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PUBLIC INTEREST DESIGN EVALUATING PUBLIC ARCHITECTURE A COLLABORATIVE REPORT UTSOA Center for Sustainable Development Public Interest Design Externship Program Editors

Steven Moore John Peterson Amy Ress Barbara Brown Wilson

Student Participants

Gilad Meron Shelley McDavid Heydn Ericson David Sharratt Dorothy Shepard K. Alexandra Krippner Colleen McGinnis Katie Mays Shannon Harris Jessica Mills Alison Steele Joe Marshall Adam Thibodeaux

Graphics + Layout

Conner Bryan Sam Dodd


Center for Sustainable Development

The Center for Sustainable Development at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

The Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) is a hub for sustainability research, education, and outreach at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. The CSD is unique in its integration of diverse interests to develop creative, balanced, achievable solutions to the physical and social challenges facing the planning, construction, and preservation of buildings, neighborhoods, and regions.

Public Interest Design

at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture The PID Externship program helps analysts to articulate how built environments are received by the communities they serve. Student “externs” learn the analytic techniques of post-occupancy analysis with faculty at UT Austin and then spend time collecting and interpreting data related to selected projects with Public Architecture in the San Francisco Bay Area. The report authored by participants measures the degree to which there is a gap between intention and reception, and contributes new data to a growing body of empirical knowledge about the built world.

Public Architecture San Francisco, CA

P u b l i s h e d b y t h e C e n te r fo r Sustainable Development at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.

Public Architecture is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in San Francisco. It engages architecture and design firms, nonprofits, and manufacturers to commit to design for the public good through its nationally recognized 1% program; it acts to bring about positive community change through public-interest design initiatives and pro bono design service grants; and it shares the potential of design to change the world through advocacy and outreach.

Copyright © 2013 by the University of Texas at Austin Center for Sustainable Development and Public Architecture, San Francisco, California.








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Public Interest Design is a young, but growing field of inquiry within design pedagogy and research. Coming out of a pro bono service model of education that centered around design/build projects with lower income clients, the field is now maturing to include self-reflection and critical outside study. As founding members of the SEED Network’s socially-inclined building assessment tool, John Peterson and I have long appreciated the importance of postoccupancy analysis that amplifies the voices of traditionally unheard and underserved constituents. This externship program contributes to the much needed body of research that seeks to understand the true benefits, effects, and challenges inherent in any public interest design project. Because of our partnership with Public Architecture (PA), in this first year we chose to focus on projects in San Francisco that participated in their 1% program.

We hope these initial reports inspire others to find ways to think critically about their own work and to engage more fully in Public Interest Design, the goals of which are to ensure that design continues to serve broader reaches of the general population; to address more compelling social challenges; and to consider the impact of each and every intervention made in the built world.

Barbara Brown Wilson Director, Center for Sustainable Development School of Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin

We are grateful to PA for not only enlisting the partnering firms to host students charged with then critiquing their work, but also housing and mentoring those students while they were in residence in California. The entities that participated as subjects of this research inquiry—envelope A+D; CMG Architects; Perkins + Will; Rebar; Jack Verdon; RG Architecture; Boor Bridges; Hollow & Excelsior Action Group; Ogrydziak/Prillinger; and McCall Design Group— also deserve our deep gratitude. They all took incredibly generous leaps of faith to open their offices and spent valuable time in mentorship of these student critics. Finally, the program could not have happened without the catalytic support of The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, which made the space for curricular innovation and gave us the support we needed to try this new approach to community-engaged, practice-entrenched pedagogy.





Unlike Latin, other languages are said to be alive because new words constantly pop-up to reflect, or catalyze new conditions. One such term is Public Interest Design.

environmental and economic change. The very recent emergence of Public Interest Design reflects this aspiration once again.

Origins of the Term

Although it may be possible to trace the precise moment when the term Public Interest Design was uttered, or written, we don’t think that exercise is particularly helpful. It is sufficient to say that the term developed to describe and enable the projects of groups like Public Architecture, Design Corps, the Basic Initiative, and others. Collectively, these activists see in the faces of those citizens generally not served by architects both a need and an opportunity. The need is clear—if we can empirically demonstrate that architects and the things we design have some degree of agency (or the ability to materialize life-enhancing change in the world), then we have an ethical responsibility to do so. The opportunity is equally clear—if we choose to work with underserved groups we can also develop new modes of practice that are more rewarding than conventional corporate models. Benefit flows in both directions. The meaning of the term is, then, found in the increasing number of people who find it to be useful.

An example will be helpful: Historian Leo Marx has described how, in 1847 the great orator, Senator Daniel Webster, used the novel word “technology” in his speech to dedicate a new railroad line in his home state of New Hampshire. Although a few scholars had used the term previously, Webster used it in a new way-- not to describe the study of techniques, or train tracks and locomotives themselves, but to describe the emerging aspirations of the nation as a whole. Before Webster’s time, what was then referred to as the “useful arts” were thought to be vulgar and inferior to the world of “fine” or “high arts.” But by the mid-19th century Webster saw in the faces of those citizens assembled to celebrate the new railway how the useful arts might fulfill the highest aspirations of a democratic people. In this case the new word “technology” both described and enabled what was already taking place.1 We might say the same about “Public Interest Design.”

Evolution in Action Meaning of the Term It is reasonable to argue that all well-designed architecture is in the public interest because even the most private of dwellings influence public space to some degree. But while this claim may be technically correct, it depends on the assumption that public benefit trickles down from the traditional patrons of the “high arts” described by Marx. And as Senator Webster foresaw 166 years ago, a genuinely democratic architecture would directly serve the immediate and practical needs of vastly more citizens, particularly those who are the most vulnerable to technological,

If Public Interest Design is a new term, its meaning too will continue to evolve as it informs more projects and those projects, in turn, modify meaning through collective action. The 2012 and 2013 summer PID seminars at the University of Texas are but one example. Originally conceived by John Peterson of Public Architecture (PA) and Dr. Barbara Brown Wilson of UT, the seminar was actually taught by Dr. Steven Moore of UT, with a great deal of support by my colleague Cisco Gomes and our visiting faculty: Bryan Bell, David Perkes, and Jess Zimbabwe. The purpose of the seminar was two-fold: to introduce students to a variety


of sometimes conflicting theories that might inform PID practice. And second, to introduce students to quantitative and qualitative research methods that would be useful in evaluating projects that claim to be built in the public interest. Moore introduced tools derived from reception theory, which basically hold that the meaning of any particular work is not found only in the intentions of architects, but also in the reception by the community served. Projects were considered to be more successful if the gap between intention and reception was small, and less successful as the gap grew larger. To test both the research tools and specific projects, Public Architecture selected five firms in the Bay area to participate in the 2012 program, each of which generously provided documents and contact information related to a completed project. Students spent five weeks preparing for their investigation, two weeks in the field collecting data, and a final two weeks interpreting that data and writing the texts contained in this report. In 2013, the students focused on Austin-based public interest design projects; UT engaged three firms to share their project research and design process. The research seminar was again led by Moore, and students spent the first five weeks learning the techniques of post-occupancy analysis. Yet this time, the fieldwork, analysis, and writing phase was extended to a five-week period to give students an additional time to collect and interpret data related to the selected projects. The 2012 and 2013 programs were very intense periods for all involved and the quality of the students’ analysis speaks for itself.

Lessons Learned In addition to the many lessons we learned about experimental teaching, there are two that stand out. First, and in retrospect, our reliance on reception theory as a method of “building assessment” or “post-occupancy analysis” may offer helpful tools to the field. But more significantly, we learned that the methods we developed are closely related to those already put in place by the SEED Network. The SEED Evaluation Tool2 also seeks to measure the degree to which the intentions of the design team— which necessarily includes the community served—were or were not achieved. There is, then, more anticipated synergy between our PID summer program and the SEED Network. In this process the meaning of PID will continue to evolve. Finally, the papers that follow are in themselves valuable to the architects who generously opened their archives, to their clients, and to the students who worked so hard. But they are most helpful to an experimental community of designers, policy-makers and citizens that is already relying on access to empirical analysis to make informed choices.

Steven A. Moore Bartlett Cocke Regents Professor In Architecture Director, Sustainable Design Program School of Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin John Peterson Founder and President Public Architecture







K. Alexandra Krippner Colleen McGinnis

Project details Address Hayes Valley 432 Octavia Boulevard San Francisco, CA Project Type Temporary commercial Service area Arts & culture Civic Community Size 18,032 Sq Ft Year of completion November 2010 (4 phases over 5 years) Client Name City of San Francisco

Design costs $40,000 - $90,000 per vendor Permitting, infrastructural, and common-space costs $230,000 On-site vendors (Phase 2) Ritual Coffee Roasters Smitten Ice Cream Biergarten Off the Grid Streets of San Francisco

Design Firm envelope A+D Design team Douglas Burnham Lizzie Wallack


PROXY : K. Alexandra Krippner and Colleen McGinnis

BACKGROUND The Hayes Valley neighborhood has undergone significant changes since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the Central Freeway and shook the local residents into action. For the past three decades the freeway had created a “physical and psychological barrier” between the neighborhood and the center of San Francisco. The earthquake, though destructive, was integral in the transformation of this now flourishing neighborhood. 1 In the early nineties, the neighborhood was one of the worst in the city, harboring prostitution and drug deals under the freeway, but still, artists and entrepreneurs settled in to open shops in an affordable way.2 These early Hayes Valley residents and merchants worked hard to change the neighborhood’s image, hosting block parties to bring in visitors to the fledgling businesses. Slowly, the neighborhood arts community grew, expanded, and even started gaining international recognition.3 In January of 1991 Hayes Valley residents initiated a petition for the unusable freeway to be torn down. There was resistance from outlying neighborhoods that accessed downtown via Central Freeway, but those who lived beneath this dilapidated artery were persistent. The following year the freeway came down, and for the first time “there was light” on streets and storefronts that had long been in shadow. 4 The relationships formed during this time helped the community form a vision for the future of Hayes Valley. The City Planning Department, in collaboration with local residents, developed the Market-Octavia Area Plan, outlining guidelines for development in the areas affected by the removal of the freeway and focusing largely on housing developments for the twenty vacant lots. In 2005 the San Francisco Prize released a competition, sponsored in part by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of

Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, asking for solutions to be designed for these parcels. Among participating firms was envelope A+D, a small practice then based in Oakland, who would not only go on to have a winning design, but would later become a pivotal agent in the future development of Hayes Valley. When the housing market crashed soon after the competition, development was put on hold. Worried these vacant lots would attract more of the blight they had fought so hard to rid their neighborhood of, Hayes Valley residents once again came together this time asking for temporary solutions on the vacant lots until the implementation of the overall vision could resume. The City recognized the validity of their concern, and in 2009 the Mayor’s Office sent out a formal request for proposals (RFP) for creative, but temporary, uses of various vacant lots along Octavia Boulevard to “activate” the unused space and “promote economic development, until the housing market makes its comeback.”5 Envelope A+D re-entered the picture as a contributor to the RFP with their concept for temporary, flexible urbanism: proxy. INTENTIONS Local Residents and Business Owners The Hayes Valley locals were the first to voice concern about the vacant lots. Since Hayes Street has become such an important commercial corridor within the city, both the residents and the local merchants are very vocal regarding neighborhood planning. This neighborhood is unique in that the population is notably diverse economically, racially, and generationally, and it is comprised of many artists, designers, architects and forward-thinkers. The residents wanted to see something happen, take part, and really 13

Ritual Roasters treet

Smitten Ice Cream




Hayes s

Off The Grid et

Fell stre


rd bouleva

Streets of San Francisco


Mixed use

Proxy Situated

Park space Lots left empty after freeway demolition






Proxy Stakeholders


invest in it, which is quite a non-traditional role for the public to assume.6 They wanted an activated space that would enhance the community rather than remain vacant and put the neighborhood at risk of more blight. The Hayes Valley merchants wanted to see economic growth while respecting neighborhood businesses.7 The design of these visions was then put in motion by OEWD. The City OEWD, as owner of the vacant lots, had similar priorities. As stated in the initial RFP: “The City envision[ed] interim uses that will activate these parcels to provide additional amenities to the public and promote economic development, until the economy will allow for housing development on these sites.” 8 Typically the City’s expectations for economically beneficial development is based on the number of jobs created, cost of construction, or rise in property values, however, these measurements are not appropriate indicators of economic benefit of the development of proxy.9 The City adjusted their criteria for evaluating economic benefit to include fostering small business growth through experimentation and innovation, which aligned better with the social and economic intentions of both the community and the firm. Another, more procedural, intention of OEWD included working within the current city codes and regulatory framework. Throughout the development of proxy, OEWD assisted envelope A+D navigate various City permitting processes. Working within the City’s existing framework was important because “[the City would] be wasting our time... [figuring] out how to change the code because next time we have a vacant lot we don’t want to go in and duplicate exactly what’s been done here.”10

Phases 0 - 2 of project


The Firm Proxy, as envisioned by architect Douglas Burnham and colleagues from envelope A+D, was chosen because of its innovative nature as “an experiment in flexible urbanism.”11 Flexibility, or the potential for constant change, became the means by which proxy‘s success was possible. Envelope A+D embedded flexibility into the design at all scales both spatially (from vendor to city) and temporally (from hourly to yearly). This model emphasizing flexibility, constant change, and temporariness becomes a physical artifact func tioning similarly to the connected cultural experience that lives virtually in the internet. 12 Based on this concept of the materialization of the “fast-paced nature of contemporary culture,” proxy’s flexibility and acceptance of temporariness allows it to become a “content machine”: constantly changing, creating new outlets for individuals to connect, and using on site experimentation to let new ideas materialize. Content machine To allow for the procurement of funding sources, garnering community support, and navigating municipal bureaucracy the necessity of phasing was developed, and the four phases of proxy emerged. Phasing also supports the “content machine” concept allowing the opportunity to “design it and detail it and deploy it and critique it and then design it and detail it and deploy it and critique it again.”13 The phasing process was made possible through the use of shipping containers as the basis of the structural and spatial design of the site due to their temporary and flexible nature.

Phases 3 - 4 of project







Throughout the design process, envelope A+D returned to present designs to the community and receive feedback




Content Machine


because “having more of a discussion between the community and the stakeholders about how this kind of innovative design can work and fit was a key to its success.”14 Working within, but pushing the limits of, the restrictions of city bureaucracy also became an intention of the design team as they realized the challenges to getting proxy built as the City was operating with intentions that were focused on meeting certain codes while still serving the public. On-Site Vendors In order to make proxy work, envelope A+D thoughtfully curated every element of the site: carefully considering which vendors joined the site, when, and for how long Current vendors include a mix of those hand-picked by envelope A+D and others who approached the firm. According to proxy’s project manager, the main criteria for the ongoing task of vendor selection is the alignment of intentions.15 Each vendor had their own reasons for joining the proxy project, but they had many shared intentions and were eager to promote envelope A+D’s intention to create a place of connected culture through the use of flexible, temporary design. Vendors were intrigued by the intention of proxy to become a “space for thoughtful experimentation.”16 From testing new menu items to engineering equipment to make sixty second ice cream, the proxy vendors saw their temporary shops as a way to test out new products, processes, and business models. When envelope A+D approached Ritual Coffee Roasters, a Bay area business with permanent locations in Napa Valley and in the Mission District, Ritual wasn’t necessarily looking to expand, but they saw proxy as an opportunity to showcase their unique take on coffee roasting in an “economically and socially responsible way.”17

Even the baristas joined the Ritual/ proxy team because they were intrigued by the “opportunity to do something a bit different” with space, service, or design.18 This potential for experimentation drew other vendors as well, especially young entrepreneurs looking to grow their new business. Proxy is the first official commercial location for some vendors, and they share the City’s vision for proxy to serve as a platform for new, local businesses to grow in a low risk setting.19 As retail rents have skyrocketed in Hayes Valley, proxy provides a prime location that otherwise would not have been possible for fledgling businesses. Smitten Ice Cream approached envelope A+D hoping to open their first shop at proxy. Envelope A+D’s overall vision was very much aligned with Smitten who was “trying to redefine what an ice cream shop could look like and how ice cream is made,” making it a very effective union.20 This opportunity to showcase a one-of-a-kind service in such a unique way was enough to grab the attention of other small businesses, too. Recently Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours (SoSF) approached envelope A+D requesting to join the proxy community. The founders recognized the potential for a bicycle presence in the area.21 As with the existing vendors, SoSF aims to offer “services that are different than the conventional tourist stops, creating a space that local San Franciscans are proud to show off to their friends, [and catering to a] higher-end, more educated clientele” who doesn’t mind paying for quality service.22 Neighbors have accepted SoSF as part of their unique San Francisco community. Proxy’s Biergarten provided a new outdoor setting for social and community gatherings. The owners, who also own a local neighborhood restaurant, had envisioned starting their own beer garden long before proxy was even a concept.


They imagined “a modern neighborhood garden as if Hayes Valley were in Germany walk through your neighborhood and you sit down and have your beer.”23 They worked diligently serve the community, saying, “We don’t want to let the neighborhood down for letting us do this.”24

Green, the adjacent park. In order to measure the success of this intention, it was necessary to understand who uses the site and how. This was achieved through the triangulation of several research methods: photography, surveys, and social media data.

The Museum of Craft + Design (MCD), one of proxy’s more temporary vendors, showcased a series of local artists through site-specific art installations. This was in support of envelope A+D’s more general intention of “bringing art to the public realm.” 25 MCD emphasizes that the traditional model for commissioning and appreciating art is not sustainable and believe art “needs to become more engaging, dynamic, and hands-on.” 26 This reflects the concept of proxy in that after the collaborative intentions are materialized, both patrons and stakeholders interact with the physical space and there is the opportunity to effect change as it moves into the next phase.

One difficult, but important, distinction site photography addresses is the social impact of proxy as compared to the impact of Patricia’s Green. Prior to proxy, Octavia Boulevard, including the Green, was already well-used by the local community.27 The correlation between Patricia’s Green and patrons of proxy can be expressed quantitatively through with visitor tallies from the photographs. On a typical summer weekday morning at 11:30, 76% of the total population of the Patricia’s Green/proxy area was found on Patricia’s Green, and no one was using the Green as a place to consume products purchased at proxy. By 3:30 in the afternoon, just four hours later, the ratio has shifted in favor of proxy with only 32% on Patricia’s Green, and 9% of them were using the park to consume proxy products. This indicates that proxy, though not the sole draw to this community gathering space, does increase the number of people in the area significantly.

RECEPTIONS + IMPACTS Since proxy is only in the second of four phases, a more major analysis should come once proxy is “complete” and then again once the site has made the transition to the planned permanent development. However, gauging interim reception of the current phase is important to the refinement of design intentions as the project moves into its next phases. Patrons Although not involved in the initial design of proxy, thepatrons of on-site vendors have become an integral element of the proxy community, and their reactions will be especially important as the project evolves. Stakeholders collectively intended to create a space for the diverse community of Hayes Valley that would complement activity on Patricia’s

Site photography also indicated that the flexibility of the site appears to be well received by the patrons. Photographs taken across space and time illustrate both the shift from Patricia’s Green to proxy as more vendors open shop and the shift from north [Ritual] to south [Biergarten] from early to late in the day. The diversity of vendors allows for a site that can perform multiple roles throughout the day so that the area remains activated from early morning to late evening by a diversity of patrons. In addition to measuring the quantity of patrons visiting proxy, it is perhaps more important to understand where patrons are visiting from in order to determine the impact 18














Proxy Patron Count



Patricia’s Green most activates the space in the




space in the


especially on weekends i

In many cases,Green the patrons’ reception has had direct influence Patricia’s is a place forthe individuals: Proxy has is a destination of on that of vendors. Each vendor experienced, pairs and groups: interpreted, and responded 24% VISIT ALONEto the manifestation of their i Compared to 5% atways, proxywhich 95% VISIT IN into A intentions in different has in turn fed back i GROUP OF 2+ new intentions as they look toward the future. Local residents recognize


Since proxy is meant to be “tied to the pace of contemporary culture” and to “physical[ize] the internet,” it easily lent itself to examination through social media data to explore its broader reach.28 All vendors, as well as the proxy site, are represented through multiple platforms (Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and Yelp), and each source provides a unique angle on visitor data. Even long time Hayes Valley residents of an older generation recognize that social media is “part of creating buzz and excitement for this neighborhood.”29 When integrated with onsite survey data, social media usage helps illustrate current and potential social and economic impacts of proxy. Data reveals that proxy brings in a significant amount of non-neighborhood customers who are likely to visit other retail stores and restaurants while they are in Hayes Valley. 64% of proxy patrons surveyed are visiting from either another area of San Francisco, or outside of the city altogether. Further, 31% surveyed and 42% of social media participants are from outside San Francisco city limits. From the City’s

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN perspective this indicates that proxy is bringing in revenue for the city. This is just one example of how the on group’s reception of proxy has influence on the reception by other Throughout the week Proxy most activates groups.

Patricia’s Green as a place

to meet proxy / mingle As envisioned, has with successfully served as an incubator 36% VISIT neighbors ii for experimentation. For example, Ritual needed a new REGULARLY way ofPatricia’s serving their pour-over coffee this new outdoor Green also at leastinonce a week, with attracts dogwalkers: 17% visiting setting that would be both convenient and more matchthan the iii i once a week 5% OF VISITORS elegant aesthetic of their other locations. They tested out a onlocally weekends design with sourced ceramic dishes and responsibly harvested wood trays. The design was so successful they According to local 30 30% OF PATRONS began using it in their permanent stores as well. Overall, residents most visitors are visiting from outside the vendors for workexpressed or live in satisfaction with the ability iii San Fr ancisco ii Hayes Valley experimentation, and the positive impacts this capability Less businesses. than has had on their i


of proxy. On-site surveys with a random selection of patrons from the three rooted vendors provided insight into the awareness of the proxy concept, the frequency of visits to proxy, and distance traveled. Survey results suggest that both Ritual Roasters and the Off the Grid food trucks have been most successful at creating a community of patrons that use the site regularly. Surveying, when coupled with photographic data, also revealed that proxy encourages more interaction between site users than Patricia’s Green.

2% OF VISITORS When asked how they are using Patricia’s Green heard of proxy For SoSF Bike to Tours, the temporariness of proxy has iii as a place consume 37% WALKED BY products providedproxy the perfect opportunity to get their business off the ground with a short-term, low-risk lease. While most of i based on site photography their customers are procured through SoSF’s number one ii based on interviews on on-site survey results

iii based

Summary of the relationship between Patricia’s Green and proxy based on triangulated data. 19





PATRICIA’S GREEN + PROXY? Throughout the week Patricia’s Green most activates the space in the



Patricia’s Green is a place for individuals:


Smitten Ice Cream was drawn to the temporary nature of the project as well since they had been looking for a “scrappy inexpensive way of getting a store up and running.” They were, however, surprised to find that opening a shipping container store at proxy was actually more expensive than moving into an existing building - costs for initial design, construction, and setup have been $40,000 to $90,000 for most vendors. This has urged the company to begin exploring options for what comes next years in advance. While Smitten supported envelope A+D’s initial concept of temporariness, along the way they learned that “temporary” is very different in the eyes if the City: vendors had to be permitted as permanent and consequently had to “meet all the highest energy efficiency standards in the country,” a significant up-front cost. Smitten dreads the day the lease is up and their shipping container must be hauled off of the proxy site since they have not yet found another viable location.33 However, the success of their designed facilities has kept them happy to be a part of proxy. The level of agency in the design process varied between vendors, but generally those who had a significant role in the design process were satisfied with the result. The owners of Biergarten were happy with their role in the design process as well as their use of the “shipping container vernacular.” As with the other vendors, space is tight, but their design plans had carefully considered the efficiency that would

Local residents recognize Patricia’s Green as a place to meet / mingle with neighbors ii Patricia’s Green also attracts dogwalkers:

5% OF VISITORS i on weekends


bike tour rating on TripAdvisor, being part of the proxy site has led to an enormous increase in their local exposure. Additionally, vendors describe how proxy has allowed the creation of a mutually beneficial “business ecosystem.”31 Smitten has realized that customers returning from a bike tour through the city are often ready for ice cream.32 These on-site relationships make temporariness bittersweet for the vendors.


Compared to 5% at proxy i

According to local residents most visitors work or live in Hayes Valley ii Less than i


are using Patricia’s Green as a place to consume proxy products i based ii based iii based

Proxy most activates space in the


especially on weekends i Proxy is a destination of pairs and groups:


at least once a week, with 17% visiting more than once a weekiii


are visiting from outside San Francisco iii When asked how they heard of proxy



on site photography on interviews on on-site survey results

Summary of the relationship between Patricia’s Green and proxy Summary of the relationship between Patricia’s Green and proxy based on based on triangulated data. triangulated data.

be necessary. On the other hand, SoSF, as the newest and most temporary tenant, had significantly less agency in the design of their space. They are thrilled to be on site and satisfied with their space, but if their lease is extended they would like to have more input in the design of their own container and space.34 Local Business and Residents Reception by the local community is represented most significantly by the neighborhood and merchant associations. Overall, the reception has been remarkably positive, with “We love proxy!” being a frequent refrain.35 This positivity has a lot to do with the fact that the collective intention for activating community space has been met


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ubator 2,000 180 160 w way of PROXY 141 140 1,000 tting that 120 100 sthetic OTG* 80 PROXY SMITTEN BIERGARTEN SoSF RITUAL* PATRICIA’S GREEN 68 h locally VENDORS 60 PATRICIA’S GREEN 48 ood 40 PATRICIA’S GREEN 31 PROXY 29 TWITTER FACEBOOK YELP! FOURSQUARE 20 it in their BASED ON NUMBER BASED ON NUMBER BASED ON NUMBER BASED ON NUMBER PROXY 8 PATRICIA’S GREEN 1 OF REVIEWS OF “LIKES” RTL SMT SSF OTG BGN USERS “CHECKED-IN” OF “FOLLOWERS” RTL SMT SSF OTG BGN RTL SMT SSF OTG BGN RTL SMT SSF OTG BGN 13 0 4 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 13 21 0 45 160* essed 8 31 0 0 82* the positive 10. Social media data, 2012, authors 9. Location of proxy patrons. This expands upon the information provided in Figure 7 illustrating the changes in the use of the site by time of

Social media, 2012. for Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp!; values are es* location not specified

Location of proxy patrons.

day and day of the week according to photographic data.

timated using percent of visitors at the proxy location on Foursquare. *estimated counts; **includes people on the proxy property, but not visiting a specific vendor



city limits. From the City’s perspective this indicates that proxy is


bringing in revenue for the city. This is just one example of how pay high rents to be in Hayes Valley. Though, with time, local with a vibrant space that used to be vacant blight. Active 9,000 the on group’s reception of proxy has influence on the reception merchants realized that the8,000 food trucks bring people to the members of both associations were very pleased by otherwith groups.the neighborhood who very well may return to local restaurants attentiveness of envelope A+D in thoroughly2. Vendors promoting 7,000 39 and shops later benefiting the awareness of the project throughout the neighborhood, 6,000 neighborhood as a whole. In many cases, the patrons’ reception has had direct influence on that of the vendors. presenting the various phases of proxy, and laying out theEach vendor has experienced, interpreted, 5,000 and responded to the manifestation of their intentions in timeline. The owners of SoSF commented, “We hear tons One unintended reception 4,000by the neighborhood is the different ways, which has in turn fed back into new intentions as toward the of locals bringing their friends walking down they thelook street ... future.confusion that exists regarding 3,000 the management of the site. showing off their city... every single day.”36 The As nature of proxy the has successfully Admittedly, is quite an2,000unconventional role for the envisioned, served as anitincubator for experimentation. For example, Ritual needed a new way of space also encourages neighborly interaction from dogarchitect to take on the 1,000 roles of property leasing and serving their pour-over coffee in this new outdoor setting that would be bothfor convenient and match the elegant aesthetic walkers to parents with children, making it a great way management. The firm often receives the complaints OTG* PROXY SMITTEN BIERGARTEN SoSF RITUAL* of their other locations. They tested out a design with locally VENDORSof who to neighbors to get to know one another.37 regarding trash because there is a confusion sourced ceramic dishes and responsibly harvested wood TWITTER FACEBOOK YELP! FOURSQUARE trays. The design was so successful they began using it in their commentary. BASED ON NUMBER BASED ON ON NUMBER BASED ON NUMBER otherwise direct this There is also aNUMBER lackBASED of OF REVIEWS OF “LIKES” USERS “CHECKED-IN” OF “FOLLOWERS” permanent stores as well. Overall, the vendors expressed Residents retain vivid memories of the days satisfaction when Hayes regarding work of media Envelope versus that of the 10. Social data, 2012, authors with the ability clarity for experimentation, and thethe positive * location not specified for Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp!; values are esValley was riddled with drugs and prostitution, and there is a City. As a representative from OEWD relays, “The City” often timated using percent of visitors at the proxy location on Foursquare. 30 Interview with manager of Ritual Coffee Roasters, 27 July 2012. palpable appreciation of how far the neighborhood has becomes culprit when any issues arise. 40 Envelope A+D 7 come. As a result there is a desire to give back to the acknowledges that public awareness of proxy is not what community, too. The neighborhood has asked for ways it could be, and the firm is working on creating informative to activate the vacant Octavia lots for years, and now the posters for the site in response. It is worth noting that success of proxy has finally served as a concrete model for while the intentions of activating this space and providing them. amenities for the neighborhood have been well received, it does not reflect initial specific neighborhood suggestions The existing Hayes Valley businesses welcomed the such as high-end grocery or hardware stores that were just not feasible within the “temporary” framework.41 Even now proxy vendors when they realized they were in support of community art and other projects, and they have already there is occasionally expressed the desire for vendors that begun to feel like part of the neighborhood. The community are more practical, such as a shoe repair store, rather than sees start-ups like the SoSF Bike Tours as “a brilliant more of the “five dollar coffees” that can already be found in thing to have… just bringing people to the neighborhood.”38 the neighborhood.42 However, not all the new vendors have been as well received. There was initial concern that the Off the Grid food trucks may take business from the neighborhood restaurants who 30



Public Interest Design | The University of Texas at Austin | School of Architecture UTSoA DAY A TO DAY A


03 01

02 04







The CityVendors 4. On-Site In order to make proxy work, thoughtfully From the City’s point envelope of view, A+D reception has been largely curated every element of the site: carefully considering which remain. positive, yet unanswered questions about the future vendors joined the site, when, and for how long. Current proxy has fit well within the City Planning Department’s vendors include a mix of those hand-picked by envelope A+D Market-Octavia Plan aimed at providing 05 and aforementioned others who approached the firm. According to proxy ’s “mixed-use neighborhood-serving, retail project manager, the main criteria for the ongoingdestination task of services... well as] thisofplatform business.”43 15 vendor selection[as is the alignment intentions. Each vendor The City is enormously supportive of the vision and had their own reasons for joining the proxy project, but they Douglas Burnham has had to assume to had leadership many shared role intentions and were eager to promote envelope intention create a place of bringA+D’s the project totolife. However, theconnected City seesculture Burnham’s 07 through the use of flexible, temporary design. unique role balancing the tasks of architect, developer,

and property manager as a challenge on their end too.


Vendors were by the intention proxy to become There is intrigued a steep learning curve ofinvolved in navigating the a “space for thoughtful experimentation.”16 From testing new permitting process in San Francisco, and consequently, 09 menu items to engineering equipment to make sixty second 08 proxy has required much more attentive guidance from the ice cream, the proxy vendors saw their temporary shops as a than a traditional developerand assumed role making wayCity to test outifnew products, processes, businessthe models. it an unsustainable model Ritual for similar This figure the various scales of includes flexibility and When envelope A+D approached Coffeeprojects Roasters,in a the future. 5. This figure illustrates the illustrates various scales of flexibility and proxy Public Interest Design | The University of Texas at Austin | Schoolat of each Architecture UTSoA includes specific examples scale. This may indicate that there should be a set of specific examples at each scale: Bay area business with permanent locations in Napa Valley guidelines (01) Seating area can be altered to fit needs/desires; (02) Erasable the Ritual futurewasn’t temporary projects and established in the Mission for District, necessarily lookingto make it menu can be adjusted daily; (03) Artists/work rotated (photo credit: 44 to expand, but they saw proxy as an opportunity to showcase feasible for architects to take on such challenges. In that Ripon DeLeon); (04) Shipping crates allow fast setup and short leases their unique take on coffee roasting in an “economically and (05) Shipping crates are craned in and out (photo credit: Joseph Perez vein, proxy has from the beginning served as an example for 17 - Green / envelope A+D); (06) Food trucks visit proxy four nights a Since only in second ofbaristas four phases, a the more major socially responsible Even the joined Ritual/ theproxy City is that it way.” “isthe responsive to people, change, and things week changing activity on site and throughout the neighborhood; proxy team because they were intrigued by the “opportunity to 45 analysis should come once proxy is “complete” and then that are going on, and is willing to try something 18 new.” (07) Phasing affects change on site by month and by year; also do something a bit different” with space, service, or design. again once the site has made the transition to the planned affects local businesses (photo credit: envelope A+D); (08) As funding permanent development. However, gauging interim reception becomes available, vacant lots are transformed; (09) The single As proxy proceeds, it will be important to address patrons’ greatest platform for flexibility was the vacancy - possibilities for use This potential experimentation vendorsofasdesign of the currentfor phase is importantdrew to theother refinement awareness of entrepreneurs the project,looking specifically regarding its were near endless (photo credit: California Division of Highways and well, especially young to grow their intentions as the project moves into its next phases. the San Francisco Planning Department, 1948) date.Proxy In the beginning the planning process, an newend business. is the first officialof commercial location OEWD representative elaborated this point: have for vendors, and they share the City’s vision for proxy“[We] to 1. some Patrons “content machine” concept allowing the opportunity to toascontinually talk this as something serve a platform for new,about local businesses to grow in athat low- is going “design it and detail it and deploy it and critique it and then Although 19 not involved in the initial design of proxy, the risk setting. As retail rents have skyrocketed in Hayes Valley, to change: [the proxy site] is a future site for affordable design it and detail it and deploy it and critique it again.”13 patrons of on-site vendors have become an integral element proxy provides a prime location that otherwise would not have housing … you get it and we get it and the Hayes Valley The phasing process was made possible through the use of of the proxy community, and their reactions will be especially been possible for fledgling businesses. Cream Neighborhood Association getsSmitten it, but Ice that’s not everybody. shipping containers as the basis of the structural and spatial important as the project collectively approached envelope A+Devolves. hoping Stakeholders to open their first shop at Peopletowho want to go the there everyday and of get a cup of design of the site due to their temporary and flexible nature. intended create a space Hayes proxy . Envelope A+D’s overallfor vision diverse was verycommunity much aligned coffee are going to go there one day and be like, “What Valley that would complement activity on Patricia’s Green, the did with Smitten who was “trying to redefine what an ice cream 6. Vendors (left: Biergarten, right:Vendors below: Smitten Iceright: Cream) (left:A+D Biergarten; 46 Throughout the design process,Ritual, envelope returned to Ritual; adjacent the City go In and do?” measure the success of this intention, order below: Smitten Ice Cream shop couldpark. look like and to how ice cream is made,” making it a present designs to the community and receive feedback 21 it was necessary to 20understand who uses the site and how. This area. As with the existing vendors, SoSF aims to offer “services very effective union. This opportunity to showcase a one-ofbecause “having more of a discussion between the community was achieved through the triangulation of several research that are different than the conventional tourist stops, creating a-kind service in such a unique way was enough to grab the and the stakeholders about how this kind of innovative design methods:ofphotography, surveys, and a space that local San Franciscans are proud to show off to attention other small businesses, media data. 14 can work and fit was a key to its success.” Working within, but 22 their friends, [and catering to a] higher-end, more educated pushing the limits of, the restrictions of city bureaucracy also 22 One difficult, distinction site photography Recently Streetsbut of important, San Francisco Bike Tours (SoSF) approached clientele”anwho doesn’t payingteam for quality became intention ofmind the design as theyservice. realized the

Receptions + Impacts

There has not been any sort of economic benefit analysis conducted by the City to indicate how proxy might be contributing to citywide economic growth. Even OEWD admits that proxy does not lend itself to such assessment.47 Still, it seems to bring economic value to the city. Survey and social media data indicate that proxy patrons are often from outside the city bringing in more revenue for local businesses. As mentioned by various stakeholders, a change in policy and codes to allow temporary infill development to take place in a more streamlined and efficient way will likely not come as a result of proxy alone, but perhaps as other similar projects occur the city policymakers will write this sort of development into its codes. There is an undefined gap in the codes for “temporary structures” that are to exist for longer than ninety days yet do not quite fall into the category of permanent.48 The Firm In just the second phase of proxy’s implementation, envelope A+D’s reception of proxy has already had a significant impact the practice of the firm, “[expanding their] notions of what is possible, of what [they] should be undertaking, as architects, as thinkers, as active creators of the emerging urban condition.” It required them to “assume multiple roles not only as architects, but as urban planners, developers, fabricators, fundraisers, philanthropists, cultural curators, good neighbors, and responsible citizens”49 Burnham admits, “While we foresaw the ways in which proxy would transform the neighborhood and the city, we did not anticipate the transformative effect it would have on us. Our engagement with proxy has… fundamentally changed the structure and content of our studio.”50

It’s important to acknowledge that the conditions, entities, and individuals that came together and the relationships that were formed are integral to proxy’s success. One vendors recognized that “[Burnham] was the conduit through which all of these people could deal with the city.”51 However, Burnham himself stresses, “[proxy] would never have happened if it weren’t for our Mayor’s Office. The Mayor’s Office has to get behind projects like this and really say that they’re important for the city or else they just don’t happen.”52 He also credits the city planners, master planner, and the liaison between those two offices, all of whom were instrumental in guiding the project through permits and codes and devoting the time and financial risks that made it possible. From Burnham’s point of view, policy and economics should come together to create a lasting effect on the city in the form of allocation of funding for these sorts of projects.53 This affects the ability to do this sort of experimental design again, and there should be opportunity to develop other short-term uses and be creative with urban development. The project architect explained, “Our clients are really, really, happy. Our vendors are really happy. We have a great relationship with them, so every ounce of work that is put in is worth it, ten-fold.”54 The Design Community Proxy has gained a lot of attention within the design community, perhaps more outsiders know of proxy as a concept than the patrons actually using the site. In addition to appearing in countless urban design and food blogs, envelope A+D has been asked to participate in several conferences including the Architecture of Consequence in the fall of 2011 for their concept of flexible urbanism and the Venice Biennale in 2012 under the theme Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good. The overall reception by the design community has been very


positive, although most of their response has been based on the vision for the complete phasing of proxy and few reference proxy in its current physical state. The impact of the innovation behind proxy as a new way of theorizing the urban condition has been strong nonetheless, and the receptions once the phasing is complete will be worth exploring. Most recently proxy and long-time Hayes Valley neighborhood activists have been recognized in the 2012 San Francisco Beautiful awards, an indication of the growing awareness of the potential of this sort of urban transformation. Conclusion The impact that proxy has had, on adjacent businesses to the City to the design community as a whole, is a reflection of envelope’s A+D’s ability to meet the intentions of all parties involved in the design process. The overall impact of proxy is enmeshed within the economic, social, environmental, policy, and design realms. The investment the neighborhood members have in this place and the relationships they have forged with members of the city, the architecture firm, and visitors to this area have encouraged the formation of a more sustainable social network that allows the neighborhood to approach issues, both social and environmental, more holistically. The concept of building “cheaper, lighter, faster” makes building responsibly more feasible, leaving navigating city codes and regulations the most challenging component to building flexible urban spaces.55 Because of proxy, inhabitants of the urban environment have begun to rethink the increasingly outdated regulatory frameworks that control public space in the face of current fast-paced, highly connected culture, which could allow designers to more easily integrate and respond to the interests of all parties that comprise and inhabit the contemporary city.



