Nomcraft Brewing, Aridagawa, Japan

Over the past 5 years we have been working with the small rural town of Aridagawa, Japan to help develop ideas to revitalize the town. Our work began with a series of community engagement workshops and led to the renovation of an old nursery school building into a new commercial and community hub. Over the past couple of years this work has started bearing fruit, with new businesses moving into the renovated school building, and new young people moving to the town. This all came together in July for the first Nom Nom Beer garden event, celebrating all of the new businesses.

One of these businesses, NomCraft Brewing, was a direct result of the community work we did. A couple of Americans heard about the efforts in Aridagawa to revitalize the town and contacted us about moving there to start a NW style craft beer brewery. They partnered with some of the local town residents and local business owners and after a year or so of work, they finally got the brewery up and running!

We returned to Aridagawa in the heat and humidity of early August to check in on the progress and attend the opening event for the Nomcraft Brewery. It was an amazing event and it was an incredible feeling to reconnect with all of our friends there, and see the community gather around this new business and the Living Room project as a new social hub for the town. The slideshow above gives a glimpse into the first event that will now be a monthly occurrence. We encourage everyone to travel to Aridagawa to check it out and taste all the beers!

Hidden In Plain Sight | Gateway Green Wayfinding

There’s an area in East Portland known as Gateway. About 5 miles outside of downtown, this regional center is a big transit hub, shopping destination, and is rich with ethnic communities that make it one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oregon. It is a vibrant district that has tremendous assets and opportunity for growth that is starting to take shape.

Gateway is exactly that; a gateway. It’s at the confluence of many of Portland’s major transportation corridors. It is connected to Portland and the surrounding region through 3 max lines, multiple bus routes, I-84 and I-205 highways, arterial roads, bike paths, and is networked with the world through its proximity to Portland International Airport. For some families, it’s also a gateway to a new life in a new country. Being one of the more affordable areas to live, many young families are flocking to this part of Portland to take advantage of the quality of life, diversity, and easy access to the city.

Now, a new urban oasis has grown out of the tangle of freeways, multi-use paths and light rail lines. It’s a park fittingly dubbed: Gateway Green. This is big news for an area that’s historically been underserved in terms of amenities; especially parks.

If you’re familiar with the area, you may wonder how you overlooked 25 acres of unused space. That’s because it is a sliver of land nestled between the freeways, north of the transit center along hte multi-use path. If you’ve passed through the district recently, you may have noticed construction on a piece of land that you can see, but can’t seem to get to. The problem is, even if you live in the Gateway area, you may not know how to access the fun and natural beauty the park promises.

In a way, Gateway Green is hidden in plain site.

Even though it’s a short, 5 minute walk from the Gateway Transit Center, the park is only accessible by walking or bike riding along the I-205 multi-use path. Currently there is no road access to the park and that’s where our challenge begins.

Over the course of a decade, the City of Portland, State of Oregon, Friends of Gateway Green, Portland Parks & Recreation, Prosper Portland and many other partners have worked hard to create this unique amenity. How do we let neighbors know the hard work has paid off? Maybe you’ve heard about the park or maybe you’ve seen it from the train or the freeway, and wondered how you get there.

Our friends at Prosper Portland asked us to consider these challenges and create a system to guide neighbors and visitors alike to the park. Over the next few months, we’ll create a series of designs for elements that will become part of a wayfinding system in the area. If you’re not familiar with the term “wayfinding,” it’s refers to all of the ways that we orient ourselves and navigate (or find our way) from place to place.

These tools will include installations, kiosks, signs, and other smaller interventions that will work together to help people learn about and find the park. These will extend out to the neighborhoods in all directions, attracting new users to the park to experience the bike trails and other recreational amenities as they get improved over the next few years.

After working over the summer and into the fall, studying the area, hearing from neighbors, conducting surveys, and gathering feedback from stakeholders, we are starting to develop some of the designs.

On a small scale, you will start to see some signs go up around the transit center that helps direct people and bikers towards the park. Some will be attached to fences and other elements in the built environment, while others may be painted directly on the streets. On a larger scale, we hope to create kiosks and public art that become directional signs with maps. On an even larger scale, we’re shooting for a shelter that becomes a drop off and meeting point for the park.

As the design of these object are underway, there may even be fun, creative opportunities to use street painting, sidewalk chalk or drawing on bike paths to create temporary, ‘gorilla style’ wayfinding. These tactical urbanism strategies can help engage people while testing out possible strategies to attract attention for the park. We are currently working on some grant applications that could fund some temporary events and interventions.

The City of Portland and especially the communities around Gateway have waited a long time for this unique park in this part of town. We think it’s only right to work with as many stakeholders and collaborate with as many groups to make as big an impact as possible.

In the end, we believe we can do more than guide neighbors to Gateway Green, a gem that’s hidden in plain site. We believe we can help them embrace it as their own.

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


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 -

Young Firm Propels School Project - from the DJC Oregon

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) 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

“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.

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


【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

Lents Story Yard Grand Opening


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


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:

Students from Forest Park Elementary School help build an Interactive Wall


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