Beignets and green buildings: the Greenbuild Program Working Group retreat

By Myer Harrell AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Earlier this month I spent a few days in New Orleans, and not just for the beignets at Cafe Du Monde (although I had some of those, too). This was a retreat with the Greenbuild Program Working Group (PWG), which “oversees the development and delivery of educational programming intended to meet the needs of attendees to the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo,” the US Green Building Council’s annual conference since 2002. As a Silver member company of USGBC, Weber Thompson boasts thirty-five LEED APs and GAs out of fifty-eight employees; a number of whom have attended multiple Greenbuilds.

The session selection process is rigorous; there are at least four rounds of review each year before the 100+ educational sessions are finalized. The first round is a raw score by volunteers on an online platform (the call for this usually goes out around Greenbuild each year, so mark your calendar for November 2014 to apply). The second round is a qualitative review by subject matter experts, facilitated by the PWG. The third round is amongst PWG members who meet in person in Spring in the host city of Greenbuild. Continue reading

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Meet the Staff: Mindy Black

Mindy Black will be celebrating her 15th anniversary at Weber Thompson this September. Promoted to Senior Associate in 2007, Mindy oversees all phases of design and construction in a variety of project types including urban mixed-use, senior and affordable housing and attached single-family homes within planned communities. Although she spends countless long days ushering her projects to completion, she somehow manages to find time to pursue artistic and outdoor activities, as well as serve as the Chair of Seattle’s West Design Review Board.

What is your name and role at Weber Thompson?

Mindy Black, Senior Associate/Project Manager Mid-rise

How long have you worked at Weber Thompson?

Since September 1999, which sounds like a long time, but doesn’t always feel like a long time!

Summarize your job in a paragraph.

Nobody wants to hear all the gory details about copious emails and attempts to coordinate the owners wishes with project teams. It’s all about communication and I’m at the middle of it all. Continue reading

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The Terry Thomas engages tenants to reduce energy use

Entrance wall at The Terry Thomas

The green building movement has been learning a valuable lesson in recent years – regardless of plaques and certifications, a sustainable building requires participation and engagement from tenants, visitors and management.

This lesson is being put to work at The Terry Thomas. While the building has historically used about 50% less energy than a comparable building, in its sixth birthday Stephen Grey & Assoc., the property manager, and Weber Thompson are launching an awareness campaign aimed at engaging tenants and visitors, with a goal of decreasing the building’s energy usage another 17% between 2013 and 2015.

There are two key components to this new campaign. The first is tracking utility data (electricity and natural gas aggregated with EPA’s online tool EnergyStar Portfolio Manager, normalized for weather) and sharing this data in a public place with the tenants of the building each quarter. Continue reading

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Increasing Seattle’s share of families

Photo by Karen Halbert Photography.


Seattle has been called “a childless city.”* Of major cities in the United States, Seattle has nearly the lowest rate of households with children (19%) – only San Francisco is lower. If, as Carlos Pena, the former mayor of Bogotá said, “Children are the indicator species of the health of a community,” could it be that our low rate indicates something is wrong?

In late 2011, the Seattle Planning Commission, on which I serve, produced an in-depth report on the status of affordable housing in Seattle. One of the biggest findings was the lack of housing available for low and middle-income families with children; only 2% of rentals had three or more bedrooms. In addition, 70% of single-family homes for sale are unaffordable to those making a working wage, considered up to 120% of area median income.

Following up on this finding, in January 2014 the Seattle Planning Commission released “Family Sized Housing – an Essential Ingredient to Attract and Retain Families with Children.” This white paper is an action agenda with 11 key recommendations. It proposes a variety of land use changes, tools and incentives geared toward creating more variety in housing types to serve a broad mix of incomes, citywide.

Why does this matter? 

I am often asked this question.  My response is it matters for environmental sustainability if we are serious about reducing sprawl and encouraging transit use; it matters for social equity so those who work here can also afford to live here.  Finally, it matters for the livability of our urban city – creating an environment where children are safe, active and can thrive. This is an environment that also works for seniors and everyone in between.

