Tag: Architecture

Bill Bocook, AIA: Sketches

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[Originally published 1st quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.1, “Entitlements.” Bill Bocook passed away in June 2014.]


Georgetown, Maryland.

Georgetown, Maryland, 1991.


Bill Bocook, AIA, of B.H. Bocook, AIA, Architect in Palo Alto, has been making travel sketches for over thirty-five years, always with fine tip black pens, usually on 8 ½” x 11” white tracing paper pads—though occasionally on hotel stationery or other paper that comes to hand. Responding to the editor’s encouragement of sketching in arcCA 08.2, “Landscape + Architecture,” Bill showed us his drawings, a selection from which we offer here.


Sienna, Italia.

Sienna, Italia, 1998.


Central Concrete Plant, Soda, California.

Central Concrete Plant, 1973.


Ketchican, Alaska, 2005.

Ketchican, Alaska, 2005.


Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, 1972.

Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, 1972.


Lincoln, California, 2001.

Lincoln, California, 2001.


Farm buildings, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 2004.

Farm buildings, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 2004.


Back alley, Dillon, Missouri, 2006.

Back alley, Dillon, Missouri, 2006.


View of high street with cathedral beyond, Salisbury, United Kingdom, 1994.

View of high street with cathedral beyond, Salisbury, United Kingdom, 1994.


Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, 1999.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, 1999.


Cortona, Italia, 1998.

Cortona, Italia, 1998.



Continuation: Intimacy of the In-Between

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[Originally published 1st quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.1, “Entitlements.”]


Student project by Corina Apodaca, Woodbury University.

Student project by Corina Apodaca, Woodbury University.

From time to time, we continue a discussion begun in a previous issue, in this case arcCA 08.4, “Interiors + Architecture.” Author Randall Stauffer is a professor and Chair of the Interior Architecture department at Woodbury University. He has practiced in the interior design profession for the past twenty years and is on the Executive Board for the Southern California Chapter of IIDA.

The practice of interior architecture is an act of design that reinforces intimate relationships among individuals, communities, and the cultural artifacts that articulate meanings in and among these relationships. It is an investigation into the critical articulation of space and its social conditions. Elizabeth Grosz, in Architecture from the Outside (2001), writes, “The space of the in-between is the locus of social, cultural, and natural transformations . . . where becoming, openness to futurity, outstrips the conservational impetus to retain cohesion and unity.” In many ways, the idea she espouses echoes the importance of interior architecture, an importance whose main formal attribute is inherently about the in-between. It aspires to the design of space that is open to the possibilities of fluid interaction among multiple individuals and their relationships to the material world.

The notion of intimacy establishes a focused relationship between interior experience and the physical form of interior environments. Though all good design translates abstract ideas into physical form, intimate involvement with architecture provides a way of diminishing the abstract by embracing the specificity of meaning, feeling, and interaction that abstract ideas generate. The realm of interior architecture is filled with an intimate relationship between material artifacts and human behavior. The underlying desire of these relationships creates spaces where we house varied human interactions. It acknowledges that design requires a closeness that refuses to disassociate the human body and the varying states of human experience.



The connections between human behavior and spatial experience are better understood by investigating the notion of affect. In its common understanding in design, affect is often relegated to the list of secondary concerns. It generally refers to an interior mental state created by the manipulation of the senses and is closely aligned with affectation, which implies notions of trickery, pretext, and fiction.

In fact, affect is better understood in its active meaning, as an ability to persuade. Though persuasion may enlist ideas of trickery, it is also an act of convincing. It opens the possibility that design becomes a communicative tool for breaking down preconceptions and establishing new ways of inhabiting space. As the complexity of human behavior and social dealings interacts with the designed environment, influence becomes a tool used to bring meaning to our interior environments. Material affect becomes a rhetorical wrapping of and exposure to sensuality in textures and colors that explore human conditions and translate them into the performative qualities.

Interior architecture becomes an emphatic questioning of the human condition, of social relations, and of our relationship with the material world. It questions how the building of form reinforces these relationships and interactions. The body of knowledge of interior architecture and its educational process enable participants to question the material world of interior space and the social relationships housed in these spaces—to question social norms and their spatial structures and transform them into notions of hidden desire and political action.


Images by the author.

Hidden-ness and the Sensual

The technique of questioning and polemic found in the process of design also becomes an important underlying function of the interior environment itself. The function of inquiry of interior spaces relies on their in-between-ness and their hidden-ness. Jane Hirshfield’s essay, “Thoreau’s Hound: On Hiddenness,” eloquently articulates the human desire for knowledge by espousing the importance that concealment and the ungraspable play in the quest for knowledge. She writes, “Homo Sapiens: the name defines a species that wants to know. Yet an odd perversity equally present within us is thirsty for the opposite of knowledge . . . . A fidelity to the ungraspable lies at the very root of being. . . . Concealment does not presume conscious intention . . . . Hiddenness, then, is a sheltering enclosure—though one we stand sometimes outside of, at others within.” The interior realm then becomes a space for both hiding and revealing in our quest for the development of just and ethical design.

Seen from this perspective, interior architecture investigates a long tradition of architectural concern that emphasizes the hidden and ephemeral qualities of space. Volumes become transformed and transformative as new inhabitants occupy and appropriate the physicality of architectural form, structure, and the artifacts of the built environment.

As a social phenomenon, interior spaces are hidden within the textures of architectural form. The social performance within the hidden or intermittently revealed becomes a process that individuals and communities rely upon to uncover how we live, develop social strategies, and integrate these strategies into a larger public world.

The integration of the individual into the public realm relies on the familiarity with the sensual. It is dependent on many forms of sensuality, overtly and covertly. It starts with the body as the generative force behind the development of spatial form. It addresses those issues of design traditionally seen as transgressive to architecture: the sensual, the decorative, the colorful, the thematic. Employing material as a strategy for structuring space, it acts upon the senses and structures social relationships. Effect then becomes a tool of persuasion that reinvestigates the value of normative spatial and social structures.


The Inside In the Outside

Looking at a building from the outside reveals only minimally the possibilities of the lives and social structures that inhabit it. The inquisitive designer stands before an opaque object of inquiry. The profound effects of this form on the supposed lives wandering through the interior spaces are only occasionally revealed, and then often through fantastical desires built upon subjective story telling. When these lives are brought to the street, they are subdued by public appropriateness.

And so the design of interior space must rely on the intimate knowledge of those who will inhabit it. It relies on the transformation of general opacity into the specifically transparent, only to fade back to the opaque upon completion of the project. Paradoxically, then, interior architecture becomes less about closing off a hidden realm and more about opening up the possibilities of how interior space responds to the contextual and social conditions of a site and those who inhabit it.



Is It Time for a Voluntary (Consumer-Oriented) Building Code?

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[Originally published 1st quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.1, “Entitlements.”]


Author Dorit Fromm, AIA, writes and researches on design, community and aging. Her writings have appeared in local, national and international publications, and she is the author of Cohousing, Central Living and Other New Forms of Housing.


Everyone should be able to live in a house that is accessible, that is affordable to heat and cool, that is safe and durable, and that can be easily modified for additions or for aging in place. California’s building code is the legal document that sets the bar—at a basic and some would say minimal level—toward these housing goals. Yet California is challenged with depleting resources, high housing costs, large population growth, and a significant aging population. We need more than minimal standards. As professionals, we know that green and universal design (going beyond Title 24), thoughtful siting, the use of durable materials, and adaptability to readily accommodate additions make sense when considering housing as a decades-long investment. Yet the realities of the marketplace are not geared toward educating consumers on long-term value.

We are now at the low end of a housing cycle that will swing back up. The state is projected to add over 5 million households by 2020, according to California’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Roughly 2.5 million housing units would need to be constructed to meet that demand. How can the next decade’s housing be a mechanism for addressing California’s problems, rather than aggravating the problem?

The path toward more stringent code requirements is not a wise one, especially in these tough economic times. What is needed is a carrot-perspective appeal that clearly shows consumers the value they purchase, rather than a punitive stick aimed at the building industry. Marketing, labeling, and informing consumers have proven to be effective strategies for sustainability—why not expand the idea?

In 1993, a group of architects, building manufacturers, contractors, and environmentalists wanted to promote green building and move an industry towards more sustainable thinking. They created the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and, as a non-government organization run by volunteers, it began with small steps. They released a pilot certification program in 1998 called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). A total of fourteen buildings were certified. They tinkered with it, making revisions, coordinating information from many sources, and now the voluntary LEED certification has become an industry standard, so much so that not only the building industry, but also retailers and other businesses are getting on board. LEED criteria have now been developed for homes, with inspectors contracted by the USGBC.

Last year, a study by CoStar Group found that green buildings outperform similar non-green buildings in sale and rental rates, as well as occupancy, sometimes by very wide margins. In addition to cost savings reaped over time by using sustainable design, the certification has created a strong economic reason for industry to develop green buildings. Much of the credit for this sea change goes to consumer pressure.

Yet sustainability is only one of a number of issues our housing should be addressing. The coming wave of aging Boomers brings with them their own sustainability needs—for accessible housing that is easily adapted as they age. With one out of five Californians a senior by 2030 and well over 85% of them interested in staying in their homes, there will be large implications for the housing industry.

Some entrepreneurs have already stepped in to address the obvious design issues. “The swell of Baby Boomers nearing retirement age is upon us,” notes Todd Murch, President and CEO of Eskaton, a leading area provider of senior residences and services. “We have a vision about how to serve seniors—and it requires partnership with builders.” His organization has developed the Eskaton Certified Home Program, which specifies 140 design standards to create senior-friendly housing. Taking best practices from a number of sources and incorporating universal design components, they applied them to senior needs. The program allows homebuilders to use their own plans while integrating the Eskaton requirements. License and certification costs start at $1,200 to $1,500 a home, and builders can advertise their homes as meeting the special Eskaton requirements.

Aside from green and aging issues, a number of organizations provide their own criteria for housing—security, for example. There is no shortage of criteria, but the result is an over-abundance of suggestions, and overall they hold little sway over the public.

The Netherlands faced this problem, and looking at their solution can help in articulating a comprehensive approach for California. The Dutch, as well as many other European countries, are facing a large aging demographic. About fifteen years ago, the growing needs of seniors were not receiving much attention by the building industry, so Dutch organizations for the elderly itemized the qualities that would help aging residents. “Several quality labels arose but, unfortunately, these overlapped or even opposed each other,” explains Dr. Englebert, who is head of the WoonKeur Certificate program. Instead of a variety of requirements from interest groups, and to make it easier for the consumer, one “Label for Living” (WoonKeur in Dutch) was created that combines and simplifies a number of different needs. The certificate was developed by involving consumer groups, housing organizations, elderly associations, for-profit and nonprofit developers, architects, and others, incorporating a wide number of criteria such as universal design and those of the police, in a clear, simple, and straightforward manner.


The beauty of this label is that it isn’t just for the elderly or aimed at any one group. The goal is to create a truly functional house; the label describes functionality and then translates the requirements into technical criteria. “All functions must be accessible, adaptable, safe, and user-friendly,” explains Dr. Englebert. WoonKeur is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Housing but is a voluntary “second” building code. The Dutch, of course, have a building code in place that sets minimum standards. The WoonKeur provides standards above the minimum for the safe, efficient, and comfortable use of the dwelling over time. When builders choose to incorporate these extra criteria, they receive a certification that consumers look for when purchasing housing. The builder’s cost to meet the WoonKeur label averages from 2000 to 2500 euros extra per new dwelling, or roughly 40 to 50 euros a year over the fifty-year lifetime of the building.

Clearly, the market for housing is not strong to begin with, and adding costs, even if it results in a better product, would not make sense at this time. But I would argue that this is exactly the moment when the housing industry is seeking new directions and recalcitrant consumers need greater assurances. Let’s begin the discussion together of figuring out how to create greater value through adopting a voluntary label. Acceptance by the public is key, and education is important. This is an active way for consumers and the housing industry to work towards better housing and a better California.