Shelley McDavid

Project details Address 54 Mint St San Francisco, CA Project Type Public plaza Service area Community Size 18,000 Sq Ft Year of completion 2007

Design costs $3.2 M Partnering Organizations CMG Landscape Architects Sherwood Design Engineers Martin Building Company City of San Francisco

Client Name Martin Building Company for the City of San Francisco Design Firm CMG Landscape Architects Design team Willet Moss Scott Cataffa


MINT PLAZA : Shelley McDavid

BACKGROUND Project Overview Mint Plaza sits atop a portion of Jessie Street between Fifth and Mint Streets one block south of Market Street and adjacent to the Old Mint in SOMA (South of Market). A previously underutilized alley marking the end of the line for the Valencia 26 bus, Mint Plaza is now closed to vehicles and oriented to pedestrians. Martin Building Company (MBC) in conjunction with the City of San Francisco approached CMG Landscape Architects to design the plaza. The result is a publicly-owned, privately-managed multifunctional, flexible space serving not only proximate residents and tenants but also the broader public. Innovative stormwater management demonstrates the feasibility of environmental responsibility in the context of tight urban spaces. Completed at the end of 2007 for $3.2 million, the 290’ long plaza evidences the potential for successful public-private partnerships and multiple agency collaboration in improving urban quality. Mint Plaza is a catalytic initial step in the revitalization of an area identified as ripe for redevelopment. This context of redevelopment informs both the intentions and receptions that shape the design of the project, its public impact, and its future challenges. Mid-Market Development The area South of Market Street in downtown San Francisco is characterized by a diverse range of residences, commercial enterprises, and cultural institutions, including warehouses, night clubs, condos, Single Room Occupancy hotels, major art museums, and luxury shopping centers. Cable cars no longer dominate Market Street, but it remains a transportation hub for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and MUNI transit systems. This transit concentration

combined with the convergence of various special interest groups prompted SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) to identify the Mid-Market Street District as ripe for redevelopment.1 In its 2002 report “The Mid-Market Street Redevelopment District: A Plan for Incremental Change,” SPUR suggests the transformation of key “catalyst sites” including the conversion of Mint Street into a combined vehicular and pedestrian space behind the Old Mint, which SPUR earlier had proposed as a conference center and museum with commercial space opening up the side of the building to the public. This public side, which abuts Mint Street, is now Mint Plaza. In October 2005, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency drafted the “Redevelopment Plan for the Mid-Market Redevelopment Project” for essentially the same target area.2 Furthermore, the City’s plan specifically highlights Mint Plaza as a representative arts, culture, and entertainment project aimed at eliminating blight. This is in conjunction with the identification of the Old Mint- the only building left standing in SOMA after the 1906 earthquake and fires- as a key project for establishing community identity in the MidMarket area due to its historical and cultural significance. Though the actual realization of Mint Plaza occurred astonishingly quickly- within just under two years- given the involved approval process required, the conceptual groundwork for the plaza had been nascent years before. The proposal to create Mint Plaza from an underutilized alley was consistent with already established city plans to transform the neighborhood through pedestrian priority public spaces. The foundation was set for Mint Plaza’s success as a catalytic project bridging the historical past of SOMA with its revitalized future focused on the pedestrian. A thorough investigation of the design intentions and user receptions of Mint Plaza in San Francisco and consideration of the gap between them can be used to evaluate the role


of public interest design in increasing the sustainability of our cities.3 The many intentions of the various entities with agency in the project are assembled into seven headings. This report progresses in scale from large to small, with economic intentions addressed first because they drive all other design decisions. Consecutive intentions demonstrate how conflicts between the various social groups with agency in the project were resolved within the overarching intention of economic redevelopment to determine the physical form of the plaza. INTENTIONS Economic Development Mint Plaza (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects).

The Old Mint after the 1906 earthquake and fires (image credit: San Francisco Public Library).

Design intentions have the potential to make or break the broader intentions within which they operate and to which they are inextricably linked. Both economic and social intentions were dependent on the design decisions that define the form of the plaza and lay the ground work for its reception as an inviting public space. Economic development is reliant on businesses that create active edge conditions along Mint Plaza, which in turn attract people to the plaza and ensure a social vibrancy that is integral to successful urban public space. Economic development was a primary intention of both the City of San Francisco and the developer Martin Building Company, who together comprised the client. The City’s concern for economic development is broadly related to the Mid-Market area as a whole. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, though dissolved February 1, 2012 and no longer in existence, emphasized economic vitality as a goal, comprised of “a balanced mix of activities and businesses that serve the diversity of community residents, workers, and visitors.”4 Thus, the City’s desire for economic development is closely


tied to its intention of simultaneously engendering social equity and generating its tax base. Martin Building Company, on the other hand, stood to profit from the increased property values and marketability of their condos located on the plaza. According to the San Francisco Business Times on April 29, 2007, “Work on the plaza starts at a time when the Martin Building Co. is beginning sales of 52 live-work condos along the alley... 25 of the units have already been reserved, according to Kurt Riddle, the company’s asset manager. The units range in price from $470,000 to $1.2 million.”5 Ken Kortkamp, a Civil Engineer on the project working at the time with Sherwood Engineers, expressed in an interview the view that environmental sustainability and the “green” design of the plaza was a marketing device intended to increase the value and salability of the client’s condos. Thus, social and environmental sustainability was intended to the extent that it had economic benefits. A grant of approximately $150,000 from the Public Utilities Commission helped fund a major portion of the stormwater treatment system, which CMG suspects MBC might not have paid for otherwise. Michael Yarne, the then Director of Development at MBC and project head explains, “It was their way of incentivizing us, to improve infiltration.”6 Ultimately, all intentions on the client side were encompassed by the overarching objective of economic development and financial profitability.7 The coordination of social and economic intentions enabled the City and MBC to collaborate in the establishment of a Mello-Roos tax-assessment district to fund the project. A Community Facilities District (CFD) allowed for community funding through a special property tax on local property owners. The Mint Plaza CFD consists of five properties, four owned by MBC and the fifth being the Provident Loan Building, that are assessed approximately $1.80 per square foot for thirty years to pay for approximately $3.27 million

Mint Plaza sensory design: arbor scaling, shadow rhythm, chair color.

in tax-exempt bonds. Yarne addresses the issue of funding in Landscape Architecture Magazine: “You need to have a relatively enlightened developer and a cooperative citythose two things don’t always happen at the same time. What we need to be talking about now is how you pay for this stuff.”8 Mint Plaza is precedent setting as the first project in California to use Mello-Roos CFD funding solely to create an urban pedestrian plaza. This collaborative funding mechanism is significant because rather than depending


Mint Plaza

Public Interest Design | The University of Texas at Austin | School of Architecture UTSoA

7. Mint Plaza design characteristics relative to the Old Mint

Mint Plaza design characteristics relative to the Old Mint.

on compromise or trade-off, it entails a mutually beneficial arrangement in which the developer gains increased property value and the public gains quality urban space. 5. 6. Social equity is inherently a concern in Mint Plaza because of its situation within the context of the Mid-Market Redevelopment area. Regarding the plaza, the San Francisco Chronicle accounts that, “…neighborhood groups emphasize the importance of balancing the needs of the rich and not-so rich, stressing that new businesses and projects also need to cater to the area’s longtime residents.”9 The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency corroborated this concern, identifying the primary goal of8. Moveable the Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan “A cohesive chairin the context of the buildings surrounding Mintas Plaza Central City district truly representative of the full range of San Francisco’s many communities -- of all cultures, income levels, and backgrounds – which focuses the benefits of economic growth to their needs without causing 7. their displacement.” 10 Social equity is thus linked to economic development and susceptible to gentrification pressure. Martin Building Company, which owns all of the properties surrounding the plaza, with the exception of the Bay Media Federal Credit Union and an SRO, recognized the economic value of public space improvements. In the case of Mint Plaza, social equity and economic development are potentially compatible. The design intentions of CMG align with the concern for social equity expressed by the community and the City. According to Topos, “The designers envisioned a 9. Elevation and timeline of the Chronicle Building, the Old Mint, and Mint Plaza democratic zone that welcomed everyone, with wall-to-wall paving, active edges, and an open plan whose character

was defined by its users rather than by form or style.”11 The moveable chairs were, as CMG principal Willet Moss says in Landscape Architecture Magazine, intended “to create some ‘social equity’ so that people don’t have to buy expensive coffee if they just want to hang out in the plaza.”12 Moss echoed his concept of “thick urbanism” - integrative, inclusive design that fosters a richer, more diverse urban ecology- in an interview, reflecting that the plaza “works really well in its clarity and its lack of preciousness in that Sixth Street is right there, and connecting to Sixth Street is this back alley. This plaza can handle that, and Nordstrom’s, and the SRO. Generally, our intent is to mix it up in terms of the public realm, and this plaza is doing alright at that.” Multifunctional / Flexible


The objective to create a flexible, open space is repeated in 8. press articles about Mint Plaza and corroborated by CMG in its project description, which refers to Mint Plaza as “an urban stage,” “a novel space for urban life,” “a vibrant public pedestrian plaza and festival space,” and “a flexible open space to serve any number of events and programs.”13 This design intention was desired by both the architects and the public, who were engaged through a series of community meetings aimed at garnering public input and promoting neighborhood ownership of the project. According to Topos, “…what emerged from those meetings was a desire among residents, workers, and business owners for ‘a space that was flexible and could function in lots of different ways,’ says Scott Cataffa, who served as project manager. ‘They wanted farmer’s markets, outdoor concerts, dance


7. Mint Plaza design characteristics relative to the Old Mint



8. Moveable chairin the context of the buildings surrounding Mint Plaza

Moveable chairin the context of the buildings surrounding Mint Plaza.

that builds the economy and strengthens community.17 It 8. includes a direct pedestrian link to Mint Plaza and though still in its infancy, has the potential to contribute to the cohesiveness of the neighborhood by building on the sustainability that Mint Plaza has initiated.

lessons, sculpture’.”14 ELA Magazine claims that, “The use 7. of towering theatrical light masts and moveable seating enable this flexibility and help to transform the plaza into an urban stage.”15 The flexible design of Mint Plaza demonstrates how the intentions of multiple parties were resolved in material form. Mint Plaza was intended by CMG, the City, and the San Francisco Historical Society to be flexible not only in the activities that it supports but also in how it relates to the neighborhood as it develops, notably in relation to the 9. Elevation and timeline of the Chronicle Building, the Old Mint, and Mint Plaza adjacent Old Mint. The entire southeast side of the plaza was intentionally left blank to accommodate plans to renovate the Old Mint into a museum, visitor center, and venue for the City of San Francisco.16 The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society currently has a 5-year trajectory for completion of the project, led by HOK, Hood Design, Page and Turnbull, and ARUP. Mint Plaza is currently slated to provide primary exit, secondary entrance, retail, café, and gathering space for the Mint. The plans for the Old Mint reveal the degree to which an entire side of Mint Plaza will change, providing an activated edge dominated by cultural and commercial activities. CMG anticipated this, recognizing that as the anchor tenant, the Old Mint needs to be renovated to support the plaza through increased foot traffic, inviting edge conditions, and comfort against an otherwise harsh granite façade. The 5M Project is another redevelopment project that has the potential to greatly enhance the impact of Mint Plaza. Located just south of Mint Plaza at the intersection of Fifth and Mission Streets where the iconic Chronicle Building resides, the 5M Project consists of four acres planned to be a creative development for encouraging innovation


The design intention of flexibility and openness that enables both a range of activities in the present and co m m u n i t y g ro w t h w i t h i n t h e co n t ex t o f f u t u re neighborhood redevelopment is consistent with the goals of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan and supports the overarching intention of socially equitable economic development.18 Sensory Planning In Topos, Moss is quoted as stating in regards to Mint Plaza that, “A visitor’s sensory encounter in a space is a critical function of design.”19 This understanding of how people experience a space is evident behind design intentions that collectively constitute sensory planning aimed at human mobility and senses. With historically larger blocks than other neighborhoods, SOMA’s default orientation is toward cars not humans. As a pedestrian-priority plaza, Mint Plaza necessitates efforts at scaling the space specifically to humans, rather than to the cars and mid-rise buildings that dominate the area. Intended to balance the scale of the Old Mint and to provide a unique identity for the plaza, the trumpet-vined arbor is a key element in the sensory design of the space. In Landscape Architecture Magazine, Moss explains, “We used the arbor to bring the scale down to balance the Mint across the alley.” 20 This intention is echoed by CMG principal


8. Moveable chairin the context of the buildings surrounding Mint Plaza


9. Elevation and timeline of the Chronicle Building, the Old Mint, and Mint Plaza


Elevation and timeline of the Chronicle Building, the Old Mint, and Mint Plaza. 13

Chris Guillard: “We were riffing off of these old industrial buildings in a way, but really scaling the space. If you take the arbor away, you have this 100 foot wall behind you so what the arbor does is pull that line down and create a kind of colonnade that orients the space to this old monument.” Thus, the arbor was intended to provide a human scale to the plaza, and to prevent the height and massiveness of the surrounding buildings from obfuscating the intimacy enabled by the narrowness of the alley. Yet the arbor, in addition to the moveable chairs, was also intended to generate a unique identity for Mint Plaza. The idea for the moveable chairs existed from the beginning, and was quickly adopted by Martin Building Company, who specified the actual orange Jasper Morrison Air chairs dispersed throughout plaza. The perception of the plaza as iconic is dependent on sensory planning that uses the arbor and chairs to introduce rhythm, repetition, pattern through shadow, and strategic color punches to be memorable. The use of sensory planning was intended to scale the plaza to human dimensions and to engender an identifiable, memorable perception of the space that renders it iconic. Low-impact Design (LID) Low impact design (LID) was a primary intention of both CMG and Sherwood Engineers from the outset. Colin Piper, the Marketing Manager with Sherwood, expressed the goal of minimizing the impact of the site through integrated stormwater management and recharging the aquifer to “get as close to predevelopment calculations and scenarios as we can.” Sherwood designed a system sized to absorb the city standard of a 5-year storm that removes nearly a half million gallons of water per year from the city’s combined

sewer system. The runoff from the plaza’s 18,000-squarefoot surface is captured by three mini-watersheds that utilize subtle grading to draw water into two rain gardens located at opposite ends of the plaza and a slot drain that runs through its center. The rain garden contributing area comprises about 10%, with the remaining 90% of the plaza leading to a channel system that conveys flows to a subsurface infiltration system comprised of a 20-footdeep, 40-square-foot basin and then into the ground via percolation. According to Kortkamp, “It was a difficult grading and draining exercise to create a simple and elegant design.” The environment that resulted is the physical manifestation of resolved conflicts between relevant entities with agency in the design process. This is evident in the negotiation of intentions through which stormwater retention and infiltration was ultimately achieved. Kortkamp recalls the rain gardens becoming smaller and smaller and less and less integral to the infiltration system. Originally, they were intended to be depressed with clay bottoms that would enable them to fill up with and treat the runoff they captured before overflowing through weep holes into the infiltration system. During construction, however, flimsier metal than that required to line the rain gardens was specified and when it warped, Martin Building Company was unwilling to make the changes required to maintain the water treatment capacity of the rain gardens. For the client, environmental sustainability also required an economic benefit to be viable. Another material representation of conflict resolution is the pervious pavers, which were originally planned to be ceramic and therefore porous, allowing water to pass


Mint Plaza

Public Interest Design | The University of Texas at Austin | School of Architecture UTSoA

10. Mint Plaza Use Diagram (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects)

Mint Plaza Use Diagram (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects)

through them. Several obstacles impeded this design intention: aesthetically the client wanted a paver that was bolder and ADA guidelines were incompatible with the pavers’ beveled edge. CMG affirms that they could not find a paver that met aesthetic and ADA goals, short of making custom pavers, as Moss originally intended. The result, according to Kortkamp, is a paver that- though not poroushas permeable abilities because it is sand-set and spaced with gaps between each paver. Notably, compromised design intentions do not inherently mean the goals trying to be achieved are negated. In the case of Mint Plaza, low impact design was still achieved, just by alternative means than originally planned. Education The inclusion of an educational component related to the stormwater infiltration system in Mint Plaza is an intention that, though not realized, is significant because of the insight it provides into the design process and the relationship between cause and effect it questions. The initial design intent was to expose the channel alongside the rain gardens in order to reveal the mechanism by which the stormwater system functions and thus educate users about the environmental sustainability of the site and simultaneously celebrate rain water. During construction of the plaza, however, a large storm caused the open 11. Mint Plaza Infiltration System Diagrams (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects)

channel to fill with trash. This occurrence, combined with the realization by CMG and MBC that more seating was needed, made the original intention unpractical. Benches were installed over the open basins and the educational and celebratory intention was not realized. Kortkamp, who had been excited by the possibility of celebrating water and sustainability as in cities like Portland and Seattle, conceded that the bench solution was ultimately more appropriate given the client’s intentions and the homeless population using the site. Despite the now hidden system, he said he can’t complain, because the design is still elegant. According to Moss, there was a lot of conversation about making the stormwater integration aspect of the plaza more legible. The open benches, he said, “were one of those moments of celebrating rain water… but the celebration was not worth it.” It is significant that the educational intention that guided the initial design decision to keep the channel open was transformed because of a combination of factors, specifically client imperatives, real life testing, and contextual demands and limitations related to locational context. This is indicative of the design process, which entails discussion, negotiation, and testing to ultimately arrive at the best solution given a certain situation. Though the addition of the benches represents a lost opportunity to educate the public about stormwater management, it also fulfills a social need that contributes to the functionality of the plaza.

12. Diagram of the gap between intentions and receptions

32 14

10. Mint Plaza Use Diagram (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects)

approach to stormwater management that was of prime importance to CMG and Sherwood Engineers was more of a means to an end for Martin Building Company. The City, however, was also interested in the degree to which Mint Plaza could function as a prototype regarding stormwater best management practices. Concurrently with the implementation of Mint Plaza, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Port of San Francisco were working on “San Francisco Stormwater Design Guidelines” to operate as both a policy document and design tool and were therefore interested in exemplary projects that apply Low-impact Design.21 Though best management practices generally refer to stormwater management, they could also refer to a process of collaboration. In the case of Mint Plaza, many people and entities had agency in the project and the cooperative process that resulted was intended, at least after it had been initiated, as a prototype for the process of achieving integrated stormwater management.

Mint Plaza Infiltration System Diagrams (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects)

11. Mint Plaza Infiltration System Diagrams (image credit: CMG Landscape Architects)

Prototype Mint Plaza was intended as a prototype for stormwater best management practices (BMP), for the process of collaboration it entailed, and for the funding mechanism it employed. In reality, however, the importance of and commitment to the prototype intention varied for the different entities involved in the project. The prototypical character of the plaza, according to Moss, was “a classic case of overstating something.” The innovative, integrative

The mechanism through which the plaza was funded represents a potential prototype for funding other public interest projects. The presentation for the first community workshop stated the vision for the Mint Plaza project: “Not a new idea- the concept of street closure has been discussed 12. Diagram of the gap between intentions and receptions for nearly a decade... What’s new is the will to fund the 14 idea.” Mint Plaza was funded through a conglomeration of sources. In addition to the grant provided by the PUC and the Mello-Roos CFD, the nearby Intercontinental Hotel, being built concurrently, contributed $194,406 to satisfy off-site open space provision requirements.22 Thus, the funding scheme for Mint Plaza evidences the various intentions of the contributors, and how they were reconciled to realize the project. It is potentially prototypical because it represents a new, collaborative model for funding public projects and for integrating LID stormwater management practices in the design process.


Diverse but compatible intentions define Mint Plaza’s catalytic potential, both at the urban scale and at the scale of the plaza. It functions as a catalyst by both causing activity and accelerating the rate at which processes occur. At the urban scale, Mint Plaza not only embodies but also promotes alternative land use, economic development, and demographic shifts. At the scale of the plaza, it catalyzes human activity and social equity through design decisions that invite people in and encourage their gathering. Measuring Mint Plaza’s success as a catalyst, in various ways at various scales, first requires consideration of how it is received by those affected by the project. Reception categories, though they do not exactly match, correspond to those of intentions because of the generally successful realization of intentions. The overarching economic structure within which design decisions are made is recognizable in the plaza’s receptions. RECEPTIONS Transitional/Neighborhood Improvement Mint Plaza is received as transitional both physically and temporally. Individual users experience the space as a physical transition between the luxury Westfield Shopping Center to the east and the blighted Sixth Street to the west. In terms of redevelopment, it is a kind of liminal space that references the historical past of the Old Mint and the revitalized future of the neighborhood. Mint Plaza is indicative of and reliant on economically driven transformation. “It’s a weird dichotomy,” explained a frequent visitor, “because you walk half a block and it’s like zombie land because it doesn’t feel safe, but then if you walk here you think this is the nicest mall I’ve ever seen.” Implicit in this user’s reception of the plaza as dichotomous is his identification with a certain social group that is by

nature exclusive of the indigent and association of the plaza with his culture, which challenges the neutrality of the space. A hair stylist who works in a building lining the plaza observed that “It’s a crossroads of affluent meeting the indigent, the prescribed verses the self-prescribed, the shopping center and a transitional plaza.” Yet as a transitional space, the plaza sets an example for socially inclusive neighborhood improvement. The disappearance of drug-dealing, public urination, and indecent exposure and the maintenance of all 50 original moveable chairs are testaments to the plaza’s positive community impact. As a transitional space, it has made and encourages strides in the direction of neighborhood improvement, but risks becoming culturally exclusive as it continues to catalyze this improvement. The test for Mint Plaza will be if it can maintain the diversity of user groups it currently receives within an improved neighborhood comprised of new residences and businesses. Jill Helfenstein, Creative Director for MBC, attests that of the approximately 91 Mint Plaza residential, live/work and commercial properties, the only vacancy is one of the four ground floor restaurant spaces. The other three businesses- Blue Bottle Coffee, and the restaurants Chez Papa and 54 Mint- have prospered since they moved in, all between 2008 and 2009. Though it is difficult to directly correlate the increased rent and property value of the buildings along Mint Plaza to its renovation, a visitor to the plaza expressed the visibility of the connection in the properties’ marketing. “I saw the lofts on Craigslist and was intrigued because they’re historic,” she said. “They really sell it, promoting the restaurants downstairsyou just have to leave your front door.” Mint Plaza’s undeniable role in the marketability of the adjacent properties evidences the economic benefit of the plaza’s renovation. The future impact of this continuous economic


ecture UTSoA


Mint Plaza

Social Equity

Diagram of the gap between intentions and receptions.

development on the user groups in the plaza is yet to be seen. The plaza presently draws users primarily from the surrounding office and residential buildings. As MidMarket is redeveloped, Mint Plaza has the potential to become more of a destination, attracting more tourists and visitors from farther reaches of the city who in turn can either displace or combine with the present neighborhood demographic, which also has the potential to change. Mint Plaza’s reception as a transitional space, both physically and developmentally, reflects its current status and future potential as a catalyst of both economic development and neighborhood improvement.

12. Diagram of the gap between intentions and receptions


Mint Plaza is currently received as a truly public space because of its openness in terms of functionality and diversity of users. Overall, this social openness is received as positive and indicative of social equity. A Blue Bottle employee who visits the plaza daily lamented that the plaza is “a signifier of gentrification in the neighborhood,” but at the same time praised it as eclectic, saying “I love seeing an urban setting where you have Sixth Street type folk and then you have really expensive restaurants.” Specific design moves physically and psychologically engender the openness that appeals to a cross-section of the population. Most users comment on the moveable chairs, appreciating their flexibility and disconnection from the restaurants that require patronage for use. Furthermore, the chairs promote the self-reinforcing process of activity, a concept addressed in Life Between Buildings by architect Jan Gehl, where people are inclined to use them because they see others doing so.23 Thus, the chairs remove a psychological barrier to using the plaza, informing all visitors that they are welcome. The subtle grading of the plaza and delineation of zones of activity create a compartmentalized openness in which people can gather in varying degrees of intimacy. These zones of occupancy exist without barriers that would physically imply social inequality. As the Mid-Market area is redeveloped, inevitably the plaza will retain its physical openness. The question becomes whether or not it will remain culturally and psychologically open to a diverse user group. Topos


predicts yes: “Mint Plaza’s flexible design ensures that it will stay relevant to this community, even as their neighborhood continues to evolve.”24 The validity of this assertion will depend on how the future development of the area handles the pressures of gentrification that could potentially homogenize the neighborhood and in turn counteract the social equity Mint Plaza was intended to and currently does promote. Multifunctional/Experimental Programming Observations of and interviews with users in Mint Plaza reveal the degree to which it is received as a flexible, multifunctional space. People use the space as a passageway, a quiet place to enjoy lunch or a cup of coffee, to nap in the sun, to smoke, to bring their kids, to read a book, or to be alone. Two men sitting in the orange chairs said they use the plaza as an informal conference room, since the adjacent Provident Loan Building in which they work has limited meeting space. “The president actually sets up here,” one of the men exclaimed, “because there’s just enough WIFI that he can make his calls out here on his headset.” A MUNI representative said, “I work largely out in the field, so I go meeting to meeting and I sit down and look for a place to collect my thoughts and put on my lipstick.” Mint Plaza is also found to be multifunctional and open to experimentation in the programming of the space by Martin Building Company, the City, and the arts groups that perform there. CMG noted how MBC was interested in using the plaza as an experimental space, initially renting one of the three major restaurant spaces to a hipster bar. It is apparent from the City’s interest in the project as a prototype that it perceived the plaza as an experiment in LID applied to tight urban spaces. Because it is an unconventional venue for performance, the plaza lends itself to experimental usage by arts groups. The

director of a theater group that performs in the space highlighted in an interview the unusual partnership of organizations that enable the programming of the plaza during the annual 24 Days of Central Market Arts Festival. In addition to ongoing public programs, 6-10 private events are hosted each year by companies like Google, Converse, and several tech companies. Helfenstein explains that maintenance has suffered from a lack of revenue from programming, which is season and weather dependent and requires expensive city permits: “Over the past few years, we had to defer several vital services, including daytime security, supplemental janitorial and plant maintenance, and general repairs and maintenance. And most significantly, this took away our ability to further program the Plaza and focus our efforts on creating and promoting publicly-accessible art, culture and music events for the public to enjoy.” However, some neighborhood organizations have committed this year to providing monthly funds to help improve and activate the neighborhood, indicating the growth of a valuable sense of ownership within the community. The physical form and public-ownership/private-management of Mint Plaza are arguably experimental in and of themselves but also in the range of activities they facilitate. Passageway/Sanctuary Mint Plaza is received as both a passageway and a sanctuary. Guillard expressed surprise at how many people move through the plaza, using it as a cut through. Foot traffic is promising, however, in terms of future plans for the Old Mint and for a pedestrian network through SOMA. At the same time, once again reflecting the flexibility of the plaza, users repeatedly praised Mint Plaza as a quiet place for finding reprieve from the bustle of the street and SOMA at large. “I think it’s great,” said one woman. “I really enjoy


that it’s usually quiet. Sometimes I’ll sit here and read paperwork before a meeting, and that’s wonderful, just to have a little quiet space.” “It’s a very quiet area,” another user observed. “A lot of people come because there aren’t a lot of people around. It’s pretty cool how you can see lots of people on the street but then it’s quieter here.” “I come kind of regular,” said a man who lives in an SRO around the corner, “might just watch people, get some peace of mind, away from the busy areas. They mess your day up- no one at peace, doing crazy stuff, and if you hang around you get caught up.” According to CMG, the plaza functions the way they anticipated it would, despite a difficult economy in which restaurants fight to remain open and the Mint Project struggles to raise money for renovation. The often stated intention of activating the plaza and of creating active edges begs the question of how active the plaza must be to be considered successful. It is currently praised as a sanctuary because it is not overly active. If commotion replaces calm as the neighborhood is redeveloped, the test for Mint Plaza will be whether the flexibility inherent in the intention of openness allows for a correspondingly flexible definition of future success. Unperceived Greening ‘Greening’ in Mint Plaza exists in two senses of the word: figuratively in reference to the improved environmental sustainability of the site and literally in the amount and quality of plant life added. The low impact design that is a defining characteristic of Mint Plaza and represents an intention important to CMG and Sherwood Engineers is not perceived by the public at large. Users in the plaza are unaware of the environmentally sustainable infrastructure hidden beneath the paving that directs stormwater responsibly into the ground rather than into

the sewer system. While they value the added park space and opportunity to be outdoors and catch a breath of fresh air, they receive the plant life as limited. “I wish it was a little greener,” one user said, “but the vines are nice.” Another said, “It fills a need for public space that’s not existent in San Francisco the way it is in other large cities like New York.” The City of San Francisco represents another user group that because of its expert knowledge and participation in the process of renovating the plaza receives the environmental sustainability of the site as positive despite its masking. Ultimately, the perception of the ecological benefits of Mint Plaza is limited to those with expert or insider knowledge; the majority of users look for literal greening in the presence of plants as an indicator of environmental sustainability. Prototype Mint Plaza is received as a prototype to a varying degree by the different stakeholders involved and primarily as a signifier of the feasibility of logistically and financially integrating stormwater management practices in public projects in San Francisco. Piper affirmed that some of their later projects in the city used similar methods as those applied in Mint Plaza. The EPA awarded Mint Plaza a Smart Growth Achievement Award, noting that “The plaza is a model for using sustainable design principles in dense urban areas that require substantial amounts of paved surfaces… The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission now uses this system as a model for other projects.” 25 Indeed, the “San Francisco Stormwater Design Guidelines” cite Mint Plaza as “an example of how LID can be integrated into an ultra-urban setting.” 26 Kortkamp in particular touted the prototypical quality of Mint Plaza, emphasizing the amazing process achieved with the City to create quality urban space that is simultaneously usable and marketable


as ‘green.’ Thus, while the environmental sustainability of the project is valuable, the real innovation is in the process by which the project was realized. According to Kortkamp, Mint Plaza is precedent setting in San Francisco. It valuably provides a local example of how stormwater management can be integrated, demonstrating not only that it can be, but also the process of collaborative design by which it is possible. In San Francisco, where an aging sewer system poses immense infrastructure costs, the economic value of alternative methods of stormwater mitigation is invaluable.27 As of January 2010, private development in San Francisco now requires integrated stormwater management involving a collaborative approach from the project’s outset. Mint Plaza is proof that integrated stormwater management can be aesthetically pleasing, meet code, and involve the cooperation of many people. On the financial side as well, Mint Plaza sets a precedent for how Mello-Roos can be used to coordinate private development with public community improvement interests to create improved urban quality. Thus, Mint Plaza’s reception as a prototype is especially significant in terms of the replicability of a process: it is a useful prototype for applying LID principles to public space improvements, integrating a collaborative design process, and leveraging streams of public funding. For the most part, Mint Plaza played out as intended, with the multiple stakeholders benefitting mutually. While this is indicative of the project’s success, it does not mean that intentions and receptions directly correlated. On the contrary, as is inherent in the design process, intentions overlap and diverge and must be negotiated. The resulting material manifestation of conflict resolutions is then subject to receptions that do not relate to original intentions in a dualistic, black and white, linear manner. Thus, evaluating

the gap between intentions and receptions is not a straightforward task aimed at simply affirming the plaza’s success. Rather, it is intended to clarify the nuances of and thus make meaningful that success. The gap is a dynamic space in which intentions are strengthened, compromised, and transformed to ultimately inform how Mint Plaza is, or is not, received. To understand the gap between intentions and receptions is to recognize the qualities of and limitations to the plaza’s success, and to therefore be able to assess its impact. In Mint Plaza, success is evaluated in terms of sustainability, characterized by improved urban quality that supports, in architect Jan Gehl’s terms, “lively, safe, sustainable, healthy communities.” 28 Arguably, sustainability encompasses all of these traits with their social, economic, environmental, and political aspects. Intentions and receptions, though the dynamics between them are complicated, can be usefully evaluated in relation to each other. Thus, to evaluate the gap between intentions and receptions, comparisons are made between the intention and reception of the plaza as stimulating of economic development and social equality, multifunctional and open, and prototypical. CONCLUSIONS The sustainability achieved in Mint Plaza is provisional because of its transitional character. Economic development and social equity are intended, and received, but tentatively. While social equality currently presides, as evidenced by a lack of physical and psychological boundaries, a cultural shift has the potential to negate this development. This cultural shift could coincide with a psychological barrier if newly activated commercial edges reduce or overpower the accessibility of the central plaza space. Mint Plaza has established the framework necessary for its future success in terms of sustainable


social and economic development, and catalyzed this sustainability by setting a precedent for the area and larger city. The gap between intentions and receptions is therefore still open, with tentative receptions captured in the moment but still in motion. Mint Plaza’s capacity to be a veritable catalyst of sustainable development and neighborhood improvement is still being tested as revitalization efforts play out. Because longevity is, after all, implicit in the term ‘sustainability,’ it reasonably follows that current receptions are provisional and the true impact of the sustainability catalyzed by Mint Plaza is yet to be determined. The flexibility of the plaza, as it is intended and received, is characterized by openness to a diversity of uses and user groups and to future development, particularly of the Old Mint. This intended openness, though inadvertently received by users, directly correlates to its reception because of its inherent flexibility. Specific design intentions contribute to the multifunctional, open character of the plaza. These design moves are not consciously received by the public, but nonetheless shape their experience of and response to the space. Users appreciate space to sit and relax but do not recognize that they feel inclined to do so because of the human scaling of the space, or the angling of the benches that provides a degree of privacy, or the inviting edges that encourage secondary uses. These design traits enable the reception of openness to directly align with the intention since it does not prescribe a specific manifestation of success. For example, because the design is open, it can be successful with varying degrees of activity, enhancing the likelihood of its success in the future, when the amount of activity is likely to increase. A range of receptions would qualify the plaza as open, indicating that the intention of flexibility and openness was maintained. Thus, there is no gap between the intention and reception of the plaza as multifunctional and open since flexibility is inherent in both. Mint Plaza is flexible in terms of openness and adaptability

related to both use and user presently and in the future. Mint Plaza’s reception exceeds its intention as a prototype. It was originally intended as a prototype for narrowly-defined prescriptive best management practices and as a marketing tactic. In its reception, however, it became a prototype for a collaborative process by which environmental sustainability can be mandated and integrated in the design process through city codes and by which public-private partnerships can fund and mutually benefit from public interest design. Yet by exceeding intentions, receptions stretch the gap between the two, raising the bar and creating new demands. While the application of environmentally sustainable, low impact design is hugely successful and exemplary in Mint Plaza, and represents steps towards mainstreaming sustainability, its impact is limited to progress at the City and expert level. Despite initial public engagement in the design process, Mint Plaza still consists of a topdown, expert-driven approach to sustainability that, while productive, is not sufficient for accelerating a ‘community culture of sustainability.’29 This is where the loss of the educational component of the stormwater infiltration system is lamentable, as it represents an effort to integrate sustainability into the everyday lives of the public, and thus to grow the knowledge and concern that is a prerequisite for effective public participation. As a prototypical process, however, Mint Plaza evidences deliberative engagement and collaboration that can be applied to other projects to build on its admirable first steps, promoting a culture of sustainability characterized by top-down support of grass-roots activism. Social, economic, and environmental sustainability grounded in this type of democratic process will inevitably produce improved urban spaces with human life, safety and health at its core. By overreaching the gap between intentions and receptions, Mint Plaza as a prototype has the potential to catalyze greater sustainability than that which it entails, rendering it impactful both as a precedent for and as an instance of sustainability. 39

A testament to the success of Mint Plaza, as recounted by Moss, is its popularity at the opening celebration, where city officials ranging from left-leaning supervisors to Mayor Gavin Newsom all took credit. This desire to take ownership of the plaza evidences a positive reception and demonstrates an investment in the project and in the sustainability it promotes. Ultimately, negotiation of the gap between intentions and receptions in Mint Plaza has resulted in improved urban space grounded in flexible design that encourages current and allows for future sustainability. The test of Mint Plaza’s success will come with the Mid-Market area’s revitalization and will be whether the sustainability catalyzed by the plaza is augmented or overshadowed by this redevelopment, and whether it informs more projects that in turn help to mainstream sustainability in San Francisco. In other words, the success of Mint Plaza hinges on another gap: that between the rhetoric and practice of sustainable development in San Francisco, which will determine how, as a transitional space, the plaza and its impact evolve.



