Archive for September, 2010

Why architects should have local offices in China

Friday, September 24th, 2010

It’s crucial for foreign architects to have offices in China with staffs that include younger, innovative Chinese designers, says Gary Larson, a senior principal with MulvannyG2 Architecture, in the firm’s “Design at Work” newsletter. According to Larson, here’s why:

The growing sophistication of Chinese designers

Western design thinking has become more seamlessly dovetailed with Chinese cultural underpinnings

Fujian Provincial Electric and Power Co., Fuzhou, China, MulvannyG2 Architecture. Courtesy of MulvannyG2.
as greater numbers of young Chinese designers hold degrees from both universities in the West and in China. Chinese talent has gained credence as Chinese designers’ capabilities have grown more sophisticated. Larson’s tip: Hire architectural firms that have both a long-term perspective on design and China’s development market that employ both Western and young Chinese designers. The mix of perspectives will strengthen the office’s design thinking and its work.

China’s more discerning reception of architecture

In China’s building boom of the past 20 years, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing represents both a high point and a turning point in China’s fascination with Western design. Foreign architects designed the Olympic Games’ major athletic structures and important civic and public buildings. These designs resonate in the collective memory of the Olympics as much, if not more, than the games and athletes do. Yet, post-Olympics, not all Western work is applauded and accepted, as before, without criticism. Today, the Chinese want to see their rich culture and heritage expressed in major new work, and that desire cues a new level of collaboration with foreign architects. MulvannyG2 has experienced that in creating Fujian Power and Electric Co.’s headquarters and the China Construction Bank, Larson says.

Higher expectations for client service and project delivery

While plentiful opportunities for that collaboration exist, competition among foreign architects is keen. That competition makes the foreign architect’s local office in China even more important because, as fees become more competitive, the ability to serve clients more completely, locally, grows in importance.  And as the general level of expectation of quality from the consumer rises and delivery of quality by the construction industry increases, the need to have design and technical design expertise on the ground becomes imperative.

More influence on China’s sustainable future

A new level of collaboration among Chinese and foreign architects promises a steadily improving design environment, one that would benefit a project with sustainable goals. Characteristic Chinese determination can bring this new design excellence to bear on the country’s issues of growth and resource consumption. Indeed, nationally announced plans for sustainability and the ambitions of foreign architects and young Chinese designers will hopefully allow China to leapfrog the sustainable progress of today’s developed and developing nations.

Free tours of Seattle community gardens

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods is offering six free van tours of the city’s P-Patch community gardens from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturdays this month and next. They depart from DoN’s Neighborhood Service Centers.

They will be hosted by DoN’s P-Patch Community Gardening staff and volunteers, and offer opportunities to meet the gardeners.

They tours are:

SOUTHEAST TOUR: September 18, 1-3 p.m.
Cascade P-Patch. Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

Meet at Southeast Neighborhood Service Center, 3815 S. Othello St.
Tour includes: New Holly, Thistle, Hillman City, Colman & Bradner P-Patches

Picardo Farm P-Patch. Photo courtesy of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

SOUTHWEST TOUR: September 25, 1-3 p.m.
Meet at Delridge Neighborhood Service Center, 5405 Delridge Way SW
Tour includes: High Point, Delridge, West Genesee, Roxhill and Lincoln Park P-Patches

LAKE UNION AREA TOUR: October 2, 1-3 p.m.
Meet at Fremont Neighborhood Service Center, 908 N. 34th St.
Tour includes: Cascade, Belltown, Queen Pea, Interbay and Eastlake P-Patches

CENTRAL TOUR: October 9, 1-3 p.m.
Meet at Central Neighborhood Service Center, 2301 S. Jackson St.
Tour includes: Judkins, Hawkins, Spring St., Squire Park and Howell P-Patches

NORTHEAST TOUR: October 16, 1-3 p.m.
Meet at University Neighborhood Service Center, 4534 University Way NE

Cascade P-Patch. Photo courtesy of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

Tour includes: Picardo, Pinehurst, Maple Leaf, Roosevelt and Ravenna P-Patches
Picardo Farm P-Patch. Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

NORTHWEST TOUR: October 23, 1-3 p.m.
Meet at Greenwood Neighborhood Service Center, 8515 Greenwood Ave. N
Tour includes: Good Shepherd, Fremont, Hazel Heights, Greg’s, and Ballard P-Patches

Space is limited and reservations are required.  To register, go, or call (206) 386-4123.