Thoughts from the Entitlers

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[Originally published 1st quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.1, “Entitlements.”]


arcCA asked a diverse group of experts in the entitlements process to tell us what they would most like anyone seeking a project entitlement to know. Here are their thoughts.



Anita Williams, Planning Director, Lionakis, Sacramento:

In land use, an entitlement is an approval granted by a local authority to develop property for a specific use in a specific way. Unlike a building permit—which is ministerial in nature, in that construction documents either meet code or they don’t—entitlement approval is a discretionary process involving public input that can influence the outcome.

Entitlements come into play anytime a project is not allowed by right—when it is subject to public review and approval. The two most common forms of entitlements are variances and conditional use permits.

A variance is a limited waiver of development standards for a permitted use. Typically, variances are considered when the physical characteristics of the property make it difficult to develop. For instance, in a situation where the rear half of a lot is steep slope, a variance might allow a house to be built closer to the street than usually allowed. Variance requests require a public hearing, and neighbors are given the opportunity to testify.

A conditional use permit is needed when land uses do not fit precisely into existing zones. These might include community facilities (such as hospitals or private schools), public buildings or grounds (such as fire stations or parks), temporary or hard-to classify uses (such as Christmas tree sales or small engine repair shops), or land uses with potentially significant environmental impacts (hazardous chemical storage or a house in a floodplain). The local zoning ordinance usually specifies those uses for which a conditional use permit may be requested, which zones they may be requested in, and the public hearing procedure.

Then there’s environmental review, which is required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for any development activity with the potential for a direct physical change or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment and just about any activity that requires a discretionary approval. The level of review, and if it’s required at all, depends on many factors; that’s a whole article in itself.




Steven Afriat, The Afriat Consulting Group, Inc., Burbank:

First and foremost, architects need to understand that decision-makers, who include Planning Department staff, planning commissioners, and elected officials, care about the rules. Architects need to collaborate with land use planners and other experts who understand what it takes to get projects approved, so that they are able to match their desire for superior design with their clients’ desire to streamline the approval process.

John M. Sanger, Real estate attorney with a specialty in land use, Sanger & Olson, San Francisco:

In view of the fact that entitlements involve an inherently political process, be wary of assuming that you are in a position to carry the political weight of the project. It is the project sponsor who should take responsibility and, where appropriate, a political consultant brought on board to assist. Designers (and lawyers) do better for their clients by focusing on their areas of expertise. A design responsive to the particular environment, interests of neighbors, etc. will have a political impact, but the actual politicking should be left to those who make it a profession. Don’t hold yourself out as the one who can get the entitlements because of your connections.

Second, be wary of reliance on advice from the regulating bureaucracy on what is or is not required and what are or are not the rules. All too many designers and engineers try to answer a question simply by calling someone in the bureaucracy and asking; they don’t bother to verify what is actually found in written rules and regulations. Most competent architects would not approach the Building Code in that fashion, and they should not approach other rules and regulations that way, either.

Third, don’t hog the show. Most designers assume that land use lawyers don’t know much about building codes or zoning requirements in their technical detail. If that is the case, you have the wrong land use lawyer and, if you did not recommend the person, you can so inform the client. Competent land use counsel know a lot about those requirements, and there should be cooperation and exchange of interpretations and information in determining the potential for development, so that the entire team serves the client’s interests.

Jeremy Paul, Quickdraw Permit Consulting, San Francisco:

Architecture is sex; entitlement procurement is obstetrics. You may be the best lover in the world, but that’s no indication that you’ll have any skill delivering the results of your lovemaking.

My perspective may be skewed by my experience as a permit consultant—a fixer. I’m often called in by architects who have bungled a delivery, leaving the metaphorical baby breached, with the umbilicus wrapped around its neck.

Many smart architects assume that they understand the design, they understand the code, ergo: the bureaucrats must hand them their permits. This is pure hubris. I have witnessed firsthand far too many brilliant architects driven mad with frustration by their inability to navigate permit processes. Sometimes they realize their limitations early enough in their careers to save them from the sirens of psychopharmacology—though not often enough. Architectural skill and experience provide no sound basis to assume that you can succeed in the entitlement process. There is a whole separate skill set at work. Getting buildings built should be about architecture, but it’s not. It’s about persuasion. Get over it.

The authorization of entitlements is in the hands of other human beings, some competent, some intelligent; others, not so much. Either way, the challenge is the same. There is a person on the other side of the counter who has something you need, who will not give it to you unless he wants to. If you cannot communicate with the person with the “Approved” stamp in his hand, if you cannot empathize with his motivations and struggles, if you cannot for a moment actually care, then you are delivering a baby with a limited chance for survival.

Be patient. Be humble. And, for God’s sake, if your talent is lovemaking, not delivering babies, find yourself a competent obstetrician.




Brad McCrea, Bay Design Analyst, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission:

One of the most important things for developers to understand is the mission of the permitting authority. For example, BCDC is charged with minimizing unnecessary fill and maximizing public access to the Bay. The public’s use and enjoyment of the shoreline are paramount to us. People who understand and attend to these goals up front may find the regulatory process more streamlined. What we want to know is, “What is the public benefit?”

Public benefit can take various forms, because the way in which people enjoy the shoreline is subjective—it might be through beautiful architecture, generous open space, or a dense, lively mix of uses. We review proposals holistically, following the State’s mandate that every development provide “maximum feasible public access, consistent with the project.”

William Anderson, FAICP, Director of City Planning & Community Investment, City of San Diego:

In those jurisdictions that have structured policies, work with those policies. In San Diego, policy for particular properties is set at the Community Plan level, and we have forty-two of them. It is important to understand those different areas. So, read the General Plan and the Community Plan. Show how the proposed project tries to implement the policies articulated in the plan regarding land use, historic resources, conservation, transportation, urban design, public utilities, and so on.

Talk to us and to a lot of people before putting pen to paper, to avoid having to revisit the design. Work closely with communities. Even if an application is successful, and we approve the project, neighbors can still bring lawsuits. San Diego has a structure for talking to community groups, which are officially sanctioned by the City Council. Once a proposal has been reviewed by the planning staff, it formally goes to the appropriate Community Planning Group for recommendation. Of course, you are free to meet with the Community Planning Groups before that, and it is advisable to do so.

Robert Lee Chase, AIA, Chief Building Official, City of Sacramento/Development Services:

The City of Sacramento stresses working in a partnership with applicants. We don’t want architects to come in anticipating conflict, because a good project is a win/win. We used to be the regulatory police; now we’re more proactive. We all need each other these days. We in the public sector need the revenue, so we need to be sure we’re helping architects and developers create good projects. If everyone looks at it that way, it’s advantageous.

Not all public agencies operate this way, but given the current economic challenges—this is the first time in history that Sacramento’s Development Services Department has laid off people—we should work with applicants to make sure good things are happening. So it’s not a matter of the architect suiting up, putting on your armor, to “do battle” with the planning and building departments.

What can architects do? Keep an open mind and be respectful of opinions from people on the public side. Digest them, incorporate those that you believe make sense, and if you don’t incorporate some of them, explain why. “We incorporated A, B & C, but not D & E, because….” There are codes to comply with, but we all know that you can question anything, if you do it in a respectful, intelligent way.

Stephanie Reich, Senior Urban Designer, City of Glendale:

Style can be a challenge to architects and design review boards. Very often clients, particularly residential clients, desire a traditional exterior with a modern floor plan. The resulting project appears to be a collection of styles—pitched, red-tile roofs with large expanses of glass. We often recommend historic precedents for traditional styles and encourage a consistent design treatment.

But a contemporary design may be more appropriate. In one case, a client wanted to remodel a relatively modern home built in the 1950s into a home that was double the size and “Mediterranean.” The neighborhood was primarily composed of low-slung, ranch style homes. The design review board opposed it, as did the neighbors. Working with the architect, we were able to convince the client that a contemporary design would be more appropriate.

In each city in which I’ve worked, architects and the public believed the design review board favored traditional design, when in fact the opposite was true. Because architects on the board practiced modern architecture, they could appear more critical of contemporary work, while not knowing exactly how to critique a traditional design.

Most communities are interested in quality design and materials; high quality window and storefront systems are of particular interest. A response to these concerns may allow an architect to include features or systems that have been discouraged by their client due to cost. On my best days as Urban Designer for the City of Glendale, I work with the architect to encourage the client to approve a superior design.

Steven L. Vettel, Farella Braun + Martel LLP, San Francisco:

As public policy, environmental sustainability, and economic reality converge to focus development within existing urban and suburban communities, historic preservation issues will increasingly come to the fore.

Our cities and suburbs are filled with structures that may be replaced or altered to accommodate new infill development. At the same time, they are reaching an age when many of their structures are over fifty years old and need to be evaluated for historic significance before demolition or alteration. The reuse of existing structures is in some cases more sustainable than demolition and new construction, given the embedded materials and energy in existing buildings and the energy and resources associated with new construction.How these competing policy objectives—the need for denser infill development against the value of historic preservation and rehabilitation—are reconciled will shape many future land use battles.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is driving much of this debate. It includes within its broad definition of “historic resources” all structures listed or eligible for listing in the California Register of Historic Resources, all buildings listed in a local register or identified in historical resource surveys, and buildings that a local agency otherwise determines are historically significant.

CEQA goes on to specify that the demolition of any such historic resource or its alteration in a manner inconsistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties is always deemed a significant impact on the environment, for which an environmental impact report (EIR) must be prepared, a process that typically takes up to two years.

Demolition or the inconsistent alteration of historic resources is not prohibited in California by the state or by most local jurisdictions (except in the case of some locally-designated landmarks, of which there are relatively few), but the public agency approving such an action must, in addition to certifying an EIR, make findings that preservation alternatives are infeasible and that the project has overriding public benefits. Local ordinances may specify other criteria that must also be met.

Accordingly, to avoid the delay inherent in preparation of an EIR and the risk of the approving agency not making defensible findings when a project involves a pre-1959 structure, a project sponsor typically must do one of three things: avoid demolition or inappropriate alterations altogether; establish that the structure is not an historic resource; or establish that the proposed alteration meets the Secretary’s standards. For older buildings that are not already listed on the state or a local register, an analysis by an historic preservation expert will often be required. For projects that alter historic resources, an historic architect will often be needed to design alterations consistent with the Secretary’s standards and to convince policy makers of their consistency.

Jeremy Paul, Quickdraw Permit Consulting, San Francisco:

Always seek out the lowest level bureaucrat with the approval authority that you need.

Michael Westlake, Program Manager, Development Services Department, City of San Diego:

Understand the political realities and trends. Understand the decision-makers’ special interests, hot points, or pet peeves. Prior to presenting your project for a final decision, observe several Community Planning Group, Planning Commission, and City Council hearings on projects similar to yours, to better understand what you are up against. Make an effort to understand the City’s organization vis-à-vis the entitlement process.

Know and understand the regulations, and be aware of any upcoming changes to those regulations that could impact your project mid-stream.

Understand the time and money requirements inherent in the process. The entitlement process is complex and subject to politics, which inevitably adds time and money.

Have all technical consultants available and prepared at all important meetings and particularly at all decision-making public hearings.

Have the courage to challenge staff or community recommendations not based on adopted codes, land use policies, or good planning principles; challenge recommendations that are nexus-less and arbitrary.

Treat all stakeholders with dignity and respect at all times.

John M. Sanger, Real estate attorney with a specialty in land use, Sanger & Olson, San Francisco:

Make sure you are doing what your client wants (after having privately argued with your client about any fundamental issues on which you disagree, but which have not caused you to terminate your contract). Clients do not appreciate designers going off on their own mission to save the world or serve the community irrespective of their interests and budget. If you cannot really serve that client, it is not the client for whom you should be working.

Joe Nootbaar, Principal, Nootbaar Real Estate, LLC, San Francisco:

In the entitlement process, successful architects speak to their audience about what is important to that audience, not what is important to the architect. Usually, the successful presentation or stakeholder discussion is not about how great the architecture is as an object, but how it addresses its context. The goal should always be approval, not the reinforcement of the architect’s talent. A talented architect knows how and when to emphasize each.

