Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marion Green Courtyard Townhomes

Meeting time changed to Tuesday, April 9th, 7:00pm.  SAAS 12th Avenue Conference Room (1140 12th Avenue, in middle of block between Spring and Union/Madison streets. 

This week we started the permit review process for Marion Green, our first project for which we are both architect and developer.

Following in the footsteps of our Beacon Green project, we are pioneering an entirely new approach to small scale multi-family housing:  The Courtyard Townhouse.  These projects represent a huge step forward for infill development that we are hoping will supplant the typical “4-pack” auto-court projects that have dominated the market for the past 25 years.  This new housing type mitigates the visual impact of the parking, provides generous open spaces, facilitates connections between neighbors, increases access to natural light, and creates a community center for all the residents to share.

The courtyard is the way in and out of the project.  It’s the front porch for the rear units (and the back porch for the front units).  Living rooms and kitchens look into the courtyard.  Semi-private deck spaces for each unit ring the periphery, and the center of the court provides communal space for group events.

Garage Level Floor Plan

Courtyard Level Floor Plan
The courtyard townhouse has a unique parking solution.  Parking is located in the middle of the site and  buildings are pushed out to the edge of the property creating a large space between the buildings.  Cars are parked in the center, and then covered with the courtyard roof deck.  In addition to concealing the parking area, this configuration is also a more efficient way to park cars and maneuver them.

Where a typical development would provide five parking spaces, we are able to provide parking for seven.  This extra parking allows us to create housing that’s more appealing to families, and so we are able to target some of the units to a whole different demographic than a typical townhome project.

The project will provide five new townhomes.  Three of the homes will be larger 3-4 bedroom units with 2 car garages.  Unit 4 will be a small 2 bedroom unit with a one car garage.  Unit 5 will be a 1 bedroom unit with no parking.  It’s a project made up of units that are either in the top 20% or the lowest 20% in terms of size.

Marion Green is a three story townhouse with roof decks on a block composed mostly of one story houses from the early 20th century.  There's no way for this project to seamlessly fit into its context, but we did want to find a way to help stitch together the old & the new.  To this end, we decided to keep the old terraced garage structures along the street & re-purpose them as gateways into the project.  One garage is used to frame the car entry drive, while the other marks the pedestrian entry stair.

Public Notice of the Streamlined Design Review process will be sent out to nearby property owners sometime next week.  We have also arranged with the local neighborhood council (12th Avenue Stewards) to do an informal public meeting to present the project & get feedback from the neighbors.  Meeting info:

Tuesday, April 9th, 7:00pm.  Seattle Academy (SAAS), 12th Avenue Conference Room (1140 12th Avenue, in middle of block between Spring and Union/Madison streets. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Re-inventing Microhousing

As urban living has become increasingly desirable and as urban rents have continued to rise, micro-housing has cropped up in cities all across the country. This new housing type provides market rate affordable housing in dormitory sized studio units.  Seattle has been at the forefront of this trend, with over 40 projects either built, under construction, or in the planning stages.

Marion Microhousing - Street View from 12th Ave & E Marion St

Micro-housing was in the news this week. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen proposed a moratorium on the project type in response to neighborhood concerns about both the number and the design quality of the projects. Ironically, this happened to be the same week that we delivered the schematic design for Marion Microhousing, our first project of this type.

Main floor plan showing shared commons with lounge, fireplace, kitchen, laundry, study, and workout areas

Marion Microhousing begins with a simple assertion:  A large number of people living together in a communal setting needs an architecture that is designed to bring people together in ways that build community.  Not a radical manifesto by any means, but this is generally not the case.  To date, most micro-housing projects are designed as a code back-door-work-around strategy, with the architecture itself being a bit of an afterthought.

Typical floor plan with private sleeping rooms, private bathrooms, and shared kitchens

MMh is a different kind of project than what has come before.  Whereas most micro projects are a cluster of townhouses with multiple entries and stairwells, MMh is designed as a single building with one entry at the street.  The ground floor is given over to a generous commons featuring a lounge, fireplace, kitchen, study room, laundry, and workout area.  Access to the private rooms is through the commons, activating the space and creating opportunity for chance encounters among the residents.  The commons provides a public counterpart to the private rooms, a place to bring people together for movie night, weekend dinners, group meetings, etc...the kind of social glue that can make living with 50 other people into a positive, desirable experience.

Cross section showing commons at the ground floor with private rooms above & below

We believe good design has the capacity to improve the lives of the people that live in it.  This in mind, we don't just want to produce boutique show projects. We want to create better archetypes that other developers will emulate. For this to happen, they can't just be attractive - they have to outperform the kind of project we are trying to displace. One thing MMh has working for it is that its economics look really good.  The apartment format of the building is much more space efficient that its townhouse-pod predecessors, so it's not just more desirable from a user standpoint - it's a better development model.  We'll see how the marketplace of ideas responds to this offering, but I'm very optimistic.

Design team:  David Neiman and Liz Pisciotta