. It is often difficult for clients to make informed decisions that seem like sacrifices to their normal lifestyles when conceptualizing the layout of a new ADU. Space is at a premium and it is necessary to consider smaller appliances, less storage, and less stuff. As we have been working with a variety of clients on ADU projects over the past year we have been gathering appliances and other space saving tricks that we highly recommend considering.

Small Kitchen Decisions

When considering kitchen layouts it is important to understand that there will be minimal counter space. It is usually difficult to fit in large islands and other features common in contemporary kitchens. However, there are a few ways to maximize counter room by scaling down the appliances you are used to. The biggest space saver is by rethinking the fridge. Considering only one or two people max will be living in an ADU there is no reason to have a full, family sized, refrigerator. It is easy to allow the grocery store to store your food and thus save space within the dwelling. It does mean a change of lifestyle, shopping more frequently for one or two meals at a time rather than large shopping trips. This can also help save money by reducing the amount of food that goes bad, ending up in the compost or trash. To address these issues we highly recommend under the counter, drawer style refrigerators. They are simple, elegant, are easy to access and allow the counter to be extended over it. It can even be finished to blend in with the under-counter cabinetry so it doesn't stand out as an appliance but rather blends in with the kitchen aesthetic.They are a bit more expensive than your standard fridge but in our opinion they are worth the investment to increase the usability of the kitchen.

Another kitchen related decision is whether or not to include a dishwasher. Again, it is our belief that small living doesn't necessitate all of the same conveniences we are used to in full sized houses. We feel that with smaller spaces and less people, there will also be less dishes and kitchen mess. For this reason we suggest removing the dishwasher altogether. It is an added expense and takes up a lot of space that could be better used for storage. However, if you can't imaging living without the modern convenience of a dishwasher than we again recommend a smaller sized, drawer style unit. This takes up much less space than a standard dishwasher and can also be blended in with the cabinetry materials.

Combining an under counter fridge, small drawer style dishwasher, as well as considering a extra narrow, apartment style stovetop/oven can make compact kitchen more efficient and usable. Counter space is always at a premium in any kitchen layout and these small tricks or lifestyle decisions can make a huge impact on the livability of the space.

Laundry

The other appliances that are challenging to accommodate in a small living space are the washer/dryer units. We almost always recommend stackable units and are now even suggesting that clients invest in a 2-in-1 Washer/Dryer combo, which one client recently did. Even though stackables save floor space, every inch of volume needs to be efficiently used in an ADU. The vertical space above a 2-in-1 combo can be better used as a linen closet or storage for detergent and other items. In the Sustainable Portland ADU we had to fit the laundry under the stairs and thus a 2-in-1 unit was the only option.

Downsized Furniture and Storage

This downsizing must occur beyond just appliances. Rooms, closets, furniture also must be conceived as smaller and more efficient than what we are used to in full sized homes. Whittling down our personal items, like clothes, linens, books and other accumulative things is a must if you are considering moving into the ADU. Otherwise, you have to assume any tenants will be doing a similar purge of personal belongings. Closets will be small, necessitating less clothing. Beds should be in the Double (or Queen size max) to fit comfortably in a small bedroom. Loves-seats might replace full couches and small tables are chosen over full dining tables. To make an efficient ADU built-in shelving, creative cabinets and hidden storage can be incorporated throughout the design. We recently designed a fold-out murphy bed so a room could double as a bedroom and office. We have designed built-in cabinets below staircases, fold up benches with storage below for dining areas, and multi-tiered closets with built in dressers. Each client has unique needs and the storage throughout the ADU needs to creatively solve their specific challenge.

 For A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) - PART I click here: http://www.propelstudio.com/a-design-guide-to-portland-adus-accessory-dwelling-units/

Video: Accessory Dwelling Units - Take the First Step

Oregon DEQ Accessory Dwelling Units Explainer Video

Oregon DEQ Accessory Dwelling Units Explainer Video

Here is an excellent video by the Oregon DEQ about building Accessory Dwelling Units or "Granny Flats." It offers lots of great reasons to build an ADU on your property, either for rental income, relatives to live in or visit, or even to move into yourself as you rent out your main house. Propel Studio has been designing many of these projects over the past couple years and think they are a fantastic way to increase the value of your property, bring in supplemental income and creating sustainable, affordable housing stock in our wonderful Portland neighborhoods.