The graphics, drawings, and renderings are perhaps the most important part of the successful presentation. They should reinforce the message of how the project adds to or complements the existing context, not reinforce the egocentric vision of the architect’s work.




Brad McCrea, Bay Design Analyst, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission:

Design professionals can participate in a variety of ways; voluntary service on boards, such as our Design Review Board, is one. But I have found that building relationships with a variety of design professionals is a helpful way to regularly share information about public access and development. Such collegial relationships between bureaucrats and practitioners are healthy, because they allow everyone to better understand the constraints and opportunities.

Robert Lee Chase, AIA, Chief Building Official, City of Sacramento/Development Services:

I am the first architect in 150 years to be Chief Building Official in Sacramento. An engineer has typically filled that role. It took me months to get to the point to make that shift, and I’m glad I did. I had been a partner in the third largest firm in Sacramento and was involved hands-on in four or five significant projects each year. I’ve traded off the hands-on involvement for involvement in all projects citywide in a city of 500,000 people. If you enjoy the detail, it might not be so satisfying, but if you enjoy the vision, it is very challenging, very satisfying.

I had long been civically involved, on the Design Review Commission and the Capitol Area Development Authority board. My involvement, working closely with the mayor, planning commissioners, and staff from the city manager on down, made the move easier. Once you get involved, you become known, and council members and staff will seek input from an architect if one is available. So, do whatever you can, get involved in some small way.

We will come out of this economic downturn, as we always have. I encourage architects to consider shifting gears and taking positions in the public sector. They will be valued. I have found an outpouring of support not only from AIA colleagues but also from the entire development community. What we’re trained to do as architects—coordination, consensus building, guidance—helps move projects forward.

Any jurisdiction can benefit by having an architect in any role in the city, but especially that of building official. We bring a broader vision. We’re looking not just at structural beam sizes, but at how the city as a whole, the culture of the city, can benefit.




Simon Pastucha, Urban Designer, Department of City Planning, City of Los Angeles:

Architecture is created around an idea, and cities are created around a series of values. Entitlement processes and codes are not about creating the built environment we value but about controlling what we do not want. They leave what we want unanswered or tangled in the net of codes aimed at capturing what we do not want or what we fear. They capture what we don’t want to catch.

We need to figure out what we want in the built environment and make sure it is maintained. There should be an emphasis on fast, simple processes for what we value. The goal is to move from reactive, fear-based codes and processes toward proactive thinking that creates codes that get out of the way of what we want and that are easy, efficient, and flexible.

Michael Stepner, FAIA, FAICP, Former City Architect and Acting Planning Director, City of San Diego:

Entitlements are the stuff that dreams are made of. For all parties, they represent the achievement of a goal. For the developer, it is permission to build a project and reap a financial reward. For the architect, it means his design can be built. For the government official, it means that the project will meet health, safety, and welfare standards and long-range goals. And, for the community, it means that new development will preserve and enhance the neighborhood’s desired quality of life.

That is the ideal; but does it work that way? The community often uses the entitlement process to slow down or stop a project in its neighborhood. The developer sees the process as something to be overcome in order to achieve a desired return on investment. The architect sees it as the intrusion of non-designers dictating the design. Residents very often believe that the project ruins their quality of life.

We have built a system that, more and more, is erected on a lack of trust. Things get built; people react; and a new code provision is added to make sure what got built last time never happens again. Every word in every code has a constituency.

The financial system plays a role in this failure, as well. The need for a quick return on investment often results in formulaic development in which design, construction quality, and community fit are not primary concerns. Couple that with our unwillingness or inability to pay for the facilities and services we need as a community, and you have a lack of public trust across the board.

But it does not have to be this way. The process is changing. Architects are becoming involved at the front end, working with the community, helping to prepare codes and regulations, and participating in planning groups. Architects are trained to conceive and articulate a vision and to build consensus for it; and all this is being done with the “real” client, the community. Long after the architect and the builder are gone, the community lives with the results of the architect’s and the builder’s work.

In 1993, Thomas Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, wrote, “The profession of architecture was founded to guard the public. Not just the public’s health and safety through building and zoning codes, but the public realm and the public interest broadly defined.”

The entitlement process can no longer be about an individual building. It must be about how that building fits in the community. It is about an expanded public process that uses participatory tools like visual preference surveys and charrettes and new regulatory tools like form-based codes that describe what we do want rather than the opposite. It is always about building trust, and that is everyone’s job, a job that is labor intensive. It requires a continuous effort.



Entitlements: Editor’s Comment

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[Originally published 1st quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.1, “Entitlements.”]



Family Camp, Maine, Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects, Inc., photography by Jim Righter.


A recent AIArchitect reported on the AIA New Hampshire design awards, among which was a project by the Massachusetts firm of Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects, Inc. I recognized “Tittmann”—John Tittmann, a graduate school classmate—and took a tour of their website. Good work, of a sort not much appreciated among my close colleagues: skillful, straightforward interpretations of non-modern styles.

One project particularly caught my eye. Its clear precursors are the vacation houses for the Trubeks and Wislockis, which I’ve always considered the very best of Robert Venturi’s work, perhaps because they’re more simply good-humored, less archly ironic, than much of his oeuvre. The main problem with thoughtful Postmodernism (don’t get me started on the other kind) is its irony, which weathers less well than a well-made building (albeit the second biggest problem with that period—though not with Venturi, Scott-Brown and Izenour’s work—was poor-quality construction).

This little building is in a mode that one sees from time to time on the East Coast and in Britain but rarely out here: it not only has character but also is a character. It recalls the kinship between façade and face. I may especially like this one because, as I mentioned in my e-mail to John, the Culvahouses have an hereditary ability to raise one eyebrow asymmetrically high, like Humphrey Bogart.

The house displays a willingness to inflect, as the Trubek and Wislocki houses inflect toward one another out there on the beach in Nantucket. Judith Wolin, with whom I taught at RISD, used to demonstrate the idea of inflection by pointing to a student in her class and then asking the students to note how their collective postures would compel another person entering the room to look in that direction, too. It’s been interesting to follow the idea among some of Judith’s students, including Office dA in Boston and Kuth Ranieri in San Francisco.

Of course, it appears elsewhere. I was recently back among the hills of Chattanooga, where I was pleasantly surprised by the graceful inflections of Randall Stout, FAIA’s addition to the Hunter Museum of Art. I might be forgiven for suspecting the building of Swoops for Swoops’ Sake—it is difficult to tell in photos—but it turns out these swoops do a lovely job of guiding both one’s eyes and one’s feet.

Addition to the Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Randall Stout Architects, Inc., photography by Tim Griffith.

Addition to the Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Randall Stout Architects, Inc., photography by Tim Griffith.

I—blessed as I am with the eyebrow-raising gene—favor the wink, but the flourish has its place. Here’s lookin’ at you.



Blog Is In the Details

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


Author Jimmy Stamp is a freelance writer and designer currently enrolled in the M.E.D. program at the Yale School of Architecture. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and websites and he has been publishing the architecture blog Life Without Buildings since 2004.


Of late, a lot of people have asked me about the quickly growing web service, twitter. If you’re wondering what the hell “twitter” is, you’re not alone. It is, according to its founders, “a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices” that allows users to “follow the sources most relevant to them and access information as it happens—from breaking world news to updates from friends.” Think of twitter as “micro-blogging,” to use a popular neologism.

Twitter users “follow” other users with whom they share interests, everyone sharing livestreaming, 140-character “tweets” that ostensibly answer the service’s opening query, “What are you doing?” The answers range from, “Tuna sandwich for lunch. Again.” to providing breaking news and insightful observations. But don’t write off this new tool because of its limitless potential for mundanity or its cutesy parlance and adorable iconography. Twitter is what you make of it. It can be useless, but it can also be a fantastic way to keep a dialogue open with friends, peers, and clients.

While it’s always tempting to embrace new technologies for their marketing potential, the strength of twitter is its power as a communication medium. Imagine it as collection of asynchronous, time-delay conversations—the kind of conversations Ground Control might have with Major Tom. I’ve found twitter to be a terrific place to exchange ideas (and jokes) with architects whose work I enjoy, such as British architect Sam Jacob (@anothersam) and fellow architecture bloggers like Geoff Manaugh (@bldgblog). Twitter can be a place to develop and build on one another’s thoughts—an architectural hive-mind—or a way to build relationships with likeminded folk willing to share a few seconds of their attention each day.

Of course, most architecture magazines have their own twitter streams as well. A quick search will reveal many—their followers can get up-to-the minute news about competitions or newly announced projects. There’s even a twitter stream broadcasting industry related layoffs (@ archlayoff). How’s that for a sign of the times?

Versatility is a key element of twitter. Although it exists independently at twitter.com, it can also be integrated into your company’s website. A lot of firms haven’t updated their sites for years—an increasingly glaring faux pas these days and an inconvenience to potential clients or employees. Why not integrate twitter into your website as a quick and easy method of providing live updates about new projects or photos of construction progress? You might even open up a dialogue with other architects and consultants, or attract the attention of publications looking for exciting new projects.

So give twitter a chance. Although it might at first seem like a massive waste of time, treat it as ambient information and pay it as much attention as you like. Don’t like how someone else uses it? Simply unfollow. twitter’s potential is limited only by your ingenuity and a 140 character limit.



Activism and Bridge Building in California

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


Author Thomas C. Brutting, AIA, is principal of HKIT Architects in Oakland. He is chair of the board of directors of the St. Anthony Foundation and serves on the Housing Committee of AIA San Francisco, where he is also founder and chair of the Design for Aging Committee.


Last week, I attended a rock concert given by the Moody Blues. Looking around the room, I noticed that most of the audience was grey haired or bald. The enthusiasm for the music was evident, but it was also clear that the crowd swayed a little more slowly and with a bit less agility than one would expect at such an event. Baby boomers are aging, and they have become seniors! Yet they still perceive themselves as existing in the world when the Moody Blues first started forty years ago.

Throughout the United States, and in particular California, the average age is rising. It has been stated that in the next couple of decades the City of San Francisco will be inhabited primarily by seniors. Demographics are changing, as are needs and expectations.

A little over a year and a half ago, a Design for Aging Committee was started at AIA San Francisco. It exists under the umbrella of the national AIA Design for Aging Knowledge Community as a component group. Gauging interest, we found that a substantial number of people are indeed interested in aging in place and related design issues. We enjoy the participation not only of architects, but also of interior designers, landscape architects, providers of senior communities, contractors, students, and even the School of Gerontology at San Francisco State University. The discussions are lively, and the interaction among the different disciplines creates a beneficial dialogue and knowledge base, all in the interest of better design and living for seniors.

As the group has grown and become more active, AIA East Bay has become involved and is assisting in programs, announcements, and the sharing of knowledge. The group is now known as the Northern California Regional Design for Aging Committee.

The Committee has focused on topics such as different models for senior living, the recent “Greenhouse” movement, new technologies, and visiting existing senior communities.

The dialogue continues as broader-based groups look at issues, regulatory codes, and culture change. As an example, the Care Delivery and Design Improvement Committee (CDDIC) meets quarterly in Sacramento. Comprised of architects and providers, it also includes members from the State of California regulatory agency, OSHPD, and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). It is also attended by more established groups such as the California Association of Health Facilities (CAHF) and Aging Services of California (ASOC). At each meeting, discussion takes place around topics of current concern regarding health care and senior living. The bridge building occurs when CDDIC reports on the activities of the Northern California Regional Design for Aging Committee, and vice versa. This dialogue is important, as we are all learning from experience, building our collective knowledge base, and looking at ways to make communities and infrastructure better for seniors.

Other organizations, such as the California Assisted Living Association (CALA), look specifically at the assisted living level of care. Like ASOC, it holds regional conferences with seminars and information sessions directly related to senior living and care providing issues.

One can easily see that momentum is building, and certainly the well-coordinated groups in existence create an avenue for activism and change. We are learning each and every day about improved, supportive, and better living as we grow to be an older society. These groups are looking seriously at legislation and making inroads for change on a scale never before seen in the realm of senior living. It’s no longer a matter of warehousing in a traditional “nursing home” setting.

