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This past January, our new development for the Peninsula Housing Authority completed construction. Located at the northern edge of the Olympic National Park in Port Angeles, Mount Angeles View consists of 63 townhome and flat apartment homes distributed over seven different buildings, and is the first phase of a 232-home master plan. Surrounded and inspired by the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, each building is named after a nearby mountain; Ellinor, Constance, Bogachiel, Anderson, Mystery, Olympus, and Hurricane.
The site design nestles the buildings into the surrounding community, and creates its own sense of place with many walkways connecting these new neighbors together, and anchors them around a small pocket park at the center of the site. Each home, whether townhome style or flat, provides its future tenant with outdoor space of their own.
A phased building delivery approach kept things interesting throughout construction with the first building being turned over for move-in August of last year, and construction continuing for an additional six months with the last building completed this past January. Not long after construction completed, the Peninsula Housing Authority hosted a block party celebration to thank all of the residents and community partners that came together to make this project a possibility.
This much needed affordable housing development has been a long time coming for the Port Angeles community. From schematic design through construction, Schemata has been a part of the effort for the past 6 years. Now that the project is complete, we are excited to see how this development evolves over the coming months as residents continue to move in and make these houses their homes.
There’s nothing more satisfying as an architect than closing out a project and watching excited residents take occupancy of their building. We had the pleasure of doing just that last month when we completed an annex for the Chi Psi Fraternity at the University of Washington. Chi Psi’s membership had outgrown their 1924 home, affectionately known as The Lodge. Despite extensive renovations in 2010, the near-century-old building was in need of additional space to house fraternity members who were living off-site.
The goal of the annex was to house these members and provide additional amenity spaces. One of the challenges of the project was a tight site that resulted in a tall building with a small footprint. The project consists of 15 student rooms spread over 4 floors. Each floor contains a full bathroom with and laundry facilities on the ground floor. Each student living in the annex has a private room with a built-in bed and storage unit. The annex’s location adjacent to the northeast corner of the existing Chi Psi building places residents of the annex at an easy distance from the kitchen, dining area, and library contained in the existing lodge. It’s location also encloses a courtyard and sports court for basketball, summer barbecues, and other activities. The contractor for the project, Carlisle Classic Homes, was able to complete the project in time for the students to move in for the ‘16-‘17 school year.
Grace and Andrew recently attended AIA Seattle’s Urban Housing Forum. These year’s theme “Room for Growth” was based on the rapid population increases in the Puget Sound region, its effect on the livability of our communities, and the response of the design community. The day-long program sought to examine the problem and identify innovative solutions to mitigate the upheaval in the region’s housing market. The morning sessions were mainly focused on housing policy with speakers representing a wide range of backgrounds, from architecture and academia, to municipal government. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about the steps local policymakers are taking and to see how other cities and regions are solving their housing problems. The afternoon sessions revolved around design with talks from many local architects and planners. The highlight of the program was the keynote speaker, David Baker, FAIA. David is the founder of David Baker Architects in San Francisco, an award-winning firm that specializes in the design of affordable housing. David's presentation focused on 9 ways architects and planners can build community with urban housing:
- Reweave the Urban Fabric. Create, repair, and enhance connections within existing neighborhoods.
- Build the Bones. Design a bold and interesting building form.
- A Little Goes a Long Way. Concentrate a small amount of premium materials at points of shared enjoyment.
- Activate the Edges. Energize street life with an engaging ground floor.
- Be Welcoming. A gracious entryway sets a positive tone.
- Cultivate Connection. Place compatible uses together to provide convenience and support chance encounters.
- Enlightened Circulation. Bring light and fresh air into hallways and stairs.
- Get Personal. Offer spaces for residents to make their mark. Photo shelves, pin-up boards, and recessed entries provide a place for personal expression.
- Art for All. Use artwork to invigorate common spaces, help with way-finding, and create a strong visual identity.
What are your thoughts and ideas on creating community through urban housing? Let us know in the comments below.
For more than a decade I’ve been touting the benefits of modular construction to the affordable housing industry. In the early years, I was trying to convince bankers that modular construction was real property – they confused modular with manufactured housing (aka mobile homes or double wides). Then it was talking with General Contractors about how their subs would bid out the site work, and whether they would charge a premium due to decreased scope or uncertainty about scope. And the latter few years was spent encouraging an Owner to be the pioneer – to be the first to build a multifamily affordable housing project using modules.