Heydn Ericson David Sharratt

Project details Address 50 Oak St. San Francisco, CA Project Type School of Music and Public Performance Space Service area Education Size 126,000 Sq Ft

Design costs $80 M Construction costs $45 M Partnering Organizations Forell/Elsesser Kirkegaard Associates Rutherford & Chekene Page + Turnbull Flack + Kurtz Auerbach Pollock Freidlander Swinerston Builders

Year of completion 2006 Client Name San Francisco Conservancy of Music

Design Firm Perkins + Will (formerly SMWM) Design team Cathy Simon (Principal) John Long (Project Manager) Liza Pannozzo


SAN FRANCISCO CONSERVANCY OF MUSIC : Heydn Ericson and David Sharratt



Peter Zumthor writes that buildings develop a “beautifulnand specifi c richness when traces of life are sedimented onto their surfaces.”1 Zumthor emphasized the building’s relationship with its physical environment; this report focuses on its relationship with the human element, taking an ethnographic approach rooted in interviews and a survey conducted categorically with students, faculty and staff . Questions that guided the research were: How have the people who use the San Francisco Conservatory of Music building animated it and made it their own? And, reciprocally, how does the building impact its occupants and its place?

Project Overview

“Rather seeking new answers to questions that were poorly formulated in the fi rst place, it may be helpful to ask not about the work but about the way the work works.”2 -David Leatherbarrow With the success of LEED, buildings’ technical (energy) performance is forefront in designers’ minds and consciousness. We hope that this trend may pave the way for a broader understanding of performance that includes user experience, health, and social impact. A traditional architecture-as-art3 approach to evaluation is not wrong, nor is it terribly relevant. More important are the aesthetics of everyday experience.4 The beauty in buildings that this study is concerned with is that which is fundamentally intertwined with the experience of a space -- that reflects and helps defi ne its people and place. 5 As architecture struggles to remain a relevant profession we need to talk about the value of our buildings in a way that is accessible and meaningful to people who are not in the field.

Prior to its move, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music had been located in a quiet residential neighborhood of the city since 1956. In 1998, SFCM approached architect Cathy Simon, a principal of SMWM, seeking a new facility. The fact that the Ortega Street facility was never intended as a music conservatory had become evident as the organization grew. The location made public transportation difficult and the acoustics in the space were incredibly poor, with sound leakage between rooms constantly creating unnecessary distraction. Despite its shortcomings the building was remembered as having some positive qualities, namely its ability to encourage frequent interaction.6 While the staff had fond memories attached to its “funkiness”, the Ortega Street building was holding the organization back. Besides an improved facility, the SFCM sought to move to a central location, easily accessible by public transport.7 When 50 and 70 Oak Street, located near the Civic Center, were proposed, the site showed great potential - despite the fact that the buildings were in grave disrepair. Designed by William Shea in Beaux Arts style, the building at 50 Oak Street was constructed in 1914 to house the Young Men’s Institute (YMI).8 In 1923, 70 Oak Street was built as an annex and the two functioned as a recreational facility, including an underground pool and a grand ballroom. When SFCM visited the buildings 70 Oak Street had been condemned, due to damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. However, the location and the 50 Oak Street façade and grand ballroom won everyone over.




The SFCM is founded as Ada Clement Piano School.

50 Oak St. is constucted for the Young Men’s Institute, designed by William Shea.



70 Oak St. is constucted as an addition for the Young Men’s Institute, designed by Shea & Shea.

The SFCM moves to Sunset location on Ortega steet. A building that was originally designed as an nursery school.

1988 Above: map of Civic Center area Right: timeline of project development (orange), major recognition (blue), and Mid-Market development (brown)

The properties were purchased and questions arose immediately: 70 Oak Street would be demolished, but how would the renovations of 50 Oak Street be handled and how would the program fit? The site offered tough constraints: an underground creek limited how far could be built below grade and city code limited the height. The desired program was far bigger than the new space would allow. As design development progressed it became clear that keeping the existing floor heights would compromise the design. Adding complexity, the first floor was about five feet above grade, posing serious problems for accessibility. The decision was made that the facade would be preserved but all else would be demolished. Informants at SFCM are proud the facade was preserved, though it required extra engineering and creative design. Extensive temporary bracing was built and the facade was reinforced and then tied back to the new, adjacent moment frame visible from the exterior on 70 Oak.9 The new façade contrasts the old, but is quite restrained, continuing horizontal lines and proportion from the old façade.10 A publicly stated goal of the project was to have a positive social impact on the area; the projected contribution was in fact documented as an offset to the aggressive strategy of adaptive reuse that was to be adopted.11 Informants noted the Civic Center and SFCM each expected to benefit from their proximity to one another. Conservatory staff believed

YMI leaves 50 and 70 Oak St. The two properties sit abandoned and in disrepair.

2000 The SFCM purchases 50 and 70 Oak St. The school makes a commitment to the Cvic Center.

2006 The 3-4 year goal for enrollment is realized in the first year after giving tours in the new building. Selectivity increases 10%

2006 The SFCM moves into its new facility following challenging, unique construction.

2009 The NY Times calls the SFCM concert hall ‘closest to ideal’ in the Bay Area.

2013 SF Jazz construction expected to be complete. Their choice to locate in Mid-Market is said to be a direct result of the SFCM.

2010 The SCUP/AIA CAE Excellence in Architecture award is given to the SFCM.

2011 The California Preservation Foundation hosts their Design Preservation Awards at the SFCM.


that the new location would result in increased community participation and increased audience sizes. 12 From the start, the building was intended to encourage community interaction. Of all program organization decisions, where to put the 450 seat concert hall had the biggest consequences: its location greatly impacted where other program would go, affected the team’s adaptive reuse strategy, and required extensive engineering. After reviewing other options, the team chose to preserve the original ballroom, and elongate it to meet acoustic requirements.13

Preserved facade with temporary bracing. Courtesey of Perkins + Will

The design of the Conservatory was marked by several heroic feats of engineering, which deserve their own study.14 Add to this the fact that the seismic and acoustic goals of the structure conflicted – generally, lighter fares better in seismic areas while heavier is better for acoustics. Balancing these considerations was a task cited by the design team as being exceptionally difficult yet satisfying.15 Construction was complicated and slow. The design and construction of the building were unconventional, due to the unique confluence of constraints and program requirements. There was a very specific, unique ordering to how things were to be done.16 The Conservatory opened its doors in 2006.

First floor plan, illustrating where the concert hall crosses between the previous structures. Courtesey of Perkins + Will

The SFCM has benefited immensely from its new location. Among other benefits, the move spurred the organization to revitalize its board and significantly increase the fundraising capabilities of the organization.17 The SFCM’s new building has proven to be an asset to the community. Its central locale and superior facility have put the building on the map as a major site for classical music


in the area. An article in The New York Times noted, “Of all the classical concert locales in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s 450-seat Concert Hall comes close to being ideal.”18 Additionally, SFCM’s move contributed to the development of the mid-market area, which has evolved dramatically over recent years. Since the opening of the Conservatory, two large mixed-use developments have been built and there are plans to build SF Jazz nearby -- an indirect result of the Conservatory’s presence, in the opinion of some interview subjects.19 The new site has also enabled increased collaboration with nearby art and cultural institutions. The SFCM is now able to successfully recruit part-time faculty who are musicians with the opera, orchestra, and ballet. Because of the proximity, such collaboration is a convenient reality. Spaces in the building are also rented on a regular basis to organizations and groups.20 The move to a vertically oriented urban building also came with unforeseen and undesirable impacts. First, was an issue of increased hierarchy. The Ortega location was organized horizontally. Despite the designers consciously intermixing types of use and people among floors in the new facility the SFCM describes themselves as having ‘3rd floor people,’ ‘4th floor people,’ etc. And, Mary Ellen Poole, Dean of the Conservatory, recounted difficulty in reinforcing staff hierarchy when making office assignments because rooms vary greatly in experiential quality and exposure to natural light. Second, the elderly, local audience members who frequented Ortega Street performances are now unwilling to commute the distance to downtown. Finally, there were unforeseen cultural implications to the new urban environment; security guards now check people in at the

entrance, making the institution feel less welcoming and open to the public.21 One member of the design team, when discussing the issue of hierarchy, surmised that part of the frustration with the new (and objectively better) facility is simply a “fondness or nostalgia” for the older space, a space with far worse – yet increasingly distant – problems.22 The benefits of SFCM’s new facility, both intended and unexpected, are numerous. That said, the old location had a charm worth emulating, some of which was successfully included in the new design: community spaces like the atrium seem to work well as an updated version of the community spaces on Ortega Street. One would expect great benefit from a project of this scope, both from moving the institution from an isolated residential area to the heart of the city’s arts, and from the transition from a small building designed without acoustical expertise to a large building that was acoustically engineered and designed for the organization’s needs. The following sections will detail what teachers, students, and staff had to say, in large part pointing to how the building’s design has exceeded such expectations. INTENTIONS Community Interaction | Atrium The SCUP/AIA-CAE Excellence in Architecture Renovation/ Adaptive Reuse Merit Award for the SFCM defines a goal of the building as striving to “integrate program uses to create a building supporting and encouraging community interaction.”23 In interviews, the design team indicated that this goal included both encouraging interaction among students and supporting interaction with the public. Of all spaces in the building, the atrium best exemplifies this goal.


Cathy Simon, the Principal Architect in charge, described the atrium as the heart of the building; it was designed to foster interaction among students while offering windows into the school for the public.24 She recalled that President Murdoch was adamant that SFCM’s identity as a should school always be visible, commenting that “the idea of the atrium with the café on the lower level is to, no matter what, notice that this is a school, and always remember that.”25

destination.29 The architects sought to display this publicly and emblematically in the atrium, and to carefully design all spaces to facilitate learning on a daily basis. In a music conservatory acoustics are paramount. The design team also believed that the aesthetics of the spaces were also integral.

Project manager John Long pointed out that there is no single lobby large enough to accommodate a performance crowd, and that they had envisioned people spread among floors. The student presence was inevitable as the atrium provides circulation.26 The acoustician from Kirkegaard described a similar intent, saying they wanted, “it to be an ever-building series of exciting experiences…We wanted to create expectation and excitement.” 27 The atrium, as the first experience in the building, would showcase the students, initiating this excitement.

All rooms were carefully designed to work, meaning they had to be enjoyable, contain the right equipment, and be adequately isolated from sound. However, spaces were approached with a hierarchy; certain spaces (recording studios, recital hall, salon, concert hall, classrooms, faculty studios) were made to be sound isolated, while practice rooms intentionally were not, in order to help keep students from becoming too lost in the depths of their concentration. Such an approach demanded an excruciating level of detail. The foam of the cushions, for example, and the thread count of the covers were all chosen taking into consideration their affect on the acoustics of the space.30 This acoustical rigor is emblematic of the entire team’s approach.31

The intention of highlighting student presence was carried throughout the project by mixing faculty studios, offices, and practice rooms, placing seating in convenient places for people passing by to strike up conversation, and by designing the acoustics of practice rooms such that students could be heard in the hallways, while still retaining sound isolation between rooms. Acoustic design was also paramount with the atrium; reflective materials were consciously used to create a resonant, lively, and engaging atmosphere.28 Advancing the SFCM’s Mission The project sought to both enhance and reflect the educational mission of the Conservatory. President Colin Murdoch’s believed that the institution must maintain its identity as it transitioned to becoming a public

Acoustical Function

Acoustical Training Besides functioning well for students, the team expressed an intent that the building should train the developing students to adapt their performances to sound best in different spaces. In un-amplified classical music, the room becomes an instrument which the musician must quickly learn how to play with. With this in mind each space was intended to have a beautiful, but different sound. The acoustician described that in a well-designed music facility, “the building is their sandbox”; by learning to play in a variety of spaces, “they become masters at manipulating a wide variety of acoustical environments.”32


If you spend more time in the building than is required, why? Do you spend more time in the building than is required

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Aesthetics and Sound colllaboraƟon

The design sociali team lizin i g realized that making a beautifully sounding space is not simply a science of engineering decay rates and The building's atmosphere promotes excellence reflection of sound waves. The architects and acousticians 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 went on a national tour to visit and listen to top classical staff students faculty performance spaces. One of the conclusions from this tour was that how a space feels affects and is as important as how it sounds; a person’s senses are fundamentally interconnected.33 The acoustician gave the example that the entrance sequence from the atrium to the concert hall sets high expectations.34 The beauty of these spaces was intended to promote excellence, to enrich the experience of music, to set high standards within the school and to showcase that culture to the public. Aesthetic Identity: Looking Forward, Looking Back Excellence was intended to be expressed in very specific ways that reflect the school’s identity. Simon explained that the building is a “perfect metaphor” because the preserved elements represent the SFCM’s commitment to preserving the classical repertoire, while the new elements represent a forward looking culture, new music and innovation.35 Humanism Simon’s biographical notes in a publication by SMWM describe her as committed to humanism. She had this to say about how humanism manifests in the design of the conservatory: “I think it is a very warm building; I think it is very welcoming. It showcases and celebrates people really, well; it also celebrates the art of making music, of performing it, and listening.”36 But how do you make

a space that ‘exudes excellence’ without it being elitist, ostracizing or cold? And it seems her answer is that “it celebrates people” -- in all their design decisions, the team thought rigorously about how the spaces would be experienced. In the interview, it became clear that the architects creatively endeavored to get as much light into the building as possible, despite the site’s constraints. 37 They also designed curved hallways so as to alleviate feelings of confinement in an otherwise tight space.38 This category was particularly interesting because the study’s approach could be labeled humanistic; the focus was on how the building affects the experience of its inhabitants. To be transparent, a building that is successfully humanistic will look very good in this ethnographic framework of building analysis. Design Efficieny + Functionality Constrained by budget and space, the architects designed a large portion of the building very densely, with a lot of utilitarian, even generic spaces.39 Small touches intended to humanize these utilitarian spaces that could of otherwise been perceived as dull or unattractive were important to the designers. Throughout the building, programming was addressed very carefully and intentionally -- not just to make it fit but with the intention of promoting interaction among people who may not of otherwise crossed paths by intermixing different uses.


Details were also carefully considered throughout. Specialty climate control systems were designed to run at a whisper – systems that also had the unique requirement of having to fit within tighter-than-usual spaces due to space constraints within the building.40 RECEPTIONS Community Interaction | Atrium It was a bold choice to open up such a volume of space in a building which would not fit its initial program, but the atrium has proved its worth and its value is emblematic of a larger success of the building. It encourages community interaction, both within the school and to serve as a bridge to the outside community. As Simon so aptly described, the atrium is theatrical and “all about the windows of appearance.” 41 This has had incredible value for the students’ growth as performing musicians; one survey respondent noted, “[Audience members] are involved with the students’ lives. They see them play a little solo when they were freshmen and they sort of follow them through.” The atrium has clearly succeeded in presenting the school to the public. The student interview described it as a popular place for guitarists to practice. Dean Poole described it as a “lovely” space that is often utilized as a practice venue for guitarists and is also the best place to find someone she needs to see. The faculty interviewee commented specifically on the top floor multi-use gathering space of the atrium as particularly successful.42 The acoustical intent of creating a lively space was achieved, but as Long predicted it has not been without problems. Dean Poole commented that “while the acoustics are, perhaps, as intended, loved by guitarists, and do create a

lively buzz, they are not well received by all.”43 The buzz, she said, creates community, but makes it difficult for staff to work in the ticket booths. From our observation as audience members, we were impressed with how the atrium worked in conjunction with the hall and facilitated visitor involvement with the school. During intermission, people gathered at the bottom of the stairs and by the café, and were able to glimpse or interact with the performers as they left the green rooms. The space was loud in an exciting and comfortable way. It was not difficult to hold a conversation, and the space seemed to reflect and encourage the group’s elevated mood. At the end of the show the performers exited through the audience and went directly to the second floor area for a reception. The space accommodated this use very well. An intimate space above with people trickling down and around gave a feeling of connection and excitement throughout the space. The space was activated by people, able to be used flexibly and efficiently. Perhaps the strongest critics on whether the building promotes social interaction were the designers; they described the student lounge as dark and gloomy. However, the student interview commented on how simple opportunities in hallways – which are also some of the darker areas of the building – enable interaction.44 The staff interview indicated that the acoustic presence in hallways was also appreciated, as intended by the design team. The survey indicates that while these comments do not speak for all, they do speak for most. The results of the survey are represented by figures 6 and 8, which show the impressive percentages of people who responded that they spend extra time in the building to socialize and collaborate.45




had some serious criticisms of the building wrote, “The real purpose of this building is to teach music. And I think it succeeds in that.”47 “When I first saw the building I was impressed. It looked like a place that facilitated learning and was on the forefront of musical education. That impression hasn’t changed.” -Student

1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 2010









applications received enrolled

Admissions statistics.

Advancing the SFCM’s Mission The building has served to support and advance the educational mission of the Conservatory in a way that is very specific to the culture of the organization. The findings, despite some critiques, the project has been received in this regard remarkably well. So well, in fact - on both the aesthetic experience of the concert hall and the building’s ability to enhance its occupants learning/work - that we believe it gives specific contextual richness to the general claim that built space and design can positively affect people’s behavior. Survey responses indicated that the building assists the SFCM’s educational mission.46 Even a faculty member who

Comments from the survey, and comments from audience members reflect the data – both that the building is successful and that it is not perfect. A survey question about first impressions of the building and how they have changed over time received varied responses from “astonished” and “facilitated learning” to “cold and unwelcoming.” 48 The negative comments on the aesthetics were the exception as illustrated The interviews gave more insight into how the building contributed to work/learning. One staff member who had worked in the old facility remembered that people started acting more professionally at the new building. As an example she laughingly remembered a faculty member asking her, “Have you noticed that everybody is just dressing better?”49 This sense of professionalism was also expressed by the assistant director of admissions, as an asset and draw for students50 and this is backed by admissions data; right after the move to the new building, the Conservatory’s number of applications jumped and their selectivity increased by 10%. “The quality of study and performance has gone up and I feel that is directly related to the improved acoustics and professional feel of this building over our last location. I am happy we are here!” - Faculty


It has been observed that certain qualities can promote a humanistic design -- that is, a design that enhances the user’s experience and/or behavior. Do any of these contribute to this being a humanistic building? (choose as many as apply) Has the building enhanced your work performance? periodic natural relief 10%


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80% accomodates a variety of ac�vi�es and people 74% 76% These data suggest that the atmosphere of excellence 58% spaces that facilitate interac�on 58% 62% the designers sought translated into measurable value 53% signs of human presence 58% for the organization, one that has also extended outward freedom from intrusion or distrac�on 59% to affect the public’s perception of the institution. One variety of visual experience 52% audience member when asked if/how the building affected personal or human scale his experience of the performance he’d just attended it has not commented that “the building exudes excellence.” 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 staff



Most of the faculty and students interviewed appreciated how the “building as a sandbox” concept works in the building. Dean Poole pointed out that the live and bright acoustics in the concert hall, while difficult for singers, teaches them “razor-sharp diction” and ”makes their tone sound fantastic so they don’t mind.” 51 Not surprisingly, some people find the acoustical challenges to be too much. While the majority of student survey responses about the Concert Hall were positive, it was also described as ‘difficult’ and ‘dead’. Similar criticisms came from parents after watching their children perform. Critiques were greatly outnumbered by comments using the word ‘beautiful’ to describe the overall experience of the hall. The most public compliment to the aesthetic experience of the concert hall has been from Veltman’s article in The New York Times, which after calling it “close to ideal “praises the “tall windows and elegant Beaux-Arts décor” 52 -indirectly recognizing the designers’ intent to represent the Conservatory’s philosophy towards music education. To Dean Poole, the metaphor of conserving and advancing the art has been an important success.53 The production manager commented on the public value (and financial value for the Conservatory) of this, describing that audiences and renters of the spaces are fascinated by the representation of conservation and progress, and their unique character means “the halls have a lot of personality. 54 We found

this particular element of the design to be unanimously successful, directly aligned with the designers’ intention, and of real value to the conservatory. The aesthetic of the old-versus-new also raises the question of the reception of the two contrasting facades.55 Despite the fact that it was not a traditional preservation project, the historic preservation community has received the project quite well. It was awarded a Merit Award for Historic Preservation and Innovation in Rehabilitation by the AIA San Francisco chapter and the California Preservation Foundation hosted their 2011 Preservation Design Awards ceremony there. Humanism The idea of humanism in a building is not something that people without an architectural education typically consider. People might describe a building as warm or welcoming, but have difficulty pointing to specifics. We provided some vocabulary to the people we interviewed and survey respondents to encourage more substantive responses.56 What stood out from the interviews was just how important natural light was to users’ ability to perform their best. The faculty interviewee focused on a “positive feeling “ attributed to a pervasive atmosphere of openness which he attributed to the atrium and to “marvelous” natural light in the classrooms, offices, and practice rooms.57 Student interviewees also expressed gratitude that the designers brought in as much light as they could.58 The survey suggests that these opinions are typical; respondents generally received the building as humanistic, and often noted natural light. The survey data additionally reflect that a significant portion of people indicated that


classrooms. Others criticized the building for feeling confusing to navigate. Figure 15 indicates a majority opinion that the building is convenient, but there were serious critiques of congestion in the entry and difficulty navigating elevators, resulting in elderly visitors feeling forced to use sections of stairs. Everything is so integrated and carefully fit that it is not uncommon for even faculty and staff to feel lost. 61

an environment in which people can and want to take ownership of the building and use it in unexpected ways.

Design Efficiency + Functionality By focusing their creative abilities on select areas (the performance spaces, the atrium, and the library) and executing the design with careful attention to detail, the building as a whole ƐĂůŽŶ

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accommodated uses and versatility add to the building’s humanism. The faculty member added depth to these findings: “It’s their space. If I show up here at 10 at night, the students are so surprised to see faculty – maybe even a little annoyed, because it’s their space. And, I love that, because they are here and they are making this building Is the building convenient? Canbreathe. If this sbuilding were59 open 24 hours a day, they would be here 24 hours a day.” you find what you want? Get to where you want to go f

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The SFCM clearly succeeds at Simon’s goals of being about people and celebratingNo! people. The fact that respondents Figure 15: survey data chose natural light as one of the building’s strongest points for this particular project is a testament to the value of design. As Simon and Long noted, there were unusually large constraints on day lighting: the depth of the floor plates, the preserved façade, and the façade adjacent to the parking lot for which they had to get permission from the next door landowner for each window.


s t a f f

-Dean Poole

The frequency with which survey respondents selected “periodic natural relief” and “accommodated uses” is also a valuable result in understanding what is important to people about their buildings. The comments about bringing personality to the building demonstrate the value of creating an environment in which people can and want to take ownership of the building and use it in unexpected ways.

51 Yes!

Design Efficiency + Functionality By focusing their creative abilities on select areas (the performance spaces, the atrium, and the library) and executing the design with careful attention to detail, the building as a whole feels unique, warm, and designed. There were, however, some critiques of the building’s practical day-to-day functionality, which at times detract from the building’s ability to serve its users. Often we were told that the building needed to be larger. Despite its efficiency, Dean Poole told us that the SFCM was “too small the day we moved in.”60 Interview subjects and survey respondents mentioned a lack of practice rooms and classrooms. Others criticized the building for feeling confusing to navigate. Figure 15 indicates a majority opinion that the building is convenient, but there were serious critiques of congestion in the entry and difficulty navigating elevators, resulting in elderly visitors feeling forced to use sections of stairs. Everything is so integrated and carefully fit that it is not uncommon for even faculty and staff to feel lost.61 Certain areas, namely those in the basement and the student lounge, were mentioned several times in user interviews as feeling dark, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. Others, such as a percussion student who spends most of his time in the basement, attributed small design details such as the curving hallways to enabling him to happily occupy the space for long periods of time. Users reported that they were impressed with other spaces, particularly those with ample natural lighting – spaces such as the library, atrium, and performance spaces, as well as the classrooms, offices, and practice rooms with windows.

One of many acoustical strategies, courtesy of Perkins + Will.

The mechanical system received both praise and criticism from the maintenance staff. For instance, they loved the building’s efficient, environmentally-friendly cooling tower62 and heat exchanger.63 Due to the constraints of space and noise, systems were selected that unfortunately are not functioning quite as well as expected and are difficult and expensive to maintain. After any critique of the building’s functionality users ultimately admitted their love or fondness for it. This is a testament to the over-arching effect of the building’s successes. With issues of functionality and circulation aside, the SFCM demonstrates an interestingly successful strategy of balancing large amounts of dense utilitarian space and a handful of unique and extraordinary spaces. A member of the design team pointed out that buildings


Concert Hall. Photo by Tim Griffith, courtesy of Perkins + Will.

are designed to be inhabited. As to the criticism that the building is short on practice rooms, to be limited on space may be viewed as ultimately successful.64 CONCLUSION The research for this study took an ethnographic approach that relied heavily on primary sources of data. To best understand the design intentions we interviewed key members of the design team: acoustician, structural engineer, theater designer, architect (principal in charge), project manager, and historic preservation consultant. To understand how the building was received, we interviewed and surveyed staff, students, and faculty. The staff of the Conservatory were extremely generous with their time, and despite being out of session for the summer we were able to conduct these interviews as well as speak with the dean, the assistant director of admissions, the production manager, and the vice president and financial officer.

This amounted to over 75 pages of transcribed text and survey responses. Additionally, we conducted participant observation, attended a performance and conducted a survey with 19 audience members as they left, and took photographs over several days during our two week research period. Lastly, we utilized archival sources of data: newspapers, project documents, and institutional documents. The project has been transformative for the institution, supports and promotes the growth of the students and faculty, has created a beloved public performance space for the city, and contributes to improving the larger Civic Center area. The study of the SFCM can be distilled to three major lessons with wider application: Location and adjacency were integral to the project’s success. Across the board, interview subjects credited much of SFCM’s development as an organization to its 53

change in location. The move has allowed the Conservatory to strengthen connections with neighboring music organizations, and has made it more visible and accessible to the public, in turn increasing revenue streams and boosting the Conservatory’s reputation.

Student lounge and curved hallway.

The library, a popular space for its extensive natural light. Photos by Tim Griffith, courtesy of Perkins + Will.

Architectural aesthetics translated to real pragmatic value for the SFCM. A broad view of performance, as proposed in the introduction, includes aesthetic experience. The SFCM is a particularly fascinating project to analyze because beauty so explicitly factors into both the intention and reception of the building’s performance. It has created a compelling visual metaphor for the dual mission of conserving and advancing classical music, has facilitated their educational goals, and improved their reputation. While not hard science, this is a significant and fascinating finding that speaks to the value of good design. Designed meticulously for the SFCM’s needs and aspirations, the project exemplifies the value of responsive architecture. Simon told a story of a junior employee who was dedicated to the task of moving a scale piano through models of the building. While a small example of the architects’ concern for the functionality of the building, it is symbolic of a larger approach, characterized by a rigorous effort to make the building work for the school in the broadest sense. The design of the SFCM reflects a clever approach to a unique situation brimming with difficult constraints. It is an approach that is absolutely focused on the user – designed to benefit the institution and the individual. This approach permeates the project from the how spaces are organized down to the details. The study results indicate that the balanced approach the designers took has been highly successful. Also quite telling were the responses that focused on the building’s versatility; a certain level of the relationship between a building and its users is best left


unscripted so as to allow the building to be brought to life by its environment and people. An interesting comment surfaced from the survey on humanism: “I would not call this building a masterpiece by any stretch. It’s a music school, it’s noisy, there’s a lot of people, all the time, and it is a bit cramped.” This comment perhaps sums up just why this building is so relevant and fascinating to study. There are many ‘masterpieces’ that actually don’t work very well for the users, and this study looks at the SFCM in a very different way than ‘masterpieces’ typically are examined. We believe that to the detriment of the profession, the fundamental question of how a building works for its users is too often replaced by ideals of the iconic and the enlightened artist. In a time when architects can be seen pejoratively as designing beautiful objects for the elite, the SFCM is a nice example of how design rigor that is deferential to its clients and place can benefit both.



Katie Mays Gilad Meron

Project details Address various San Francisco, CA Project Type Privately-Owned Public Space Service area Public Space Size Two parallel street parking spaces, each

Design costs $5,000 to $25,000 each Partnering Organizations San Francisco Planning Department San Francisco Mayor’s Office San Francisco Department of Public Works S.F. Municipal Transportation Agency


Year of completion 2009-ongoing Client Name San Francisco Conservancy of Music Design Firm various Design team various


PARKLETS : Katie Mays and Gilad Meron



What is it?

San Francisco Treat

A parklet is an urban intervention to create more public space. Parklets function as public space, much like a traditional park, but rely on the stewardship of a sponsoring business. Parklets are built in the public right-of-way, typically repurposing two adjacent parking spaces, shifting their use from the storage of cars to pedestrian-centered public space.

Although parklets now exist around the world, there is still without a doubt the highest concentration in San Francisco. There is a much greater density of parklets near downtown and in certain residential areas, but they are for the most part scattered throughout the city. Recently they have been popping up further and further from downtown, centered in neighborhoods and community spaces.

How does it work?

A Future Network

A sponsoring business responds to a city-issued Parklet Request for Proposal (RFP) with a schematic design. Once approved the parklet receives a 1-year renewable permit. Parklets are generally seen by city officials as semitemporary urban experiments.

Though one does not exist yet, some designers and planners think the future might be a connected network of parklets throughout the city, somewhat akin to New York City’s Highline; a linear park. This is still far from a reality but looking at the map one can begin to see corridors in the city that could potentially be predecessors to parklet boulevards in the not so distant future.

Are they really public? Yes, as part of the design and permit process, parklets are created to function as public space. Businesses who sponsor parklets are not allowed to use them as extensions of their business nor evict anyone from their parklet, unless they are doing something illegal. Parklets fall into the category of privately owned public open spaces.

Parklet rendering by Long-Beach based Studio One Eleven. Photo credit: Press Telegram.



Trouble Coffee 4033 Judah Street


Squat & Gobble 3600 16th Street1

13 Quetzal Cafe 1234 Polk St.

19 Fabric8 3318 22nd St

25 Farley’s 1315 18th St


Devil’s Teeth Bakery 3876 Noriega St


Just for Fun Art Store 3982 24th St.

14 Mad Wills Food Co 384 Hayes St

20 Crepe House 1132 Valencia St

26 Yerba Buena (various locations)


Arizmendi Bakery 1331 9th Ave


Martha Bros. Coffee 3868 24th St.

15 Four Barrel Coffee 375 Valencia

21 Cafe Seventy8 78 29th St

27 Caffe Greco 423 Columbus Ave


Martin Mack’s 1568 Haight Street

10 Excelsior 4754 Mission St

16 Freewheel Bicycles 914 Valencia St

22 farm:table 754 Post st.

28 Caffe Roma 526 Columbus Ave


Mojo Bicycle Cafe 639 Divisadero Street

11 Fillmore Stoop 2410 California St.2

17 Deepistan Parklet 937 Valencia St

23 Paradise Massage 548 Jones

29 Tony’s Pizza 1570 Stockton St


Cafe Abir 1300 Fulton St

12 The Crepe House 1755 Polk St.3

18 Escape from NY Pizza 22nd & Bartlett

24 Powell St. Promenade 5446 Noriega


29 27 11


12 22



24 26 26



6 4 1


16 17 19

25 18 20

2 8

9 21



HOW PARKLETS CAME TO BE + WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE Jane Moses In 2006 New York Mayor Bloomberg was putting the finishing touches on his PlaNYC program, an initiative that focused on reducing the city’s carbon footprint and promised expanded green spaces as well as a more environmentally forwardthinking city. In order to be effective PlaNYC would require rethinking the responsibilities of various city departments and agencies, particularly transportation. Thus, when Mayor Bloomberg needed to appoint a new Commissioner of the DOT, the decision was crucial for the future success of PlaNYC. Janette Sadik-Khan not only shared Bloomberg’s visionary (and often-impatient) attitude towards change in the public realm, but her ideas about public space and transportation were right in line with PlaNYC’s objectives. Sadik-Khan was hired in 2007 and went to work immediately, quickly becoming well known for various new programs.1

“I am an unabashed thief, I basically go around the world borrowing ideas from other places” -Janette Sadik-Khan But her plan to convert huge portions of Broadway into a pedestrian plaza was by far the most loved and hated idea, and not surprisingly the most publicized.3 The purpose, as with most of her projects, was to give the streets back to the people. Robert Moses* had paved so much of the city that now there was ample blacktop space to reappropriate as public space. Some said she was providing the late Jane Jacobs* with one final sweet revenge against her arch nemesis Moses. Yet despite her Jacobsonian tactics, she took quite a Moses-like approach, which many believe is why she has been so effective and efficient.4

Borrowing from places like Copenhagen and Bogotá, SadikKhan implemented more bike lanes, car-free streets and a variety of other urban “experiments” within the public realm.2

Sadik-Khan soon become a leader whom other planning departments glorified as a visionary and change maker. In late 2008 she came to a conference in San Francisco and challenged the city to develop similar forward-thinking programs to improve public spaces and promote civically minded urban lifestyles. Mayor Newsom helped bring together a unique coalition to address this challenge and they got to work brainstorming new ideas. One of them was a program called Pavement To Parks, which would create public plazas and parklets in the city.