In the long run, encouraging families to live in Seattle will require more than just affordable housing; it will require neighborhood level necessities including excellent schools and frequent, reliable transit that connects homes, jobs and schools. But the first essential step is making sure families of all types can call Seattle home.

In order to achieve the objective for this white paper, the Planning Commission asks the Mayor, Council Members and City Departments to take up this action agenda, and commit the resources needed to further research, refine and implement this Action Plan.

Read the Family-Sized Housing Action Agenda on Seattle Planning Commission’s website.

Please join us February 25th at 5:00 pm for a release event at Harbor Steps.

Action Agenda Highlights:

  1. Create a definition of family sized housing. Generally two or more bedrooms but many of the incentives and recommendations are geared to three or more as they are in shortest supply.
  2. Allow more flexibility in Single family Zones to allow duplex units, cottage housing, courtyard housing and more than one accessory dwelling unit
  3. Foster a larger supply of family-friendly Low rise and Mid-rise zoning
  4. Ensure that bonus development provisions and incentive zoning programs work to encourage family-size units, such as FAR and height exemptions.
  5. Advance the creation of residential cores with ground-related housing in the city’s most urban neighborhoods
  6. Ensure the Multifamily Tax Exemption Program encourages the production of two, three and more bedrooms.
  7. Encourage the creation of more family-friendly housing through innovative design and construction
  8. In affordable housing programs, include a strong priority for families with children.
  9. Strengthen partnerships to align School District planning and capital investments with the City’s planning for growth in family-friendly urban neighborhoods.
  10. Institute a family-oriented lens in updating Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan and in ongoing policy and planning efforts
  11. Devote Resources needed to further inform this Action Plan and steward its success.

Since 2004, Catherine Benotto, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP, has been on a quest to demonstrate that this subject matters. She has authored the articles “Where’s the Family in Multifamily?” and “Sippy Cups at Starbucks” and has lectured nationally on the need to make multifamily housing and cities more family friendly. Catherine is Vice Chair of the Seattle Planning Commission and is Weber Thompson’s Principal in charge of Planning and Landscape Architecture.

*The Brookings Institution called Seattle a childless city in a report on the 2000 census.

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Meet the Designer: Amanda Baker

Back in November, the Weber Thompson interior design team welcomed a new Interior Designer, Amanda Baker, to the team. We’re thrilled that she’s a familiar face (Bernadette worked with her at another firm) and that she brings a background in hospitality, commercial interiors, and residential design. We sat down with her to learn a little more about her background, what inspires her, and her current obsessions. Continue reading

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Letting in the light: an update from Sunset Electric

It’s been about a year since we’ve posted an update about our project at 11th and East Pine Street in Capitol Hill. Sunset Electric – named after the original 1926 structure which once housed an auto electrical supply showroom (and later a sporting goods store and an auto spray shop) – is roughly two-thirds through construction.

Demolition (see our previous post about the project) took us through February of this year, and the laborious process of reinforcing the existing historic structure spanned about four months. Now, five new levels are rising above the existing Sunset Electric facade.

We had an Owner/Architect/Contractor (OAC) coordination meeting a while back and took the opportunity to snap a few photos to share an update. The project includes a variety of interesting techniques and methods that you don’t see every day, so it’s a great example of the extra effort and coordination required for a project of this type.

And now, may the virtual tour begin: Continue reading

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Sharing lessons and successes from SKTOD

Parking Garage at SKTOD designed by Weber Thompson.

Planners, Architects, and Developers came together yesterday in Bellevue to hear WT Senior Associate, Mindy Black, present at the Washington APA conference. The session was a panel presentation about the South Kirkland Transit Oriented Development and included three other speakers: Gary Prince, King County Metro TOD Manager; Janice Coogan, Senior Planner with the City of Kirkland; and Paul Inghram, Comprehensive Planning Manager for the City of Bellevue.

The project was selected as a case study because the site is split between Bellevue and Kirkland, making it an especially tricky project that resonated with the conference theme of Wicked Problems Smart Solutions. Development of the site involved coordination between multiple stakeholders – the Federal Transportation Agency, King County, the cities of Kirkland and Bellevue, the community of Houghton, a master developer and an affordable housing developer – and conflicting  zoning codes that  posed a number of challenges. The project is not just a park and ride expansion, but is a revitalization of the neighborhood bringing  retail, market-rate housing, and low-income housing.