So, why all the hoopla about culture change?

Demographics are changing. Baby Boomers will not ever think of themselves as seniors. As at the Moody Blues concert, they will live an active life, as long as health permits and as though they are still much younger. They are not as concerned about the things that worried previous generations, and they are a generation raised on financial assets and instant gratification. Sacrifice isn’t generally in the vocabulary. Living longer and staying healthier, while probably working later in life, are becoming more mainstream. Traditional retirement is becoming a past concept.

The way we serve this generation’s needs and expectations, and those to come, will result in culture change. Options and being able to customize the individual living experience will be far more important than simple security and care.

There are also aspects of change regarding codes and licensing that require some all-around activism. OSHPD, as the State regulatory agency for health care, acute care, and skilled nursing facilities, is welcoming the dialogue and willing to make changes. Currently, the codes are being examined, and it’s the dialogue that is moving change forward. The bridge building of information, facts, and challenges is helping to mold more practical ways of approaching the real situations faced by senior communities around the state. It is hoped that the Office of the State Fire Marshal will come on board in the dialogue, as much is influenced by their directives. Yet, overall, the coming to the table is real, and people are serious about making a difference for the better.

Some unique things come about that only recently are being addressed by the building codes. As an example, dementia/Alzheimer care has some specific conditions that usually don’t occur in typical building situations: one wouldn’t want a fully operable window where a resident might escape and wander off or jump and be injured, yet the codes generally require a means of access and egress of that sort. It’s a contradiction within “life safety.” There are ways around this, and usually it can be handled through a cooperative understanding of the means and methods of escape and protection.

Universal Design also plays an integral part in the aging process. Instead of specific modifications for a senior’s situation, Universal Design allows one to function in a space at any age and with supposedly any handicap. It is fully accessible in the broadest sense, and creates an environment where, ideally, one can easily and comfortably age in place. Not always practical in every situation, it still is a way of thinking and directing design without limitations. It also fosters creativity. Activism will infuse more of that thinking into our building practices and codes.

California appears to be at the forefront of developing and being in dialogue about aging issues. Members of the Flower Power generation are now seniors. The culture is still alive; it’s just that the bodies and abilities have changed.

Fortunately, the dialogue continues on a broader scale as national and international groups work closely together to foster the sharing of knowledge and information. The AIA National Design for Aging Knowledge Community was noted earlier. ASOC also falls under a larger national group known as the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA). They are active in advocacy and communication on a broader scale, as well as fostering technology improvements. Of course AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, has been around for decades. The big secret, however, is that most Baby Boomers don’t want to be associated with this association. That’s for “old people,” and they aren’t old, or so they think! Its prime value has been the discounts offered to those of a certain age.

We’ve come from a period of time when it had been common to see “Old People’s Home” on pathetically antiqued buildings, which eventually became homes for “the elderly.” Now, it’s politically correct to use the term “senior,” although new trends are moving toward the term “active adult.” It’s forever changing, and always evolving, just like us, just like our bodies. The rocking chair is being replaced by exercise equipment.

I recently attended a party with a number of biotech researchers. There was some excitement in the discussion about the very near possibility of people living to be 150 years old. One even ventured to speculate that a day may come when life expectancy could reach 1,000! My head was spinning at that point. I just couldn’t imagine a group of “active adults”—or whatever they would be called—at a Moody Blues concert.

Nonetheless, let’s keep it realistic, continue the dialogue, bridge build, and certainly interject some positive activism for change in the way we live as we grow older. It’s getting better each and every day.

On-line Resources for Design for Aging

  1. LeadingAge California (formerly Aging Services of California), www.aging.org
  2. AIA Design for Aging Knowledge Community, https://network.aia.org/designforaging/home
  3. LeadingAge (formerly American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging), http://www.leadingage.org/
  4. American Association of Retired Persons, Housing & Mobility webpage, www.aarp.org/family/housing/
  5. California Assisted Living Association, www.caassistedliving.org
  6. Mather Life Ways, www.matherlifeways.com
  7. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Institute on Aging and Environment, www.uwm.edu/Dept/IAE/



The Graying of the Workplace

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


Andrew Lian leads workplace sector projects at Woods Bagot Perth Studio and has a strong interest in research of future workplace trends. He has been recipient to both academic and professional awards. Andrew is a registered architect with over 18 years project experience across Australia and South-East Asia. Carolyn Karnovsky is the Marketing Coordinator for Woods Bagot Perth Studio. In 2005, she received her BA in Product and Furniture Design and has worked both as a research assistant and sessional lecturer for Curtin University’s Faculty of Interior Architecture. Lauren Zmood is a member of the Workplace Consulting team at Woods Bagot. She recently completed her Masters in Architecture with first class honors. During her studies and work, Lauren’s interest in research and theory led her design projects to explore current and future social, contextual and sustainable elements. 

This article is adapted with permission from a longer white paper of the same title prepared by the authors at Woods Bagot, which is developing a suite of tools to evaluate workplace design and flexibility for older workers and to assess how well the physical environment supports and inspires a multi-generational cross section of workers.


Two major changes are set to alter the workplace as we know it and challenge organizations and designers in the process. First, our population is aging, and people will be staying in the workforce until much later in life. Second, new styles of work foster different modes of exchange between different generations.

Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre (HHRC) at the Royal College of Art in London, describes how the contemporary workplace is increasingly the setting for new styles of work. He reports seeing a shifting emphasis from knowledge gathering toward knowledge management.

Furthermore, “knowledge capital” is an asset increasingly carried by the individual, not the institution. The exchanges between workers that contribute to the organization’s sense of intellectual capital will be characterized by greater sharing across generations. The challenge for organizations that seek to attract and retain workers in the competitive twenty-first century job market will be to re-think the kinds of work experiences that effectively foster knowledge sharing among an increasingly multi-generational workforce. In order to support the intellectual exchange among different generations, workplaces will need to be responsive to a much wider spectrum of values, needs, and abilities and to be inclusive for workers of all ages.


Figure 2 compares the percentage of people aged 60 and over specifically. The data in Figure 2 shows that in 2007 the UK had the highest proportion of people in the 60+ age bracket (21.8%), followed closely by Australia, North America, and Hong Kong with 18.1%, 17.3%, and 16.1% respectively. The UAE had a significantly lower percentage at only 1.7%. Between 2007 and 2025, all five regions will experience a significant growth in this demographic, with Hong Kong showing a sharp rise in the number of over-60s during this period. By 2050, Hong Kong will have the highest proportion of people in the 60+ age group (38.7%), followed by Australia, the UK, North America, and UAE. The region with the highest rate of growth during this period will be the UAE, as the older demographic increases from 1.7% in 2007 to 23.3% by 2050.

Figure 2 compares the percentage of people aged 60 and over specifically. The data in Figure 2 shows that in 2007 the UK had the highest proportion of people in the 60+ age bracket (21.8%), followed closely by Australia, North America, and Hong Kong with 18.1%, 17.3%, and 16.1% respectively. The UAE had a significantly lower percentage at only 1.7%. Between 2007 and 2025, all five regions will experience a significant growth in this demographic, with Hong Kong showing a sharp rise in the number of over-60s during this period. By 2050, Hong Kong will have the highest proportion of people in the 60+ age group (38.7%), followed by Australia, the UK, North America, and UAE. The region with the highest rate of growth during this period will be the UAE, as the older demographic increases from 1.7% in 2007 to 23.3% by 2050.

Skill shortfall

The dramatic aging of our population will impact our economy, as businesses will be forced to operate below capacity if they do not act strategically. Some industries—including healthcare, engineering, public services, and government—will be particularly affected, as they tend to have a large proportion of workers aged 50 and over.

So what are some solutions to ease the pressure of a labor shortage? A 2006 article published in The Economist, titled “How To Manage an Aging Workforce,” suggests solutions such as moving production offshore, utilizing cheap labor from other countries, relaxing immigration laws, and using technology to increase productivity. An alternative is to utilize the abundance of older workers.

Despite approaching retirement, research suggests that the majority of older workers would rather remain in the workforce. Boomers are set to re-invent retirement and are likely to cycle between periods of work and leisure well beyond the age of 65. Older workers are now realizing that they won’t get the comfortable retirement lifestyle they planned for. Higher life expectancy is increasing the potential length of retirement, and if retirees want to spend their golden years in the way they planned, financial imperatives will push them back to work. Financial pressures aside, many employees want to stay in the workforce longer for the mental stimulation it offers, as well as to stay active and productive in society.

So, if employers need more skilled workers and older workers want to stay in the workforce, what’s the problem? A number of issues stand in the way of older workers being hired and/or retained.

Attitudes at work

Labor markets generally don’t work well for older workers; attitudes toward older employees can be negative, and recent age discrimination laws (particularly in Europe and the US), while making it harder for employers to dismiss older workers, can also make it harder for them to be hired in the first place. In addition, governments need to revise pension schemes and raise the age that people can receive entitlements to encourage them to retire later.

Employer attitudes will have to change if they want to retain workers—and knowledge capital. Perceptions that older workers are less productive, adaptable, creative, and more costly to manage are largely false. In fact, evidence suggests that older employees are better knowledge workers, give longer and more reliable service, offer a greater depth of skills and experience, and are less likely to take time off work due to illness, accidents, or injuries than their younger counterparts.

What older workers want

In 2005, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey of workers aged 45–54 found that 90% thought that part-time and flexible work conditions would encourage them to stay in the workforce. One hundred per cent of people surveyed would like to work 2–3 days per week or work by assignment, such as three months full-time followed by a break. Their reasons for wanting flexibility in work hours include less stress, more time for personal activities (including caring for grandchildren and travel), and the opportunity to work on tasks or projects that best utilize their skills and knowledge.

In 2006, recruitment company Hudson published a research paper, “The Evolving Workplace: The Seven Key Drivers Of Middle-Aged Workers,” which identifies the workplace motivations and aspirations affecting older workers’ participation in Australia and New Zealand. The survey of 1135 workers aged 40–70 years found that if offered more flexible and attractive work conditions only around 1% would choose to retire. Forty-seven per cent would be prepared to work full-time, 21% would work part-time and a further 20% would choose to stay employed on a contract or consulting basis. The key drivers affecting this choice include commuting time to work per day, pay conditions, a friendly work environment, feeling challenged at work, recognition, flexible working hours, and the ability to work from home.


As Figure 3 shows, the labor force participation of the over-65s in the UAE and North America is significantly higher than in Australia, the UK, and Hong Kong. Labor force participation rates are predicted to largely remain stable in all regions through 2020.

As Figure 3 shows, the labor force participation of the over-65s in the UAE and North America is significantly higher than in Australia, the UK, and Hong Kong. Labor force participation rates are predicted to largely remain stable in all regions through 2020.

Designing the multi-generational workplace

With the combined forces of an aging population, changes in retirement trends, and a push to retain knowledge and expertise, there is no doubt that older workers will stay in the workplace longer, increasing the age difference of people working in the same environment to as much as 60 years. The problem with contemporary workplaces is they too often cater to the tastes and needs of Generation X and Y and are ill equipped to meet the needs of a multigenerational workforce. As Jeremy Myerson describes in Woods Bagot’s publication Public #4: 21st Century Guide to Life (2008), “All that glass and steel, all those hard surfaces and glaring overhead lighting grids and precarious office stools … The modern workplace adds up to an acoustic, visual, and physical nightmare for an aging workforce.”

So, how will designers respond to the needs of an aging workforce? Researchers at the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre (HHRC) have been investigating ways to design inclusive workplaces, appealing to the widest range of ages and abilities. Under the guidance of Myerson, a research program of industry-funded studies into design for older workers, entitled “OfficeAge,” explores the ergonomic, psychological, and physiological needs of aging knowledge workers, as well as their motivations and ambitions for life beyond work, and considers the needs and hopes of older workers within the context of current trends in work technologies and workplace structures.