*Robert Moses was the “master builder and planner” of NYC in the 20th Century. Moses is most known for introducing countless new roads and highways into the city and generally working towards a system of infrastructure which supported the automobile over public transit and took a top-down approach to planning. Moses was notorious for initiating and carrying out urban projects at an unprecedented speed and scale. His influence and methods of persuasion reached far beyond his official authority, making him arguably the most powerful man in NYC, with no one to answer to.

*Jane Jacobs was a contemporary of Moses, and an urban planning activist best known for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs advocated for bottom-up grass roots neighborhood-based urban renewal projects. She was by far the most influential critic of Moses, and was instrumental in organizing against (and ultimately preventing) multiple urban renewal projects that would have destroyed local neighborhoods. The battle between Moses and Jacobs represents a crucial shift in the theory and practice of urban renewal and is arguably one of the most influential debates in the history of American urban planning.5


A young impassioned urban designer, Andres Power, took the lead on Pavement to Parks and helped move the program forward. Less than two years after Sadik-Khan had inspired them, the first parklet was completed. Andres Power In 2009, Andres Power took the lead on Pavement to Parks (P2P), the new city-wide pilot program aimed at transforming underutilized lots and plazas into usable public spaces. P2P brought together an unprecedented coalition of city departments including the San Francisco Planning Department (SFPD), the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) to form a unique coalition which became known as Pavement to Parks (P2P).6 Though parklets were not the first of the P2P projects, they quickly became the most popular. Before long Andres Power was the figurehead of the P2P program and a local champion of parklets. Power had been inspired by Sadik-Kahn’s challenge to improve public space in the city, but also knew the inherent challenges of such a task. He knew the inner workings of the city from his education in Urban Planning and Design at MIT and from his experience working in other city planning departments. He understood that despite all the reasons why improved public spaces were beneficial for the city, the program would fail unless the directive came right from the top. So, instead of trying to initiate the program through his own department, he went straight to the mayor’s office. With the blessing of the mayor, Pavement to Parks projects were able to sidestep all the typical drawn out approval processes thus avoiding the difficulties of typical public realm projects.

The rationale for such a radical approach was that these projects would be temporary and easily reversible experiments. Power openly acknowledged the possibility of failure and continually emphasized that these were only experiments. If they did fail, they would simply be removed. Despite this tactic, various individuals in city departments opposed the projects, but because the directive for the program came straight from the mayor’s office, none of their arguments had any real ground to stand on. “We were able to go directly to the Directors of the Departments and say, this is what we are doing. This is what we have been instructed to do. The request we have of you is to convey the message to your staff that they are to help make the project happen, and help identify issues that need to be addressed...not answer the question of whether or not we should be doing it, because that question has already been answered. So it was a little bit of a steamroller approach, but it’s a steamroller approach knowing that you have the backing to be that steamroller.” “We didn’t want to have to prove to everyone that this was something we needed to do. The attitude was, we have the authorization from your boss, therefore we’re going to do it. The question to each department that we approached was not whether we should do this, but how they would help make it happen for us.” Once the first project was completed, it suddenly became clear to everyone, not only the residents but the government agencies who begrudgingly cooperated, that this was a good thing. “At the end of the day, the program worked because it was kind of stealth. We did the minimum amount that we needed to do in order to say that we had authorization, and then we just did it. At the end of the day what’s one city


agency going to do to another city agency? Especially when we had the backing of the mayor’s office.” Once the first few went in it became easy; people saw the value in these projects and they supported them.

trying to save the city and make the city better... and it was a complete disaster. San Francisco was where a lot of law suits were precipitated that ended up stopping this urban renewal dead in its tracks.

Soon after the first few parklets were completed, the city established a temporary permit specifically for parklets, along with an official RFP and implementation process. The transfer to government “ownership” was an important step in the broader mission parklets were a part of; incorporating more public space into cities.

The backlash against urban renewal and against top down planning by a fiat of experts was total and extreme. Around this period was also the start of the environmental movement, which at that time was introducing all kinds of very powerful pieces of legislation; policy with real teeth that was intended to stop what was being done to the environment. Without a doubt CEQA was important because it was a major piece in the battle to save the environment at the time. CEQA basically says that any project of significant scale is subject to environmental review, which means doing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which stipulates a very specific set of impacts that must be studied on projects. This was all done with the best of intentions, as a means to keep the natural environment from being decimated. So for example, if someone now tried to build a coal fired power plant in the middle of the city, CEQA would come in very handy. But if someone is trying to build infill housing in San Francisco close to transit in a walkable district in a spatially efficient pattern, CEQA is a disaster because the project will be intrinsically punished for doing things in proximity to other things. The project would be in deep trouble under CEQA because it would blow the congestion model. All the levels of service of all the intersections around it would be tripped because they’re all already congested and they’re all already right on the brink, so any incremental change is going to have more of an impact. Yet at the same time, there’s nothing in CEQA to account for the efficiencies of locating in a dense urban environment.

IMPORTANCE OF PARKLETS Probably the most under-articulated aspect of parklets is their temporary nature, which is linked to the broader idea of temporary urbanism. In San Francisco in particular this idea has two powerful components that allow it to plug into a much deeper policy issue, 1- the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and 2- the pervasively conservative attitude the city has towards design and the built environment. Very much in contrast with the city’s reputation, its departments and officials and its civic culture as a whole, are all very nervous about things changing. Any decision gets bogged down in endless public arguments, lawsuits and environmental review, which stems from the history of urban renewal in San Francisco. In the middle of this century, for the first time, planners got a lot of power and resources to transform the city and they completely blew it. They tore apart huge swaths of the city and basically guaranteed that no planner would ever again be able to do anything sweeping and comprehensive. It was done with the best of intentions and done by very broad coalitions with a great degree of consensus about

All of this is the backdrop to the challenge of getting anything done in San Francisco. Certainly from a planner’s point of view it can be a very frustrating city to work in. For 61

PARKLET CASE STUDIES Although they’re called case studies, they’re not exactly case studies. Each case study examines a different purpose for the creation of a parklet. example, say you wanted to create a public space on the scale of a parklet. You would end up spending more money on the required Environmental Impact Review under CEQA then you would spend on the actual capital to construct the project. However, there is a specific exemption under CEQA for temporary reversible projects. This is where the idea of temporary resonates profoundly to any planner working in the urban context in California. If you track this model of temporary projects back to someone, I would say it’s Janette Sadik-Kahn, the transportation Commissioner of NYC. She accomplished what she did by really driving home the idea of temporary. She pushed the mind-set of “look we’ll try it in the real world, and if the sky falls we’ll take it out! It’s not that big of a deal.” Using this exception under CEQA projects can be studied in the real world, rather than just with ivory-tower theories. This CEQA exemption for temporary projects is the key. “So this idea of temporary projects like parklets is interesting not only because it enables you to do things quickly and in a sort of fun and nimble way, it also touches on this much bigger issue of the regulatory constraints to innovation in the built environment and that’s why it has been so powerful in San Francisco.”

START A MOVEMENT. Rebar | Tactical Urbanism, Park(ing) Day and Beyond

DO GOOD FOR OTHERS. Jack Verdon | Building Community Through Design

CHALLENGE YOURSELF. RG Architecture | Design Challenges: The First Parklet

EXPAND YOUR PRACTICE. Boor Bridges | Aligning Your Work with Your Values

ENGAGE WITH LOCALS. Criag Hollow & EAG | For the Community by the Community

BUILD YOUR IDEAS. Ogrydziak/Prillinger | The Importance of Research


START A MOVEMENT Rebar | Tactical Urbanism, Park(ing) Day and Beyond Parklets began with Rebar’s vision for using public space as a way to catalyze change. Parklets are only one example of how design practiced in the public realm can be used as a powerful social tool. Tactical Urbanism Rebar takes a unique approach to design practice within the city, something they call tactical urbanism; “the use of modest or temporary revisions to urban space to seed structural environmental change.” Building off of Piere Bordieu’s notion of the Doxa and the Habitus, Rebar believes that there is a deep underlying relationship between the physical environment and the organizational structures (social, cultural, economic, etc.) that govern it. Tactical urbanism then, is a means to challenge the extents of both. Rebar practices tactical urbanism within niche spaces in the city that are often hidden, forgotten or undervalued. By creating a new program for these niche spaces, Rebar is experimenting with how far they can push the limits of what the physical space can be used for, while at the same time challenging the organizational structures that determine what is socially and legally acceptable within those spaces (as well as the rest of the city, and the public realm as a whole).7 Parking The story of parklets begins in 2005, when Matt Passmore, John Bela and Blaine Merker decided to experiment with a parking space.

The entire experiment lasted only two hours, and afterwards all that remained were a few photos and videos, which were posted on Rebar’s website and dubbed “Park(ing).” Together, the title and images made the concept so easily understandable that within weeks park(ing) went viral, spreading across the world via blogs. “I was in a high-rise, looking down at the street, and I remember seeing this row of cars go in and go out… and I started thinking, what if one of those was a park? We started talking about actually just taking over a parking spot for a couple hours, so we did a little research and then we just decided to go for it.” -Matthew Passmore Park(ing) was powerful because it accomplished two things at the same time; shift and agency. The idea shifted people’s perspectives of both ownership and appropriate use for parking spots. Simultaneously, the title and images made the concept so self-explanatory that it enabled people to utilize this legal guerilla intervention method to take action themselves. Park(ing) planted a seed in the minds of every urban dweller from grandmothers to city planners. The project had a clear message, and sparked a much larger conversation about who owned public space in the city and who determined what it could be used for. Park(ing) Power The idea of park(ing) was contagious to say the least. After receiving hundred of inquiries, Rebar decided to create a how-to manual for park(ing). They treated the idea as open source and licenced it for use under the Creative Commons.


What was so powerful about this method was its passive yet empowering approach. Rebar never told people what to do with parking spots, never organized a rally against cars, and never tried to use Park(ing) to take over the world. They simply planted an idea by showing people what was possible, and then opened up the project to anyone who wanted to participate. It quickly caught on and in just two years, Park(ing) had become an official ‘Day’ and a global movement.

Left: A Walklet is a modular sidewalk extension system utilizing a “kit of parts” approach to creating urban public space. Essentially an evolution of the parklet concept, the system allows a parklet to be an iterative programmable and adjustable public space. Right: The first Walklet installed at 22nd and Bartlett in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Park(ing) Day Gives Birth In 2009 when SPUR (The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) was planning for Park(ing) Day, they decided they wanted to do something a little different. Instead of making an entirely temporary installation, they hired an architect to design a platform that could be stored and re-used. They wanted something that could last longer than a single day and support the more typical functions of public space. Before long, the concept sparked a question, why not make a more permanent park(ing)?

Photo from Park(ing) day in San Francisco.

“As long as it was not used for profit, we encouraged people to replicate and reinterpret it.” The Saga Continues For Rebar, Park(ing) and Parklets are simply part of who they are and what they do. Park(ing) was a means, not an end. They have produced a variety of other projects within the public realm and continue to work towards their mission “to create objects, spaces and ideas that inspire people to re-imagine the environment and our place in it.”

“Parkcycle: A human powered open space distribution system. Parkcycle effectively re-programs the urban hardscape by delivering massive quantities of green open space—up to 4,320 square-foot-minutes of park per stop—thus temporarily re-framing the right-of-way as green space, not just a car space.”


THE FUTURE OF THE GUERILLAS A discussion with Matthew Passmore about Park(ing), Walklets and the future of the guerilla urbanism movement. Matthew is one of the three co-founders of Rebar, the design firm responsible for Park(ing) Day, the event which has become an international phenomenon and is widely accepted as the original predecessor to the parklet movement. How did Rebar play a role in the transition from Park(ing) to Parklets? It all happened because of Andres Power in the SF Planning Dept, he was the project manager for the Pavement to Parks Program and parklets were his baby. He knew everyone that needed to come together to make it happen and he brought them all together and made it happen. He was the one who got statements from the mayors office and passed the message on down the lines, he was behind it the whole way and was the one who made sure that it actually happened. Parklets definitely grew out of Park(ing) Day, and we really supported that evolution, but we did want to make sure it didn’t become something for people to profit off of. For a while there was a group of powerful people who wanted the parklets to be just private cafe space, to extend the commercial realm into the parking lane, but Rebar pushed vigorously against that and convinced Andres that selling some of the city like that (without charging market value for the land) is much more problematic than converting a public space from one usage to another. For us, it was very important that it remained public space. So how does Rebar approach designing a parklet? Is it different from the way you approach other work you do?

We just try to get a sense of the context in which the parklet is going to be and design from there. Everything is started by the merchant, we meet with them and get them to think about this as a public space that they’re sponsoring. We remind them that yes, it may have their business, but that’s not the goal. From there, they are our client and it operates like a traditional design process. And is community input and involvement a part of the process? Honestly with the parklets there is very little community input. You notify the neighbors by posting the permit, which gives them 10 days to submit a formal complaint, but the whole idea with something of this scale is that you just put it in rapidly and you don’t engage in the long review processes that would normally take place. We believe parklets are a good thing, and something that the city needs, and they align with our mission to improve the city by adding public space. Our approach is to get them put in quickly, before people can oppose them, and then people will experience them first hand and realize that they are a great thing. The permits do have to be renewed every year though, so if someone really doesn’t like a parklet then it’s up to them to marshal and organize against it. “There is an extraordinary power in getting people to have the experience of what could be... you can really change people’s opinions dramatically.” So tell me about this new system Rebar has been using, the Walklet. We were starting to see issues with a few parklets not functioning as they were intended or not working as well as they could have in a particular site. The idea with the walklet is that the design can be iterative, and because it’s modular it can be easily adjusted. A business can do an 65

original layout, a sequence of these modules, let it sit there for three months, six months, a year, and then realize that there’s a weird circulation issue on one side of it, and then just take the same modules and rearrange them and get a whole new site program. The idea was that these become programmable, adjustable modular public space. It seems like that is an evolution of the parklet... have you seen the concept of parklets evolving in any other ways? On a larger scale, it’s really interesting to chart the evolution of parking day from a 2-hour installation we did once, through being adopted by the city. It’s interesting to see, but not surprising. The natural progression is from a guerilla thing, to being incorporated into the city government. That’s exactly what’s happened now with the whole permitting process for parklets. But if the larger context is thinking about ways to reframe the city so its for people rather than cars, then it’s a step in the right direction. It’s all about these incremental moves as we slowly re-imagine the city, rebalance the place of the car in the urban context and reprioritize the uses of the public right of way and space in the public domain. Well what’s next then? What is the next evolution of parklets? That’s a real concern these days, in our minds and others like the folks at city planning. I think it becomes a question of how you broaden the portfolio past just chairs and tables in front of cafes as public spaces, how do you start to fulfil some other needs? I hope we get past all the seating and chairs, for me there is so much opportunity to push these designs, it’s a small site and they’re relatively inexpensive.

“Now that there’s this official mechanism in the city government and it’s no longer so difficult to get them put in, it would be great to see this new spatial typology really gain a lot more diversity in design, we would love to see what else people can think of.” So what’s next for Rebar as the unofficial leaders of the Guerilla Urbanism movement in San Francisco? We are definitely looking at what’s next, what the next move in terms of scale that we can get away with that doesn’t require a larger plan. When you start to move up to doing things on a community scale, you start to effect traffic patterns and circulation patterns. At the larger scale doing broader planning and analysis of what changes your project will become very important for future work. But we are looking for the next scale, the question is how big can you get but still stay guerilla. Because ultimately it’s about improving the city, it’s improving the quality and character of the city. So can you give us a preview of what kinds of things Rebar is looking to do? We’re working on car-free streets, looking at ways to make some of the smaller streets closed to automobiles and then other streets more dedicated to automobiles. It’s not something we can really do guerilla style, but the mockups, the trials for a day you can do pretty easily, and it’s the temporary trials and mock-ups that can really change hearts and minds. There’s extraordinary power in getting people to have the experience of what the city could be like. That’s what’s so powerful about parking day, you get people to step off the curb into the street and suddenly they realize how much room there actually is in the city, how big the streets are and what the range of opportunities are, you can really change people’s opinions dramatically. 66

DO GOOD FOR OTHERS Jack Verdon | Building Community Through Design Parklets are a means for local businesses and designers to give back to their community. As small scale pro bono projects, parklets provide an opportunity to give back without a large time or financial commitment. SPUR’s Big Idea SPUR has been a Park(ing) Day participant and supporter since it began in 2006, but in 2009 they did something entirely new. SPUR’s goal was to go beyond just a parking spot covered in grass and instead create a functional public place accessible to everyone in the city.8 They wanted to reclaim space in the public realm and truly put it in the service of the community. Their idea was to build a platform that would come level with the curb, be ADA assessable from the sidewalk, and be strong enough to support tables, chairs and a lot of people. They hired a local architect to help them design and build the platform. Riyad, an architect who had agreed to do the project pro bono (simply because he had some free time and thought it was a cool idea), had unknowingly just designed the first parklet the world had ever seen. The Missing Link SPUR’s timing could not have been better. While Park(ing) day was growing as a grass roots movement and global phenomenon, various government officials were taking a top-down* approach to the very same issue of improving spaces within the public realm, particular the streets and sidewalks of the city.

First-ever parklet, built by Riyad Ghannam for SPUR’s 2009 Park(ing) Day.

Parklets were the missing link; the bridge that could bring together the power of a city government and the support of the people living in it. Led by Andres Power and backed by the mayor, parklets soon became the centerpiece of the city’s new Pavement to Parks Program and began popping up all over the city. A Win-Win Scenario Parklets soon became an opportunity for businesses and architects to give back to the neighborhoods they lived in. Their small scale and flexible program presented an interesting design challenge for architects while their potential for improving the local streetscapes was appealing to businesses. For both they were an opportunity to show local communities they valued public space and wanted to help out and do good for others.


Location, Location, Location When the San Francisco Planning Dept. sent out an RFP for parklets, the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors Association (ISPNA) was one of the first to respond. They wanted to bring a parklet to their neighborhood, and they had turned to an architect in their own community to design it, Jack Verdon. He agreed to design the parklet pro bono because as a local resident and licensed architect, the project provided him an opportunity to use his skills to help create a highly functional community space for his own neighborhood. Because the parklet was meant to function as community space, its location within the neighborhood was crucial. Jack recommended Arizmendi bakery for two reasons. First, as a cooperative organization there was already a lot of community support for it, and second because it was a congestion point in the neighborhood the project presented an opportunity to alleviate a functional problem of how people moved up and down the sidewalk. Furthermore, the site was already the center of the commercial district, just a block from the MUNI stop and across the street from where the weekly farmers market is held.

Parklet at Arizmendi Bakery. Photos Credit of Jack Verdon.

“That was really my greatest hope, that it would become a community space... I just really wanted to do something nice for the neighborhood� Building Community Through Design What was truly amazing about Jack’s parklet was the way in which he used design as a tool for social impact in his nieghborhood. By utilizing changes in seating height and placement of elements within the parklet, the design actually facilitates interaction, thus promoting exchange between users and acting as a means to build social networks and strengthen communal ties.


“I wanted to look at how people would sit with one another and how people would talk with one another, to create spaces where people could easily engage in a conversation with someone that they didn’t know.” The parklet provides benches that are an ideal height for seniors who have difficulty sitting all the way down, which are located at the focal point of the parklet to better integrate this often secluded population at the center of the community space. The rest of the parklet mixes lower lounge chairs for young people with more traditional bench seating for families. The design creates opportunities for interactions between groups, between people who are at different stages of their life, thus indirectly facilitating the development of a rich and multi-generational community network for locals. The parklet provides benches that are an ideal height for seniors who have difficulty sitting all the way down, which are located at the focal point of the parklet to better integrate this often secluded population at the center of the community space. The rest of the parklet mixes lower lounge chairs for young people with more traditional bench seating for families. The design creates opportunities for interactions between groups, between people who are at different stages of their life, thus indirectly facilitating the development of a rich and multi-generational community network for locals.

The parklet’s central location in respect to Inner Sunset Park Neighborhood.


CHALLENGE YOURSELF RG Architecture | Design Challenges: The First Parklet Because parklets are so small and have to conform to a strict set of guidelines and constraints, they become unique design challenges. Short term design-build projects like these help invigorate practice and stimulate creativity... and they’re fun. The Very First Parklet About a month after designing the 2009 Park(ing) Day installation for SPUR, Riyad Ghannam got a call from Andres Power, the man behind the Pavement to Parks program and the soon-to-be figurehead of the parklet movement. “When Andres first told me about the idea to build a parklet I thought, alright this won’t be hard, we built those wooden platforms for SPUR and that was a piece of cake. But then he tells me how they want it to have drainage and be able to be removed in two hours and have it only cost $5,000, and I thought to myself wait a second, this is no longer a simple thing.” Riyad agreed to do the project pro bono, partly because he had the time and partly because the idea of parklets was something he believed in, but mainly because it presented a unique design challenge that peaked his interest.

design challenges, and creative opportunities. By taking on projects that are outside of a firm’s normal scope or scale, designers are forced to confront unfamiliar territory and solve unfamiliar problems. It is this type of thinking that leads to innovative new ideas.

Exercise Your Creative Might

Projects like these are even more dynamic when practiced within the context of the public realm. Projects become more challenging by introducing political, economic and cultural constraints, as well as often-complex legal obstacles to navigate. In response, individuals and firms will develop new areas of expertise that broaden their design capabilities and provide new tools with which to address future problems.

Interviews with architects have highlighted how small-scale design-build projects like parklets are both interesting

There are literally thousands of forgotten, unused and undervalued spaces in every city. Each presents a unique

“But at that point I was interested in the challenge... I did it out of interest, not out of pure philanthropy. It was a design challenge.”


design challenge, and each is an opportunity for architects, designers and planners to push themselves to experiment with new techniques, find original solutions and challenge themselves in new ways. Parklets are merely one example of this potentially transformative work. New Materials and New Friends When Ghannam agreed to design the first parklet, the site was a critical factor. The parklet was to be located on Divisidero St, a very busy route for cars nearly all day. The platform would have to be sturdy and resistant to damage and yet able to be removed in two hours at a moments notice. Eventually Riyad found a solution. “I actually wracked my brain for a while trying to figure out the best way to do it. I’m not sure we came up with the best way but we got it built.” What Riyad had found was a paver system for roof decks. “It was exactly what we needed, and at first I thought, oh man, I just nailed it! This is going to be great... it turned out to be a lot more complicated then I initially thought. But I called up Bison, the manufacturer, and I said I was an architect from San Francisco and I told them about the project and they were excited because their product is really just for roof decks but they thought their product could work for a parklet too so they said, “Why not, lets try it!” “They flew out from Colorado, where the company is, shipped all the materials and paid for everything and even helped me build it. All just because they thought it was a cool idea. And now they have the project featured on their website and I’ve been friends with them ever since.”

PARKLETS ARE NOT A CAREER A discussion with Riyad Ghannam about the role Parklets play in sustaining a professional practice. Riyad is the man responsible for introducing the world to parklets... accidentally. After building the first ever parklet as a Park(ing) Day installation for SPUR, he was hired to build the first few official parklets in San Francisco. So how did this all start, how did you begin designing parklets? When I first was approached about parklets, I had some free time, and that’s why it all worked out so well. I first got approached right at the beginning of 2009, when the economy had just crashed. At the time I had been working for a large firm that ran out of work, so I decided to go off on my own at the worst possible time. That’s when Andres Power called me up and asked if I could help with this project that they wanted to build, and I said yea, sure. I had never even actually met Power at that point, he just found me through the installation I did at SPUR for Park(ing) Day. Yes, the platform that you built for SPUR... that was actually the first parklet ever built right? Yea, I guess it’s getting credit for that. I mean, no one knew it was a parklet, it was an unbeknownst parklet. All we did was build some platforms and put some planters on them, it was more of a technical thing they asked my assistance for than a design thing. So that’s what Power saw and I got a call from him about a month later and he wanted me to design a permanent parklet. I was really hurting at the time, I was just always looking for work and so the parklet was good because I really could devote a lot of time to figuring it out... which was good because the project turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would. Yea, I guess it’s


getting credit for that. I mean, no one knew it was a parklet, it was an unbeknownst parklet. All we did was build some platforms and put some planters on them, it was more of a technical thing they asked my assistance for than a design thing. So that’s what Power saw and I got a call from him about a month later and he wanted me to design a permanent parklet. I was really hurting at the time, I was just always looking for work and so the parklet was good because I really could devote a lot of time to figuring it out... which was good because the project turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would. And for that first parklet, did you do the project entirely pro bono? Yea, like I said, at the time I didn’t have much work so I had some free time anyway. But that actually became a problem later on as I did more parklets... basically business owners heard that these things only cost $10,000 and they pay for themselves in less than a year and there’s “this guy” who will do them for practically nothing. So basically people were calling you up saying, hey so I hear you do free work? It gets complicated pretty fast because you’re not allowed to fasten it to the street so you have to engineer it to be weighted properly so people can stand on any portion of it and it’s not going to tip over or warp. And then plants and railings create leverage on it, and we have to make sure the whole thing is structurally sound, so it actually gets pretty complex and it takes more time and skill than people think. So people think, well, I put a deck on my house and it only cost me $2,000 so why would I pay you even $5,000 to design this thing? Well, if it was just a wooden frame deck on the street than it would be that easy, but its not. So at this point I just can’t imagine a way to make parklets a financially

viable project, there’s just no way to support yourself by doing them. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do more, but as they are now I just can’t make any money off of them. So I think I’m sort of hanging my hat up on parklets. But because of the way it all started, weren’t parklets actually what got you off the ground in the first place and allowed you to have your own practice? I’ll tell you what it did for me that’s been great, it got me a little bit of exposure. People heard about me and I mean, aside from parklets, why else would anyone care about me? I’m just this little dude that has hardly done anything. But I did a parklet and the next thing you know they’re asking me to design a bridge. Is that a joke or did a parklet actually get you a commission for a bridge? I actually did design a bridge after this, it was just a concept design but I got it because of the parklets. It was for the SF Bike Coalition and they liked what I had done with the parklets and so they asked me to design a bridge. So that was something that came out of the whole parklet thing for me... I did all this parklet stuff and some people saw it and said, ok Riyad does this type of public design work, and so when they had a public project like a bridge, they came to me... and I actually really loved that bridge project because it was for the public. So what about making a career out of designing in the public realm then? That’s pretty rare. Rebar for example, they’ve got this great new niche in designing urban public space, but that is super hard to do. No one else does it, aside from maybe John Peterson and Public Architecture. They are both in the same 72

vein in terms of promoting ideas for urban infrastructure and renewal, just by using their professional eye to say, here’s an area of potential development and improvement that we have. And it’s all just on their own, I mean there’s no clients... they just take a look at things and throw them out there, and Rebar has managed to make a business out of it. But as I’ve started my own practice and try to compete in this city, it’s hard enough to make money. I work on some public projects, but they’re mostly pro bono, and I do them because I have a real passion about what I do. I mean despite the fact that there are much easier ways to make money and make a living, I wouldn’t want to do anything else at the moment because I actually like what I do. So does that mean you’re done designing parklets forever? Would you ever come out of retirement? If people would actually pay me a fair amount for the work that goes into it then I would love to do more. I think they’re really fun and I think they’ve done a good thing for the city. I mean the loss of parking is a big deal in this city and yet it still hasn’t killed these projects, so that’s saying something. So now that they’re more proven, if people could hire me and actually pay me then I’d be able to devote more time to making them really special places and really designed well with all the attention that they need. You know, they could be really great spaces, and now they’ve been tested. I can understand people’s trepidation with the first few, because no one knew what they were going to get. No one knew if they were just going to get hit by a bus or what, it was a risk. But now I think it can be said that we have some quantifiable data on the economic and social benefits of them, so I think it’s time we really started investing in parklets.

EXPAND YOUR PRACTICE Boor Bridges | Aligning Your Work with Your Values Parklets help professionals explore the type of projects that they may not typically engage in. Taking on public interest projects can introduce you to new clients in the public sector and bring your firm new projects that align with your values. Pavements to Parks Before parklets even existed, the Pavement to Parks Program was busy converting unused urban space into public plazas. One of the first was the plaza at 17th & Castro. After an initial “temporary” design by Public Architecture, Boor Bridges Architecture designed the permanent version. The project was done entirely pro bono, but Boor Bridges still gained quite a bit from it. “It definitely introduced us to the people in the city [government], and gave us the reputation of being capable and good at doing these types of projects.” Not only did the project introduce the firm to new clients, it gave them an ideal opportunity to prove they were able to do this type of work. At the same time, the project provided somewhat of a testing grounds for Boor Bridges. It helped them further define (and refine) what their strengths were and allowed them to reaffirm their belief in practicing design within the public realm. The success of the plaza project led Boor Bridges to multiple parklet projects as well as a much larger public park project that is currently underway. As Boor Bridges Principal Seth Boor put it, “the firm was already aligned with this belief in designing public space, and these projects gave us an outlet for doing it.”


Patience is Not Always a Virtue Although projects like the 17th and Castro Plaza provide great potential for growth and seem to be ideal opportunities for architects to expand their practice, they are not generally the types of projects brought to the table by clients. This begs a larger question; why do architects limit themselves to solving only the problems that are brought to them? Why not also be identifiers of problems within the built environment which they have the skills and passion to solve. Public interest projects provide this opportunity. Collectively, a shift such as this towards more socially relevant and civically-minded work may open up new markets and client-groups for architects to serve. It could also provide a new model of practice, helping to expand both the role architects play and the profession as a whole.

An initial sketch of the 17th & Castro Plaza by Boor Bridges Architecture. Image Credit: Boor Bridges Architecture.

Doing What We Care About Although the Four Barrel parklet was not a pro bono project, Boor Bridges knew from the beginning that they would not make much money, and they were OK with that. “You always end up doing a certain amount of work no matter how small the project is, so parklets are not really sustainable for our business... but the project was really indicative of a lot of the things we care about in our practice and we already had a good relationship with the owner.”

“What the Four Barrel Parklet exemplifies about our practice is that we really care about designing to a circumstance. So doing something that’s part of the public realm you have all these outside factors you get to respond to... we get really excited about work like that.”

The design responds to three crucial aspects of its context; its location in the Mission District (particularly on Valencia St.), it placement in front of a coffee shop, and its direct adjacency to a heavily trafficked bike lane. The project is also only a short walk from the Boor Bridges office, which allowed the designers to make use of their local knowledge of the neighborhood.


PUBLIC PLACE-MAKING TACTICS A discussion with Seth Boor about programming public space and what makes a parklet successful. Seth Boor is one of the principals of Boor Bridges Architecture, the firm who designed the 17th and Castro Plaza as part of the Pavement to Parks program, as well as the Four Barrel Parklet and others. The Four Barrel Parklet is more clearly visually tied into its sponsoring business than most other parklets, was that an intentional design decision? We were definitely trying to tie them together. The parklet program is really interesting because it is basically a public park funded and supported by a private entity. In the same way that the Castro Park survives because of the business right next to it, a parklet even more so, has a direct relationship to the business that’s fronting it. What we had been seeing in other parklets were built structures that, to some extent or another, did or did not reflect the personality of their sponsoring business. We were really interested in having the parklet reflect the personality of the business a little bit more, and seeing what that boundary was between making it feel public and still usable by everyone but clearly associating it with the business in front of it.

Four Barrel Parklet. Photos Credit: Bruce Damonte.


But what about the common critique of parklets, that they are profit generators simply using a guise of public space? What’s really nice about the parklet program to me is that it’s a way for businesses to actually contribute to the streetscape without having to go through the really onerous city processes to get something done. That typically long process almost always results in the designs getting watered down by the time you’re done with it. So yes, we definitely wanted to bring the identity of Four Barrel out to the street in a way that made sense for a parklet but in a way that was open to everyone not just for those getting coffee. Very interesting, which raises the question of whether using a parklet to simply extend a cafe onto the sidewalk is necessarily a bad thing if the end result is a positive impact on the streetscape and overall urban fabric. It’s definitely a good thing when successful businesses that care about the city are able to influence the way that public spaces look, and I don’t mind there being an extension of a café. I appreciate the way that parklets sort of draw the line… I think you would never want to make someone feel unwelcome if they weren’t buying coffee. So where they [Four Barrel] have drawn the line is that there is no table service in the parklet. We actually had planned to put trash cans out there, and that was not allowed because it seemed to be too integrated with the service of coffee, which I understand but at the same time I think it would be better with trash cans because it would be easier to keep clean. So I think the dividing line is that you can sit there and not get chased away. Even some plazas in Italy and other countries... when you go and sit at the wrong table the

restaurant owner will come and chase you away because it’s their table. So in contrast to that I think it does really feel public. Besides being in front of Four Barrel, was the parklet’s design influenced by other site or context factors? Yes, in general it really exemplifies many of the values that we care about, one of those being that we really focus on designing to a circumstance. So when doing something outside that’s part of the public realm but that is also tied to a business you have many outside factors that you get to respond to. So in this case; being on Valencia Street, being on a bike lane, being in the Mission, being a part of Four Barrel, all of these are things are things that we get really excited about incorporating into our design so it doesn’t feel like it was dropped in from a spaceship. The design is rooted in being in the Mission; the bike parking and the fact that it was designed around a centerpiece that you can actually pull a bike through, and it carries Four Barrel’s attitude about seating out into the street. We get really excited about work like that where we’re designing for a specific circumstance. Do you think that your responsiveness to context and location are what allowed it to, in a sense, formalize a latent community space? Well Four Barrel was already extremely popular, I don’t think the parklet really affected their business that much at all, but the space out front was definitely not already a gathering space. Part of the great thing about parklets is that they do sort of allow you to make something out of nothing, in terms of the fact that previously there were just two parking spots and no one was sitting there and


no one was hanging out there. So it definitely did create a community space rather than just formalize one that was already there. Do you think there is potential to do that in other public places aside from in front of businesses? I think that the idea of Pavement to Parks is great because it takes under-used forgotten-about corners of the city and tries to do something with them. But I think that the success of those things does have to do with program. I don’t think that introduced into a social vacuum a parklet will do much, it will just get trashed. I think the parklet either needs to bring some program of its own with it, or be next to a program that can support it. So if Four Barrel wasn’t there then there would be no reason to go there aside from just going to sit. You can look at some of the other pavement to park parks projects and some of them are more or less successful than others because of their proximity to a real user group, and a real group of people who will take care of them. Parklets as well as other public space, really depend on a program to draw people in as well as being tied to someone who is willing to take care of it. Have you been able to apply that tactic to other projects in the public realm with similar success? Well we’re actually working on another project that’s similar to pavement to parks in that it’s using a leftover piece of the city, a little stub of a street, and we’re building a park there. It’s been a really troubled spot because it has a lot of drug dealing and its just this sort of dead end place but it’s an interesting spot in the city because a lot of foot and bike traffic goes through it. But there’s not really a program there, there’s nothing to activate the space. So as part of that park design we’re bringing in program, we’re designing the park to support food trucks so that

food trucks can actually park there and serve food and it’s a nice place to eat. They’ve already been doing that as a pilot program, where just on the blank asphalt food trucks are parking there every Saturday and its been really successful at activating the space and bringing out people. It’s a good example of a project where, if we were just making a park, It would not be successful but if we’re making a park that supports and attracts certain programs like food trucks or farmers markets, then that has a much better chance at being successful. A program creates a user group to enjoy the park as well as a user group that has a vested interest in keeping it clean.