The P-Patch Community Gardening Program, in conjunction with the P-Patch Trust, a nonprofit organization, oversees 73 P-Patches distributed throughout the city, according to the Department of Neighborhoods.  Neighbors plan, plant and maintain the gardens.  Much of the produce harvested is donated to local food banks and feeding programs.  In 2009 alone, gardeners contributed over 18,500 hours and donated about 12.4 tons of food, according to the department.

Is housing a luxury or a staple?

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

How you view homes – as a luxury good or a staple – should affect your perception of where where you think
the housing market is heading, according to an interesting New York Times article.  According to the story, if you believe housing resembles a luxury good, then you’ll think house prices will rise nearly as fast as incomes in the long run and that houses aren’t much overvalued. If housing is a staple, though, prices will rise more slowly.

Link’s next challenge?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

It’s time to declare Link Light Rail “basically on target” for ridership. July’s weekday ridership averaged 24,145 vs. a December projection (page 17) of 26,600 for by mid-2010, and it’s done so during a downturn in both jobs and travel. It’s hard to guess how quickly ridership will rise from here, but it seems plausible that numbers might hit the 26,600 weekday figure by year-end.

Link Light Rail. Photo courtesy of Sound Transit.

It’s a fairly impressive figure, in context. Many rail lines start with more riders, but they usually have higher densities around them, or park-n-rides, or connecting rail lines, or bigger feeder bus systems, or all of the above. Central Link has neither parking (except Tukwila) nor density, and a moderate amount of connecting transit. It doesn’t even get many in-Downtown trips, because it competes with free tunnel buses.

To be honest, I’m relieved. The projections made sense, including the upward trend as the drivers of ridership came into place, like the connecting bus lines. But it was far from certain. Kudos to Sound Transit for being realistic with your ridership projections, much as you’ve been conservative (in the last decade) about project cost projections.

Now my worry isn’t ridership, but limited capacity. Trains can only be two cars long until 2015 (page 96), when use of the stub tunnel on Pine is no longer limited by construction of University Link. Meanwhile, trains can’t run more often at peak times, due to required separation between trains and buses in the Transit Tunnel. There may be no way to grow capacity until 2015.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen peak-time Link trains so full that riders can’t even board. By 2012 or so, we might need measures to decrease ridership a little, like restoring a couple bus routes into Downtown. Or maybe Sound Transit can negotiate some closer proximities between buses and trains with the feds. Or maybe it would help to move some tunnel bus routes to the street, though the bus riders are important too.

Long term, capacity is a huge advantage with rail. Link is built for trains up to four cars long, which by itself would double capacity. Once the buses are out of the tunnel (presumably 2016, when University Link opens), frequencies can be much better. Of course, when University Link opens, the system will also have a lot more turnover on each trip, i.e. a lot of people who go from the ends to Downtown and vice versa, but not as many who travel the whole length. Capacity will be multiples of today’s in 2016, and much higher still in the early 20s when the line hits Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way.

We’ll need that capacity. I’ll skip the half-pager for now, but in brief, this region continues to grow, a lot of jobs and residents are projected to be added around the new and planned Link stations, and it seems unlikely that voters would pass any major increase in road capacity.

On a side note, Link seems to be doing very well as an airport shuttle. When I ride on weekends, it seems like 30-50% of the passengers have luggage. What an improvement in quality of life for tourists! That might strike some people as unimportant, but given that tourists spend billions in Seattle every year, it seems pretty important to me.

Related to that, here’s some constructive criticism about Westlake Station, for the benefit of both tourists and locals: (a) It’s easy to be confused about how to pay. There are several ways to get to the train platform without walking past a ticket machine, and the signage is woefully inadequate, so improve the signage and think about adding ticket machines on the platforms (can anyone explain that one?). (b) The ORCA card readers are only on the mezzanines, not on the platforms, meaning for example that a bus-to-rail transfer requires going upstairs and back down, which again the signage doesn’t adequately explain (and which doesn’t seem to make sense to begin with). (c) Exiting the station is very confusing, as evidenced by the tourists I continually run into asking how to get to the street, sometimes around the elevator in the center of the mezzanine. A few sign poles in the mezzanine, with maps, would solve this problem. (d) There’s no drinking fountain, and no concession. Give us something to drink!