The World Health Organization’s “Study of Aging and Working Capacity” (1993) found that changes in motor and visual systems associated with aging will affect working needs. For example, older workers appear to be more sensitive to heat, cold, noise, and light changes. The studies undertaken by the HHRC have begun to identify ways in which the workplace can respond to these changes. Through these and other findings, mature-aged workers are calling for lighting and acoustics that are more comfortable, furniture and equipment that is adjustable and has better ergonomic features, and technology that is “softer” or more intuitive. Older workers are concerned with health and want access to organic and tactile environments, green spaces and natural light, as well as environments that actively monitor heath and encourage healthier work habits. They want greater control over where and how they work, with access to comfortable and varied settings for both private and collaborative work.

If designers can respond to these needs, workplaces will not only be easier and more enjoyable to use for older workers, but for people of all ages. Everyone will benefit from increased levels of comfort, flexibility, and usability.

Concluding thoughts

There is no doubt that the workplace is graying. Just as environmental sustainability is at the forefront of workplace design today, socially responsible workplaces that consider the needs and abilities of a multi-generational workforce will lead the way in the workplace designs of tomorrow.

While research into how the physicality of workplaces will need to respond to an aging workforce is still in its infancy, designers need to make this issue part of their dialogue and start to consider how the future workplace might look, as well as what tools they might need to help them design for a multi-generational workplace.

If workplaces can be designed that cater to a wide range of needs, abilities, and values, work environments will not only be more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone to use, but will encourage our most experienced and knowledgeable workers to stay and “play” a little longer.




Inviting Seniors Out

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


Whole Foods, Napa. Field Paoli. Photo by David Wakely.

Whole Foods, Napa. Field Paoli. Photo by David Wakely.

Author Avery Taylor Moore, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal with Field Paoli in San Francisco. She is currently directing work for campus buildings, public libraries and sustainable workplaces.


We have not done a great job in America designing for the “senior surge” that has arrived as the baby boomers of the 1940s and ‘50s retire. Far too often, we expect our older population to enjoy segregated housing communities and dedicated senior centers. If they want to be “in the mix,” choices are hard to come by. If they live in the suburbs, a car is typically a requirement, and many seniors choose not to drive or cannot. For those who do, parking structures with complex circulation patterns are a barrier. In the inner city, dark nighttime streets, fear of crime, and an emphasis on speed all can be impediments to partaking fully in the urban lifestyle.

There are models, however, that show how we can design both for access and for the choice to connect or not.

Retail Models

While retail architecture is not often looked to for inspiration, it is one setting where the age gap has been effectively closed. Shopping centers provide spaces that work together to make an entertaining and accessible destination. With many places to sit, wide walkways, good interior and exterior lighting, and visible security staff, seniors feel safe, comfortable, and part of the action. Since these are strolling environments, there is no urgency to get out of the way. Food, restrooms, and a movie are nearby.

As a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have removed many barriers to access and institutionalized such physical improvements as sidewalk curb cuts, designated parking spaces, and accessible service counters, seating, and toilet rooms.

Retail management has gone further. Many large shopping centers provide a “mall walkers” program, an early-morning tradition in which seniors (and others) can meet, exercise in all seasons, grab coffee or a snack, and catch up on events. While not a direct source of income to many tenants, these programs benefit extended families and are a source of community goodwill.

In geographic areas with extended family populations, malls often serve as a gathering place, bringing generations together to share food and news. For example, the population in the vicinity of Otay Ranch Town Center in Chula Vista is about one-third Latino, with many families. To support traditional family gatherings, restaurants and shops cluster around large, outdoor, landscaped courtyards that feature fountains, fireplaces, low seating walls, benches, and chairs.

The similarity to the historic urban plaza is obvious; the difference is that you have to drive to the mall. To solve parking difficulties, some malls offer valet service. Nearby bus and transit routes are essential, as are well-marked, accessible pedestrian connections. The recent trend to locate a mixture of family and senior housing next to retail centers has the potential to integrate seniors more fully.

Community Centers

In more and more communities, the idea of constructing a designated senior center is falling by the wayside—and not just in response to the difficulty of passing bonds and obtaining public funding for single-use facilities. The city of Emeryville is planning a Center for Community Life to address the city’s lack of indoor and outdoor recreational facilities. A joint project of the city and the Emeryville Unified School District, the ambitious program will house the city’s K-12 schools on one site, across the street from the city’s preschool and near retail shops. The design includes a range of services for all ages. Those that particularly appeal to seniors include an adult school, a dance/fitness studio, an arts studio, a music studio, a multipurpose/performance space, an outdoor amphitheater, a gymnasium, and tennis courts. While parking is limited, the facility will be located along San Pablo Avenue, a major bus transit corridor. The city’s master plan calls for housing over retail on nearby sites, which would be ideal for seniors as well as the general population.

Some senior-only centers are expanding to include more generations. In Fullerton, the city plans to combine the Boys and Girls Club with the existing Senior Multi-Service Center. More often, traditional community centers are taking steps to ensure that seniors feel welcome, respected, and comfortable in multiple settings. The Almaden Library and Community Center in San Jose, which opened in 2006, combines full adult and children’s libraries with a senior meal program, a tiny tots program, a gymnasium, and fitness facilities. Seniors occupy lobby tables and chairs, enjoying the noise and commotion of people coming in and out of the front door, the gym, and the library entrance. Those seeking a quieter environment meet in a dedicated senior lounge on the second floor, where a commercial kitchen is used for cooking classes.

Almaden Branch Library and Community Center, San Jose, Field Paoli. Photography by David Wakely.

Almaden Branch Library and Community Center, San Jose, Field Paoli. Photography by David Wakely.

Branch Libraries

Predicted to have a sharp reduction in users with the growth of computer technology, libraries have surprised many of us with their surge in use. Taking a cue from newer bookstores, they have added new media, small cafés, self-checkout, a bestseller section, and comfortable chairs with views to the landscape.

But, like retail centers, they have gone further, creating special teen sections, where banquettes or oversized chairs allow three or four kids to cram together with their laptops. Separate homework rooms and tech learning rooms have doors that shut. For seniors, the benefits are many: they can learn how to use a computer for free in a supportive, dignified, and quiet setting—behind a closed door. They can check out the latest DVDs. In the adult section, they can doze in comfort among likeminded adults in front of a fireplace. They can watch the activities of their neighborhood in an environment that is accessible, well-lit, and accommodating.

Urban Design

Mobility is crucial for the aging population. Pedestrian-oriented environments with few stairs or grade changes, close to public transit, and with a mix of uses in close proximity, are ideal. Dense urban locations are great places for seniors, provided that security is in place and skateboarders are not. Low-cost dining choices, pocket parks, and shops that serve basic needs—drugstores, cleaners, and markets—make a livable mix. The value of a range of activities to offer visiting grandchildren cannot be overestimated.

Early streetcar suburbs worked for seniors. The Piedmont Avenue neighborhood of Oakland is a model. It grew as a suburb in the early 1900s along the Key Route electric streetcar line, and, although the streetcar is gone, buses still serve the area, which bears the imprint of its transit heritage. The street is pedestrian-friendly with a wide variety of uses, including a movie theater, restaurants, neighborhood-serving retail, and small plazas. For many, Kaiser Permanente’s nearby Oakland medical center is a valuable resource. Starting in the 1950s, a number of high-rise senior housing developments were built here. Without the neighborhood amenities, such high-rises could be bleak; with them, and with the connections to families, they feel more like home.

The Pearl District of Portland, Oregon, is a neighborhood well suited for all age groups. The municipality opened a light rail line through the former industrial district in 2001, helping stimulate redevelopment. Housing options range from rowhouses to rehabbed industrial warehouses to infill high-rises. Removing a concrete viaduct gave the area greater cohesiveness, and a network of open spaces, including Jamison Square and Tanner Springs Park, appeals to multiple generations.

Historic precedents are obvious. Consider the rich variety of small open spaces in Barrio Gotica in Barcelona, for example, where the community sorts itself out by age groups—older people occupying the few tables, the young lounging on the ground under a shade structure or straddling a long, low wall. 


Carmel Plaza, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Field Paoli. Photography by David Wakely.

Carmel Plaza, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Field Paoli. Photography by David Wakely.

College Towns and Campuses

College towns also hold appeal for seniors, because they often offer high-quality medical institutions, well-landscaped walking environments, good public transit, and a vibrant community of young people. University-linked retirement communities on or near campuses are on the increase, built by private developers, academic institutions, or partnerships between the two. In most cases, residents have access to university amenities, such as the ability to attend classes and cultural and athletic events and to use libraries and recreational and dining facilities. Universities benefit by attracting potential donors with good memories of their college years. Some of these new residents serve as student mentors and campus volunteers.

At least fifty university-linked retirement communities operate in the United States, at institutions such as UC Davis, University of Michigan, Penn State, and University of Florida. The University of Southern California is considering a retirement community as part of a mixed-use development intended to include housing for staff. San Francisco State University recently purchased adjacent housing towers and apartments that it is making available to alumni, with easy access to the nearby Stonestown Mall, the West Portal neighborhood, and a major streetcar line.

Places to Connect

All these settings illustrate that contemporary architecture and urban design need to provide opportunities for all ages to connect and feel like they belong. On the same day, seniors may opt for segregated spaces and then choose to be in the mix, quietly observing or actively participating in community life. What makes the broad concept of community possible is this choice to connect or not. Our job is to find ways to make different kinds of connection a viable option for everybody.



Affordable Senior Housing as an Engine for Urban Revitalization

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]

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Author Michael F. Malinowski, AIA, is AIACC VP of Communications and Public Affairs, 2008 President of the AIACV, 2007 Chair of Sacramento’s Development Oversight Commission, and principal of thirty-year-old Applied Architecture Inc in Sacramento (www.appliedarchitecture.net). His work on Sacramento’s Globe Mills, formerly blighted and now a thriving mix of affordable senior housing and market rate lofts, was recently recognized with a 2009 AIACV Honor Award, the “2008 Award for Redevelopment Excellence” and the “2009 Award for Excellence in Residential Redevelopment.”


Housing is essential to urban revitalization. This is particularly true for development in “challenge areas”—areas where projects are designed to challenge the status quo and lead to new patterns of use and livability. In recent years, senior affordable housing has played an increasing role in strategies for city shaping. Looking at some of the factors that contribute to success of affordable senior urban projects points to new opportunities for architects, planners, and developers interested in the rebirth of our cities.

Growing Demand

Considering the increasing population of 55+ people and the low rents in affordable senior developments, it’s no wonder that Sharon Christen of Mercy Housing Inc., which specializes in affordable housing, including urban housing developments, reports, “We never have problems finding tenants for our units.”

Bolstering the incentive of below market rents is a demand for walkable urban living. Christopher Leinberger, University of Michigan professor and partner of Arcadia Land Company, points out that people today have about a 50/50 preference split between what he terms the only two types of development: “drivable suburban” and “walkable urban.” With 85% of new buildings in the last 45 years having been of the drivable suburban type, there is a pent-up demand for new walkable urban housing. With transit access and nearby services, shopping, and amenities, transportation drops from a typical 25% of annual household expense down to 9% or less. With a significant number of 55+ people already living in urban settings seeking more affordable accommodations, while being comfortable and familiar with both the positives and negatives of city living, the size of the potential market becomes apparent.

Urban Activation

People engaged in shopping, walking, dining, and recreating activate urban areas. Activated areas feel safer, encouraging more activation—a positive cycle leading toward thriving and desirable neighborhoods. High density housing for active seniors can help jumpstart urban activation—but only with design approaches that engage their surrounding neighborhood.

There are many examples of high-density urban senior housing that has not been an agent in urban change. Consider, for example, Union Towers in Los Angeles. This 200-unit, 15 story building, designed by Maxwell Starkman & Associates 33 years ago, functions ably, but it has not acted to transform its surroundings. It is inwardly oriented and monolithic in character both visually and in relationship to its setting. While these characteristics make security simpler, disconnection from the neighborhood tends to lead to an island of isolated safety. Mercy Housing’s Christen points out that this project approach was typical in part because lenders, including HUD, had very narrow views of how projects should “look,” and mixing uses, incomes, or ages didn’t fit the “standard formulas and governing regulations.”