ENGAGE WITH LOCALS Criag Hollow & EAG | For the Community by the Community Parklets present a unique opportunity to share knowledge and skills with a community. Leading a project in the public realm allows you to engage with your neighbors and have a lasting impact in the place you live and work. In 2002 Beth Rubenstein founded Out Of Site to provide free architecture, visual and performing arts programs for public high school students. One of the key components of Out Of Site is to use its programs as a means to inspire activism and community engagement.9 In the summer of 2011, students in an Out Of Site architecture program were challenged to address a recurring complaint among community members in the Excelsior neighborhood, a lack of public space on the commercial corridor. Their solution: build a parklet that would establish a public gathering space and foster community interaction. Students designed and built a temporary parklet as part of an installation to show the community what could be. 77

The installation was extremely well received, and Out Of Site turned to the Excelsior Action Group (EAG) to help build some more serious community support for a permanent parklet. While students continued working on their designs, EAG was on the ground, surveying the community and organizing public meetings for students to present ideas and receive feedback. As part of this goal, EAG put together a review panel of architects, planners, city officials and community members to help guide the project. Paul Chasin of the SF Planning Dept. was a part of that panel, and brought along a close friend and architect, Carig Hollow.10 “We didn’t only want to make a successful parklet, we wanted to provide a successful model for the community. This was the only public seating for a two-mile stretch. The idea was to spur the community to create other public spaces and revitalize their downtown corridor.” -E.A.G.11 Craig had studied architecture at the University of Washington and took part in the Wright Neighborhood Design-Build. After the review, Craig met and spoke with the project director Raffaella Falchi who offered him the opportunity to teach the design-build portion of the parklet project and act as a leader for the students. As an employee at a small firm that wasn’t able to take on much pro bono work, Craig was excited about the opportunity to work with a local community and help out by using his professional skills. Because he had completed multiple design-builds both as a student and later as a teacher, he was able to bring construction knowledge, architectural sensibility and a pedagogical background to the project.12

A 3-D computer-generated model of the temporary parklet installation the students designed and constructed to show the community what a parklet could be like. Credit: Excelsior Action Group.

Designing Their Own Community With almost 150 responses, EAG received a 95% approval rating for having a parklet from their community survey. Building this trust was a crucial step because in the past there had been a student-built project in Excelsior that had essentially failed, so the community was hesitant and cautious about buying into the project. Students also worked hard to develop designs that would discourage tagging and littering so the parklet would not become an eye-sore.13 The project was, by nature, extremely public, so during the construction process there was a lot of interaction with the community. The students utilized this opportunity to explain exactly what they were doing to neighbors and reassure them that it was going to be a success.


Enriching Practice Via Engagement Leading the design-build not only allowed Craig to have an impact on the students and the community, it allowed him to reflect on his own work and think about potential future projects. Reflection is an extremely important factor in growth and development, and something that is often times overlooking in the professional world, pro bono work provides that opportunity. “Parklets show the value of public space, which is pretty inspiring and naturally leads to thinking differently about public space, beyond just parklets... it has a catalytic effect.”14

PUBLIC SPACE IN THE BAY A discussion with Ben Grant about the history of urban projects in San Francisco and how parklets are part of a new future. Ben Grant is the Public Realm and Urban Design Programs Manager at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), a historic organization devoted to “good planning and good government in the bay area.” How does SPUR play a part in parklets? SPUR has just been interested and supportive from the beginning. The idea of testing stuff on the ground is really important, also it fits into a much broader consciousness about the public realm in San Francisco, and about the relative poverty of the public realm in our city that SPUR works to bring awareness to. We think of ourselves, or San Francisco broadly thinks of itself as being a great city, on par with Paris or Amsterdam or London… and San Francisco is absolutely incredible, there’s no way of getting

Students building the parklet and the finished product. All Photo and Image Credits: EAG.


around that, but we do not have terribly good public space. There is no sense that you have a series of public spaces that are linked by a network of streets, all of which function as public space themselves. We’ve really been hard pressed, I mean we’ve spent 40 years widening our streets and turning them into expressways and narrowing our sidewalks… and now we’re realizing that you actually can’t build enough lanes into a city of this density to make the traffic flow freely. You have to go the other way, you have to recognize that congestion is a symptom of a healthy city and no one has the right to expressway style movement in the middle of an urban environment. So as things get more and more crowded and congested, private auto use gets more and more difficult, frustrating and problematic, but transit runs better and better because you get the efficiencies of mass transit. So why not lean into those things? This also relates to the fact that many San Franciscans drive and have backyards. We have a built pattern that insulates the wealthy in particular from public space, so public space becomes just one of the options. It’s very different when you go to a city where everyone depends on public space and everyone depends on public transit. In those cities people with power and resources depend on those things as public goods. In San Francisco, less so. In this city people with money and choices and resources tend to have yards and garages, and they may commute to work on transit but its not the same kind of thing as in New York City where Michael Bloomberg rides the subway to work. In contrast we have a city where the public realm has been left to deteriorate, relative to other cities at least, I mean its still a great city to live in, but we talk about San Francisco as if its perfect and its done and “how could you possibly

change it.” I do think it’s changing though, I think that’s the future. I think there’s a lot of young energy around cycling and around public space and around transit. A lot more people are willing to live a much more urban life, and I think that’s really to the benefit of the city, and I think parklets are very much a part of that. We were definitely trying to tie them together. The parklet program is really interesting because it is basically a public park funded and supported by a private entity. In the same way that the Castro Park survives because of the business right next to it, a parklet even more so, has a direct relationship to the business that’s fronting it. What we had been seeing in other parklets were built structures that, to some extent or another, did or did not reflect the personality of their sponsoring business. We were really interested in having the parklet reflect the personality of the business a little bit more, and seeing what that boundary was between making it feel public and still usable by everyone but clearly associating it with the business in front of it. So what about the future of parklets? Where does it go from here and what does that change mean for the city? There is this idea that the first generation of temporary is over and it comes to a decision point. So either you take it out and go back to the previous condition, or you make it permanent, or you re-up it as a temporary thing. Whatever the solution is, it’s important that temporary not be construed as a substitute for permanent. And this is where the CEQA angle breaks down and you can sort of beat CEQA at its own game. You can take advantage of the project having been there if you can do the studies and the analysis of impact while its in place, and then use that analysis to make the case for something more permanent. That’s exactly what they’re doing with the bike lanes. And that’s a very legitimate function of temporary projects. But 80

there’s a way that temporary can end up being a substitute for thoughtful committed long term investment. I’ve heard John Bela at Rebar talk about the idea of iterative place making, which is another great thing that parklets enable you to do. The idea is to do a test run, in the real world, with a certain design, and a certain approach. Then when it comes to the end of its life, if you’re going to go permanent, you have a chance to get things right the second time around. And that very much what could be happen with parklets in the near future, we use them as test runs and eventually implement permanent version. So all in all I think its awesome, and its really engaging for a young generation who might have to wait an awfully long time to be able to work on the kinds of public spaces that they’re interested in creating. In the mean time, having one foot in that kind of guerilla intervention world, and legitimizing that… it really reflects well on the civic culture in San Francisco. The fact that the organs of government were able to see the potential and facilitate more of it instead of just shutting it down the way it might have happened in another city… that’s really important. There’s also a hunger on the part of the planners and the people who work in the incredibly constrained setting of San Francisco culture, and CEQA and regulatory frameworks. They are able to now say to themselves something like “Oh my gosh, there’s a way to actually do something! I’ve wanted to do something for my entire career, and I’ve never been able to do anything, and now I can!” “At the big picture level one of the things that parklets and these other experiments are doing is demonstrating the power and value of public space, and that turning a parking space into a public space isn’t just about taking

away a parking space. It’s about something else, it’s about creating new life in the city, it’s about creating a space for things to happen, and guess what? When you do that, things actually do happen. The kind of reticence and nervousness will get defused when people say, ‘Hey you know, I like what’s happening here, I can see it with my own eyes!’ These larger ideas about revitalization, some people are equipped in their minds eye to see them and some people aren’t. So for people to see that its not threatening and that the benefits far outweigh the negatives… I think that’s really powerful. Collectively all of this is showing San Francisco that the city is not finished, and not perfect, and more importantly that there are stories yet to be written and our public realm can still be much better.” BUILD YOUR IDEAS Criag Hollow & EAG | For the Community by the Community Parklets are opportunities to engage in design that will be quickly realized. Short-term projects such as parklets allow you to be creative, test out your research, experiment with new concepts, and get to see them built. Research Becomes Architecture Luke Ogrydziak and Zoe Prillinger founded Ogrydziak/ Prillinger Architects (OPA) in 2000 with a commitment to research as a critical part of the office’s practice. This commitment led OPA to a unique and experimental area of computational research; a computer program based on the concept of responsive growth. Although this work was intellectually satisfying for OPA, it was somewhat limited to


small scale installations that could be funded internally or through arts grants. Then, while working on a project called Dune, the research took a turn in the right direction. OPA realized they could use it to control surfaces and develop organic forms out of geometric planes, essentially creating a synthetic landscape. “Dune was a breakthrough because it allowed us to actually apply the research to a specific site and geographic context.” The computer program (which OPA developed in-house) allows users to create nodes, which act as germination points, and set rules, which control growth. For Dune, OPA utilized the program to generate a structure that would be highly responsive to its specific context. Dune was designed to have a remediating geomorphological effect on its site; its placement and form actively protect adjacent sand dunes from erosion, thus preventing the natural habitat from deterioration. The result is a synthetic sand dune that stabilizes and restores its immediate environment, while functioning as a beautiful beach house inside. An Opportunity to Build Through Dune, OPA was able to further develop their research in both sophistication and spatial organization. This enabled them to apply it at a larger scale, and thus allow it to become progressively more relevant for architecture. Soon after, OPA was approached by the local resturant Farm:table with a request to design a parklet. OPA saw the project essentially as a grant; an opportunity to both realize a conceptual design and build something for the public.

The computational design for Dune, showing the red triangle that was the node of growth. Image credit: OPA.

A rendering of Dune. The project is currently in development and preliminary review. It has already received an AIA award as well as significant press. Image credit: OPA.

Excited about the potential, OPA signed on to the project. The client was ambitious and opportunistic, and wanted to push the boundaries of what a parklet could be. They had four goals for the project; to create a community space, to be responsive to context/location, to design & build an immersive landscape, and to do something creative and new. OPA was eager to contribute to the emerging shift in parklet design from public place to community space. The location, the Tenderloin, was a particularly challenging neighborhood to build community space in because of its extremely dense with social and economic challenges. But because OPA lived and worked nearby they were able to bring a unique synthesis of local and professional knowledge to the project. Most of all, the client excited them, “It was very odd to work on a project where everyone was doing it just to see what could be done, it was super pleasant.”


The Perfect Match Once OPA began working on the project, they quickly realized that their computational research had the potential to address all of the client’s goals. They had learned to control its output to produce spaces responsive to both site and use, and the project gave them an ideal opportunity to test the research out in a new, complex, diverse and highly public context. In response to the intensely urban location, OPA conceptualized the parklet as a mini escape valve, providing what was missing; green space and landscapes. They did this by building a synthetic landscape whose geometric form referenced the hard edged physical nature of the parklet’s surroundings, thus OPA’s solution integrated the parklet into its context on multiple levels.

campaign, demonstrating residents’ active investment in community space in their neighborhood. Of the Kickstarter backers, 36% lived within four blocks of Farm:table, 48% lived in immediately adjacent neighborhoods, and 78% lived somewhere within the city of San Francisco (Percentages based on a polling sample of 50 respondents, out of 186 project backers).

THE GATEWAY DRUG A discussion with John Peterson about the Public Space Strategy Project and the potential futures and evolutions of parklets. John Peterson is the Founder and President of Public Architecture, the non-profit behind the 1% Program and the leaders of the movement advocating for the inclusion of pro bono work into the design and architectural professions.

Designing a Community Space Farm:table had a passionate desire to create a parklet that would truly function as a community space. They spoke to OPA about the various behaviors they wanted the parklet to accommodate and the various type of people who would use it. Through these discussions, OPA was able to develop a psychological narrative for the space, which helped guide their design process. The goal was to create a passive program for the parklet so that the spaces and surfaces were flexible, versatile and open for interpretation. There is no pressure for any particular use, instead the design is functionally adaptable, supporting a multitude of behaviors and thus responsive to its users. There was also significant support for the parklet from the community. Over $15,000 was raised via a Kickstarter

What is your impression of the whole parklet movement and where its going? I believe that there’s a value in the temporary version of the parklet movement. Even if parklets come and go, and don’t last for so long, there can be a lot of value in that. Through the knowledge that’s gained or through habits that are developed... or maybe it’s successful for only a short period of time and then it’s not successful after that, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t still valuable. And then there’s the question about something longer term. Does this lead to something other than more parklets? Does it evolve into something that’s a more permanent version? That’s one option. Does it just lead to people saying hey, we need more outdoor space, we like this idea of being on the street, and then that leads to decisions being made about other public amenities beyond parklets. Or is 83

View of the parklet from inside of Farm:table. Photos credit: Agency Charlie Tumblr. The original geometric research which the parklet design was generated from.

The plan view of the parklet, taken directly from the diagram.

A digram showing the behavioral mapping done for the parklet’s design. All Diagrams credit of: OPA.

Wood work completed for parklet interior. The parklet was built with great help from Forsythe General. Photos credit: Agency Charlie Tumblr.


it that these things get put in front of a business and are initially temporary, but at some point start to deteriorate and eventually have to be removed, but then the business decides they like and want to pay for a long term version because it’s been so successful for them. It seems like those are the three options; the individual parklet matures into something permanent, or it doesn’t mature into something permanent but still has some value in the fact that its ephemeral, or it elicits actions and responses other than more parklets. The third option, parklets leading to something else, something new, is the one that seems particularly important. What do you think is ‘beyond’ a parklet? What are parklets the start of? One could just be more robust public life, more robust street life. People will get used to being outside and they will get used to being on the street and they get used to running into their neighbors and they have a different sense of that value. So they spend more time on their porch or they spend more time in their local park, or they get involved long term and decide they want a better street life, and there’s some effort to invest in the more permanent infrastructure. If people are spending more time on the street and they’re enjoying that, one would imagine that would lead to higher expectation of public life. Then the question is, how do you formalize that next thing? How would someone design or build something beyond a parklet, which could help facilitate that process? For one thing there is existing infrastructure that’s already in place, so there’s planning departments, redevelopment agencies, people who make decisions in cities, commissions, and public meetings about investing into public right of way.

It might be that the parklet does need to have a specific next generation, but it could also just be that all of this begins to elevate the discussion about the quality of public life. For instance, you could send really good food trucks all over a city. If they were very successful over a three-year period in a place that didn’t really have very good food then you would likely expect that people to change their behavior. They would start advocating for better food in the restaurants in that city, and you would expect that the restaurants would respond and start having better food. So it’s not necessarily what’s next for food trucks, its might just be that the existing infrastructure of restaurants will start elevating the quality of the food that they’re providing in response to them. Maybe that’s a successful outcome of the parklets. People start to have higher expectations of street life and they expect the streets to be better designed, they expect there to be more amenities for spending time outside in public life, and that slowly changes the existing infrastructure. That’s at least one version of what could be next. That seems to relate to your second point about there being value in the temporary nature of parklets. Yes, what if there was a parklet program that could be inserted into almost any city and it was understood from the beginning to be a temporary program that wasn’t really about creating parklets, it was about creating some social or cultural shift amongst the people who experience parklets. That’s a very interesting idea, particularly if you took cities that simply didn’t have many resources, didn’t have many public amenities, and basically your approach was to first start a habit and get people used to it.


I’ve once heard this story that there was this guy who invested heavily in the future of ice and ice production. But this was far before ice was in high demand by most people. In fact most people didn’t see a use for ice as all, and ice use was very limited at the time. So this guy essentially invented drinks that required ice or had ice in them, and then promoted them; he gave them away for free and did all kinds of promotions. In this way he was creating a market by showing people in person. Drug pushers do the same thing. So parklets are sort of the drug-pusher version of urban amenities. You go out there and you infiltrate a city with these parklets; they’re pretty cheap and we’ve got a strategy to do them, and we’ve made accommodations in the planning code and the building code to allow these things to go up relatively quickly. So lets say our goal is to see 150 of these things go up across a city and from the start it’s set to be only a five year period, and then we’re going to phase them out. People over that period will spend a lot more time outside; they are eating outside more and they know twice as many neighbors as before and they realize they like this. Then people start demanding that we widen the sidewalks and put more street trees out and things like that. That’s a very interesting idea, which relates closely to what the folks at Rebar said about the experiential power of temporary installations... but do you think that it’s actually feasible as a catalyst for the type of cultural shift that would be needed to really cause change at the higher levels? Yes, what we were talking about is a cultural shift. I can be realistic about the impact of it, but I actually don’t think it’s that tiny. The impact is bigger than the obvious usage. For example, I’ve probably spent no more than 15 minutes in a parklet, maybe 30 minutes all combined. I’ve just never sat in one for very long, and yet I have a different sense of the city because of them. I have a sense that people sort of care more, I have a sense that people are enthusiastic about the city, more proactive about the city, more engaged. That

actually gives me a different feeling about the city and the people in it. If there is an impact on the city and the people in it and their motivations, that’s a profound change.

PARKLET ANALYSIS There is much debate about what the future of parklets is, and whether or not they even have a future. We’ve collected the viewpoints of a few key designers and leading figures to shed light on what might be next. URBAN REDEVELOPMENT Parklets, along with other types of DIY Urbanism, are an important development for the future of urban redevelopment, and their evolution and maturation are even more important. Give the Power to the People The concept of a parklet is actually far more political than most citizens might realize. Historically public space has always been an imposition of will by the city and the powers that be. City agencies decide where public spaces go and tell the people how to use them. Parklets are a complete reversal of this process. It is the citizens who find small under-used spaces within the city and identify them as failing to achieve their true potential. It is the citizens that say, wait a second, this is public space! More importantly, they recognize that as public space, it can be used for a wide variety of purposes, and as the public it is, at least in part, their decision what that space be used for. This is a complete reversal of power and is highly political. Innovation and change are not typically seen in planning departments and city bureaucracy. This isn’t because innovation is unwelcome, but because generally there are 86

monumental mechanisms in place designed to prevent outsiders from doing harm to the city. Unfortunately, these very same mechanisms have the unintended side effect of preventing nearly every type of new development, regardless of its potential efficiency or its potential ability to help fix the system. In short, the laws that were enacted to prevent new projects from unjustly taking advantage of the city, end up preventing smart progressive projects from materializing.

This is hugely important for cities, particularly San Francisco where new innovative projects are so often shot down. As a result the city is able to test out ideas on a temporary scale and see if they work or not, before trying to implement permanent solutions. This process of iterative place-making is an extremely powerful tool in the larger context of urban redevelopment. It is what has allowed parklets to exist, and more importantly it has allowed for their continued growth and evolution.

In San Francisco, a major barrier to change is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This act was immeasurably important; it is the reason why our environment has not been entirely decimated by private firms and corporations, it has literally helped save the planet. As a result of CEQA, any new project must undertake an extensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in order to move forward, which essentially gauges the impact that the new project will have on a multitude of factors including air & water quality, density, transportation, etc. So if someone is trying to build something that will be detrimental to the natural environment, CEQA will help prevent that from happening, but CEQA will also prevent just about everything else from happening if it alters the environment.

The next question then, is will the people do what is right with this new power? The answer is yes, and the proof is in the evolution of parklets that is currently taking place. At the start of the parklet program, businesses sponsored parklets, which were essentially functioning as extensions of cafes. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing if the goal is to improve the streetscape, this was not the true potential of parklets. As the second and third wave of parklets are being built, we are witnessing a shift that has left the planning department with a grin on their face. Parklets are evolving from public places to community spaces. We are seeing parklets be funded through crowdsourcing programs like Kickstarter and we are seeing parklets being designed to support their local neighbors, rather than their sponsoring business. This is only the beginning for parklets, and they will continue to evolve... into what, no one can yet say. But the fact that they have quickly shifted to entities that are actually supporting community, leaves us very hopeful.

However, there is a way to get exemption from CEQA, if a project is temporary and entirely removable then it does not have to conduct an EIR. This temporary aspect of parklets is what makes them so nimble and so easy to get approved. More importantly, this allows the parklets (or other temporary projects like bike lanes) to be studied closely and documented in a real world context, rather than with hypothetical models. Thus, if impacts are documented in a highly detailed and accurate fashion, a temporary project can in effect be used as an EIR in and of itself, and thus act as a means to circumvent the CEQA process.

IMPLICATIONS FOR DESIGNERS Parklets are a means for local businesses and designers to give back to their community. As small scale pro bono projects, parklets provide an opportunity to give back without a large time or financial commitment.


The Hidden Potential of Parklets As the Parklet concept has progressed, each new Parklet evolves into an improved iteration of what has already been built. This has been shaped by the Planning Department refining their RFP, based on examples of what has worked and what has not. But it also seems to come from the power of the designers and architects responsible for the parklets, and their desire to push the boundaries of what a Parklet can be. As more Parklets are built, the standard is raised and new possibilities are realized. Unfortunately, in most cases parklets are unable to generate a profit for a design firm. The projects are too small to warrant substantial fees, and in many cases are done Pro Bono. Yet the level of detail required to produce construction documents is time consuming and designers often struggle with the decision to engage in a project that will cost them time and money in an already poor economic climate. Yet there are still designers and architects who do choose to engage in these projects, because although they do not present opportunities for financial gain, they present other substantial benefits if approached in a calculated manner. There are a number of benefits that a parklet can provide for a design firm, listed here are only five. First, parklets present an opportunity to look for an interesting design challenge. Often times the tight constraints of such a small scale project demand innovative solutions and provide designers an opportunity to develop creative solutions in a context that they do not normally practice. This process of creative problem solving is nearly universally accepted as an important and beneficial aspect of any design practice, it is the exercising of our creative design capabilities.

Second, because parklets are built within the context of the public right of way, designers are forced to confront unfamiliar territory that is outside of their typical practice. Often times this will result in individuals and firms developing new areas of expertise and new design capabilities. Namely, the ability to identify other projects within the public realm. By gaining the ability to identify societal problems in the public realm that can be addressed through the lens of design, firms create new opportunities for themselves to utilize their professional skills, and potentially enter new markets. A pro bono parklet design project can be the first step towards contracts from the city for larger public projects. Third, parklets can be seen as design-build grants, as opportunities to see experimental designs realized for free. Research is an integral part of a firm’s internal growth and development, but is too often neglected due to lack of funding. Parklets present a unique opportunity for a firm to have complete control over a project (partly because of its small scale) and get to try out new ideas. Parklets can function as a testing grounds for a firm to experiment with new techniques and methods, and get to see those experimentations built in full scale and thus be able to evaluate them in a way that is simply not possible on paper or CAD. This means that parklets can not only act as creative exercises that push a firm’s research to new levels, but also as a means to test out concepts that could potentially become profit-generating techniques in the future. Fourth, parklets present an opportunity for a design firm to engage with a local community and use their professional skills to benefit a neighborhood. Generosity should not be underrated as a benefit for design firms. Pro Bono projects present designers the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of others and the well being of entire communities.


Internally, this type of work sends employees the message that they are working for a firm that actually cares about the world and wants to improve it, leading to greater employee satisfaction and commitment. 15 Investing in local communities not only provides designers with a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose, but can also help build community relations by demonstrating a firm’s values. This may lead to greater interest from the media and help generate future clients. Lastly, public realm projects like parklets contribute to the larger shift in the design community towards more socially conscious and civically minded work, helping architecture to become a more relevant profession.16

A THEORY OF PARKLETS Based on a review of the 29 parklets currently operational in San Francisco, a framework was developed as a means to assess the success of parklets and act as a guide for future parklets. Reactive, Relevant and Responsive As a result of conducting the research that led to this document, the authors have developed a theory of parklets. In fact, it is not so much of a theory as it is a framework, a set of distinct approaches to designing a parklet that we have found consistent in all the parklets that are most successful. This framework is based on the idea of responsiveness and relevancy, and is comprised of five categories; location, demographics, community, program and funding. Although each is distinct, there is significant overlap between all five, emphasizing the holistic approach with which parklets should be designed.

In order for a parklet to be successful it must be responsive to its physical location. A parklet will be used and more widely accepted when it is clearly aesthetically tied into its surroundings. In response, parklets should be designed to visually fit into their contexts. A good example of this is the Four Barrel Parklet. Located in front of the iconic Four Barrel Coffee House and adjacent to an extremely busy bike lane, the parklet acts as a bridge, building off of the aesthetic and seating style of the coffee house, while using materials and finishes that directly relate to biking culture. When walking by it you barely even notice it’s there because it fits in so well. Demographics are a critical factor in designing a parklet; if it does not make sense for the type of people who will use it, then it will go unused. Observational studies are extremely helpful in this task as a means to see first hand the demographics of the users. A good example of this is the Powell Street Parklet. Located on the Powell Street Promenade, the most heavily foot-trafficked location in the city, the parklet provides very little seating, but instead functions as a space for tourists to step off of the crowded sidewalk to look around at the sites and avoid holding up pedestrian traffic. It relives the congestion of the sidewalks by providing an alternate viewing platform. Essential to a parklet’s success is its embeddedness in the culture of its community. The parklet should in some way reflect the culture of the specific neighborhood or hyperlocal context in which it is placed, thus providing something for the community that is needed. A good example of this is the Devils Teeth parklet. The Devils Teeth Bakery had long been a focal point of the community, neighbors would stand outside and converse while eating their baked goods. The parklet simply formalized this community space by providing ample seating in a space that had a clear latent need for it. 89

For a parklet to operate well, it must have an appropriate and functional program, this need is absolutely essential within public space. If a public space does not have a clear program, a clear intended use, then it is likely to be frequently vacant and slowly become a site for undesirable activities. To avoid this, parklets should be designed to support a specific functional program that fits into its geographic context. A prime example of this is the Arizmendi Parklet. The Arizmendi Bakery is so popular and crowded that the 40 feet of sidewalk in front of it had become a serious problem for pedestrians. The parklet provides ample seating for every age group, thus inviting customers to step off the sidewalk and thus relieve the pedestrian density and make it easier for others by to pass by. Although not a part of its physical being, funding is a critical part of a parklet’s success. It is important that the funder(s) have chosen to pay for the parklet for the right reasons, and understand that it is truly intended to be for the public. Several new parklets have relied heavily on crowdsourcing their funding as a means to create local community buy-in, both figuratively and literally. The parklet at Farm:table is possibly the best example of this, raising over $15,000 through Kickstarter. This method ensures that there is inherent vested interest in the success of the parklet and provides an immediate dedicated and supportive user group before it’s even built. It is important to emphasize that each of these five categories is closely tied to one another, and when designing a parklet, it will often be hard to draw the line between them. This is perfectly OK. Our theory of parklets is not meant as a rule book, but simply a framework for use in designing parklets that are both responsive and relevant.

THE FUTURE Parklets have two futures; temporary and permanent. These two futures are not mutually exclusive, and in conjunction could potentially cause real systemic change in not only San Francisco, but all cities. To Stay, Or Not To Stay... Both Are Good The future of Parklets is unclear. It’s likely that the number of parklets in San Francisco will double, triple or even quadruple within the next few years. As new parklets are built, current parklets must also adapt to their changing surroundings and question the limits of their temporary existence. Central to the future of individual parklets and the parklet movement is the question of what happens as a result of the parklets? This question can be answered in essentially two ways; either parklets evolve into something permanent, or parklets remain a temporary type of installation. Each possible future brings with it much hope for the impact of parklets, and although both possibilities are quite different, they are not mutually exclusive. If parklets were to evolve into something more permanent, what would they be? It is hard to predict what a permanent parklet might look like or how it would function, but regardless, a permanent version of parklets has the potential for great impact on the city, lets explore, hypothetically, what those impacts could be. As permanent parklets begin to multiply across San Francisco, a network emerges, something akin to the Highline, but at street level and much more fully integrated into urban life. This network of parklets would bring with it various benefits. It would likely be a tourist attraction, bringing money into the city and acting as an economic stimulus, perhaps a map and walking tour could be developed to formalize it as an attraction. 90

For the non-tourists, it would be a significant increase in usable public space within a city that currently is quite lacking, and would simultaneously avoid issues of vagrants as a result of being maintained by sponsoring businesses. As the shift from public places to community spaces intensifies, this network of parklets would act to promote hyper-local community cohesion, bringing neighbors together more often and doing so within the context of the public realm, thus adding to the overall street culture of the city. With more people on the streets, the network of parklets would help make the city a safer place by increasing what Jane Jacobs famously called “eyes on the street.” This network of parklets could also function to educate citizen about public space, both explicitly through the adoption of some type of learning resource linked to each parklet, and tacitly through the experience of inhabiting public space more regularly. Finally, businesses might start to invest more heavily in permanent parklets, rather than building them as inexpensively as possible. Owners might choose to devote more money to the design of a parklet and thus help push them towards new evolutions.

cities are healthier cities, and parklets can help people to recognize this fact and act upon it. There are many directions to go from here, we are in a very optimistic era and the upcoming generation will only further progress and innovate in the improvement of the pubic realm. Perhaps in the future we will see a formalized parklet program that can travel from city to city changing hearts and minds. For now though, what would be most beneficial towards the larger movement would be further study. Currently there is essentially zero quantitative evidence supporting parklets, and yet there is almost endless anecdotal evidence.17 Greater and more thorough investigation is needed in order to understand how parklets have had an effect on citizens’ perceptions of the city and their lives within it, as well as similar questions asked of government agents and powerful decision makers. If future research is able to demonstrate, both quantitatively and qualitatively that parklets have had a statistically significant impact on the urban landscape and the lives of its citizens then the doors will be wide open for continued experimentation and new evolutions.

If parklets were to remain temporary, they would also present a unique value and worth, one which we have already begun to see. There is great power in temporary projects because they allow people to have a first hand experience. Even if parklets are all torn down tomorrow, their impact will still be felt through the shift in culture that they have precipitated. They have already led to larger experiments such as Sunday Streets and Summer Streets, and are helping change people’s minds about the necessity for cars in the city. It’s widely accepted within the realm of urban planning today that more pedestrian-centric


Planning Department opens Request for Proposals (RFPs) Submit Application


-Site Plan & Prelim. Design -Documented outreach & support from neighbors

Meets minimum requirements




Public Notice Posted

The Parklet-O-Matic is a flow chart designed to help explain the process of getting a parklet installed, from the opening of the RFP all the way through final construction.





Design Process

Each major step in the process is shown within a box at the center of the diagram, while more detailed steps that must be taken by the applicant are shown to the right. Black circles represent actions taken by the city.



-Develop Concept Design -Submit construction documents to Planning Department -Revisions- as required

Approved by Planning Department -Approval from MTA

This diagram is intended to give a brief overview of the process, highlighting each of the major steps that are taken by both the applicant and the city. The information presented has been adopted from the original Parklet-O-Matic designed by the San Francisco Planning Department.

-Submit final paperwork to Planning Department Planning submits paperwork to DPW REVISIONS APPROVED


-Payy fee to DPW -DPW issues Permit -Contact DPW ACTION FROM CITY



-DPW Inspections -Finish Construction




Dorothy Shepard

Project details Address 4245 Lawton Street San Francisco, CA Project Type Pre-K School Facility

Design costs $ 1.1M

Service area Pre-K Education

Consultants Interface Engineering KCA Engineers Fulcrum Engineering

Size 2,466 Sq Ft

Year of completion 2011

Client Name Sunset Cooperative Nursery School Design Firms McCall Design Group Gillern Designs General Contractor American Clover Construction



BACKGROUND Sunset Cooperative Nursery School began as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in 1940, then called Parkside Play Center. Over the years, the school has changed names and locations, but has always remained in the Outer Sunset District and worked internally for improvements to the school community, such as obtaining approval by the San Francisco Unified School District and acquiring funding for a teacher from the District.1 The school operates under the Reggio Emilia teaching approach, which teachers at the school described as playbased and social skill building, focusing on emotional understanding and relationships, through curriculum influenced by the natural environment. Teachers structure certain guided lessons and at other times allow children to choose their own activities and explore, offering support as appropriate. The Reggio Emilia approach also involves a high degree of parent involvement and education to help the family develop as a healthy unit. As Lella Gandini, Reggio Emilia liason to the United States, describes, “These schools are part of a public system that strives to serve both the child’s welfare and the social needs of families, while also supporting the child’s fundamental rights to grow and learn in a favorable environment, in the company of peers and with caring, professional adults.”2 In 2004, it was discovered that the structural reinforcing bar had rotted out and the masonry building was “basically a stack of blocks that with a seismic event could come tumbling down.” A building committee was formed to determine whether the existing building could and should be rehabilitated or rebuilt entirely. The building was shored up as a temporary solution and the debate over whether to rehabilitate or rebuild lasted two years. Many members of

Aerial of outer Sunset District, 2012.

4245 Lawton St, 2012.


Sunset Cooperative Nursery School Teachers Parents Building Committee Gillern Designs McCall Design Group Interface Engineering Fulcrum Engineering KCA Engineers American Clover


2004 CRISIS Discovered that the school would be structurally unsound in an earthquake







Building Committee formed to determine an emergency repair and discuss retrofit vs. rebuild

Anonymous $500,000 donation made to Sunset Nursery

McCall Design Group named the “architect of record�

Sunset Nursery moves to a temporary location

School building is shored up as a temporary solution

School community decides to rebuild and a schematic design is developed.

Engineers and Sustainability Consultant brought onto project

School building is demolished and rebuilt

McCall works with Building Committee to solidify design and make changes in lieu of construction costs



Sunset Nursery moves into new building and opens for classes

Timeline with involvement of groups and critical events.

the school argued that rebuilding was simply too costly to be possible and that it was not worth the environmental impact to send demolition waste into landfills. In 2007, an anonymous donation of $500,000 was made to Sunset Nursery and the position for rebuilding won the most votes among parents and teachers. Seven architects and builders were parents at the time, many of them on the building committee, so the school community was able to make a thoroughly informed decision about the fate of Sunset Nursery. With so much internal expertise, the committee developed a schematic plan for the new building. Input was collected primarily from the teachers because they direct the program, had the most experience with the space, and would have the most use of the new building. One parent-architect in particular, Rich Gillern, took the lead on creating drawings and models to visualize the criteria developed by the school community. Though Rich was able to resolve the schematic and programmatic designs to a high degree, a licensed architect and engineers were needed to prepare the design for permitting and construction. The building committee approached McCall Design Group to

Demolition / Excavation $44,700

Plans / Permits $25,700 Architect Fees $25,000

Furniture / misc. $143,500

Pro bono Services est. $200,000 Construction $843,000

Comprehensive cost chart.


be the architect of record. McCall Design approached the project as pro bono from the beginnning, a perpetuation of their commitment to community involvement, and provided an important, fresh perspective. While the majority of McCall’s design and construction management services were free of charge, there was a point during the height of the economic recession in which they requested a small fee of $25,000 to be able to continue. The building committee required McCall Design to prove that the value of their services matched the cost and Sunset Nursery was able to provide the fee to help cover the firm’s direct costs at a time when revenues were the lowest in the history of the firm. McCall Design brought a sustainability consultant, Interface Engineering, onto the project to incorporate features like passive ventilation, radiant floor heating, and increased daylighting. The structural and civil engineers, Fulcrum and KCA, were chosen because they had an established relationship with the school. The design went through several iterations of “tweaking” and “simplifying”, primarily due to budget constraints. Rich Gillern continued to work with McCall Design through the design development, construction documentation, and construction administration phases. When the general contractor, American Clover Construction, was awarded the bid for construction, the design was solidified and the school made preparations to move to a temporary location. The new building was finished on time at a comprehensive cost of $1.1 million.3 The school reopened in January 2011 and successfully remains in operation.

INTENTIONS Safety and Endurance The Outer Sunset District is built on top of sand dunes, which are layered over natural aqueducts. During earthquakes, liquefaction of sand can cause a building to collapse and the natural aqueducts can cause sinkholes with no warning. The structural damage discovered in 2004 at Sunset Cooperative Nursery School established a primary concern for the stability and durability of any future environment. The school had existed in Sunset District for 59 years and, with many families and alumni living in the area, there was strong support for making sure it remained a part of the community. Deterioration of the steel reinforcing bar in the original building caused members of the school to become hyperaware of the climate of Sunset District and its affects on built forms. The abrasiveness of the salt, moisture, and sand coming from the Pacific Ocean had rotted their beloved school from the inside out. To extend the endurance of the new building, designers focused on selecting the best type and quality of materials within the school’s budget. Much attention was given to weatherproofing details to protect the structure from the sea air.4 The Building as the Third Teacher A core Reggio Emilia concept is the way in which a building acts as the Third Teacher. Rebecca New, a professor of early childhood education and leading proponent of Reggio Emilia in the United States, describes this concept as “children’s efforts to understand something about the physical or social worlds…, address a practical proposition…, or explore a philosophical dilemma...As hypotheses are posed, teachers create conditions in which children can explore and test


Original Sunset Nursery School building, 2009.

