interior 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?

A Community of Champions

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

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

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

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

What came of our conversation was Champions Barbering Institute.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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

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

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

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

1. Think about WHY you’re building an ADU

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

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

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

2. Tiny Houses really are tiny

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

Accessory Dwelling Unit Plans

3. Understand your budget

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

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

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

4. Educate yourself

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

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

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

Portland Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit.jpg

5. Your Architect is better than your best friend

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

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

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

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

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

Hire an Architect before you sign a Commercial Lease!

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

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

 

 

Are you Changing the Occupancy or Use of your space? 

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

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

Are you increasing or reducing the number of plumbing fixtures?

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

Are you adding a kitchen or kitchen appliances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Percentage of net occupancy area change is greater than 1/3 the total area

  • Cost of alteration is greater than $40/sf

  • Increase occupant load by 150 or more people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Feasibility Study

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

  • Create a list of spaces, their sizes, and ideal adjacencies for your businesses function

  • Visit your city’s historical permits and obtain any existing plan information on your building. We then measure the existing space and provide CAD base drawings for design discussions over an accurate scaled plan.

  • Construction cost estimation - we work with some great commercial contractors in the Portland area who would be able to quickly provide cost feedback in order to guide your project based on your budget.

  • Create a Life Safety summary of your building project, which is necessary information to prepare and submit on commercial projects for permit.

  • Estimate permit fees - Plan Review + System Development Charges (Transportation, Water, Parks, Urban Forestry, Environmental Services)

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can A Building Design Impact Our Health?

Can a building design impact our health? According to Nick Mira of Propel Studio, building design can have a large impact on our health and probably in more ways than you think.

In every project Propel Studio designs, the team balances the client’s needs and budget with building science, material selection, and the health of the people that will use the building. Imagine designing an office building where workers are happier, healthier and more efficient, or a school where students are more focused and better prepared to learn.

For Nick, the starting point for designing a healthy building is choosing “a palette of materials that don’t contain toxins.” We don’t want to be poisoned inside our own buildings. Paying attention to the adhesives in woods, the fabrics and furniture that we buy, and paint we select are great starting points, but there’s more to it. If we consider the air outside to be our gold standard, we need to bring as much of that fresh air inside our buildings as possible and not contaminate it with toxic VOC (volatile organic compounds often found in paint, adhesives and other materials, that off-gas into the air).

When many people think about healthy indoor design, they think about breathing, but what about our mental health? Nick points out that a connection to the outside is more than just fresh air exchanges.

“Being able to see outside, to be aware of the cycles of night and day and be able to focus on something bigger than us is important. Creating spaces for interaction, either with nature or for social interaction is critical for our mental health.”

Obviously, we all want to be healthy but unfortunately, one of the biggest struggles in designing and building healthy homes and schools and office buildings and hospitals is lack of knowledge and expertise. Whether you’re interviewing Architects or Contractors for your project, Nick Mira suggests asking few questions:

  • Do you have any certifications for specifying healthy building materials?

  • What should I be concerned about when choosing the materials and furniture for my project?

  • Can I tour one of your previous projects? You want to experience the building and even interview the people using the building. A great follow up question: What critical decisions were made during the design and construction of this building that affects the health of the people in it?

We all want to be healthy. We want our schools, offices, and homes to be healthy buildings. According to Nick Mira, a Partner at Propel Studio in Portland, Oregon, the number one reason that we should design healthy buildings “is that we can and we should.”

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.

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.