Safety is still priority one for successful urban senior housing

The tools used today by architects to create secure places to live for seniors extend beyond a secure project perimeter. Consideration of the exterior design character with “active glass” that provides eyes on the street is a starting point. Mixing of uses, ages, and income levels contributes to a diversity and energy that help high density projects engage their surroundings and challenge the status quo for the betterment of the community as a whole. Detailed review of sight lines for lobby staff, lighting, video monitoring that extends beyond the project boundary, and even planning for travel routes to destinations such as shopping are part of the program for security.

Parking and density

The density required by land values, transportation, and infrastructure in urban environments is always in conflict with the huge amount of space needed for private cars. With 400 square feet needed for every parked car, the costs add up quickly, whether it’s cheap-to-build, land consuming surface parking or expensive, structured parking. Active senior developments can be successful with very low parking ratios compared to other types of housing—beginning at 0.5 per unit and going down to near zero. Minimal parking coupled with the typically compact, one bedroom plans foster density that is consistent with smart growth, even in the lower massing that can help integrate with established neighborhood patterns.

“Penciling” the deal

Starting the process of “urban activation” can be a “chicken and egg” dilemma—the amenities that attract people can’t survive without the customers to support them, yet the customers won’t commit to living in a place without the amenities, conveniences, and most importantly a feeling of safety. Government subsidies are the traditional approach to breaking this logjam—reducing the risk for developers, which often include non-profits. Since the low rents of affordable projects will not support normal, cash flow-based pro formas, all these developments use a variety of subsidies, often including a grab bag of fund sources. In fact, the establishment of robust funding mechanisms like Affordable Housing Tax Credits may mean that affordable housing is the project type that may be the most feasible path for financing development in challenge areas.

Financing quirks

Tax Credits leverage a future relief from federal taxes into current cash. The credits are typically sold by specialized syndicators to large corporations. Current economic conditions, in which fewer corporations are making profits, have led to a reduction in the value of tax credits on the open market. At their peak, a dollar of tax credits could command up to 1.05 (accounting magic—a dollar sold for more than a dollar). At present, the value of a dollar of tax relief through sold credits is about 70 cents.

In California there are two “flavors” of tax credits, both administered by the State, the most desirable being “9% credits,” which are awarded based on a complex system of points that projects must win. Due to intense competition, almost all tax credit project submittals score “maximum base points,” so awards are effectively based on “tie breaker” scores. Sustainability features, serving special needs, tenant amenities, the development team, and local cash in the deal, all affect point scores. Developers who are successful tend to be specialists and include both large non-profits like Bridge Housing and Mercy Housing, as well as for-profit firms. To make the projects work, local government is invariably a partner—usually through housing/redevelopment agencies. Many times there are other public and public benefit entities involved, as well. Low cost is not the primary consideration, since tax credits are based on project cost; up to a point, investing more in quality can help a proposal be competitive. The process administered by the State through the Tax Credit Allocation Committee could push the envelope much further in months and years ahead, as there is great potential to encourage better design by granting points based on design quality. Since projects are committed to a 55 year or longer term of affordability, and cash flow returns are minimal, some teams help mitigate the risks of these ventures by taking on multiple roles—property management and even the contractor role, for example.

Maximizing the value of the public’s investment

In the hands of an urban planner, every building project has the potential to be a tool in city shaping. With many urban problems complex—often having roots going back decades—public investment in urban development ideally will try to get the biggest bang for the public’s bucks. It is not uncommon to have urban affordable senior projects go far beyond their housing mandate to address such disparate city needs as historic preservation, infrastructure upgrades, public services like libraries or fire protection improvement, and brownfield toxic site clean up. Revitalization of urban areas is inherently green and sustainable, as it makes use of infrastructure that was created decades ago.

Opportunities for architects

Affordable housing development sometimes begins in traditional ways—an RFP issued by a Redevelopment Agency for a parcel it controls, for example. In other cases, affordable housing projects arise from grass roots efforts launched at the community level. The motive force might be a church with surplus property, a toxic abandoned industrial site, or even an individual architect looking past urban blight and crystallizing a vision that might act as the nucleus for assembling a development team.


Globe Mills, Sacramento, 2008 Architect: Applied Architecture Inc. Developer: GMA Investors (Cyrus Youssefi and Dr. Skip Rosenbloom) Public Partners: City of Sacramento, Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, HUD brownfield grant program, Alkali Flat Project Area Tax Increment funds, 9% tax credits Photographer: Cathy Kelly Once an icon of thriving industry, the hundred year old Globe Mill site deteriorated so significantly after it closed in the late 1960s that it became an icon of a different sort as the city’s most blighted property. Located in Alkali Flat (Sacramento’s oldest neighborhood) and adjacent to the downtown core, it stood for forty years abandoned and ravaged by decay, vandals, and finally a series of fires that led to calls for demolition. This “smart growth TOD” saved an important historic industrial complex through adaptive reuse—including integration of the six-story concrete silos into the completed construction. It mixes income and ages as well as use, with new construction senior units, historic adaptive reuse lofts, and neighborhoodoriented commercial. Additional public benefits included brownfield toxic clean up, installation of storm sewer service to the block, fire protection access to adjacent industrial uses, and street improvements. Since the start of this project, adjacent former industrial sites of similar size have begun development, inspired in some measure by the success of the thriving residential community at the Globe Mills.

Globe Mills, Sacramento, 2008
Architect: Applied Architecture Inc.
Developer: GMA Investors (Cyrus Youssefi and Dr. Skip Rosenbloom)
Public Partners: City of Sacramento, Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, HUD brownfield grant program, Alkali Flat Project Area Tax Increment funds, 9% tax credits
Photographer: Cathy Kelly
Once an icon of thriving industry, the hundred year old Globe Mill site deteriorated so significantly after it closed in the late 1960s that it became an icon of a different sort as the city’s most blighted property. Located in Alkali Flat (Sacramento’s oldest neighborhood) and adjacent to the downtown core, it
stood for forty years abandoned and ravaged by decay, vandals, and finally a series of fires that led to calls for demolition. This “smart growth TOD” saved an important historic industrial complex through adaptive reuse—including integration of the six-story concrete silos into the completed construction. It
mixes income and ages as well as use, with new construction senior units, historic adaptive reuse lofts, and neighborhood-oriented commercial. Additional public benefits included brownfield toxic clean up, installation of storm sewer service to the block, fire protection access to adjacent industrial uses, and street improvements. Since the start of this project, adjacent former industrial sites of similar size have begun development, inspired in some measure by the success of the thriving residential community at the Globe Mills.


Edith Witt Senior Community, San Francisco, Opening 2010 Architect: Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz Architects with associate architect Kodama Diseno Architects Developer: Mercy Housing California Public Partners: Catholic Charities Catholic Youth Organization, South of Market Heath Center, Redevelopment Agency of the City and County of San Francisco, HUD, City of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing, Federal Home Loan Bank of SF, Catholic Healthcare West This 11-story development is part of a larger project that includes a 12-story affordable family development. On-site amenities include a small health clinic, ground floor neighborhood commercial, and a youth and family center. The senior units are targeted at very low-income seniors, using HUD funds to subsidize rents to no more than 30% of income. 27 units are targeted for homeless seniors.

Edith Witt Senior Community, San Francisco, Opening 2010.
Architect: Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz Architects with associate architect Kodama Diseno Architects.
Developer: Mercy Housing California.
Public Partners: Catholic Charities Catholic Youth Organization, South of Market Heath Center, Redevelopment Agency of the City and County of San Francisco, HUD, City of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing, Federal Home Loan Bank of SF, Catholic Healthcare West.
This 11-story development is part of a larger project that includes a 12-story affordable family development. On-site amenities include a small health clinic, ground floor neighborhood commercial, and a youth and family center. The senior units are targeted at very low-income seniors, using HUD funds to subsidize rents to no more than 30% of income. 27 units are targeted for homeless seniors.


Talmadge Senior Village, San Diego, 2006 Architect: The Davis Group Developer: Southern California Housing Development Corporation and the San Diego Community Housing Corporation (Ken-Tal Senior Partners) Public Partners: City of San Diego Housing Commission and Redevelopment Agency, Hope through Housing Foundation Photo: Courtesy National Community Renaissance Located on a transit corridor, this smart growth project replaced a problematic old motel. The exterior design was based on the character of the existing neighborhood, which was actively involved in the project’s planning.

Talmadge Senior Village, San Diego, 2006.
Architect: The Davis Group.
Developer: Southern California Housing Development Corporation and the San Diego Community Housing Corporation (Ken-Tal Senior Partners).
Public Partners: City of San Diego Housing Commission and Redevelopment Agency, Hope through Housing Foundation.
Photo: Courtesy National Community Renaissance.
Located on a transit corridor, this smart growth project replaced a problematic old motel. The exterior design was based on the character of the existing neighborhood, which was actively involved in the project’s planning.


Armstrong Senior Housing, San Francisco, Opening 2010 Architect: David Baker Architects Developer: Bridge Housing Public Partners: Redevelopment Agency of the City and County of San Francisco, HUD, City of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing, Part of a larger development that includes an affordable family townhouse development, this TOD includes on-site, neighborhood- oriented retail. The exterior design was influenced by the colors and patterns of the historically African-American neighborhood. The units, which are above the ground level shops, library, and community center, frame an interior courtyard. A car-share pod is planned, along with facilities dedicated to bicyclists, including storage, showers, and lockers.

Armstrong Senior Housing, San Francisco, Opening 2010.
Architect: David Baker Architects.
Developer: Bridge Housing.
Public Partners: Redevelopment Agency of the City and County of San Francisco, HUD, City of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing.
Part of a larger development that includes an affordable family townhouse development, this TOD includes on-site, neighborhood-oriented retail. The exterior design was influenced by the colors and patterns of the historically African-American neighborhood. The units, which are above the ground level shops, library, and community center, frame an interior courtyard. A car-share pod is planned, along with facilities dedicated to bicyclists, including storage, showers, and lockers.


City Heights Square, San Diego, 2007 Architect: Dominy + Associates Developer: City Heights Square, L.P. which consists of Chelsea Services Corporation and Senior Community Services of San Diego Public Partners: City of San Diego Revelopment Agency and the San Diego Revitalization Corporation This development includes senior affordable housing for ages 62 and over, offices, retail, a pocket park and a medical clinic. It is part of a wider ranging, $71 million revitalization effort in City Heights. The project covers a city block footprint of 2.7 acres. Support services for tenants include one meal a day, counseling, abuse intervention and legal programs. Tax credits were part of the financing.

City Heights Square, San Diego, 2007.
Architect: Dominy + Associates.
Developer: City Heights Square, L.P. which consists of Chelsea Services Corporation and Senior Community Services of San Diego.
Public Partners: City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency and the San Diego Revitalization Corporation.
This development includes senior affordable housing for ages 62 and over, offices, retail, a pocket park and a medical clinic. It is part of a wider ranging, $71 million revitalization effort in City Heights. The project covers a city block footprint of 2.7 acres. Support services for tenants include one meal a day, counseling, abuse intervention and legal programs. Tax credits were part of the financing.


Mission Creek Senior Community, San Francisco, 2006 Architect: HKIT Architects Consulting Architect: Santos Prescott and Associates Developer: Mercy Housing California. Public Partners: San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, San Francisco Housing Authority, San Francisco Department of Public Health, San Francisco Branch Library Improvement Program, Catholic Healthcare West, State of California Department of Housing and Community Development (through Proposition 46), HUD Mission Creek incorporates ground floor, neighborhoodoriented retail and a branch of the San Francisco Public Library. It targets very low income and frail seniors (ages 62 and older), and rents are limited to 30% of income.