Newly completed Sunset Nursery School building, 2011.

those ideas, and frame new hypotheses.”5 A major focus of the redesign of Sunset Nursery involved an openness of the space which would allow for observation and monitoring of the childrens’ explorations from all areas for safety and support.

beaming respect for education, particularly for their belief in the Reggio Emilia approach.

In a very concrete sense, the designers of Sunset Nursery wanted to have passive design shown and present the idea of how things are constructed to the children. The teachers wanted to be able to incorporate lessons about sustainable building practices and passive design in their curriculum. One example of this is exposing the wooden trusses that support the roof. The designers also wanted the color and texture palette to appeal to children in ways that make them feel secure and at home. For example, wooden trusses were chosen because of the soft, warm texture compared to something cold and hard like steel. Make it of This Place The decision to rebuild provided Sunset Nursery with the opportunity to show the internal beauty of their cooperative community on the outside. Instead of looking like a “concrete hippie bunker that no one could find the entrance to,” they could welcome the community and display that the children inside are well-cared-for. While the old entry was a steel door surrounded by cinderblock, a designer described the purpose for the new entry as a beacon on the coast that is glazed, open, and glowing. Sunset Nursery wanted to make its presence known in the community and show its

Members of the school also wanted to communicate their awareness of the importance of place, and their particular place in the Outer Sunset District. They understood the context and scale of a residential neighborhood by the ocean. As one of the designers explained, they wanted to compliment the surroundings by bringing in the natural colors associated with the dunes and the ocean, yet still be playful for a school. Make it the Same, but Better Several constraints to the design were dictated by the site and the space available. There was consensus that the school community wanted to keep to the same building footprint and maintain the amount of exterior space for the play yard. The size of the property prevented any physical expansion and code requires a specific number of square feet of space per child, which would keep the number of children at 34.6 The school had a functioning spatial and programmatic structure that they wanted to sustain, but were suffering inside of a built environment that was failing to meet their needs. They didn’t need designers to reinvent their space, but to fix the things in it that were not up to par. The designers worked with spatial organization in ways with which the teachers were comfortable. The kitchen in the original building presented a logistical problem. Because it was tucked back in the corner, parents


had trouble supervising the children at the same time as preparing the snack. One parent expressed feelings of being outcast because her back was always turned away from the activities. In the new design, the kitchen has a more central location and is open to the room on two sides, to allow for better visual and physical access. The Bumpity Bump room, with padded floor and walls for kids to bounce around on, was added onto the original building and had water and moisture problems. As one member of the school described it, the teachers would sit on “mattresses covered in sand from outside, and eat their lunch in the stink and the damp, and that was their office for so many years.” (Fig 7) Because there was no way to expand the footprint of the building and nothing could be taken away from the floor space for operation of the school, a mezzanine level was incorporated into the new building for office space. There were a lot of characteristics and activities generated in the original building that members of the school wanted to see carried on to the new space. One member described the functioning of the original building as free and open, with self-guided learning and choice of activities. While many parents and teachers mentioned the benefits of this flexibility for the effectiveness of the Reggio Emilia approach, several people interviewed expressed the difficulties of working with “bins that didn’t really fit and improper storage.” Consequently, storage space for teachers and more standardized organization for class materials was a high priority in an attempt to make the daily activities of the school flow more easily. Environmental Sustainability The Sunset Cooperative Nursery School community is a proponent of environmental sustainability and includes

lessons about the environment in their class curriculum. Teachers and members of the building committee had many ideas of potential sustainable features that could be incorporated in the new building design, such as a green roof and rainwater collection. Interface Engineering helped the school determine which features they could afford and which made the most sense for the site context. The teachers and building committee strongly emphasized a desire for daylighting, which was incorporated with large, high efficiency windows along three sides of the building and several skylights. Because of operable windows along the same walls, intended to create natural ventilation and coupled with radiant floor heating, there is no mechanical air system. Solar panels are utilized on the butterfly roof and the roof was intended to contribute to a rainwater collection system. At the advice of an engineer, the reclaimed water features were removed from the design, because it was calculated that insufficient water could be collected for reuse.7

RECEPTION Safety and Endurance As design calculations show, the new structure of Sunset Nursery School should last a very long time—though with earthquakes and sinkholes you never can tell. In terms of materials selected by the design team, the school got the best for what they paid for. With proper maintenance and inspection, all the weather seals and climate control systems should keep the building protected from heat, cold, and salty ocean air for many years to come. During one interview, a strong concern was voiced about the likelihood of the school being able to consistently maintain features like the solar panels, radiant heating, and high efficiency windows. The solar panels and radiant heating 98

system need to be inspected once a year to ensure proper functionality and efficiency. Because the board members and maintenance committee members change once a year, and because of the preceding “chaotic”, somewhat disorganized nature of the school, the school member interviewed is concerned that the importance of the inspections will be forgotten. Only time will tell if a proper inspection schedule is kept for the new high-maintenance features. The school evidently either never knew how to maintain a cinder block and rebar structure, or the building was never designed to withstand the marine environment in the first place. Though new plumbing and electrical made some maintenance tasks easier, it appears as though the school needed more education about the new habits that would be required of them to keep up the new building. In a human relationship with built and natural environments that lacks understanding, there is an inherent vulnerability. The consequences of this vulnerability cost this specific school $1.1 million and countless hours of time devoted to solving the problem. The Building as the Third Teacher In reference to the new building, one teacher stated that, “as the children grow and as we gain more knowledge, this suits us. This is open for anything we want to do.” Each year the class curriculum changes to best suit the character of the group of children. Some groups are more rowdy and physical, requiring more outside play, while others are more scientifically oriented, requiring more hands-on projects. The flexible, open interior allows for such reorganization and reconceptualization of class activities. A negative consequence that arose from creating such a flexible, open space, is the booming acoustics. The concrete

slab and high ceilings reverberate sound that was only partly baffled by putting furniture in the space. While some parents claim not to have a problem with the amplified sounds, the teachers strongly voiced the difficulty caused during quiet group activities like story time. One criticism that may relate to the noise issue is the “runway” of interior-exterior flow created by the furniture arrangement. The school has had to add extra carpets, plants, and sound baffles to absorb some of the noise. One of the designers admitted to the mistake, in that they should have talked to an acoustical engineer and been more sensitive to sound as a major element of form. Make it of This Place The new exterior of Sunset Nursery simply and elegantly shows a quality of education and a quality of care that were already very active inside the school. The building represents a long, stressful, and ultimately rewarding collaborative process of portraying the ideals that teachers and families bring to the educational space in support of the children. In First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way, Lella Gandini claims that Reggio Emilia schools “are simply beautiful…however their beauty does not come from expensive furnishings but rather from the message the whole school conveys about children and teachers engaged together in the pleasure of learning.”8 An example of this is the “equal billing” that adults and children are given in amenities and use of the space. In the mezzanine office, teachers receive a relaxing view of the ocean and, in a quiet loft space facing the play yard, children can connect visually with the outside world at their own scale. The high quality of personalized design evident in the school conveys to the neighborhood that they are committed to it in a way that one designer described as a good omen during such a bad economic situation. Sunset District is going 99

Applying Families

60+ avg. 20


Had to close the application process for the first time 34 34


After 3


3 Demographics before and after rebuild.

through the beginnings of redevelopment—the school is not the only building that has suffered from the marine environment. This echoes the principle in The Third Teacher about being a good neighbor and giving neighbors “a good to aspire to, a building to be proud of, and a standard to maintain.” 9 There is an inherent value applied to the place-baced beauty of the design that is causing tangible repercussions for the school. One of the biggest changes that Sunset Nursery School has had to deal with is the increase in interest and applications that the rebuild has generated. The capacity remains at three teachers and thirty-four kids, but the applications havetripled from an average of 20 families per year before the rebuild to over 60 afterwards. The school had to close the application process for the first time ever and alter the application process to include more introductory activities for applying families. This means more time spent on the behalf of parents and teachers to filter applicants, but it also ensures that more of the families are the type that would enjoy being part of the cooperative school community.

notice us...Even people who live in the neighborhood think we are a new school and are surprised to hear we have been here for decades.” The new building has clearly made Sunset Cooperative Nursery visible to a different class of people. When interviewed, some members of the school expressed a worry that the nature of the school could change with more affluent families applying simply because of the “ritzy” aesthetics. So far, the director, who has been with the school for 20 years, has ensured that the character of the school, its teaching ideals, and the cooperative acts of its community remain the same. When the director eventually retires, and new teachers are eventually hired, it is up to the school community to maintain the Reggio Emilia methods and the cooperative, relational nature of its every-day existence. This exemplifies a way in which one group’s intentions for a built environment can cause an unintended reception by others outside the group, which in turn causes a social and relational change within the first group. Make it the Same, but Better

One statement made by a parent aptly describes the effect of this increased exposure and change in the pool of applicants: “before and during the rebuild we applied for a couple of grants that were income based. We qualified. We have since applied for similar grants and have been denied, as our average incomes are much higher. Our tuition has increased slightly, but I don’t feel that is what is changing our community. Our little old blue school, which we all loved, didn’t appeal to many people. Or they simply didn’t

Several members of the school who were involved before and after the school was rebuilt made it clear that it still feels like Sunset Nursery. It is clear from comparing the floor plans that the new building footprint remained true to the original. Many of the rooms and spaces are in the same location with beneficial adjustments where necessary. The building will still hold three teachers and thirty-four children. One long-time parent member claimed that


alumni are “shocked in a good way when they come in, because I know there was a lot of attachment to the old building. Even though it was cinder block and grimy…it was still emotional when it got knocked down.” She stated that the building still felt like home when they moved into the new space. The teachers are full of praise about their new office space and several people interviewed expressed their enjoyment of the hominess of the new kitchen and its connectedness with the rest of the space. The Bumpity Bump room is no longer moldy and smelly and it was designed with safer materials for the kids to bounce around on. The exterior play space was enhanced and much of the furniture from the original building was kept and spruced up. The atmosphere and ease of use achieved by the redesign of the space make it so that “people are really excited to come to work and people enjoy where they work.”

12 AM

12 PM

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Times when electrical lighting was needed, before and after the re-build.

Environmental Sustainability


While an official energy study has not been conducted, it stands to reason that the energy saving methods implemented through sustainable design are working fantastically. There is no need to turn on a light during the day and one teacher explained that now the children don’t mind being inside on a nice day because of the interior light quality, whereas in the old building everyone would be outside on a nice day. The natural ventilation coupled with the radiant floor heating keeps the interior temperature very comfortable. According to one teacher, kids will run in with bare feet in the winter, hang out and get warm, and then run back outside. Because of intentions to maximize daylighting and comfort inside the building, the space is providing an experience that encourages different habits of its occupants and generates a lesson where passive design is shown.

The benefits received on both the “client” and “designer” side of a grass-roots project like Sunset Nursery were readily apparent from interviews held with members of the school community and members of the design team. Several teachers and parents stated that it was incredibly helpful to have professionals on the building committee that were working with McCall design and the engineers. These parents were able to work through the challenge of translating designer’s talk and drawings for members of the school community. Through the translations, the school was better able to understand what they were getting into and what the realistic physical and monetary consequences of building could be. Several people also expressed the confidence and trust they felt in choosing designers, engineers, and contractors who already had a relationship with the school, because of shared goals and commitment 101

to the project. In the end, the school has proven to the Sunset District and to themselves that they are an asset worth keeping in the greater community, which designers helped them express in a built form. When asked about the importance of pro bono work, one designer responded: “Everyone says it’s to give back and all of those sorts of things…its fine, that’s a point of view. But I actually don’t think that’s the real reason to do pro bono work. I think it’s really to learn. And I think it’s to be inspired. And I think it’s to learn life lessons. We’re involved in economic transactions all the time, but if you and I enter into a relationship, it’s because we can learn from you.” McCall Design Group, a firm that primarily designs retail spaces, had never worked on a school before—and now they’ve designed two. They also maintained a relationship with the sustainability consultant on Sunset Nursery, Interface Engineering, to help design the second school. One of the designers even said that he was going to have the general contractor rebuild his house, because the construction experience was so positive. The same designer stated that working with the planning department was fun and he felt that they were trying to help facilitate the process, because it was a project with a community oriented cooperative. The mere nature and content of the Sunset Nursery project saved both McCall Design and the school precious time in the process.

Interior view towards kitchen.

Though the process and built product of Sunset Nursery has been highly successful, no project is perfect. Just as Lella Gandini states that Reggio Emilia schools should not be “looked at as a model to be copied in other countries; rather their work should be considered as an educational experience that consists of reflection, practice, and further careful reflection,” the process for rebuilding of Sunset Interior view of school with no lights on. 102

Cooperative Nursery School could not be directly replicated by another school.10 However, there are guidelines from the process and significance in the product that prove useful as a case study. One specific consideration was made by a designer at McCall that the general contractor should have been selected in the early phases for a consulting point of view, because the budget was so tight that more knowledge of actual construction, the sub-contractor climate in the city, and construction costs would have been more helpful up front. This may have saved the school some of the months of deliberation over certain details that had to be removed through value engineering because of cost constraints. It may have allowed McCall Design to spend less time “tweaking� the design, which may have permitted for more time spent on other design services. It is clearly useful to consider which players should be brought in at which stages and for which purposes to best utilize the time and funding available for the specific nature of a project. The designers followed the standard process for design and construction, which places bid requests from contractors after the design is complete. The nature of Sunset Nursery and its project to rebuild being anything but standard, a different method may have been more useful and efficient for both designer and client. Another important consideration is the existing daily functioning of a community compared to the change in habits and activity that a new environment with require. Designers addressed the existing processes of Sunset Nursery in the original building and the new amenities defined by the school for the new space. Many of the preceding processes adapted well to new amenities. For example, the teachers have joyously settled into using their new office space. However, in some instances, the relationship between the

way things were before and the way they are now may not have appropriate or beneficial results. For example, it seems as though the day-to-day processes of the building systems may not have been designed to best suit the capabilities of the school community. As discussed earlier, there is a concern with the high turnover of families and disorganized nature at the school that the maintenance of the solar panels and radiant heating will not be perpetuated as necessary. Were the solar panels a necessary feature for reducing energy costs or simply a popular, typical representation of sustainable design? Could the school have kept a different design feature that may have better served their needs and capability? Perhaps the design team could have worked with the school community to better understand their existing habits and what infrastructure would help facilitate necessary changes required by the new building. For example, a placard that describes the life cycle of different systems and materials in the school could serve as an educational component and a reminder. It could list the maintenance schedule for things like solar panels, as well as how often carpets should be cleaned to keep them free of dust and mold. As teachers incorporate features of the building into the class curriculum, it could create a ritual remembering of how to care for the space. A final takeaway offered by the process and project of Sunset Nursery is to utilize who you know and the skills they have to make a project happen. Fortunately for Sunset Nursery, this included a relatively affluent group of families and several individuals experienced in fields of design and construction. There was also a larger network of alumni in the neighborhood to contribute to fundraising efforts and petitioning to the city in support of the rebuild.


Sunset Nursery School is a community already rife with cooperative networks and supportive infrastructures. This raises questions about social equity for the possibility of a less affluent group to tackle a similar need. In a community where there are not as many resources or advantageous relationships, there may not be an existing network to draw from. It is difficult to determine a general strategy without a specific context of people and place, but a comment made by a member of the school proves useful : “These are all people that don’t necessarily have that training, like I’m a school social worker. I didn’t have training on building management or project management, but we were all together and we worked to organize the way that it was presented to the community as well as managing the project.” Sunset Nursery was able to take the project as far as possible with the resources available in their own community, then realizing the need to approach a professional firm to help them carry it through to construction. Because of the effort the school put into establishing the criteria and goals, they were able to fully engage design professionals in their collaborative process to produce an environment that represented Sunset in an organic way.

outcome of the investigation. In such a setting, ‘doubt and amazement are welcome factors in a deductive method similar to the one used by a detective,…where the probable and possible are assigned a place.’”11 A vital reason the project did succeed was because of the extreme dedication of key leaders to the values of the continued existence and necessary improvements for the school. These leaders were able to communicate these values to others—new families at the coop, residents of Sunset District, the San Francisco Planning Department, etc—and these other groups were able to appreciate and subsequently were convinced to support those values. As Rebecca New speaks of putting theory into practice, “Change is possible when people in particular places decide to work hard together in a way that is mutually supportive and open to a new image not just of children, but of schools and communities and a more just society.”12

A critical factor to remember: entering into the process of rebuilding the school, and for several years during, no one knew if it would be a success. There was a potential for the fundraising to fail or for the contractor to take the money and run. An applicable statement taken from First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way is that, “Learning is a reciprocal and collaborative process...During a project, no one person knows exactly how things will turn out or where they will go. Collaborative exploration in a social setting takes place where all participants influence the direction, timing, and






AUSTIN RESOURCE CENTER FOR THE HOMELESS Shannon Harris Jessica Mills Project details Address 500 East Seventh Street Austin, TX Project Type Civic Community

Size 27,000 Sq Ft Year of completion 2004 Client Name City of Austin Design Firm LZT Architects Consultants Gail Vitoria, Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems Design costs $8 million



INTRODUCTION “[We] all had a sense that this project could forge a new territory in bridging what the sense was at the time--that green was expensive and complicated and so on--into a facility that by definition, had a very strong social mission.”1 - Gail Vittori, LEED specialist and project consultant for the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, ARCH The planning and design of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) generated excitement among the many groups who propelled its development. These groups included the social services organizations advocating on its behalf, the architects and their team, the city’s representatives on the project, the LEED specialist, and the homeless population themselves. Their excitement stemmed from a vision of ARCH as a sustainable building. This term was understood to require the building to perform ecologically, economically, and equitably. In that state-ofmind, the designers and the clients placed importance on sustainability not simply for LEED accreditation--ARCH is a LEED Silver-rated building--but holistic attitude about the project’s mission and potential. Flexibility proved to be another important concept that emerged in the design process and then significantly in the life of the building. Aware of a need for some degree of flexibility within the building, the designers accounted for some potential future changes. Meanwhile, in the ten years since its completion, ARCH has continued to evolve in its use, organization, and inhabitation. In this manner, ARCH falls on the scale of regenerative design. According to Raymond Cole, regenerative design represents “a shift [towards] viewing building occupants as ‘inhabitants’ who may play an active role in the maintenance and performance of their buildings, as opposed to ‘occupants’

who are passive recipients of predetermined comfort conditions”2 The discourse of regenerative design invites examination of a building’s starting point, the original intentions that generated its design, as well as its real-life results; how it functions, performs, and is received over time. This report will approach examination of ARCH in the same way, registering the intentions, receptions and evolution that describe the building’s life. ARCH, an everdynamic community, certainly manifests a co-evolution between building and inhabitant, and presents a compelling case study linking the flexibility of buildings and the housing of social services. THE THREE E’S OF SUSTAINABILITY The ARCH building, meant by its progenitors to serve the homeless, invites a broader definition of sustainability beyond green energy standards alone. Social equity and economic viability are crucial considerations alongside ecological conservation, and the design team at ARCH was well positioned to integrate all three aspects into their employment of sustainable practice.

The Sustainability Triangle


Social groups involved in ARCH creation

Sustainability considered along these lines can be linked to the 1987 Brundtland Report. In the mid-1980s, the United Nations Commission on Environment and World Development published a book, Our Common Future, from which a well-known definition derived: “[Sustainability describes] development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”3 In subsequent definitions in both academia and non-academic publications, the definition has been refined to include a model of overlapping circles, or a triangle that gives equal weight to three elements in forming a paradigm that balances social equity, economic, and ecological interests.

Originally applied to literary theory, the concept has evolved to measure other works, including architecture.4 So, when referring to intention, we will describe attitudes of the design team during the design and construction processes. Reception, in our case, then refers to the subsequent, ongoing phase of building occupation and operation, in other words, its real-world performance and the perceptions that surround that performance. And so, because people are the agents who both intend and receive a work, we will describe the intention and reception of ARCH according to the relevant social groups who have impacted and are impacted by the facility. SOCIAL GROUPS AROUND ARCH

We will examine the balance between the Three E’s as they pertain to ARCH. Using the model of the triangle, we will measure the intentions of the design team and other relevant social groups according to their vision for the ARCH facility. Similarly, we will use the same model to place the reception of those who are impacted by the ARCH facility. Before doing that, it will be helpful to further define intention and reception as it relates to this study.

THE ARCHITECTS The Resource Center was designed by Murray Legge with LZT Architects for the City of Austin. LZT consulted with LEED specialist Gail Vittori of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. THE CITY OF AUSTIN

RECEPTION THEORY Reception theory, or Rezeptionstheorie in German, is a postmodern method of measuring not only the creator’s intention in a certain work, but the reception of the work by the viewer, reader, or social group impacted by that work.

Cynthia Jordan, herself an architect, served as project manager for the Public Works Department. She worked with the Department of Human Health and Services (HHS), who would eventually manage the facility for the city and whom she considered the client. The Planning and


ARCH timeline highlighting important milestones in past and future development

Development Review Department is influential with certain city codes, including Great Streets for instance, which played a significant role in the project. SOCIAL SERVICE GROUPS ARCH is a unique facility in Austin, providing comprehensive services to the Austin the homeless in a downtown location that places it within blocks of other social service providers: the Salvation Army, Caritas, and St. David’s Episcopal Church among others. ARCH, run by the nonprofit organization Front Steps, is a 24/7 social service center with an overnight shelter for 215 men, providing showers, basic needs, comprehensive case management and permanent supportive housing programs. The building also houses eight other homeless service providers that range from health care provision and substance abuse support to long-term housing solutions, making the facility a comprehensive homeless outreach center. Together, we refer to these organizations collectively as social service groups. Described as a “low-demand” model, Front Steps welcomes any client without contract or stipulation. Their ultimate goal is permanent supportive housing with an emphasis on “housing first.”5 The Capital Area Homeless Alliance (CAHA), predecessor to ARCH, was founded in 1997 as a response to the 1996

Community Action Network’s Comprehensive Plan for Addressing Homelessness. At that time, CAHA dispensed services out of a small building on West Cesar Chavez Street, but when the City of Austin decided to use that spot for a new City Hall, the organization began the task of finding a place to house the Alliance’s brainchild, a more comprehensive resource center.6 Finding a location for the new building was a challenge; when neighborhood groups rejected the larger sites for the campus because they did not want a homeless resource center in their neighborhood, the city settled on part of a block owned and occupied by the Salvation Army. Although the plot was significantly smaller than the anticipated needs for the space, the city felt they had no choice but to locate here, given the opposition to another location.7 The city purchased the land from the Salvation Army.8 Since 2004, ARCH has been located at the corner of Seventh and Neches Streets downtown. The nonprofit organization CAHA later changed its name to Front Steps, and now manages the City of Austin-owned facility, ARCH. Front Step’s philosophy and mission statement follow: Philosophy: All people deserve the dignity of a safe place to call home. Mission: To provide a pathway home through shelter, affordable housing, and community education. 110

Capacity comparisons CAHA, ARCH when first opened, and ARCH today

Before RCH facility was built, Front Steps served fifty to seventy-five homeless clients a day. The building is able to now serve over 600 clients a day while accommodating 215 men for overnight shelter. ARCH, THE BUILDING In this section we reconstruct how relevant social groups framed the design project in terms of the three dimensions of sustainability noted above: ecology, social equity, and economy. ARCH AND ECOLOGY The City of Austin had just implemented LEED requirements for all public buildings when ARCH was in the planning process. LZT Architects were interested in encouraging ecologically-sound features. Cynthia Jordan, the city project manager stated, she “jumped in with both feet” when she found out the building would seek LEED certification. 9 All of these circumstances, plus an equally enthusiastic LEED consultant who understood the process, enabled the ecological focus. Their intentions were all the same. ARCH AND EQUITY In addition, the enthusiasm of the key planning players, who were engaged from the very beginning, enabled an uncommonly creative planning atmosphere for a homeless

shelter. Legge, the designer with LZT Architects, stated, “ARCH was an important civic building that [we] could put a lot of pride into. Each public project is an opportunity to represent the best and highest ideals of a community in a sense, especially if it is a City of Austin project. As it began to take shape, [the firm] began to realize this was one of the potentials of the building--everyone knows the building. From that perspective, it worked.”10 Vittori summed up the collaborative team’s special sense of the energy and feeling surrounding this project when she told the story of the building’s glass façade: “[The glass façade] was very controversial. There was a sense that the homeless people were going to [cause property damage and]... that windows were going to be broken all the time. Going with a lot a glazing became an expression of the social belief systems. For people who are without a lot of the material benefits of a safe and secure home, a building that has transparency- visually communicates, “We trust you.” [It] became emblematic of the broader sense of providing a welcoming environment to people who don’t otherwise have access.”11 ARCH AND ECONOMY The project construction costs amounted to $5 million, while the total (including soft) costs added up to around $8 million (AIA). 12 The building is almost 27,000 square feet, yielding an average of $185 a square foot in construction costs, a highly economical building when compared to other certified LEED certified city buildings. The site on which ARCH sits is not ideal for many reasons, a sentiment echoed by almost everyone we interviewed or surveyed. Some, such as the staff at Front Steps, feel the Center is in the right place downtown, but that the site is


far too small. Others, such as the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), feel that the building is in the “worst possible location,” but because of difficult political reasons, and an attitude of expediency to get the Center built after years of planning and turf wars, it ended up being the only, and most expedient, location.13 METHODOLOGY Our research hinges on methods developed by Moore and Wilson, Cole, and Campbell. The method of frame analysis described in Moore and Wilson’s Questioning Architectural Judgment.14 By frame analysis, we mean that we analyze the case study through multiple modes, or frames of interpretation. Frame analysis is an appropriate model as we interpret the intentions and receptions of social groups involved in the creation of this building both through literature, news reports, interviews with resident experts, surveys, and an analysis of how the building program has changed over the years.

Cities, Just Cities?” where he places three aspects of holistic sustainability--economic sustainability, ecological sustainability, and equitable sustainability--in relation to each other on a triangle. 16 The diagram describes the tension, or conflict, that can exist between the three elements, and locates that conflict at the periphery of the triangle. As Campbell explains, potential for conflict is not a negative thing and can result in creative solutions that involve all parties. The center of the triangle demonstrates a perfect balance of holistic sustainability, which some would describe as idealistic in terms of intention but unreal in practice. METHODS T he strategic methods we employed in studying ARCH

include relevant literature, interviews with project participants, surveys, and other miscellaneous methods. LITERATURE

We rely heavily on both Moore and Wilson’s theme of how architectural judgment has and is changing. Similarly, Raymond Cole, Amy Oliver, and John Robinson, in their paper, “Regenerative design, socio-ecological systems and coevolution,” describe an ideal situation where buildings flex and change over time, extending the life of the building, while at the same time, adapting to uncertainties inherent in the planning and design stage. 15 The traditional way of judging architecture, places buildings in a category according to their artistic value within the architectural canon, versus judging them through an informed lens of how they function more holistically.

The literature that informs this case study begins with the various texts that describe methods of post-occupancy evaluation, a history of architectural judgment, and theoretical frameworks for research. Other resources include the Austin Statesman, articles from which will provide a historical register of the perception of the building among various social groups.

We also employ the model of sustainability provided by Scott Campbell in his article, “Green Cities, Growing

The following list describes all those people who helped tell the story of ARCH:

INTERVIEWS In addition to context derived from literature, interviews figured as prominent sources of local knowledge.


• • • • • • • • •

Three key staff from Front Steps Mitchell Gibbs, current Executive Director Jessica Burkemper, Shelter Director Helen Varty, former Executive Director from 2004-2010 Murray Legge, lead designer from LZT Herman Thun, LZT principal and Advisory Board member with the Salvation Army Gail Vittori, LEED specialist and consultant with LZT Cynthia Jordan, ARCH Project Manager, City of Austin Department of Public Works Charlie Betts, Director with the Downtown Austin Alliance

One method of applying measurement to these interviews was to incorporate the equity-ecology-economy, or ThreeEs diagram (Figure 1). By asking each interviewee to place the interests of their social group within the ThreeEs diagram, we were able to locate the intentions and receptions of the various relevant social groups; these are illustrated in Figure 5 below SURVEYS Surveys have provided interesting insight into the perception of ARCH, its appearance and function. We conducted a survey with the staff of Front Steps that measured perception of the building and its relationship to homelessness services downtown, with an additional focus on themes of how many of the LEED features have influenced work habits in the building. We asked the staff to speculate about how the residents perceive the facility and its relationship with the downtown as well as their appreciation of the building and its features. The Downtown Austin Alliance also agreed to a survey in which we attempt to measure whether homelessness services should be located downtown or in another location. The survey also

asked two identical questions to the two groups, ARCH staff and the DAA, about peoples’ perception of the aesthetics of the building and their opinion of the building. Comparing results from each of the two groups offers an interesting juxtaposition between “public” thoughts on homelessness and those of the people most closely associated with the homeless population. Our two surveys referenced various methods described in George Baird’s Sustainable Buildings in Practice: What the Users Think.17 Baird often triangulates his survey data by comparing an indicator of overall reception with smaller, more discrete measures of reception. By conducting surveys that echo the information provided through interviews and other sources, we have triangulated the data that will build conclusions for the study. Wolfgang Preiser and Jacqueline Vischer state in their book Assessing Building Performance, “it is important to remember that the physical and technical performance of buildings is directly linked to the building qualities perceived by occupants.”18 In that vein, additional survey questions asked ARCH staff as well as DAA staff about their perception of the building, and its performance both technically and socially, which occasionally generated contrasting results. Ultimately, it is our hope that these multiple frames for research will result in richer opportunities for interpretation. OTHER Our own local observations of the facility have informed the nature of its current programming and use. Additionally, architectural drawings provided by the design firm and information given through interviews with the architect and key staff at Front Steps give a rounded understanding of how ARCH has evolved in the past decade. A diagrammatic comparison of its current program with its intended


program illustrates the range that exists between original intent and subsequent reception. The researchers made a further comparison by examining the original LEED application checklist and the success of those criteria as they currently perform in the building. According to Vittori, no energy savings modeling was done on the building at the time it was built. We are therefore, not able to compare energy used for any period of time with projected energy savings. Additionally, attaining energy use figures from the city, which maintains the facility and manages costs, was a difficult request given the time allowed. Therefore, comparing and analyzing operational costs in what follows will be an inductive process, which should, above all, indicate the lack of transparency and communication between the governing parties that manage the facility. RESEARCH QUESTION

We expected to find that in the ten years since its completion, that most, if not all parties have benefited from “new knowledge” about the management of buildings, the nature of housing homelessness services, and the complexity of sustainability goals. Despite a trajectory and apparent agreement in the beginning toward sustainability goals that included the three tenets of equity, ecology, and economy, these intentions did not survive in their original states as the building aged. The original voices so strongly in favor of ecological goals either disappeared or were relegated to inferior positions once the building was finished. Many of the features in the building that were meant to keep the building functioning environmentally--and therefore economically--failed or no longer work to standards.19 INTENTIONS

Summarily stated, our report examines the balance of the Three-E’s according to each relevant social group involved in the development of ARCH. We want to describe the ways in which that balance might have shifted from initial intentions to current receptions. Additionally, we are curious whether meeting LEED standards is an appropriate intention for this unique building type. Would a regenerative design approach, as defined above by Cole, have better met the intentions of the design team?

One important way we gathered information about intentions was to conduct interviews with the individuals noted above. The purpose of these responses was to clarify the nature of intention surrounding the planning and early stages of the ARCH facility. In this case study, we, the researchers, identify intent as a benchmark from which to measure the “gap” between intention and reception.