In addition to being a conference session topic the South Kirkland Transit Oriented Development has been co-awarded ‘Best Implementation’ in the 2013 PAW/APA Planning Awards. The other co-winner in the category is the City of Redmond for their “Digital Plan and Development Suite.”

Learn more about the project on our website, or view the slideshow from yesterday’s presentation.

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Putting for PARK(ing) Day

As soon as the PARK(ing) Day crew awoke to a dazzling, pink sky on Friday morning, it was clear that the day’s activities would include at least a modicum of success. If nothing else, there would be very little, if any, muddy sod to peel off the street.

The installation team started arriving at 7am, coffee and doughnuts awaiting, to begin rolling out the layer of visqueen that contained the park and made for speedy clean up. The putt-putt course had been prepared earlier in the week by Chris Golden, so it was quick and easy to lay the pieces in place. Once the course was set, fresh sod was unrolled and cut to fit, with wood chips filling in the gaps. The car tops went in next, which when covered with sod required the muscles of six people to carry out of the parking garage, across the street, and onto the course. A few minor angle tweaks, a little AstroTurf here and there, some cardboard ‘bumpers’ painted green, and our course was starting to look pretty legitimate.

Briar Bates showed up with her moss- and plant-covered furniture and spare plants at 8am, about the same time that the King5 news camera rolled in to start filming the installation. Once the furniture was placed, last minute touches such as trimming turf, adding bumpers, and fine-tuning the course was underway. Continue reading

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Parks not parking on PARK(ing) Day 2013

This Friday, Weber Thompson is joining artists, activists and citizens around the globe to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into a public park as part of the annual “PARK(ing) Day.” We’ll be posting updates throughout the day on our Facebook page, including details about the preparation, installation, and dismantling of the park.

When we first started brainstorming several months ago, we started with the concepts behind PARK(ing) Day. We started a dialogue about transportation. We discussed design and art and the ability to use this event as a way to make a statement about our car-based culture. That led us to try to visualize what would actually happen if nature grew over the cars that were parked in the spaces, literally engulfing them in greenery.

And then we found this inspiration photo when we Googled ‘cars covered with plants’:

It seemed ambitious, sure, but we all thought it would be pretty neat. After realizing that our plan would be difficult to achieve without the help of a few key staff members (namely, those with trucks, garages, and relatives who own lumber yards), we realized our park should also include golf, a favorite pastime of staff member Chris Golden, and he immediately joined the team.

Thus, our ‘Carmageddon Putt-Putt Golf Course’ temporary park was born. Continue reading

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Innovation leads the way at TalkingRain

Constantly innovating, TalkingRain Beverage Company struck gold when they took one of their product lines, Sparkling ICE, to the national level in 2010. Until then, this Northwest company had been operating out of traditional offices which were enlarged as the company grew, but lacked a clear design vision. In 2012, they decided it was time to upgrade their digs, and Weber Thompson’s Interior Design team was called in for the job.

Carefully considering the location of each interior element during the design process, our team introduced some innovative space planning tactics. Formerly located in a temporary mobile unit, the new research and development office is now housed in a gleaming glass pod that’s on display but still fully functional. The board room is adjacent to the lab and has sliding barn doors, allowing meetings to happen in privacy without the feeling of being “behind closed doors.” The office has a sense of open airiness, while also being sensitive to the proprietary needs of this R&D-based company.

Responding to TalkingRain’s culture of collaboration, our designers located communal layout tables and breakout meeting rooms centrally to encourage impromptu meetings among staff; since moving in, these have been in use almost every hour of the day. The board room includes a custom table with pop-up technology towers that provide telephone, power, and internet connections, and surrounding walls are available for brainstorming, sketching or pin-ups with their white boards, glass walls, and tackable surfaces. The room also features a touch-screen monitor with video and audio conferencing capabilities, giving staff the ability to connect, design, and innovate in any medium they wish.

For more information on this project, visit our website.

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