Mission Creek Senior Community, San Francisco, 2006.
Architect: HKIT Architects.
Consulting Architect: Santos Prescott and Associates.
Developer: Mercy Housing California.
Public Partners: San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, San Francisco Housing Authority, San Francisco Department of Public Health, San Francisco Branch Library Improvement Program, Catholic Healthcare West, State of California Department of Housing and Community Development (through Proposition 46), HUD.
Mission Creek incorporates ground floor, neighborhood-oriented retail and a branch of the San Francisco Public Library. It targets very low income and frail seniors (ages 62 and older), and rents are limited to 30% of income.


Parkview Terraces, San Francisco, 2008 Architects: Kwan Henmi and Fougeron Architecture Developer: AF Evans Public Partners: Chinatown Community Development Center, San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Photographer: Rien Van Rijthoven The ground floor includes community spaces, counseling, health services, and a hair salon in a site adjacent to a public park. Forty-seven units are wheelchair accessible.

Parkview Terraces, San Francisco, 2008.
Architects: Kwan Henmi and Fougeron Architecture.
Developer: AF Evans.
Public Partners: Chinatown Community Development Center, San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.
Photographer: Rien Van Rijthoven.
The ground floor includes community spaces, counseling, health services, and a hair salon in a site adjacent to a public park. Forty-seven units are wheelchair accessible.



Looking to Europe

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


Leo Polak House, Amsterdam, Claus en Kaan. Photography by Woonzorg. Forget contextual fit. The Leo Polak House makes a big, colorful statement at the end of a residential street, announcing its role as the area’s care center and neighborhood hot spot.

Leo Polak House, Amsterdam, Claus en Kaan. Photography by Woonzorg. Forget contextual fit. The Leo Polak House makes a big, colorful statement at the end of a residential street, announcing its role as the area’s care center and neighborhood hot spot.


Author Dorit Fromm, AIA, writes and researches on design, community and aging. Her writings have appeared in local, national and international publications, and she is the author of Cohousing, Central Living and Other New Forms of Housing.


California is not alone in needing more housing alternatives for aging. Europe, with nine of the ten fastest aging countries (Japan is tenth), is projected to have a staggering, one-in-three citizens over the age of 65 by 2050. California, while not aging at the European pace, expects one-in-five over age 65 by 2050.

This profound change has implications not only for housing and services, but also for society as a whole, particularly in urban settings. New alternatives need to address generational issues, affordability, and allocation of diminishing resources.

The senior housing market has produced a variety of options, yet they are rarely coordinated, are geared to the high-end of the market, and often require moving from one type of housing to another and away from neighborhoods where deep roots have grown. Growing old at home can be isolating—and difficult in housing not adapted for disabilities. Retirement villages, with broad, green lawns and sports and entertainment offerings, do not often address the needs of the later, frailer years. Continuing Care Retirement Communities provide a continuum of care, but at a cost the majority of Californians cannot afford.

European housing experiments provide new models that address affordability, resident satisfaction, and community. Their premise is that housing need not separate the elderly from society. Instead, the focus is on strengthening communities by supporting aging in place, fostering connections to the wider community, and engaging residents in informal networks for friendship and mutual help.

Neighborhood Centers

One of the more popular ideas is to untie housing from services. No need to have them under the same roof; services can come to the home or be available at a nearby center. Swedish municipalities provide home help that includes accident prevention assistance, such as changing a hard-to- reach light bulb. Swedish government studies show the cost of staying at home to be half that of institutional housing.

In Germany, where 20% of the population is over 65, multi-generational neighborhood centers—“mehrgenerationenhäuser”—combine some of the services of a senior center, health clinic, pre-school, and youth group. In the Friedrichstadt neighborhood of East Berlin, the non-profit Miteinander, renting the ground floor of a housing development, offers exercise and sports, an annual health week with guest speakers and medical testing, monthly breakfast health talks, and even a club for those who are “90 years active” and older. Anyone in the neighborhood can go for advice, drop off clothes to get washed or small household items to be fixed for a nominal fee, sign up for intergenerational excursions, and receive health information.

In the U.S., aging residents of Boston’s Beacon Hill, reluctant to leave the neighborhood, formed a nonprofit organization similar to a hotel’s concierge service. For a yearly fee, members call out for the same variety of services, from nursing care to transportation, that high-cost life care facilities deliver. Other cities are following suit; Avenidas in Palo Alto is based on the Beacon Hill Village model.

Intergenerational Living

Vienna is known for its social housing for working class families. Less well known are recent experiments that mix housing types, ownership and rentals, and ages. Franziska Ullmann designed the master plan for a new district in west Vienna, located next to 1970s-era high rises housing 10,000 people, who, Ullmann explains, “drive into large garages and take an elevator to their apartment without walking outdoors, so that their lives are lived inside.” She conceived the new district as the opposite—creating a community, integrating shopping, housing, and work.

Im der Wiesen Generation Housing, designed by Ullmann and Peter Ebner and owned by a private developer, embodies many of these concepts and serves as a neighborhood focal point. On the ground level are shops and an assisted living office. Aging residents and neighbors can contract for services, from bi-weekly to daily and even hourly help, and obtain health information and exercise classes. The building contains medical offices and a variety of housing types: thirty handicapped-accessible units for seniors with low windows, so a resident confined to bed can look out; twelve mini-lofts for young people, in which fold-away beds tuck under kitchen platforms; six family maisonettes; and thirty-nine apartments.

In the U.S., the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, in Palo Alto, includes senior housing and care for a variety of incomes and multi family housing, as well as early childhood education, teen programs, fitness center, cultural arts facility, offices, and a restaurant. Designed by Steinberg Architects, it will open in late 2009.

Senior Cohousing

Senior cohousing typically begins with a core group of potential residents deciding among themselves on a community vision—the type of housing, activities, and shared common spaces. They agree to give each other a hand, providing a ride or bringing dinner for an ill resident; help is voluntary and informal, not a replacement for nursing or long-term care.

The model grew out of the intergenerational cohousing movement that began in northern Europe, with developments appearing in the early 1970s. Cohousing typically has 15 to 40 households, each with a complete unit, including kitchen. Often the units are 5 to 15% smaller than average, with cost savings going toward common amenities—dining hall, meeting space, library, laundry, workshop, guestrooms, offices.

Senior cohousing provides both the privacy of your own home and supportive and caring neighbors. Most communities organize a variety of activities, from gardening to several-day outings. In Fardknappen, Sweden, residents belong to cooking groups and provide an evening meal five days a week, while in other developments residents meet once a week for coffee and cake. Of the nearly 100 cohousing communities in the U.S., only three are exclusively for seniors, although more are in development.

Urban villages

Multi-generational housing “villages” are growing in popularity in Northern European countries. They differ from cohousing in sharing some common amenities with the outside community, and they often have a larger number of residents; similarities include a variety of common spaces and resident involvement in development, design, and day-to-day management.

The bright orange façade and winding windows of Vienna’s Miss Sargfabrik housing announce an innovative development that mixes a variety of households, live-work spaces and common facilities. Miss is the second phase of a project started in the 1980s when a group came together because of their dissatisfaction with the market’s expensive single-family housing. They created a nonprofit, and their first building, Sargfabrik, located on the site of Austria’s largest coffin factory, opened with 73 units (for 110 adults and over 40 kids and teens), kindergarten, library, café, common gardens and playground, meeting hall and lecture space, and sauna and swimming pool. Many of these amenities are available to the community for a fee. The second phase opened in 2000 with 39 units (3 for the disabled), 5 home offices, and one shared unit for up to 8 young people. Common facilities include a kitchen, library, clubroom, and the architect’s (BKK-3) office.

In southern Germany, the St. Anna Foundation created an intergenerational model that combines housing with common facilities that are, in part, a neighborhood center. The residential mix is two-thirds 60 years of age and older, one-third below 60. Ground-floor common space is overseen by a social worker; this “activator” helps residents organize activities from child-care to a catered lunch, provides advice and health information, organizes resident meetings, and is well versed in mediation.

The surrounding community can participate in events and can rent common spaces for a small fee. When the first development opened in 1994, critics felt that professionals, not neighbors, should be looking after older, frailer residents. To their surprise, the scheme worked well. Since then, 25 similar developments, ranging from 13 to 80 units, have been built. With a total of 800 units and well over a decade’s track record, they have proven their success.

Nursing Homes / Assisted Care

Of the many structures conceived to house the elderly, surely nursing homes have received the fewest accolades. A 2003 AARP survey of Americans over 50 with disabilities found that just 1% considered a nursing home a good choice should they need more care. A number of alternatives have appeared.

In Amsterdam, architects Claus en Kaan have renovated an old-style nursing home, with four to six beds per room, into part of an integrated “care center,” adding extensive new construction. The Leo Polak House integrates nursing and health care with apartments for independent seniors, those needing assisted care, the physically disabled, and those with dementia, plus a care hotel and hospice. The ground floor is open to both resident and neighborhood use and includes a gym, physical therapy, computer and library room, restaurant, small market, and beauty shop. Although a large institution, smaller, six-person households for those with dementia provide more personal care.

The small household model is proliferating as an alternative to nursing homes. In Bremen, Germany, twenty-one different “villages” for the aging can be found across the city. One such village, Haus Hutching, includes a variety of housing and services, plus a pre-school and teen after-school support. A building for dementia patients houses four small households, each with twelve residents. The households have a large eating/dining/parlor room, where staff cooks meals in an open kitchen and residents eat together. Each resident has a private bedroom and bath.

In the U.S., the Green House concept, developed by Dr. Bill Thomas, who earlier had advocated the “Eden Alternative” of greening and enlivening nursing homes, has a similar, resident-centered, home-like environment for ten residents. A strong emphasis is placed on fitting into the neighborhood context, so that there is no difference in appearance between a Green House and surrounding neighborhood homes.

The Social Fabric

Taking care of the elderly is about creating a meaningful day-to-day life—not just for the many of us who will require more care, but as part of a larger social fabric. These are some of the promising models that explore such integration.



Design for an Aging California

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


Author Andrew E. Scharlach, PhD, is Associate Dean and Professor of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley, where he holds the Eugene and Rose Kleiner Chair in Aging and directs the Gerontology specialization in the School of Social Welfare. He also serves as Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services, which conducts research designed to inform development of innovative and effective services for older adults. In addition, Professor Scharlach serves as a gubernatorial appointee on the California Commission on Aging.

092_sharlach-1The Golden State is beginning to show its age, graying a bit as the Baby Boomers of the 1960s begin to enter their “golden years.” A state known for its “youth culture” now faces the challenge of adapting to an aging population. Already, one in every nine Californians is age 65 or older, and that will increase to one in five within the next 25 years. By the middle of this century, the state’s overall population will have grown by about 37%, but the population 65 and over will have grown by 150%; by that time, there are expected to be more Californians age 65 or older than children under the age of 18. Moreover, the fastest growing segment of the population will be persons ages 85 and over, who will have grown by a whopping 250% by mid-century.

California’s elderly also are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Within the next 30 years, the majority of California seniors will be Latino, African American, Asian, or Pacific Islanders, with Latino, Asian, and Pacific Island elderly growing at approximately four times the pace of White non-Hispanics.

The aging of the population is being felt especially by California’s more rural cities and counties. Already, nearly one-fifth of the populations of Lake, Inyo, and Tuolomne counties are age 65 or older, and nearly one half of the populations of Calaveras, Trinity, and Plumas counties are age 50 or older.

Yet, there is little evidence that California’s built environment is prepared for this “silver tsunami.” Indeed, most of California’s houses, neighborhoods, and communities are ill suited for aging bodies and minds. Housing stock seems designed for Peter Pan—someone who will never grow old. Land-use policies and zoning regulations isolate older adults from the services they need. In a state where driving is iconic of independence and freedom, it is not surprising that most streets and transportation systems seem designed to promote “the safety, convenience, and comfort of motor vehicles”—as the U.S. Department of Transportation puts it—rather than assuring that everyone, especially the least mobile among us, can get where they want to go when they want and need to do so. Automobiles are essential for virtually everything—whether getting to the store, seeing a doctor, or visiting friends. “Big-box” stores and giant malls require a substantial amount of walking and negotiating passageways not designed for an older body moving at slow speeds. Seldom does one find even a bench to sit on, let alone a quiet place for friends and neighbors to gather. Even ADA accommodations are designed primarily for younger disabled adults using self-propelled wheelchairs, rather than slow-moving older persons with multiple chronic impairments.