We call this first group the design team, although they were not all designers in an architectural sense. They were in agreement about achieving a balance between equity, ecology, and economy in the project. This group includes Herman Thun, Murray Legge, Gail Vittori, and Cynthia Jordan. The City of Austin, to a lesser extent, was also part of this group. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, several key players were not only vested, but also excited about the

We believed we will find that there was an agreement of intent regarding sustainability at the beginning of the project. We expected to find that after the project was finished, that agreement was not transferred to the new owners of the building: HHS.



possibility of incorporating ecologically sound principles in the ARCH building. Cynthia Jordan, for example, described the LEED process as a challenge and a learning curve, but one that everyone was embracing. This group was concerned with more than ecologically smart initiatives in this project. In our interview with Thun, he emphasized his desire to understand the needs of special populations and adapt the architecture to their needs. In our interview with Legge, he talked extensively about allowing flexibility in the program, keeping the project transparent in the sense that people could see what was going on in the building and break down the boundaries between inside and outside.20 Jordan believed the building could be a triumph for the city if ARCH received LEED certification. She hoped ARCH would be a model for further city projects, and showcase the achievement in keeping costs down, maintaining equity, and showcasing ecologically sound features. Legge echoed that the project fit well within city goals at the time, including the goals of Great Streets initiative which mandated the development of a vibrant streetscape.21 Both Thun and Jordan’s position on the sustainability triangle was situated almost entirely on the economic angle. The reason for this, Thun stated, was that one had to be aware of “economy in how you use the money--the economy of the design.” 22 His point was that if money was spent wisely, there would be enough left to make the project equitable and ecologically friendly.23 Jordan and Vittori offered similar sentiments, although Vittori, quite properly, in our opinion, placed herself in the center of the triangle. Here is her explanation why: “the intention was to have a building that was emblematic of a high regard for the human experience--[not to be] creating high burdens on environmental resource issues, [but] to create

a welcoming, beautiful environment.”24 And, because of the intentional cost-effective materials for the project, she felt it warranted economic merit. Legge’s interview occurred before we began to ask our interviewees about their place on the triangle, but because of his balanced interests, we see Legge as someone who would place himself toward the middle of the triangle. Given the design team’s interests, we believe they generated energy in many directions and that they represented the most balanced approach to the ARCH project. SOCIAL SERVICES, FRONT STEPS AND THE HOMELESS This group was comprised of representatives from Front Steps, CAHA, the Salvation Army, and the homeless themselves. Their intentions coalesced around social services and equity concerns. The first executive director at Front Steps, Helen Varty, worked at ARCH until 2010. She stated that she was concerned with how the building functioned through the lens of social services. For example, she was happy with the large open floor plan since it allowed her staff the flexibility to change the space to accommodate more men in the shelter overnight. This flexibility has since allowed other significant changes to take place in the building. On the other hand, she did not care for the wide sidewalks mandated by the Great Streets program because it made her staff’s job of policing the perimeter more difficult. Representatives from all the above organizations, plus some homeless people, were involved in the initial discussions about the programming in the building. Herman Thun mentioned to us that Varty actually met with a group of homeless on the corner of 2nd and San Antonio Street to get


their feedback.25 His opinion was that they felt supported by this approach. The social services group’s intentions were concerned with providing what the homeless clientele needed. If ecologically and economically minded features enhanced the social service aspect, they were supportive, but we did not find a strong interest in either of the other directions from this group.

inception, this service would have been part of the Salvation Army’s responsibility, yet, for many reasons, the city finally realized it needed to take over operation of such a center.26 We know the original number the shelter was supposed to house was 500 men. Yet, the shelter was designed to sleep 100 and another 115 beds (mats on the floors) have been added. Perhaps the city and HHS felt the problem landed in their lap, or perhaps, despite an agreement to go forward with this project, HHS did not anticipate what was involved in this type of operation.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES DOWNTOWN AUSTIN ALLIANCE Through an administrative decision-making process within city government, the Department of Health and Human Services ended up with final jurisdiction over the ARCH building. Cynthia Jordan stated she was a project manager for the city, but knew her ultimate client was HHS. Yet, as we pointed out previously, the early participatory climate shared by the design team and the social services group did not transfer to the HHS division once the building was open. Front Steps operated the service organizations that inhabit the building. However, the intentions of HHS remain unclear. Despite multiple unsuccessful attempts to conduct an interview with HHS personnel involved with the project, we were unable to determine what their exact intentions were. We hypothesize that the distanced, or abstract administrative relationship of HHS to the homeless individuals to be served contributed to their lack of strong intention. The position of the intentions articulated by relevant social groups discussed above is illustrated by Figure 5. SALVATION ARMY What we know, pieced together from other conversations, is that the idea was to create a social services center. At idea

The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) is an advocacy group for downtown businesses and property owners. So, when the discussion surfaced about ARCH, many DAA members expressed their opposition. This group of DAA members had no intention for the building to be built downtown. Yet, when it became obvious that it would, the DAA executive group exercised its intention to make the situation as palatable as possible by advocating for different ways to accommodate more homeless in a concentrated area of downtown. The DAA advocated that public ordinances against noise, sleeping on the street, and loitering would remain in place and be enforced. They also advocated for a community court to handle minor offenses, the majority of which are committed by the homeless, in order to lower the burden of the larger courts. In these ways, the intention of the DAA was to seek impermanent fixes to what they saw as the problem of more homeless in downtown Austin. RECEPTION The same model for investigating intention can be used for that of reception. We will be looking at the various social groups that receive the building, or are impacted by ARCH. We will first focus on external perception through the data 116

Aggregated sustainability triangle showing position of three important social groups and their placement when asked about intention

gathered in interviews and surveys with the social services group, then the city group, and finally the Downtown Austin Alliance group. We will look at internal perception from those who work in the building currently, but held no initial agency in its creation. SOCIAL SERVICES: FRONT STEPS AND THE HOMELESS This group occupies the largest space in our report for reception since after the building opened, this group has been impacted by, and impacts ARCH, more than any other. Mitchell Gibbs, the current Executive Director at Front Steps, Jessica Burkemper, the Shelter Director at Front Steps, and the Front Steps staff and homeless clients, through survey results, are the focus of this section explaining their reception of ARCH. The sum of receptions for the social services group is markedly sided towards efficacy of the social services they are able to provide in the ARCH facility. The overriding feeling about the building from this group is that it is too small. Given the plan was originally for a 500-bed facility, this is not surprising. A comment we heard about ARCH that runs a close second is in regard to the space in the building

Top photos show the desk area, foyer soon after ARCH opened (courtesy LZT Architects). Bottom photos show teh check-in area with cubicles reconfigured, 2013 (authors).

itself. Most people interviewed or surveyed seemed to be very glad the building has allowed for some flexibility. For example, the day we interviewed Burkemper, the original front desk was being moved to the back of the first floor and a new set of semi-private cubicles were being constructed. Gibbs stated that this would provide some needed privacy for folks walking in for the first time to ARCH. The process of repurposing space has become commonplace. Gibbs, Burkemper, and the staff at Front Steps all cited concrete, the main material of choice, lent a feeling of permanence and durability to the structure. Durability is especially important in this high-use facility. The material choice was well received. In a related statement, Burkemper stated that the staff “continually thinks about the building.� 27 The building environment creates the cultural environment they work in. She stated, for example, that when you confine people, stress levels rise. Similarly, when you create barriers, as they have had to do around the perimeter of the garage outside, it changes impressions and affects the clients. So, the staff is acutely aware of how what they do affects the clients. They constantly think about the psychological atmosphere they are creating at ARCH. She and Gibbs both seem pleased with the way the building


Figures illustrating the transition of program throughout the building as it has changed.


has allowed for mostly a positive atmosphere which is open, light, and that seems permanent. One issue of concern is maintenance, which is constant because of the high usage of the facilities. One employee of Front Steps stated, “They get fourteen kinds of [complaints] about the building every day,” meaning that something is always broken or in need of repair.28 The situation at ARCH is unique in that Burkemper oversees operations for a building over which she ultimately has little control. If ARCH needs to spend over $500 on something for the building, she must check withHHS, the department that manages ARCH at a distance for the City of Austin. ARCH maintenance staff facilitates small repairs and to keep the building functioning because of its high daily use, but that is the extent of the maintenance responsibility at ARCH. Having an off-site maintenance staff likely has contributed to a culture of apathy which has in-turn, allowed many of the systems to languish in disrepair longer than necessary. Also likely is that economic concerns override maintenance concerns. Burkemper stated that if the organization had to decide between services and some expenditure for the building that did not impact the service to the clients, she would ask for service. It seems that over the life of the ARCH building, this particular situation has been the norm, resulting in a building that does not often receive the maintenance attention it needs to function to its full potential. Survey Results

members. For comparison sake, we will compare some of the Front Steps staff survey answers here with DAA staff answers. The remainder of information on DAA reception of ARCH will occur next in DAA section. As evidenced by the survey information, there is often a difference of opinion, as expected, in attitudes of Front Steps staff and those of DAA staff. Front Steps staff, a group likely to side with the homeless population, exhibited a strong opinion that homeless services should be located downtown and the building should be visible–a sharp to contrast DAA response. However, DAA and the Front Steps staff agree that there is too much activity on the street next to ARCH, which can be problematic. Both groups responded similarly on this survey, yet judge this aspect through different lenses. Question two of the survey asked if knowing that the building was built according to LEED standards positively changed their opinion of ARCH. The results represent an interesting juxtaposition between Front Steps and the DAA staffs that possibly points to how polemic the ARCH building has become. One city official familiar with the ARCH project pointed out the city should have celebrated LEED rated buildings and ARCH should have been one of those celebrated. Yet, this did not really happen with all citizen groups. One Front Steps staff member wrote in the comments section below this question that:

We surveyed the staff at Front Steps (approximately 70 people) and the staff at the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA, 10 people) and the surveys revealed some interesting information. The return rate on surveys for the Front Steps staff was 26% and the return rate on the surveys sent to the DAA staff was 50%, which amounted to five of their ten staff


Yet, the same question solicited an entirely different answer by another staff member:

The last two survey questions also represented different receptions by these different social groups. We first asked what people thought about the building’s aesthetics. Of DAA respondents, 40% said they felt positive about the building as compared with 50% of Front Step staff. Therefore, the results were similar. The second question asked what their feelings were for the building in general. Front Steps staff reported feeling 72% positive about the building. The DAA results exhibited a negative response to the building in general (60% negative). We can only hypothesize about why. Yet given their responses on the rest of the survey revealed that they are more open to the idea of homeless services moving to a different location. It could also be that DArespondents have a negative view of the building because it is part of a larger network of social services in the area of 7th and Neches Streets that detracts from the DAA’s goal of an improved area downtown. Again, the two groups exhibited different receptions of ARCH. DOWNTOWN AUSTIN ALLIANCE The DAA group appears in both in the intention and reception sections. While the DAA stated they want ARCH to be a successful operation, they also think that the facility is not in an optimal spot. We found their position to be a dichotomy that agrees ARCH must be located where it is, while at the same time, wishing it were not. Throughout the interview, Charlie Betts, Executive Director at DAA referred to the

“perfect storm” of positive and negative circumstances that surround the area in which ARCH and also Salvation Army sit. It is a block north of the night-time entertainment district, just south of a planned re-development area with much potential (expanding medical district), and just west of the new Waller Creek development that hopes to bring numerous people and businesses to this part of downtown. Whatever Betts and the DAA think about the location of ARCH, they also do not see a solution. The DAA has accepted the fact that ARCH is where it is, and takes a realistic stance on trying to figure out how to advocate on behalf of ARCH. DAA aims to help make the area safe, while at the same time advocating heavily toward a “housing first” agenda in order to really solve the problem. When asked to define his organization’s response to the reception of the ARCH building, Betts said he believed the DAA would see ARCH almost entirely in the economics area of the triangle. This is because, as he said, “you have to start there and begin to branch out from economics. The ARCH is an economic depressant. There is no development within 2-3 blocks.”29 So, while the DAA seems to be an important advocacy group for ARCH on one hand, the other side of their relationship with ARCH is that they see it as a thorn in their side, economically speaking. If social services agencies were not in this quadrant of the city, the economic development DAA desires might flourish. Yet, they also believe strongly these services are helpful, needed, would not be accepted anywhere else in the city, and they believe in a housingfirst approach, which is what ARCH does. The reception for ARCH from the DAA’s standpoint is one of reluctant acceptance.


Map of city quadrant with social services concentration. Map also shows proposed development.

THE CITY OF AUSTIN HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Receptions for this group were difficult to measure. We were not able to conduct an interview with either person who works in facility operations at ARCH. In fact, it was very difficult to contact them via email or phone. One staff member was busy moving her office to another location, and the other staff member was on vacation while we were seeking information. When we asked for utility costs information they were only able to give us piecemeal information about how much money ARCH spends on various utilities. We did not end up including this data in our post occupancy evaluation, as it was incomplete. One staff member finally responded to our inquiries about which green technologies were functioning in the building. He stated all green technologies are currently in operation. However, Jessica Burkemper told us in an interview that the rainwater catchment system had been shut off. When asked to definitively respond to all of our questions in this regard, the staff at Front Steps did not. In addition, Murray Legge was under the impression that the rainwater system was no longer functioning, as is a city official with the Austin Water office. Therefore, there is misinformation circulating regarding the real story behind some of the systems at ARCH.

These responses are indicative of what we have discovered at ARCH: that because the building’s owner is different from those who inhabit the building, information does not get transferred well, if at all. The following quote by Preiser is appropriate here if we refine his definition of occupant: “It is important to remember that the physical and technical performance of buildings is directly linked to the building qualities perceived by the occupants.” 30 We hold that occupants and inhabitants are different. Our definition of occupant is different than the meaning implied in this quote. We see occupants as non-interactive people who use the building. Inhabitants are what we believe Preiser really refers to here. In the case of ARCH, the Front Steps staff acts as inhabitants and they do perceive the building qualities as linked to the physical and technical performance of the building. They inhabit the building, work with it to make it function, as well as interact with it. The city’s role is more of an “occupant” in that they are not interactive with ARCH since they are not on site. The city only reacts to problems with the building, rendering their role as a less active one than Front Steps, yet they hold the purse strings, so to speak. This relationship, we believe, has created the current atmosphere at ARCH, and contributes to the lack of “celebration” by the city about its exceptional aesthetic, its ecologically sensitive functions, and its overall performance.


CONCLUSIONS During the planning process leading up to the construction of the ARCH building, the key players such as the architectural firm, the LEED consultant, the city project manager, and the city were all in favor of working toward the goal of a sustainable building. In keeping with the best ideas of Public Interest Design, there was also some participatory planning which included other players and even representatives of the homeless population. The City of Austin’s requirements for LEED-rated buildings was new, which should have been a real cause for celebration, especially given Austin’s reputation as a “green city.” Yet, many unfavorable circumstances added up to create a situation that was not ideal, even given the honorable intentions of the design team and social services team. The political climate in Austin was such that people protested proposed locations whenever they found out about them.31 When a compromise with the Salvation Army opened up a small corner of land next to their building downtown, the City Council voted to build the facility there despite the site not being large enough for the planned operation.32 All of these things added up to form what one interviewee called an “expedient attitude” to get the thing built.33 This attitude and set of circumstances did not serve the community well. In addition, maintenance issues surfaced immediately upon opening, probably in large part, because there was no maintenance staff at Front Steps for the first year the building was open.34 This condition suggests no one was on site to oversee the commissioning of the new systems. We do not know if this was intentional or not, yet we agree that, “The post-handover period is the most neglected stage of construction, often looked upon as a nuisance and a distraction.”35 This dysfunctional operational condition is clearly related to the conflict identified above between those who “occupy” the building and those who “inhabit” it.

Despite this, the building that emerged is an interesting case study and, in our estimation, has performed well despite many handicaps. As Gail Vittori stated during our interview, “It presented opportunity for a maturing of the LEED process and how maintenance issues should be followed up on after design.” 36 Everyone on the project learned something valuable. Murray Legge volunteered his time for five years after the building opened to assist with questions.37 This represents willingness on his part to learn and participate. Vittori emphasized her involvement was beneficial, and given her knowledge at the time, served the process as best she could. Cynthia Jordan also expressed pride in the building. There was agreement at least, between design team members, that it had been a successful project. Because of the nature of the final process that was implemented, the building was too small upon opening. Front Steps staff wasted no time in determining building programming changes that had to be made out of necessity, even just after the doors opened [see Figure 8]. 38 In this way, did ARCH serve as an incubator of new knowledge? One way in which an organization arrives at new knowledge is to provide for “flexibility and a capacity to respond to environmental feedback, and a need for continuously testing, learning, and developing knowledge and understanding in order to cope with their change and associated uncertainty. Knowledge acquisition of complex systems is an ongoing, dynamic learning process, and such knowledge often emerges with people’s institutions and organizations.” 39 At ARCH, for example, new knowledge emerged through the changing needs of the organization in response to the population served and their unique set of circumstances. ARCH has been forced to co-evolve by the needs of Front Steps and their clients. It has also been forced to evolve, we would point out, because of a lack of response 122

Diagram illustrating the dissolution of the sustainable agreement as the building changed hands.

oftentimes, on the part of the city, HHS in particular. We are not sure if this is related to budget or a lack of ownership in the building because they are offsite, or both. One hypothesis we have developed is that the city and Front Steps were unaware that a sustainably-designed building (or a regenerative one) requires both “stakeholder input and design modifications that allow for support of future co-evolution of human and natural systems.”40 Given the nature of haste and expediency surrounding the creation of ARCH, this important step was not taken. Because it was not more thoroughly considered, many of the LEED features in ARCH have had maintenance issues and some may be inoperable, thereby missing the point of a green building. Furthermore, we are not sure if the city is aware of any savings provided by the green technologies that are functioning. As far as we can determine, the administrative “occupant” of the building, HSS, has not conducted an evaluation of operational costs. Therefore, we determined the gap between intention and reception in the ARCH building to be wide. It has been narrowed somewhat by the actions of some stakeholders such as Legge, Front Steps staff, and the city since they have approved many of the programming changes. The design also narrowed the gap since it allowed some social

equity goals to be met. In that regard, the building still functions to make the homeless issue in downtown Austin a very visible process. We would recommend coevolution in the ARCH building continue to the extent it has, and beyond if possible. We would like to see even more involvement between the homeless community and the building--perhaps ongoing beautification efforts on the patios, for example, or instituting the composting system Herman Thun had in mind.41 Or, providing a training program for the homeless to learn basic maintenance of some of these LEED features, thereby giving them job skills to carry forward, but also giving them a vested interest in the building and other sustainably-designed buildings like it. For ARCH and its mission to continue, we feel the process of coevolution must continue and must include administrative reorganization of how the building is governed and maintained. The spatial and communicative dysfunction between those who occupy the building and those who inhabit it is unsustainable. It is our hope co-evolution would continue to enhance the mission and the building itself.



Alison Steele

Project details Address 2906 E. MLK Jr. Blvd. Austin, TX 78722

Project Type housing Size 13 acre site 172,134 sq-ft 150 units 388 residents Year of completion 2011 Client Name Foundation Communities Design Firm Hatch + Ulland Owens Architects General Contractor: Bailey- Elliott Construction Design Costs $17 million $98/sq-ft $43,800/resident


M STATION : Alison Steele

BACKGROUND M Station is an affordable housing community located on Boggy Creek in the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Boulevard Transit-Oriented District (TOD) of east Austin. In addition to housing, the project includes an on-site learning center, a preschool, and adult education programs. M Station is also distinguished by a LEED for Homes Platinum certification as well as numerous awards for merit. This is not your typical housing community. M Station is owned and managed by the nonprofit organization, Foundation Communities (FC). Their mission is “to create housing where families succeed.” The goal of which, is to not only provide housing to low-income families, but to provide the tools they need for success, or as one FC resident put it, “I wasn’t looking for a handout, just a hand up.” Foundation Communities began their mission almost 30 years ago under the name Austin Community Neighborhood Trust. They changed their name a few times over the years as they developed a more focused target on affordable housing; their current name most adequately representing their goal of creating a solid foundation in which their residents can succeed. They currently own fourteen housing communities in Austin and three in North Texas. What sets M Station apart from FC’s other communities, and the reason it has been referred to as Executive Director Walter Moreau’s “dream project,” was the opportunity to build from the ground up. This opportunity allowed them to develop a space that could house all the amenities they offered on a single site, most notably, a learning center. The site also allowed them to create an environmentally conscious community that limited negative impacts on the environment, and in extension, resident health. With conservation comes the added benefit of lowering operating cost and in turn that of their residents.

Hatch + Ulland Owens Architects (H+UO), who are also known both for their work in affordable housing and emphasis in sustainable design, was chosen to design M Station. H+UO is committed to building responsibly and bolstering community. They worked closely with FC’s Design and Development Director Sunshine Mathon to come up with a vision for what one resident calls “the M Station experience.”

M Station (

Train at M Station


Moreau commented, “all of our projects have been some combination of market timing and luck.” Knowing Meredith was developing a resource rich environment, FC took this opportunity to purchase the site and build the first affordable housing community in this newly established TOD.

In 2002, developer and local philanthropist Tom Meredith purchased 30 acres of land just south of the site where M Station now sits. His vision for this land was to sustainably enhance the neighborhood while maintaining the culture and affordability of east Austin. Although Meredith was not directly associated with the inception of M Station, there is little question this venture was a catalyst. The location of M Station was directly influenced by the future amenities of a “non-profit park” and commuter rail line within a ¼-mile walk for residents, both of which Meredith made possible through land donations. Meredith and Moreau share a common vision and the proximity of their projects seems to be mutually gratifying. This is evidenced by funding allocated for M Station’s aptly named Meredith Learning Center. The land where M Station now resides was once an old Featherlite concrete factory, the remnants of which classified it as a brownfield redevelopment site. Capital Metro was able to take advantage of the existing tracks Featherlite used to haul concrete for it’s first commuter rail, the Red Line. Hence, the rail line is often referred to as the Featherlite tract. This site was previously under contract to a condo developer, but due to financial difficulties the contract was not fulfilled. Fortuitously timed for FC,

Austin’s Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance became law in 2005. This encouraged pedestrian friendly development and mixed-use density around major transit nodes. The affordable housing goals within this ordinance align with those of FC, another key factor in choosing this location. TODs require a Station Area Plan in which strategies on attaining housing affordability must be included. The MLK Station Area Plan was created in 2007, and stated goals of preserving residential areas and small businesses, promoting mixed land-use, and providing housing that maintains diversity. The timeline of these events is illustrated on page 127. KEY ACTORS The new construction of an affordable housing community necessarily includes many actors. Figure 4 illustrates the relationship of those involved in the actualization of M Station as well as those affected by its outcome. Securing funding is a complex first step in a nonprofit project like M Station. Moreau was able to do so from seventeen different sources with amounts that varied between $2,000 and $13.5 million. This in and of itself is no small feat. Along with the acceptance of a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit comes regulations that must be followed, the same is true for the location of a Transit-Oriented District, and even further stipulations were involved in their goal of LEED certification. These regulations played a primary role in defining what M Station was to become. There are multiple other


1980 -1990 Francie Ferguson, along with other university housing cooperative members created the Ausin Community Neighborhood Trust, which was a housing program that focused on low-income families. A few years later they changed their name to Austin Mutual Housing and concentrated on managing affordable housing. In 1990, they again changed their name to Central Texas Mutual Housing Association and begin purchasing “as many units as possible in the depressed real estate market.�


Walter Moreau becomes Executive Director of the Central Texas Mutual Housing Association.


Changed their name to Foundation Communities to more accurately reflect their mission.


Tom Meredith purchased 30 acres of land in east Austin with the intent of creating a non-profit park that values culture and sustainabilty.


TOD Ordinance became law.


MLK Station Area Plan was submitted.


$55 million affordable housing bond passed.



Begain M-Station planning stage.



M-Station completed.

Broke ground.



M Station reaches 100% occupancy.


Housing Bond Economic Impact (

organizations that affected M Station in this way. FC worked directly with H+UO Architects, Bailey Elliot Construction, and their LEED for Homes Provider Chip Henderson to develop the concept of what M Station would become. H+UO Architects subcontracted Winterowd Landscaping, Axiom Engineers, AYS Engineering, and Integrity Structural to supplement this process. The result of which not only impacts the people who reside at M Station, but also the residents in the surrounding neighborhood, not to mention the community of Austin as a whole. The support services provided enrich the lives of the residents, which has a greater significance to the city of Austin, not least of which is economic.

one reason why this Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is essential. POEs analyze the complex process of bringing a built project to fruition. Not only can this help to identify potential adjustments in performance, but it can inform decision making in future projects. It is also significant by providing clear documentation of economic consequences. With the new Affordable Housing Bond approaching, it’s important to show voters what municipal funding has done in the past, in order to edify their future decisions. The figure above shows the economic benefits created through the previous bond. A POE, however, can provide a more in-depth analysis of the social and environmental consequences that are of equal importance.



The emergent concept of Public Interest Design requires a community-centered design practice that reaches out to the historically underprivileged, and emphasizes the importance of considering the equity of economic, social, and biophysical systems in the process. Affordable housing is significant, not only to the economic environment of its residents, but to that of the broader community as well, as it plays a key role in Austin’s economy. The $55 million Affordable Housing Bond approved by Austin voters in 2006 helped to generate $865 million. Another Affordable Housing Bond, similar to the one M Station benefited from, will be on the ballot this year in November. This is just

Due to the growing gentrification in east Austin, affordable housing is an increasing public need. From a PID perspective, it is prudent to support low-income housing, not only for the benefit of the poor, but also for the benefit of the city as a whole. The chart on page 129 supports this claim by illustrating the connection between income disparity, health and the related social problems that can make urban life not only dysfunctional, but also expensive. This is less of a philanthropic or ethical claim than a pragmatic concern of urban management. M Station is providing a support system that can help to narrow the inequity gap in Austin, and is a model for future development worth evaluating.



This report is a linear-analytic case study measuring the intended and unintended consequences of M Station’s development. My analysis was conducted through a constructivist lens in order to allow findings to emerge that may not have been specifically sought. Instead of justifying a prior hypothesis, I chose to explore paths of qualitative and quantitative analysis without prior assumptions. The scope of this POE was narrowed to focus on the perceptions of resident toward the sustainable technology systems implemented at M Station. In order to obtain objective and subjective measures in pursuit of this “gap analysis” I have employed the following methods: literature reviews, interviews, surveys, observation, and quantitative data collection.

For a qualitative interpretation of intentions, interviews were conducted with Walter Moreau and Sunshine Mathon of Foundation Communities as well as Tom Hatch, Erik Ulland, and Megan Matthews of H+UO Architects. Subsequently, I interviewed the property manager, a member of the maintenance staff, multiple residents of M Station, and briefly spoke with members of the surrounding community to gain an understanding of the receptions of M Station. As a “participant observer” I also attended Foundation Communities’ Open House and a resident-run M Station CO-OP meeting, where I was able to gain further insight and ask additional questions. I also worked closely with many other FC staff during the data collection process whose comments supplemented my understanding of the intentions as well as provided additional perceptions on outcome. SURVEY

LITERATURE REVIEW To obtain a broader understanding of the issues at hand I have reviewed literature in the following categories: affordable housing, gentrification, sustainability, TransitOriented Development, Public Interest Design, PostOccupancy Evaluation, and case study methodology. Sustainability research allowed me to further cultivate my own concept of sustainability in order to thoughtfully analyze the effectiveness of M Station’s sustainability measures. I reviewed POEs and case studies in effort to clarify my goals for this project. Further reading on affordable housing and gentrification in Austin supplemented my understanding of the need for projects like M Station, and the specificities of these needs.

In pursuit of qualitative and quantitative data on resident receptions I created a ten-question survey, which is included in the Appendix. It was initially created as an online survey through SurveyMonkey, but it was only sent to a few residents at the property manager’s discretion. The link was later advertised in their monthly newsletter. At an event celebrating M Station’s 2-year anniversary I was able to conduct nineteen paper surveys while the residents enjoyed a free breakfast. Additionally, I emailed the survey link to a resident member of the M Station CO-OP, who was able to forward it along to a few other members. Five online surveys were completed bringing the total response to twenty-four. Because respondents were self-selected, it should be noted that the data may represent a more communityoriented population of M Station residents. Although the


Linear-Analytic Case Study: M Station

Literature Review

TODs affordable housing gentrification sustainability POEs

triangulation of methods Quanitative Analysis

Qualitative Analysis

interviews surveys observation

energy usage gas usage residential water usage irrigation water usage metro rail volume

Benchmarks M-Station projected performance M-Staion actual performance standard mult-family unit performance

h + uo intentions

FC intentions

gap analysis

resident receptions end goal: to provide a framework that can help inform decision making for future development.

(unintended consequences)


low response rate does not provide a statistically significant data analysis, it did document trends that deserve further analysis. The data was, however beneficial in providing insight to qualitative accounts of resident receptions.

a phenomenal site, probably the most transit-rich site in Austin with the bus and bike lanes, and now the train. So, it had all the components of the story,” remembers Moreau. DESIGN CONCEPT

QUANTITATIVE DATA Quantitative data involving M Station’s energy, water, and gas usage was obtained directly from Foundation Communities, including spreadsheets and consumption calculators used in their projections. Multiple meetings with FC’s Green Initiatives Director, Susan Peterson, ensured a thorough understanding of this data. I obtained an average annual kW h/sq ft consumption for households in Texas from 2009 via the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is to serve as a benchmark for comparison, as an energy model of projected usage was not available.

INTENTIONS In 2007, Foundation Communities’ Moreau had a dream about “what could be accomplished if we didn’t have to work within the constraints of renovating.” Typically FC buys older apartment complexes, nursing homes, or hotels that are run down. Foundation Communities sought to develop a housing community that could enrich the lives of low-income families, a place where children could thrive. They wanted to build new construction. Due to the 2007 housing crash, the market for selling Low-Income Housing Tax Credits was starting to collapse, Moreau remarked, “if you’re going to do a deal right now its got to be really special, you’ve go to be able to pitch it.” This was part of their motivation for becoming the first LEED for Homes Platinum affordable housing community in Texas. And then there was location. “Of the nine train stations we looked at land at four or five of them. [The Featherlite plant] was

Foundation Communities and H+UO Architects worked closely on creating a “village” design concept. “After a series of meetings with all stakeholders, including low income residents, a site plan evolved that works much like a village of unique apartment structures composed in such a way as to maximize individuality, connectivity, and a sense of pride by all who live and work there.” According to Hatch, “the basis for the design was to create an inviting multifamily housing community that spoke more to the concept of home versus motel.” In order to achieve this, the complex was broken up into separate volumes of varying heights and individualized with a variety of colors. They wanted to create a sense of uniqueness where residents’ homes didn’t look exactly like their neighbor’s, in order to foster a sense of pride. Their goal was to provide as much light and air into each unit as possible, which breaking the buildings apart helped to achieve. There is a high priority for three-bedroom units, as they are ideal for a family with kids. In order to best design an adequate amount of windows and daylighting these units are relegated to the corners. This is another benefit to the “village” design concept; it provides the necessary amount of corners to offer bi-lateral natural light and passive ventilation in these units. The space created in between the buildings achieves a more neighborhood-like feeling, providing areas conducive to the needs of inquisitive youth. Both the client and the architect were deeply engrossed in creating a place for children to flourish. They consulted “Principles of Child Friendly Housing,” as a supplement to


their intuitive knowledge of what kids need to thrive. They designed a “front porch” on the leasing office where parents could sit and watch their kids on the playground while doing laundry or interacting with neighbors. “The curved drive, the adjacent gazebo, the sport court, the designed trash enclosures, the quiet light rail, and soon to be mature trees all help to make the front of the complex feel like so much more than a parking lot,” stated H+UO. Foundation Communities were already offering many support services to the residents of their communities, but at M Station they wanted to be able to do so on-site because convenience is a big part of making these services viable for residents. FC focused on enhancing educational and financial standing in order to support residents in helping themselves. These services might not only benefit the adults, but having the Meredith Learning Center and Open Door Preschool located on-site was intended to provide a convenient, stable, affordable, and enriching environment in which kids can prosper. EQUITY, ENVIRONMENT, AND ECONOMY The goals of FC speak to the idea of sustainability as a balance of economic, environmental, and social equity. The sustainability diagram on page 132 illustrates the actions taken in order to achieve FC’s stated intentions. These intentions were mapped to indicate where their actions fall in relation to the sustainability spectrum. Actions mapped close to the center of the triangle are the most balanced. Actions mapped close to one of the three pillars of sustainability are more specifically aimed at the economy, the environment or social equity. This diagram shows M Station to be a quite balanced in its consideration of needs across the spectrum; although slightly weighted toward social equity and the environment, many actions are still

very much economically relevant. In further evaluation, this mapping analysis might be made more representative of FC’s intentions by sizing the actions, or dots, by cost. FC’s goal, along with H+UO, was to create a healthy indoor and outdoor living environment with a reduced negative environmental impact, an environment in which all people, despite income level should be able to live. Setting residents up for success and giving them the tools needed along the way, was intended to give them the opportunity to work their way up to market rate housing at their own pace. This process allows them to give back to the economy when they are stable and fully prepared. Of the 150 units at M Station, fifteen are reserved for families that make less than 30% of the median income in Austin, 120 are reserved for families who earn between 30%-80%, and the remaining fifteen units are for those above 80%. Residents pay their rent at different scales according to their income, yet aside from the fifteen accessible units, all the apartments offer equal amenities. FC is aware that the actions taken for equitable and environmental purposes have the added benefit of an economic impact as well. On this note Moreau comments, “we wanted to be the greenest affordable housing that was ever built. That’s important not only for environmental reasons, but the cost of utilities. We wanted it to be a model and an example for the industry of what could be done.”

RECEPTIONS My main focus of investigation has been to answer the following research questions: How effective has Foundation Communities and H+UO Architects been in achieving an economic, equitable, and environmentally viable community at M Station? Is there a gap between their intentions and the community’s


Social Equity grills & picnic tables

shaded outdoor seating community laundry

computer lab

playgrounds accessible pedestrian paths

onsite childcare

Meredith Learning Center adult education classes green label flooring bicycle storage Car2Go

rent based on income free tax service

ceiling fans low VOC paints

TOD integrated design conservation education recycling services


Economy energy efficient HVAC Energy-Star appliances Low-E windows and shading reflective metal roof solar thermal brownfield site energy efficient building materials

water permeable sidewalks erosion control bioswales drought-tolerant landscaping storm-water catchment low-flow fixtures rain water irrigation system native plants recycled/salvaged construction waste


receptions? If so, what were the unintended consequences? And what can we learn that may be applicable to future affordable housing projects? DESIGN Due to the compact nature of the curved site located in between Boggy Creek and the railroad tracks, there were many design challenges. These challenges were exacerbated by density regulations and height restrictions. The two four-story sections are allowed because of their distance from the property line; this provided a needed gain in square footage in order to achieve their occupancy requirements. Hatch remarked, “the three-story buildings are much more proportional” while Mathon commented on the energy-efficiency of the four-story buildings. The mix of three and four-story heights provides the benefits of both, and additionally the change in height helps with the “village” appearance and the uniqueness they sought to create.

The leasing office and learning center were both required to be at least 2-stories, although they would standardly have been built as one. This created the question of what to do with the second floor? A positive unintended consequence of this regulation was the partnership with Open Door Preschool, an early education non-profit organization that serves children with disabilities along with the “typicallyabled.” Foundation Communities offers them rent on the ground floor of the Meredith Learning Center for $1/ year, and in return they reserve 25 of their 75 spots at a discounted rate for M Station residents. The 2nd story above the leasing office houses the adult learning center, computer lab, Children Homes Initiative caseworker, and the soon to be multi-purpose room. Another unintended positive consequence, an underutilized room above the leasing office that is sometimes used for children during events, but mostly lays vacant is in the process of being revamped. An Eagle Scout and his father have offered to raise funds to supply residents with what they need to make this a resource. Currently there is


talk of a projector, screen, books, furniture, and a space to house the donated interview and children’s clothing that are available for residents. Members of the M Station CO-OP are working closely with them and are excited about having a say in the development of a space that more adequately addresses their needs. AUSTIN HEIGHTS NEIGHBORHOOD

nature, as this is an important part of growing up. According to Principles of Child Friendly Housing, it’s a basic need, they state, “Children should be able to experience the pleasures of finding bugs, picking leaves, smelling flowers, collecting things and so on... through such contact with nature they may develop, among other things, an understanding of basic ecological principles.” RESIDENTS

As part of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit agreement, FC needed the support of the surrounding neighborhood. They attended a couple Austin Heights Neighborhood Association meetings to introduce the organization and what they were trying to accomplish. There was an initial concern of affordable housing going into their neighborhood, “but we had some allies and because of Foundation Communities reputation, their fears were subsided,” relays Hatch. The Austin Heights Neighborhood Association is not currently holding regular meetings, but I was able to speak with one highly involved member who stated, “I personally love the project and am so glad it’s a part of us!” The only other resident of Austin Heights I was able to get feedback from lives directly on the other side of Boggy Creek, she voiced concerns of M Station residents trespassing through her back yard as a shortcut to the bus stop. FC had already received these complaints and has since put up a fence that lines their property right at the 100 year flood plain. M Station residents seem to view this as a good thing, because it’s “safer for the kids.” The intention was to provide unobstructed access to Boggy Creek, but they did initially debate whether or not they should put a fence up, Ulland says, “[the creek] was a huge concern from the beginning.” They decided to take a “wait and see” approach in hopes that they would be able to keep it open as an amenity. They wanted kids to be able to explore

The majority of survey respondents chose M Station for its location and affordability. One resident said what they like most about M Station is that it’s the “center of town, close to friends, and easy to commute to work.” Energy-efficiency, recycling, and “green” features were also are large draw. The word clouds above illustrates the most common words associated with what residents like most and what they like least about living at M Station. The size of the font indicates frequency. The majority of respondents feel safe, are proud of their community, and are satisfied with their experience at M Station. Residents were hesitant to share negative comments about M Station at first; this speaks to the overwhelming majority of extremely satisfied residents from the survey. They are proud of their community and didn’t want to launch into a list of complaints until I understood what was great about M Station. Once they saw I shared a similar viewpoint they were more forthcoming. I share this in an effort to convey to the reader as carefully as the residents conveyed to me, that although there is always room for improvement, as the subsequent comments will reveal, the negative does not outweigh the positive at M Station. This is supported by its 100% occupancy, high renewal rate, and growing waiting list. The number one complaint of residents is the other residents. Often commenting in the tune of, “very disrespectful,” one resident called for the need of “more 135

Safety at night:

Sense of community:

very safe

extremely strong



quite strong

moderately safe

moderately strong

slightly safe

slightly strong

feel an extremely strong sense of community

feel very safe walking alone at night

not strong at all

1-5 years

6 months - 1 year

extremely proud


moderately proud

very proud

5-10 years

of respondents plan to live here another 1-5 years

not safe at all

Resident pride:

Plan to live at M Station:


extremely safe

10+ years

feel extremely proud to live at M Station

not proud at all

Overall satisfaction: Recycling:






recycle more since moving to M Station


Zip codes in which residents lived before moving to M Station:

M Station

Figure 13: Zip Code Map


Mode of transportation used at least once per week:


1% car2go 18% bike 23% rail

45% bus 82% car

Have used the following services:

of respondents drive their car everyday as their main mode of transportation

corrective actions.” On this topic, another resident goes on to add that, “there is a core community of residents who participate and take care of each other.” There have been a number of incidents of vandalism to occur on the property, which has included broken lights and buttons in the elevator, stolen fire extinguishers, and a broken basketball hoop, which is currently still out of commission. These seem to be the result of unsupervised kids. The property manager stated, “one night I stayed up here until 9 p.m. with the lights off looking out the window and caught a group of kids in the act.” They received “violations” on their monthly rent statement and after a certain number of violations residents are not allowed to renew their lease. Most comments were centered on the trash area, which I also observed to be often overflowing. There seems to be a need for either additional dumpsters or more frequent trash pickup, which might allow residents to more easily respect these areas. Residents have observed children and older adults having trouble getting their trash into the dumpster, so this issue of accessibility deserves further investigation. One resident comments, “I often see trash in the blue bins and recyclable things in the dumpster.” This observation could signify a need for more adequate container labeling. I did notice recycling containers where the signs have become aged and illegible. The one other need stated by residents, as far as the trash areas are concerned, is a place for bulk pick-up, as large items like furniture are often left in precious parking spaces or blocking dumpsters.