At times I felt like I was the proverbial tortoise watching the hares run by with built prototypes and talk of market rate multifamily projects. Michelle Kauffman, with her Breeze House and Glide House, opened up the single family market and suddenly prefab was perceived as cool and sustainable by the likes of the Sunset and Dwell magazine readership. When Michelle was a keynote speaker at the Housing Washington Conference  a few years back, I thought “wow, it’s about to tip!” But it didn’t.
On July 23, we opened bids for Schemata’s first modular construction project. The pioneering client is the Renton Housing Authority. The project is an 18-unit 2-story multifamily project – predominantly townhomes but with four stacked flats, making the scope a perfect test case.
Modular construction means that residential units arrive on site 90% complete with interior finishes, flooring, plumbing and lighting fixtures, electrical wiring, plumbing lines, windows and even exterior cladding if you choose. The modules are trucked to the site and lifted onto a site built foundation by a mobile crane.
The state and county funders thought the project was very innovative and awarded the project funding on the first round, which was quite an accomplishment in such a competitive environment. And while construction for sitework will commence immediately, the L&I approval process  for the modules is just starting with the selected manufacturer which means that modules cannot begin production for at least 2-3 months.
The design of the project started off with a strong understanding of the shipping constraints . While modular construction can accommodate wide open and double height spaces, the greatest economy can be achieved when modules are essentially intact, self-contained boxes. Given the tight construction budget, we elected to be conservative with our first project and go the latter route, expressing the modularity of the construction type in both the unit planning and exterior expression. Intent on a design that would allow the new homes to fit in with the neighboring modest and traditional housing, we looked at the gable form of the archetypal house. However, the width of the units were 14’ wide and gables over each unit which would have created a busy roofline. Instead, the gable was split over 2 units and the two halves slid past each other to provide modulation along the street.
As townhomes, the stacking of units creates a fairly straightforward connection (or marriage) of modules with similarly straightforward wall and floor/ceiling assemblies; however, transition between the floors (namely at the stairs) had to be increased due to the redundant structure in the floor/ceiling assembly which resulted in lower ceiling heights than typically desired. The flats were not limited in ceiling height and the floor/ceiling assembly still posed some challenges relative to the sound transmission and impact noise. In addition, the marriage line required some attention in the detailing since there were openings between modules. This was not an issue at all with the Townhomes since the connection between modules was only vertical. However, the marriage line at the stair between upper and lower modules will be carefully reviewed during the “button up” phase .
Many owners assume incorrectly that modular inherently means a savings in construction cost. As one modular vendor aptly described, modular construction uses the same lumber and drywall that a site –built project requires. The deliveries that occur to a job site still take place, just at a factory leading to basic materials costs which are more or less the same as traditional site-built construction. It is true that the working conditions in a factory are much more efficient and result in lower material spoilage and waste, yet any cost savings in labor are offset by the fact that the modules are over-engineered to withstand the structural impacts of transport and lifting by crane. In fact, there is almost double the wood framing in a modular construction project than typical site-built project, making the modules very structurally robust. So it is not feasible that the costs would be less. Now if there were some economies of scale (not as significant on an 18-unit project), there is the possibility for the overall cost per square foot of the modules to come down significantly.
Where the potential cost savings lie are in the construction interest carry. For any developer of affordable housing, the ability to reduce the amount of interest paid means that there are more funds available for higher quality, durable finishes or a play structure for the children who will live in the project, or the staff time to provide supportive services for the residents.
Shorter construction time also means that the units are available for residents to move in sooner meaning the owner can start collecting rents and servicing the debt faster. This is of benefit to any multifamily developer, non-profit or market rate. However, for the affordable housing developers, the ability to provide more units in a shorter timeline means that they have the ability to serve more hard-working families, seniors, and veterans in need of housing.
We look forward to seeing whether Schemata’s first modular construction project will be the tipping point for the affordable housing industry and for Schemata’s multifamily portfolio.
- Housing Washington is the state’s affordable housing conference. It is held annually and between 700-800 people attend - primarily non-profit housing developers, public housing authorities, social service providers, lenders, attorneys, architects and contractors working in the affordable housing industry. As one of the largest of its kind, the conference draws 10% of the attendees from other parts of the country.
- Washington State Labor & Industries will review the modular plans for adherence to building and energy codes. L&I will issue a Gold Insignia for each module, which will dramatically decrease the permitting costs but will increase the costs for special inspections.
- Trucking dimensions are roughly 14’ wide, 65’ long and 14’ tall. Modules can be wider or longer, but pilot cars will be required, adding to the already high transportation costs.
- Button up refers to the patching of the marriage line between modules – both vertically in the townhouse stair and horizontally between rooms of the flats.