You can check out our previous post titled A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) for more information on this project type, frequently asked questions, and how we can help you create one on your property. https://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/

Lents Story Yard Grand Opening

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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/

Contemporary Cob Architecture

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LehmundFeuer_01

Throughout Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, cob (an ancient building technique of mixing clay, sand, and straw) has found new appeal. Associated closely with the Natural Building movement, cob benches, ovens, interiors, studios, sheds, and even entire homes now accent our community. Most recent cob structures carry strong ‘organic’ and capricious’ imagery; evocative of an expressive and whimsical way of building. Though cob has found acceptance among alternative builders and do-it-yourselfers who embrace these features, it remains almost wholly absent from the Architecture community as a whole. Even in one of the most progressive, sustainably minded cities in the country, cob and cob building remain fringe movements.

But as a material, cob need not be defined through a certain appearance. This 'alternative' approach to building embodies many redeeming characteristics that most people would embrace. In residential, commercial, and community work, cob’s potential remains largely untapped. Sculpted cob elements can become creative and functional centerpieces in an entertainment space, provide unique seating in a sunroom, or create the focal wall in a restaurant. If we can move past certain preconceptions of what cob has to be, we will find at its core a material fully compatible with contemporary design. This post aims to challenge those preconceptions, explain what value cob can bring to a space, and offer ways for the design profession to embrace this most elemental of materials.

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LehmundFeuer_02
Background

The approach to unbaked earth most common in this region is known as ‘Oregon Cob’; the latest in a line of adaptations having evolved over centuries to suit a vast range of climates and cultures. In fact, handmade, unfired earthen mixtures comprise one of the oldest, most ubiquitous building materials employed by humans. Its endemic use spans across Northern Europe, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America, and throughout Asia as well. Through the 18th century, cob building became commonplace throughout much of England and Wales. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, this and other forms of vernacular construction tended to give way to the new, prefabricated materials now readily available.

Still, earth building remains in widespread use throughout much the world. And over the last several decades, cob has made a resurgence within England and the United States. Here in the U.S., this revival began off the grid, as an alternative movement lending itself to use in eco-communities and small, unpermitted projects. As interest has grown, so has the push towards bringing cob into the spectrum of ‘accepted’ materials. But even with greater acceptance and understanding, cob’s use within conventional architecture and design remains limited.

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LehmundFeuer_03
Characteristics

Cob is ECOLOGICAL (in the very real sense of the word); composed of unadulterated, and, ideally, locally sourced materials, most cob buildings maintain a low embodied energy which don’t require large-scale mining or other destructive practices to obtain.

Cob is HEALTHY; in both its final and component forms, cob contains no synthetical chemicals, nor poses longterm concerns for indoor air quality due to off-gassing or VOC’s. This remains true throughout its lifecycle.

Cob is SAFE; with only your hands, feet, tarps, buckets, and a few hand tools, most phases of a cob project can be completed without the dangers of power tools or machinery. This means anyone, regardless of age or ability, can learn to safely work with cob - and often they will actually enjoy the process!

Cob is FLEXIBLE; and can be made to take on nearly any shape. Unlike concrete, cob is fashioned from its base up, not poured into formwork. This methodology lends itself to asymmetrical and undulating forms, varying wall thickness, custom built-ins, and creative openings all personalized to the specific contexts of a project.

Cob is SUBSTANTIAL; its mass has implications both in terms of passive solar heating as with the tectonics of building. Load-bearing cob is structured similar to bearing stone; it likes thick walls that taper as they increase in height, and are strongest at their curves. Openings, vaultings, and niches are all constructed with a similar respect to stereotomy.

Cob is FORGIVING; just as with building a sandcastle, until dry, cob can be continually edited and changed as you perfect your work. Even once set, cob does not cure in the way concrete does; there is no chemical alteration to the materials. If allowed to sufficiently soak, cob will turn back into exactly what it was at the time of installation.