Design for an aging California requires that we view the built environment through eyes that may be older than our own. What do most older adults want? Simply put, they want to reside in private spaces that support their physical, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual wellbeing, and they want to be able to get to public spaces that do the same.

Like others, they want the option of continuing to live in their familiar homes and apartments, rather than being forced to move simply because they are experiencing the expectable personal changes that come with age. They also want to have the option of staying in familiar neighborhoods and communities, rather than having to relocate and thereby lose the social capital that has accrued over a lifetime of social interactions and interpersonal connections.

What are the characteristics of “aging-friendly” design?

“Aging-friendly” design incorporates physical, social, and technological infrastructures to enhance older adults’ ability to respond to five basic challenges of later life:

  • To continue those activities and relationships that have previously been meaningful;
  • To compensate for age-related disabilities that limit one’s capacity for physical, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual fulfillment;
  • To have opportunities for connection and meaningful interpersonal relationships;
  • To make meaningful contributions to the well-being of others;
  • To have opportunities for challenging, enlivening, growth-producing experiences.

In an “aging-friendly” community, services and programs exist to assure that older adults’ basic health and service needs are met, housing stock and transportation infrastructure enable individuals to overcome potential barriers to independent mobility and social interaction, and there are ample opportunities for older adults to develop new sources of fulfillment, productive engagement, and social interaction.

In recent years, a movement of sorts has begun to emerge, a growing recognition that our cities and towns need to become more “aging-friendly.” In California, a number of communities are developing innovative initiatives to prepare for the aging of their citizens, designed to transform local communities to be “good places to grow old,” whether through carefully-designed new development, rehabilitation of existing housing stock, zoning changes designed to integrate commercial and residential land use, integrated transportation systems, or centralized planning efforts that include multiple stakeholders including senior citizens themselves. Assisting them are information and assistance from a growing number of important resources such as AARP, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the California Center for Civic Partnerships, and the Creating Aging-Friendly Communities website, www.agingfriendly.org.

This issue of arcCA is an important next step in helping to design a future for California that reflects the needs of all of us, young and old alike.



Design for Aging: Editor’s Comment

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]



Cover image is of Sun City Palace Takarazuka, Osaka, Japan, 2006, by BAR Architects, photo by Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing.

In arcCA 09.2, we look at current research and development in design for aging. As Andrew Scharlach, professor of social welfare at UC Berkeley, points out in his introductory essay, California is in for a “silver tsunami” of aging citizens. We’re not alone. Much of the world is experiencing population aging, with studies such as those cited in Andrew Lian, Carolyn Karnovsky and Lauren Zmood’s “The Aging Workplace” indicating that, in many parts of the developed world, a quarter of the population will be older than sixty by the year 2050.

Not only does the increased proportion of seniors require a greater quantity of accommodation; it also, and far more significantly, forces this accommodation from the margins of society into the mainstream. We can no longer treat senior housing and care facilities as separate from the everyday lives of our communities, our eldest citizens out of sight to all but their immediate families and professional caregivers.

Accordingly, a constant theme in this issue is integration: in mixed-use developments (Dorit Fromm’s “Looking to Europe”), retail environments (Avery Taylor Moore’s “Inviting Seniors Out”), urban communities (Michael Malinowski’s “Affordable Senior Housing As an Engine for Urban Revitalization”), and elsewhere. And the needed integration is not simply among use types. It takes in services as well as buildings, social networks as well as spatial ones, innovation as well as memory.

There is nothing about the project shown on the cover that says, “Old people live here.” Why should there be? It and many of the buildings featured in this issue are decidedly contemporary, not to shortchange stylistically traditional buildings but to make the point that design for aging is not merely a necessity; it is an opportunity. As Joyce Polhamus notes (“Architectural Opportunities in Design for Aging”), “This is one of the only architectural product types that hasn’t evolved much in the last fifty years.” The possibilities for synthetic innovation are enormous, and our hope is to encourage imaginative, generalist architects to dive into the mix, partnering with specialist architects and other experts in medical, accessibility, and regulatory issues to design invigorating, joyful places for our later years. Because they are our later years, not someone else’s.



Age, Difference, and Time

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[Originally published 2nd quarter 2009, in arcCA 09.2, “Design for Aging.”]


The focus of the 2nd quarter 2009 issue of arcCA, “Design for Aging,” is on concrete examples that represent existing and emerging models for building. Yet the issue of designing for aging—of being designers for aging—calls on us to consider other, maybe deeper but certainly more widely diffused questions: questions of empathy and difference, of identity and memory, of dwelling and duration.

ac_092_culvahouse_allmanAge and Difference

The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East (clearly the finest concert album in the history of rock-and-roll) is one of the fond emblems of my youth. One of the boys in the dorm room across the hall from mine during my not-untraumatic sophomore year at boarding school played it constantly, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” offered solace for the tribulated teenager. I was fourteen, and I’m fifty-two now, and in some ways I’ve matured. In others, not so much. But I now recognize something that I couldn’t have predicted then: just how much the fifty-two-year-old me shares the identity of the fourteen-year-old me. At that time, I could not conceive that the fifty-two-year olds among my teachers could possibly have had any relation to any fourteen-year-olds who had ever lived.

Adolescence is a time for asserting one’s difference from one’s elders, but it may also represent a deeper characteristic—I would say flaw—of us humans, which is our general tendency to define ourselves by way of differences from others.

I was chatting with a younger colleague recently about an idea I had for an online service that would help you plan an architectural tour for your vacation. He thought it interesting but said it illustrated a difference between our generations: his generation would just start out on the vacation without planning ahead. I suggested that this wasn’t a generational difference, it was an age difference: when I was twenty-three, I didn’t plan my itinerary, either. There’s been a lot of talk lately about generational differences—what Gen Xers want out of their work life, as compared with Boomers—and we even had an issue of arcCA on “The ‘90s Generation,” but I’m skeptical.

We like to assign categorical differences between ourselves and others, perhaps because they appear to absolve us. It is extraordinary to me—this is a confession—how instantaneously I identify a difference between myself and the idiot who cuts me off at the intersection. Skin and hair color are among the easier differences to grasp, but any difference will do; if I can’t spot a visible one, “idiot” will have to suffice. I’m an equal opportunity bigot when it comes to distancing myself from someone who’s done something I would like to think I not only wouldn’t do, but couldn’t do—because I’m essentially not like that person. And being not like some miscreant is simpler than being virtuous myself. It’s easier to define oneself by what one is not.

“Look where you’re going, old man! (I’m glad I’m not like you.)”

But I am like him and at the same time like the fourteen-year-old enjoying Duane Allman’s guitar. I’m like the person I’ve been and the person I will be, more than not. I’m not some other category of person altogether, nor are they.


While it may be difficult to resist thinking of people as categorically different, it is at least a readily understood problem. It intersects, with heightened intensity when we design for aging, with another, much less simple problem: how to comprehend time in architecture.

In All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren’s narrator remarks, “Time is nothing to a hog, or to History, either.” It is something only to people. Awareness of “time past and passing and to come” is our unique burden, and it is as much a well of anxiety as of opportunity.

Buildings are among the most long-lasting things we make, and philosopher and architectural historian Karsten Harries has written compellingly of the yearning for immortality that underlies monumental architecture—perhaps all architecture. For us mortals—beings who not only die, but know we die—there is comfort in endurance.

Yet duration is fraught with difficulties. The practical ones can be overcome with better sealants. The conceptual ones are tougher. While people in general value the continuity of old buildings, we suffer the professional hazard of abstracting historic structures as references and artifacts, rather than ongoing places of life.

We seek the new, insisting that buildings appear “of their time.” But how long is “our time”? And when did it begin? How much of the newness we produce is formed of positive discoveries and beneficent syntheses, and how much is the anxious assertion of not-oldness?

Our search for the ever new may not always be our most gracious offering to people who have dwelt a long time in the already existing world. What is the best relationship between making an architecture of the moment and understanding people who are older than us? Can we understand their moments as our moments?

What, in fact, do we mean by “dwelling”? Heidegger aside, to dwell on something means to consider it at length—for a long time; and to dwell in a place has similar implications. (Staying in a motel for the weekend is not dwelling.)

How does time reside in architecture? (Perhaps the greatest failure of American postmodernism was its insistence on irony, which has a far shorter effective time span than do buildings.)

How does time reside in the mind of the architect? (The thought-time of the pencil, for example, compared with that of Revit?)

In the experience of practice? (Colin St John Wilson referred to his design of the new British Library, begun in the 1960s and completed in 1997, as his “Thirty Years War.”)

Of construction? (Surely the time-sense of the mason is distinct from that of the steelworker.)

These questions offer grist for the mill, if little guidance. I hope my starting point, at least, is clear: my love of The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East is not nostalgia; it is as much a part of my current identity as is my iPhone. I am somewhere between young and old—as are we all—and there are times when the gulfs between these ages and mine seem unbridgeable. I would that architecture were more often thought of as a bridge between ages—a continuer, not a segmenter, of time.



Coda: Greenwood Common

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Greenwood Common. Sketch by Lawrence Halprin, courtesy of Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley.

Greenwood Common. Sketch by Lawrence Halprin, courtesy of Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley.

[Originally published 3rd quarter 2009, in arcCABeyond LEED.”]

Author Waverly B. Lowell is Curator of the Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley. She has also served as Director of the National Archives, Pacific Sierra Region, and Director of the California Cooperative Preservation of Architectural Records Survey. Her publications include Living Modern: A Biography of Greenwood Common; Architectural Records: Managing Design & Construction Records; and Architectural Records in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Guide to Research.


Greenwood Common, a two-and-a-half acre modernist enclave with a grand open green space and views across the San Francisco Bay to the Golden Gate, appears as a utopian oasis in the crowded Berkeley Hills. Originally part of the thirty-two acre La Loma estate, the prominent San Francisco attorney Warren Gregory and his wife Sadie acquired in 1903 the portion that was to become Greenwood Common. William Wurster, architect and Dean of the College of Architecture at U.C. Berkeley had become close friends of the Gregorys while working on their 1926 Santa Cruz house. In fact, it was through this project that he achieved national prominence. He purchased their property in 1952.

Developed between 1952 and 1958, Wurster envisioned Greenwood Common as a group of homes that would combine an idealistic sense of community with a modernist aesthetic and an awareness of regional traditions. It was to feel more like a small village than a large town. As a developer-neighbor, he wanted to build a social community of interesting, creative, and educated individuals. As an architect and architectural educator, he wanted this small residential community to demonstrate the highest standards of housing and garden design in California.

Wurster’s vision for the Common was ten homes with a shared open space in the center. The site design was carefully configured to provide privacy for every house and to provide points of entry for both pedestrians and vehicles. The eight houses that were actually built reflect a symbiotic relationship between modernism and local tradition. Most of the architects who designed them—Harwell Harris, Joseph Esherick, Donald Olsen, John Funk, Henry Hill, Howard Moïse, and Robert Klemmedson—practiced an aesthetic that reflected the desire for a uniquely California lifestyle that engaged the mild climate, the geography, and the environment and preferred using wood as their primary building material.

In 1955, the owners hired Lawrence Halprin to provide an overall design for the Common. His vision was based on the idea that the common area should function as a community center rather than as a decorative piece. The open design as completed and implemented reflected both the needs of the residents and a respect for the site. Retaining the Monterey pines, the simple elegance of the plum allée, the central lawn, and the choice and placement of the native and low-maintenance plants resulted in an unpretentious yet near-perfect relationship between home and collective landscape. Each home also had its own private garden. Four of the gardens were designed by Halprin, one by Geraldine Knight Scott, and another by Burton Litton.

Fortunately, the two center lots were never developed, which allowed Greenwood Common, a Berkeley landmark, to become the open green area with the stupendous view of the San Francisco Bay now graciously shared by the owners of its homes and their neighbors.