Cob is IMPERFECT; as with anything handmade, the print of the maker is always left in the final product. Contrast your favorite hand-thrown coffee mug to a factory-made ceramic one. The imperfections vitalize it with character and feeling. Just as with people, our idiosyncrasies define us, make us unique, and ultimately special. Picture your mug again; now imagine living in it!

Cob is TACTILE; compare the pleasant physical connection of wood to that of steel. That is analogous to the difference between a cob wall and most fashioned from concrete or gypsum board. Formed earth is warm, inviting, and somehow soft even when it is hard.

Cob is INEXPENSIVE; all necessary materials can usually be obtained cheaply. It is however a labor intensive way of building. Under a conventional model, the human hours needed to complete a cob project may outweigh the initial savings. This is one reason many cob projects have been owner built.

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ModernCob_01
Application

Sustainability, safety, personalization, and warmth are all commonly sought characteristics by people wishing to build or renovate their home. So why is cob construction mostly missing from contemporary design? There are perhaps several contributing factors, but two stand out in particular.

The first is that cob has developed to cater towards a certain aesthetic. Since cob lends itself so well towards organic forms and sculpture, many cob buildings end up expressing these qualities. The effect has been to suggest this is the only way for the material to be used. Although not true, this mentality seems nevertheless to have framed cob’s use within a narrow context. Materials don’t necessitate style, and cob can be articulated as ornately or plainly as the maker desires. This can range from the sculpted animals, trees, or patterns presently common, but could also include a more minimal interpretation, one where the use of sleek lines and subtle textures carry their own power.

The second reason comes down to finances and logistics. Although the raw materials are inexpensive, cob itself requires a lot of manual labor. This of course translates into many hours and/or people to produce. As a result, practicing under the conventional building model, a house built from cob could be comparable or even more expensive than a stick-build one. Even someone who desires the intrinsic characteristics that make working with cob advantageous, the added financial burden may still make it difficult justify.

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ModernCob_02
Potential

To succumb to these concerns would be to miss what could be the real potential for cob within our modern context. A material so positive at its core should not be neglected by the design profession, but embraced and pushed to into new arenas. Here are two scenarios where the use of cob, under the focused leadership of an experienced designer, may be financially viable.

Where cob is concerned, there is actually a potential group that might be employed to circumvent those high labor costs; ourselves. Here is how this might work. Your community has decided it wants to add a shade and picnic shelter in the local park. Typically, any funds need to be donated, raised or otherwise obtained to cover every stage of the project including the materials and labor. But what if instead a significant portion of those materials were excavated from the site itself, and the vast majority of labor was donated by the very families whom the shelter would later benefit?

Because cob is fun, safe and conducive to large, unskilled groups, the entire building process can become a community event! Families with children, local politicians, students interested in learning, or simply anyone otherwise curious could join in. The experience would be educational, productive, and most importantly social, as it fostered real interactions between people. With direction from an experienced designer/builder, the greatest challenge would become organizational, not financial. After a few weekends, the new shelter would be well on its way, and the beautiful walls, benches, and floors would have been hand-made by the very hands that would continue to use them. The completed structure would add identity and character to the community.

A second set of situations looks at using cob and natural building practices as a supplemental rather than driving force within design. For both new construction and renovations, if cob was viewed primarily as a great material to accentuate those special moments in a home and not necessarily as comprising the main envelope itself, associative costs would become less prohibitive.

Imagine folding the thermal mass of an elegant cob wall around the wood stove in your contemporary cabin. Your study could enjoy the warmth of a cob floor which sweeps up to form a cushioned window bed mimicking a chaise lounge. Maybe you renovate your standard dining room to flaunt chamfered corners and elliptical walls which bulge around a live-edged table. An accent wall with custom niches and openings could display your praised artwork or travel collections. Or perhaps your favorite room to meditate, which appears rectangular from outside, could actually flow and undulate in ways evocative of nature.

The potential here is limitless, restricted only by our creative ability to reflect personality and preference in built form. Accent walls, hearths, window seats, niches, floors, sculpted room transitions, daybeds, deeply set fenestration, room partitions, or even completely reworked larger spaces are all viable targets. So too would outbuildings, additions, or any other number of elements relating to the specifics of a space. Juxtaposing the handmade character of cob with our common repertoire of factory fabricated materials could truly vitalize a space and infuse it with identify. These would, almost by necessity, be truly customized and formed to compliment the lifestyle, habits, characters, and passions of the owner(s). By focusing on elements and not the whole, we could contain their expense without restricting their expressive nature and the aura of authenticity they bring.

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ModernCob_03
Conclusion

The true spirit of cob lies in its flexibility, flexibility of form but also in how those forms are articulated. By using cob in combination with and as part of a greater sustainable whole, we open ourselves to its vast, overlooked potential. The use of earth in building is as ‘modern’ as we make it; and depends entirely on how it is conceived. Through challenging current assumptions of when and where cob is deemed appropriate, these possibilities for handmade community buildings and accent architecture become viable. Both scenarios embrace the nature of the material itself and the ways it ‘wants’ to be used. Through these practices and others, we can explore, and redefine the notion of ‘contemporary cob’.

Curious about contemporary cob building? Interested in seeing if this unique material might be a good fit for your new construction or renovation project? We are looking for opportunities to explore contemporary uses of Cob in Portland, Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Contact us for a free design consultation.

SOURCES - Weismann, Adam, and Katy Bryce. Building with Cob. - Evans, Ianto, Linda Smiley, and Michael Smith. The Hand-sculpted House. - Elizabeth, Lynne, and Cassandra Adams. Alternative Construction. - Lehm und Feuer | http://www.lehmundfeuer.de/

Students from Forest Park Elementary School help build an Interactive Wall

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

More on this project here:  Circuit-Tree Interactive Wall

A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) - PART I

“An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a second dwelling unit created on a lot with a house, attached house or manufactured home. The second unit is created auxiliary to, and is smaller than, the main dwelling. ADUs can be created in a variety of ways, including conversion of a portion of an existing house, addition to an existing house, conversion of an existing garage or the construction of an entirely new building.” - City of Portland Development Services Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are growing in popularity throughout the Portland metro area as a way to add a rentable, revenue generating unit to a standard residential lot. ADUs are a great way to increase property value, increase revenue for property owners, and increase density within our residential neighborhoods. Propel Studio recently completed the design of an Accessory Dwelling Unit in NE Portland and we want to share some of the lessons learned.

Section view of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)
Section view of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

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

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

Economics The City of Portland currently incentivises Accessory Dwelling Units as a sustainable way to increase density in our residential neighborhoods. When you build a new home, addition, or renovation, you pay System Development Charges into a fund which goes to Portland Parks, Environmental Services, Transportation, and Water Bureaus. However, in order to encourage urban development Portland will not assess these fees if an ADU project is submitted for permit before July 31, 2016. This is a significant savings - about $12,000 for an average size ADU - making it an ideal time to consider adding an ADU to your property. For the ADU project that we got permitted, the fees came in at just under $5,000 for a 2 bed, 2 bath unit. Not bad for a $150,000 project that could earn $1,500 a month or more in rental income.

ADU Plan - A simple 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom design
ADU Plan - A simple 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom design

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

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

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

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

Building A Future: Mapping, Molding and Measuring Educational Success Through Architecture

[soliloquy id="1603"] A scale model of the neighborhood east of Berlin's iconic TV tower was recently conceived by the Year 1 class at Berlin Bilingual School. Doused in vibrant colors and with new buildings sprouting from the children's imagination, this model represents the dreams of our future architects, designers, and politicians. The Junior Architects Project conceived by Jessica Waldera, founder of Kleine Baumeister in collaboration with the AEDES Junior Campus Workshop was a unique opportunity for 6 and 7 year olds to engage their built environment. The ultimate goal was to build a 3D model of the school and it's surroundings; in the process they achieved much more. This was truly a cross curricular project, where the children applied math skills, had geography lessons, discovered the science of mixing colors, and learned valuable lessons in team work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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