25% none 25% Adult Education Classes 25% Meredith Learning Ctr 30% Open Door Preschool 50% computer lab

One of the most vocalized complaints is the lack of parking. There are 188 parking spaces; each unit is allowed one parking pass, which leaves thirty-eight visitor spaces. “Parking was a dance between what fits, what you realistically need, and what the city wants… M Station has more than TOD required, but less than needed,” Ulland explains. The architects wanted to use the parking lot as a buffer between the tracks and the units because they weren’t sure how loud the train was going to be. Noise turned out not to be a problem, except for when the occasional freight train that comes through in the middle of the night, in which the distance has proved helpful. It might make sense for FC to create an incentive for units with no parking pass, or maybe to set aside a certain number of units for residents without cars. This could also help promote the use of public transit, which is what this location is all about. Although the survey data does show a frequent use of public transportation, cars were still the primary mode for the majority of respondents. As the MetroRail develops there may be a decreased need for cars, but as it stands now the parking is inadequate. Residents are only allowed one parking pass per unit, so families with more than one car have to park the other in the visitor sections at the far ends of the lot. The “front porch” design appears to successfully encourage community interaction. For instance, one resident described a scene to me of two neighbors who were only vaguely familiar, an older woman and a child, “it appeared they were having a very wonderful, animated conversation... the two


3.28 kwh/yr/sqft

sitting on the bench said a lot to me about what M Station means, and most of all, it’s great potential for humanizing, sharing and caring.” The earlier mentioned M Station CO-OP is a resident run group committed to building community and making “M Station a fun and enriching place to call home.” It is facilitated by Children Homes Initiative caseworker, Tera Bock, who wanted to create an opportunity for residents to have a voice. After a full year in action they have quite an impressive list of accomplishments to boast including: producing a monthly newsletter, hosting a Bingo and Dessert night, starting a community lending library, creating a kids film festival, Bible Study, Fitness Class, and not least of which a Spring Fling Family Train Ride to Lakeline Mall. Although their membership is not as high as they would like, they seem to have a solid core of residents who are committed to its development. This is a great consequence of a design that fosters community. Not only do these residents have a space to meet and receive support from FC, but they also enjoy a site plan that encourages interaction and engagement with residents.

4.03 kwh/yr/sqft FC

7.31 kwh/yr/sqft 12.86 kwh/yr/sqft


baseline electricity consumption

5827 ccf/yr

14448 ccf/yr

FC baseline gas consumption

projected 238,211 gal/yr baseline

306,253 gal/yr

1.3 million gal/yr

FC potable water irrigation


2.6 million

AEGB baseline


4.6 million

5.1 million

average 70 gal/day/person baseline indoor water consumption

9.8 million

ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS From resident perception, the environmental systems are quite effective and a large sense of their community pride. Albeit, they are not intimately aware of exactly what these systems are, they boast low energy bills and recycling, which makes them quite satisfied. Although, I did receive a few mentions of high water bills, but this could also be due to the higher price of water during the summer months. Unlike their electricity, which excludes their heating and cooling costs, they do pay their full water bill, so in comparison this may appear high.


Solar Thermal and Natural Gas System

14448 ccf/yr 5827 ccf/yr

M Station’s annual consumption of natural gas for 2012 was 5827 ccf, while I calculated a standard hot water heater to annually consume an average of 14448 ccf/yr. The solar thermal hot water system is performing quite well, reducing the consumption of natural gas by 8620 ccf/yr. Residential Electricity Usage M Stations total electrical usage is 7.31 kWh/yr/sqft, which is very efficient compared to the 2009 average consumption of Texas housing of 12.86 kWh/yr/sqft. The residents are responsible for paying for the lighting, appliances, and air handler portion of the total energy, which comes to 3.28 kWh/sqft. This leaves 4.03 kWh/yr/sqft in which FC covers, the majority of which is from the centralized HVAC system, but also includes exterior lighting and elevators.

7.31 12.86 kwh/yr/sqft kwh/yr/sqft

Indoor Water Consumption Annual indoor water consumption came in higher than projected. The Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) calculator projected M Station’s efficient low-flow water features to use 2.6 million gal/yr. It also calculated consumption for standard features at 4.6 million gal/yr, but M Station exceeded both of these numbers at 5.1 million gal/yr for 2012. Based on the average consumption of 60 gal/day/person I calculated an alternate baseline of 9.8 million. This could indicate a possible error with the AEGB calculator.

9.8 million 5.1 million 4.6 million 2.6 million

Storm Water Catchment and Irrigation System The rain catchment irrigation system is not performing as expected. Based on AEGB’s irrigation calculator a usage of 238,211 gal/yr was assumed, but according to the 2012 consumption data, it has used 4x that amount at just over 1.3 million gal/yr. The rate of water usage more than tripled between the months of April and May in 2012 and have remained at this higher rate since, this sudden jump may indicate an issue with the irrigation system that warrants further analysis.



1.3 million


CONCLUSION It appears Foundation Communities has achieved its goal of becoming a model for the industry. The many awards and accolades it has received can attest to this. From my understanding of Hatch and Ulland’s comments, FC seemed to have more involvement than that of their typical clients. They have continued to work together on subsequent projects, which conveys a positive experience in their collaboration on M Station. The success of M Station was in large part due to their integrated design approach. Their goals were clearly stated from the beginning and all stakeholders were thoroughly involved throughout the entire process. Although there were a few less than optimal occurrences during construction, namely those dealing with the 100 year flood zone. These are sometimes unavoidable and a part of the continual learning process. The experience of working on M Station has provided both FC and H+UO with lessons they can take with them into their future projects, as I hope this Post-Occupancy Evaluation will do as well. GAP ANALYSIS The largest gap between intentions and receptions lays mostly in the innovative environmental systems, namely the irrigation and HVAC. Both of these systems were not conceived during the initial design phase, but were later implemented due to budget constraints. This is a good indicator of the importance of setting a realistic budget from the start. Based on the unexpectedly high volume of water being used for irrigation, further investigation of this system is in order. One resident noted a high frequency of broken sprinklers spouting out water at night when he takes walks; this may be part of the issue. The initial design of M Station was completed without a budget. When the budget was set there where certain elements, like the grey water system that were no longer viable. Instead, it was replaced with the more cost effective, storm water catchment and irrigation

system. Had a budget been implemented in the original design phase there might have been more flexibility to cut costs in other areas. “When FC came to us with a budget we had to cut $2 million out of the design,” says Hatch.“ TOD regulations required an innovative water quality system, so this is when the concept of a storm water runoff system that doubled as rainwater irrigation came about. Moreau comments “because we’re mission driven, we become emotionally attached to these projects, they become our baby... we try to be cost conscious in the design phase, but we want to do everything, so we always end up having to design engineer and trim back.” The Mitsubishi VRF centralized HVAC system can simultaneously heat and cool multiple apartments. As Hatch describes it, they are “so efficient, so quiet, and so right.” Providing a way to more clearly gauge their performance would be beneficial. Currently the data output of HVAC is grouped with the elevators and outdoor lighting, so a calculation based on solely their performance is not possible. Although they did prove to be quite efficient, the units require demand-based meters, which Mathon calculated and ended up costing them almost $20k more in 2012 than had they been non-demand meters. This is significant; Mathon questions the feasibility of these HVAC units on future projects. This type of analysis by staff is one of the things that sets Foundation Communities apart; they do their research. Unlike for-profit housing developers who externalize operating cost and can, therefore, ignore the environmental consequences of their design decisions, FC takes responsibility. The ongoing involvement in their projects is a key part of their success. They have a concerted interest in the economic and environmental productivity of their buildings and taking the initiative to make more of these evaluations in the future will serve them well. Since M Station is still very new, and the MLK TOD has not yet be fully realized, an ongoing analysis would be beneficial and could prove quite different in the years to come. However, an early study is elemental in making sure the vision of M Station is maintained.


APPENDIX: SURVEY FORM Hi, my name is Alison Steele, I am a graduate student at the University of Texas School of Architecture. I am researching M Station as part of a Public Interest Design program, and I would like to evaluate its performance IURPWKHUHVLGHQW¡VSRLQWRIYLHZ3OHDVHHPDLOPHZLWK VWRULHVWKRXJKWVLGHDVRUDQ\WKLQJ\RX¡GOLNHWRVKDUH about your experience here at M Station. Thank you in advance for your participation. All responses will remain anonymous.

Tell us your thoughts! Help inform future housing communities like M Station. What do you like about living here? What would you change? <RX¡UHWKHH[SHUW:HZDQWWRKHDUIURP \RX


How strong is the sense of community at M Station? o o o o o


6 months â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 1year 1 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 5 years 5 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 10 years More than 10 years

o o o o o

Extremely safe Very safe Moderately safe Slightly safe Not at all safe


In what zip code did you live in before moving to M Station?


What was the main deciding factor in choosing M Station as your home? What do you like most about living here? What do you like least?


How proud are you to live at M Station?

More often Same Less often

How often do you use the following services and amenities? Adult Education Classes _____________ Computer Lab _____________ Open Door Preschool _____________ Meredith Learning Center _____________ Other_______________________________


How safe do you fell walking alone in this neighborhood after dark?

Do you recycle more often, less often, or the same since moving to M Station? o o o


Extremely strong Quite strong Moderately strong Slightly strong Not at all strong

How much longer do you expect to live at M Station? o o o o



How many times per week do you use the following modes of transportation? Bike Bus Car Car2Go MetroRail Other

_________________________ _________________________ _________________________ _________________________ _________________________ _________________________

o o o o o

Extremely proud Very proud Moderately proud Slightly proud Not at all proud

10. Overall, are you satisfied with your experience living in this neighborhood, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with it, or dissatisfied with it? o o o o o

Extremely satisfied Moderately satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Moderately dissatisfied Extremely dissatisfied

Any additional comments would be appreciated:


LIFEWORKS EAST AUSTIN Joe Marshall Adam Thibodeaux

Project details Address 835 North Pleasant Valley Road Austin, TX 78702 Project Type community administrative Size 33,600 sq-ft Year of completion 2012 Client Name Lifeworks Design Firm Miro Rivera Architects Design Costs $158/sq-ft


LIFEWORKS EAST AUSTIN : Joe Marshall and Adam Thibodeaux

“Empowering better futures requires proven, measurable results. We know that all our passion, commitment and hard work must produce consistent, measurable, positive outcomes for our organization to make an impact.” -LifeWorks

INTRODUCTION The following report is a post-occupancy evaluation of the LifeWorks East Austin site. The purpose of a postoccupancy evaluation (POE) is to understand the gap between how a design was intended to function, and how it is actually performing. Such an evaluation gives insight into how improvements can be made to both an individual building and to the broader design process. We performed this POE in order to help provide LifeWorks with valuable information on the performance of their newest facility, and to explore the function of architecture as a technology for improvement in an organizational context.

BACKGROUND LifeWorks is a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, with roots in the community dating back to 1910. Their mission is “supporting youth and families on the path to self-sufficiency and life-long success.” This mission is supported through a wide array of services offered across seven sites around the city. LifeWorks services span counseling, housing/homelessness, education/workforce, and youth development. Each LifeWorks facility houses a distinct mix of services uniquely suited to the needs of the immediate area, and there is significant variation in facility size. For example, the street outreach center is located on Guadalupe Street—a hub for Austin’s homeless population. The largest, most comprehensive site is the East Austin branch.

While LifeWorks has long had a presence in East Austin, the new branch—completed in 2012—is their first facility based on the east side of Interstate Highway 35. The highway has long been a dividing line within the city, separating the more affluent white community on the west side from the primarily black and Latino population of the east side. Because of the lower property values and relative lack of community engagement, there is a long history of developers moving into the east side and using both socially and physically destructive building practices. The gentrification brought on by developers can alienate locals; and low-cost and rushed construction often disregards environmental, as well as cultural sustainability. When LifeWorks decided that they needed to create a new hub in order to better serve the East Austin community, they began searching for a larger site than their former headquarters at their South 1 st Street location. They selected a 5.89-acre site at the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Lyons Road. The site afforded enough space to provide a new service center, as well as room for future affordable housing. Once the site was selected, LifeWorks began the process of choosing an architect. LifeWorks chose to employ a competitive bid process in order to find the firm that could listen to their goals and best translate them into a building. The goals they set forth were: 1) to connect with nature, 2) to provide safety and security, and 3) to create an optimistic and transformational space. The first goal was born from a desire to avoid the destructive building practices that have plagued East Austin and to preserve the live oak trees on the site. The second goal was key to providing clients the type of comforting atmosphere necessary for their programs to be most effective. The final goal highlights the purpose of the organization: to provide the support needed for clients to reach self-sufficiency. A firm primarily involved in high-end residential design—Miró


Lifeworks East Austin. © Miro Rivera Architects 2011

Rivera Architects (MRA)—won the competition in February 2009, and became an instrumental part in the growth of the LifeWorks organization. The design process focused on the interplay of LifeWorks and Miró Rivera Architects. In order to gain a thorough understanding of what LifeWorks needed, MRA’s Project Architect, Ken Jones, immersed himself within the organization. He paid a great deal of attention to space and flow, asking many questions, and attending meetings for every program and sub-program of LifeWorks. His was an ethnographic approach to program development. In May 2012, the project was completed and LifeWorks gained the strong foothold it sought in the East Austin community, as well as a focal point for organizational growth.

METHODOLOGY The methods that we employed in this evaluation included the collection and interpretation of both qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative data included: • Interviews with Susan McDowell (Executive Director, LifeWorks), Mitch Weynard (Chief Operating Officer, LifeWorks), Wendy Varnell (Chief Program Officer, LifeWorks) • Interview with Ken Jones (Project Architect, Miró Rivera) • Design meeting reports Quantitative data was gathered from these sources: • LifeWorks annual reports (2010-2012) • Miró Rivera project proposals

• • • • •

Client (safety & most liked) satisfaction surveys Kresge report (2012) Zip code data Building performance data Staff satisfaction survey

From these data we conducted an evaluation generally consistent with what social scientists refer to as “content analysis.” This term generally refers to the serial separation of the collected data into categories, and the subsequent naming of the categories as a method of “sense-making.” Care is taken to let the data speak for itself, rather than to “project” our own expectations into the categories. At the end of this exercise we came up with three metacategories that characterized the “intentions” of the design team—meaning the collective aspirations, or goals of all the individuals from LifeWorks and MRA who influenced decision-making. These categories are: • Programmatic Growth • Comfort and Security • Budget and Sustainability Subsequently, we considered these collective intentions to be the “benchmarks” by which the project could be judged. Now that the building has operated for well over a year, our research objective has been to measure the “gap” between the benchmark intentions and the reception by relevant social groups to these same categories of intention. In the following conclusion, we also ask two related questions that we hope have broader significance for the discipline of architecture: First, how responsible was the


Demographic distribution of clients serves by LifeWorks in all of its Austin facilities and the expenditure on all clients by program.

architecture for changes to “program growth,” comfort and security,” and “budget and sustainability” at LifeWorks? In other words, we hope to locate the agency in the system— the ability of designed environments to make a difference in this particular case. Second, we asked more generally, how can architecture be used as a “technology” in support of public-interest design?

INTENTIONS LifeWorks’ mission statement highlights the goal to “support youth and families in their strong determination to achieve self sufficiency and make generational change,” ( As such, the primary intention of the East Austin location was to promote this goal through a space that would, in the words of Executive Director Susan McDowell, allow the program to “buck the preconceived ideas of social organization,” and “be a community member, not just a provider.” LifeWorks intended to redefine the expectations of a social service facility by providing a center that promotes comfort and solidarity with its clients, rather than a sense of institutional service and obligation. In collaborating with LifeWorks, Miró Rivera Architects adopted a similar goal, “highlighting the role of the nonprofit in transforming the lives of youth and families seeking selfsufficiency and generational advancement,” (mirorivera. com). By forming a strong designer-client relationship,

LifeWorks and MRA were able to define a specific set of intentions that would drive the design of the new branch. Specifically, LifeWorks and MRA representatives worked with each other to ensure communication and collaboration. The strength of this analysis primarily arose from the continuous cross-involvement and feedback between the two parties. Project designers actively analyzed existing LifeWorks facilities and attended committee meetings to better understand the functions and needs of the complex organization. Similarly, LifeWorks was involved throughout all levels of the design process, from specifying larger requests to informing decisions on building details. Initial meetings and surveys of the different departments, led primarily by representatives from MRA, began to define a specific set of requests for the new building, giving rise to a number of key issues that would need to be addressed in the design. PROGRAMMATIC GROWTH A primary goal of the new building was to encourage the growth of LifeWorks and thereby extend the reach of its efforts to a greater population. In order to make this possible, the facility would need to house a wide variety of programs in one location. MRA intended to maximize the amount of programs and numbers of clients they serve by providing ample office space for staff as well as facilities to


FLEXIBLITY: Suggested furniture arrangements for adaptable spaces. © Miro Rivera Architects 2011

be used by the clients and programs. As such, the building would need to fit the greatest amount of program into its allotted space. A key issue that limited this goal in existing sites was a lack of flexibility of spaces. In order to better accommodate the wide variety of programs, MRA designed adaptable spaces that could support changing programs. Welcoming lighting and furniture permits the use of rooms by both staff and clients as necessary. Counselor offices were designed to facilitate both staff work and meeting with clients. A large, multipurpose room with moveable dividers replaced an initial push for commercial space. This room could be used for staff training, as well as both large and small group activities. This design characteristic demonstrates the priority of facilitating spatial and programmatic growth in order to extend the reach of LifeWorks’ programs.

A second design decision, to permit growth of the organization, was the prioritization and allocation of space by necessity. Programs that require more privacy, such as counseling and rehabilitation, were allotted private offices while other programs were given more open, adaptable spaces. Education and literacy departments utilize shared spaces for clients to work in groups and on computers, while staff who work largely in the field—and therefore did not interact with clients on site—were condensed into cubicle spaces. A third design decision, simplifying access to the facility, also encourages growth. Specifically, free parking was provided for clients, set back from the street but easily accessible via the breezeway through the building. Additionally, the location of the site proved helpful in its direct proximity to Austin Community College. This physical connection provides access of shared resources for students across


SITE PLAN: The building placement on the site intercepts the sidewalk and allows easy access for adjacent residential community © Miro Rivera Architects 2011

the two facilities. Although the site was predetermined by LifeWorks, the building itself was also situated to allow for ease of pedestrian access and proximity to public transportation by intercepting the sidewalk and guiding to bus stops. Similarly, main entrances were focused more directly to the adjacent community rather than the street front. The addition of later projects to the site, such as the Phase 2 housing program that was under construction just behind the building at the time of this study, supports the goal of extending access to LifeWorks’ services. Plans for the additional undeveloped space on the site are still in discussion, though LifeWorks will likely use it to support the growth of both current and future departments. BUDGET AND SUSTAINABILITY The idea of sustainability also played a key role in shaping design decisions across varying scales. A primary intention of LifeWorks was to integrate sustainable practice into the building’s structure and spatial design. The project initially planned for a 2-star Austin Green Building rating, which requires 30-36 of 77 potential points across seven categories: Siting, Energy, Water, Indoor Environmental Quality, Materials and Resources, Education and Innovation. Fundamentally, sustainability was viewed as a way to promote community leadership through LifeWorks’ facility design by promoting a healthy, environmentally-conscious lifestyle, although it would ultimately serve the organization in other ways.

From a fiscal profitability standpoint, sustainability was used as a way to support the performance and endurance of the building. Individuals representing funding sources initially stressed this component with the hope that a sustainable building would ultimately be a better-functioning building. Consequently, sustainable practices and overall efficiency were key factors in raising support for the project’s funding. Similarly, LifeWorks chose to integrate sustainable practices in order to reduce overall operating costs and to increase return on investment. At the social level, the building seeks to “provide a model for sustainable design in low-income neighborhoods,” and fully embrace the social equity side of sustainable practice ( MRA stressed the idea that sustainability works best when it supports the needs of the client, and therefore focused on criteria that best supported the social cause of LifeWorks. They were also aware that sustainability is often approached at a superficial level that emphasizes energy-oriented design, and thus tried to combat this preconception by supporting the social equity branch of sustainability with a design that provides high-rated green technology to a demographic without frequent access to it. Nevertheless, budget was a key factor in determining the specific implementation of sustainable features, as the project was supported by a complex web of third-party funders, grants and donations. Consequently, the interplay between budget and sustainability became a primary intention in the design process so as to increase donor satisfaction and raise revenue to support the LifeWorks organization.


CONCEPT + REALITY: Initial sketches featured the intended porch condition, colonnaded front and defined street presence © Miro Rivera Architects 2011

COMFORT AND SECURITY With the development of the East Austin site, LifeWorks hoped to challenge the idea of how social organization is housed by providing spaces that provide a sense of comfort and security rather than a conventional or institutional character. With this in mind, MRA approached the aesthetic design of the building with the intention to “contribute to and reflect the spirit of the local community,” and “serve as a source of peace and healing for users” ( A key intention to create comfort in the LifeWorks environment was a sense of legibility of spaces. Each floor is differentiated by a specific color, which serves as a visual way-finding device that places clients at ease despite varying levels of literacy. This color-coding mechanism is also translated to the building façade, where the different levels of program are distinguished by different material expression. Additionally, a tranquil color palette was utilized to create a therapeutic atmosphere that promotes comfort and confidence rather than the institutional nature of most social service facilities. The building’s presence as a welcoming, integrated part of the community was an important goal for making clients feel comfortable using its services. MRA intended the communication of this idea through a communal, frontporch condition created by a large overhang supported by a colonnade. The tall, thin columns used in this design feature were occasionally angled instead of entirely vertical, in order to give an image of supported imperfection and playfulness rather than being perceived as institutional.

LifeWorks initially approached MRA with the goal to create a connection between the clients and nature, to convey social wellness rather than institutional confinement. The massing of the building, which is a play on the typical Texan dog trot type, features a large breezeway between two segments of the building that allows for comfortable use of outdoor spaces and practical cross-ventilation. In addition to natural cross-ventilation, over 90% of the occupied spaces have natural light and exterior views permitted by the long, shallow massing of the building. As articulated above, our evaluation of the data suggests that the three meta-intentions of the design team: Programmatic Growth; Comfort and Security; and Budget and Sustainability, are clearly present in the completed building. However, the physical presence of these intentions, in the form of design features, does not necessarily guarantee that users will receive them as intended. There are many other confounding variables that could influence reception of the building by stakeholder groups.

RECEPTIONS Fifteen months since its opening, the East Austin facility has been under full operation and continued to promote LifeWorks’ mission of “empowering self-sufficiency,” for the underprivileged ( In order to facilitate this goal, LifeWorks acknowledges the need for proven, measurable results, and therefore “uses a results-based accountability model to assess the impact and effectiveness


of [their] services,” ( As such, reception theory falls perfectly in line with the organization’s view on evidence-based evaluation. A detailed assessment of the new facility—with the goal to determine whether the intentions behind its design have matched its reception—is therefore vital to understand how well the building’s design is serving the LifeWorks cause. As LifeWorks notes on the home page of its website: “passion, commitment and hard work must produce consistent, measurable, positive outcomes for our organization to make an impact.” PROGRAMMATIC GROWTH According to official statements by LifeWorks in their 2012 annual report, the opening of the new East Austin facility has increased service capacity by 24% and helped start two new programs: the Young Fatherhood Program and Personal Responsibility and Education Program (PREP). LifeWorks maintains a thorough, consistent log of the clients it serves across its varying programs and sites, allowing for easily quantifiable comparison over time. Because LifeWorks did have existing programs in the East Austin area before the new facility’s opening, data regarding client information in 2011 acts as a useful benchmark for comparison against recent numbers. This comparison of client data ultimately serves as a quantifiable definition of the success the new facility has had in encouraging programmatic growth. Of particular interest is the data reported in the Kresge report, which highlights numbers of clients in each

program at the East Site. In comparing data from 2011 and 2012, there is a definite increase in overall client numbers since the new facility’s opening. In total, 505 more clients were served across the programs, with general increases in Youth Development, Counseling, Education and Young Moms and Babies. In contrast, numbers of clients in the housing program has decreased by 176, although it is worth noting that the major sub-programs of the Housing section are Street Outreach and the Emergency Shelter, which are not located in East Austin. Of those that did increase, Youth Development program saw the greatest growth at 17%. As a whole, this data shows a general trend of growth in client numbers, whether caused by the new facility or the natural progression of the organization. A similar quantification of growth can be noted by an analysis of the volume of clients by zip code who receive services at the East location. On the whole, the data is consistent with expectations: numbers increased for all surrounding zip codes, with the majority increasing by an average of 10%. There were exceptions to this trend, most notably the 78758 zip code, which increased by 233%. Because this increase is out of trend with the rest of the data, it is difficult to determine the cause and, in particular, whether or not the opening of a new facility had any impact. Nevertheless, there does appear to be an overall growth in involvement across the various zip codes. A third intention of LifeWorks in building the new facility was to encourage growth through financial support. Because LifeWorks is a nonprofit operating primarily from gifts, foundation grantsand other contributions, a new facility would ideally encourage an increase in financial revenue and net assets. Through analyzing data compiled 150


in the 2011 and 2012 annual reports, it can be noted that there was, in fact, a general increase across all financial statistics. Most notably, there was an overall increase in total revenue, from $11,508,726 in 2011 to $14,656,324 in 2012, an increase of 27%. Largest notable increases were from foundations and general contributions. Similarly, an overall increase in net assets from $9,268,802 to $11,447,900, or 24%, can be noted between 2010 and 2012, and the reports note an increase in individual grant and donations from 351 different parties to 404 in 2012. BUDGET AND SUSTAINABILITY The original intention of achieving a 2-star Austin Green Building (AGB) rating was easily eclipsed by the design team. By extensively utilizing the AGB worksheet to document their progress, the team was able to track the progress of each section and denote which party would be taking care of each point. When the project was on the brink of completion, it had achieved a score of 56—only 3 points shy of a 5-star rating. Because the project came in under budget, the decision was made to gain the final three points by adding photovoltaic cells to the parking structure. The estimate for the first year’s energy consumption came in at 512,158 kilowatts (kW), costing $259,611. The actual consumption was only 319,200 kW at a cost of $37,474. The LifeWorks East building consumed 62% of the proposed energy, while spending a mere 14.4% of its proposed energy budget. The addition of the photovoltaic cells has also paid dividends. Between the activation of the cells on June 4, 2013 and August 10, 2013, they have produced over 65,000

kW for use by the building. For perspective: the average energy consumption per 2 months for the facility last year was 53,200 kW. Expectations should be tempered slightly, however, since the two months tracked are two of the sunniest months of the year—logically yielding higher than average amounts of solar energy. The result of these sustainability measures is a marked decrease in operating costs. These savings can then be applied to programs, rather than operating costs, allowing for programmatic growth. A secondary effect is the increased success of fundraising—when a potential funder sees that a greater percentage of a donation goes directly into programming, the organization is more appealing. An unintended positive consequence of the attention paid to preparation in the design process was the eased burden of the general contractor. The focus on natural lighting in the building eliminated the need for project lighting, saving money on lighting fixtures and preventing the energy expenditures often accrued from lights left on all night. The measures taken to naturally cool the building also created a much more comfortable work environment for the construction crew. While much of the construction took place in temperatures nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the crew preferred to spend its free time outside on the breezeway instead of in the shade of the interior. At the social level, the sustainability measures have been very successful. In addition to the reallocation of monetary resources from operating coats to programming, LifeWorks serves as a positive example of sustainable design. The building is not merely sustainable for the sake of name recognition or superficial design, but rather for the express 152

purpose of serving as a lasting, or sustainable institution. Community members can look to LifeWorks as a model of how sustainability can be used as a tool to support one’s needs and goals. For all of the benefits of the sustainability measures, there are still some unintended negative consequences. The breezeways are so effective that on windy days, they can actually present problems. The glass doors opening onto the breezeways were necessarily designed to open easily to accommodate clients in wheelchairs. This caused the doors to occasionally be flung open by strong winds, and eventually led to one shattering against the side of the building. This drawback was fixed with a simple procedural method, however. By improving the signage by the door and switching one to open inwards, LifeWorks has been able to avoid repeated incidents. COMFORT AND SECURITY The reception of comfort and safety in the new facility can be primarily determined by responses to the general architectural features by both clients and staff. As a part of its data collection, LifeWorks conducts various client satisfaction surveys that receive both qualitative data based on standardized responses and qualitative responses to open-ended questions. The data from these surveys notes a majority (22.8%) of responses came from the East Site, and a strong indicator of the success of the building arises from a question asking whether the clients agree with the claim that “The location where I received services was safe and comfortable (e.g., cleanliness, parking, lighting, etc.).” These qualities can be directly attributed to the success of the architecture, with 83.7% of the respondents choosing “Strongly Agree.” A total of 2.6% chose either “Disagree Somewhat” or “Strongly Disagree.”


In two other surveys, clients were asked broader questions, met with one-sentence responses. Specifically, “What do you like most about LifeWorks services?” and “Why or why not did you find this to be a safe location?” Because architecture is generally a subconscious experience and clients ultimately go to the building for the services it houses, it can be presumed that many clients would not mention the building itself in their responses—instead favoring compliments towards the staff and services. Although this trend was true for responses to what clients liked the most, statements mentioning the building were surprisingly frequent. This is also noted in the second question about safety, which saw 57% of clients attributing a positive sense of safety to the building, with negative responses primarily regarding location (21%) over the building itself (7%). The data from these two survey questions speak to the success of the facility in creating a safe and comfortable environment for the clients, as they begin to recognize the presence of the architecture without being directly questioned about it. For more specific responses regarding the initial requests made by staff, an additional survey was conducted that asked staff to rank their satisfaction with specific design features on a scale of 1-5. In general, all of the categories received average ratings above 3.5 out of 5, which indicates a general trend of satisfaction. No categories saw a response of 1, or very unsatisfied, and the categories that received the most scores of 2, or unsatisfied, were ease of navigation for clients and parking. Nevertheless, 73% of all 297 responses were either 4 or 5, and the overall comfort category saw no scores ranging 1-3, indicating an overall positive trend in the data. An additional question asking staff how they would rate the new facility as compared to the site where they

were previously located saw a largely positive result. 72% of respondents gave the highest response of “much better,” while no one responded with “worse” or “much worse.” Upon interviewing representatives from LifeWorks, there appears to be a resounding appreciation of the environment that the new building fosters. In particular, most interviews indicated success in solving the issues of flexibility and storage space, as well as comfort with connection to nature and daylight. Notable comments include an appreciation for the building setback, easily accessible parking, and comfortable outdoors spaces. Additionally, the breezeway was noted as being very useful for outdoor discussions, although concerns were brought up regarding the intensity of the wind that funnels through it and the safety issues it causes with violent door swing. General negative feedback was primarily confined to smaller design details, such as the ceiling tiles, which were repeatedly noted as being difficult to maintain and has necessitated additional structural support. Similarly, the massing of the building, which puts the long face of offices facing directly west, has caused issues of over-lighting and heat, which required the implementation of new blinds on the upper floors. Other design problems were arguably the result of budget trade-offs. For example, soundproofing was prioritized on lower floors to give privacy to counseling offices, but as a result, upper office floors have limited soundproofing and a large amount of noise is transmitted through the walls. Another interesting response noted in interviews was the reception of the bolder design features, particularly, the colonnaded front porch condition. Although it is generally 154

appreciated for its aesthetic quality and sense of welcoming to the community, its use so far has not been as great as expected. The limited use of this “porch,” as the design team refers to it, can arguably be attributed to the limited shading functionality of the overhang, as well as general lack of pedestrian activity in the area. Although the building is sited in a theoretically walk-able area, the reality of the current urban condition does not foster a pedestrianoriented experience. The decision to provide ample free parking does much to ease access, although it may also sway some staff and clients from deciding to walk or bike to the facility. Moreover, a general lack of pedestrian attractions in the area encourages primary access by car over foot, which has left the colonnaded front more of a visual statement than a usable feature. Nevertheless, interviews have suggested hope for future use of the porch as the East Austin context begins to change. LifeWorks does not express regret for the design decision, but rather supports its forward-thinking notion. That is, the pedestrian-oriented façade arguably increases the longevity of the building, as it will ideally work well with the city as it begins to move to more sustainable transportation practices.

CONCLUSIONS All of the data that we have collected over the course of our post-occupancy evaluation of the LifeWorks East site supports the organization’s belief that “consistent, measurable, positive outcomes” have been produced since the building’s opening. Undoubtedly, a large portion of the success must be attributed to the LifeWorks staff and programs. Nevertheless, the impact of the building itself cannot be dismissed. When LifeWorks requested a building that connected with nature and supported their

mission, Miró Rivera Architects provided a facility that has significantly eased the burdens of energy consumption and freed up capital for organizational growth. When LifeWorks asked for a safe, secure site, they were provided with a building that has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from both staff and clients. And when LifeWorks sought an optimistic, transformational space, they were rewarded with a rapidly expanding clientele and donor network. The LifeWorks East site serves as a prime example of how architecture can be used as a tool, or technology, to achieve specific organizational goals. Each of the three metaintentions, as defined at the building’s conception have been satisfied. Although there have been a few minor unintended consequences of design features, they are minor and resolvable. In other words, the gap between intention and reception is small. LifeWorks has improved both their ability to serve the East Austin community and their organizational structure on the whole. They have also put themselves in a position to be successful in what already appears to be a rapidly changing urban environment. The key factors in their success have been their effective communication, both internally and with the design team; their acute attention to detail throughout the design process; and the strong partnership they forged with MRA. Finally, the LifeWorks East building is a prime example of how architecture can be used as a technology to support the efforts of public-interest organizations. Our hope is that this post-occupancy evaluation might help other “design teams” to narrow the gap between their intentions and the reception of the communities served. “This is one of the projects you miss.” - Ken Jones, Miró Rivera Architects



INTRODUCTION 1. Marx, Leo. “The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept,” Technology and Culture 51 (3): 561-577, 2010. 2. See: PROXY 1. 1. Adams, Gerald D. “Central Freeway Left Behind a Debate: What to do with 8 empty blocks just west of the Civic Center.” In, San Francisco Examiner, April 20, 1992. 2. Interview with Hayes Valley merchant, 28 June 2012. 3. Interview with Hayes Valley artist, 3 July 2012. 4. Ibid. 5. M a y o r ’s O f f i ce fo r E co n o m i c a n d Wo r k fo rc e Development. Request For Proposals For Interim Uses on Former Central Freeway Lots (2009), http://www. -%20kr%20edits.pdf (accessed 19 July 2012), 3. 6. Interview with representative from Office of Economic and Workforce Development, 2 July 2012. 7. Interview with Douglas Burnham, 5 July 2012. 8. Mayor’s Office for Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), 3. 9. Email with representative from OEWD, 11 July 2012. 10. Jess Scott, “Interview: Rich Hills, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development,” On Site in the City: Interviews and REflections on proxy, Issue 11/001 (San Francisco: Envelope A+D, 2011), 17. 11. Burnham, Douglas. “proxy: An Experiment in Flexible Urbanism, “ On Site in the City, 30. 12. Jenny Nunn, “San Francisco Magazine Interview with Douglas Burnham,” On Site in the City, 4-5. 13. Interview with the project architect, 13 July 2012. 14. Scott, 17. 15. Interview with the project architect, 13 July 2012. 16. Burnham, 35. 17. Interview with manager of Ritual Coffee Roasters, 28 June 2012. 18. Ibid.

19. Interview with Douglas Burnham, 5 July 2012; and SoSF, 2 July 2012. 20. Ibid. 21. Interview with co-founder of SoSF, 2 July 2012. 22. Ibid. 23. Interview with co-owners of Biergarten, 5 July 2012. 24. Ibid. 25. Burnham, 36. 26. Interview with Museum of Craft and Design curator, firm project file. 27. King, John. “San Francisco / An urban success story / Octavia Boulevard an asset to post-Central Freeway area.” San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate, Wednesday,3 Jan. 2007 ( article/SAN-FRANCISCO-Anurban- success-storyOctavia-2659608.php (accessed 18 July 2012). 28. Nunn, 4-5. 29. Ibid. 30. Interview with manager of Ritual Coffee Roasters, 27 June 2012. 31. Interview with co-founder of SoSF, 2 July 2012. 32. Interview with founder of Smitten Ice Cream, 5 July 2012. 33. Ibid. 34. Interview with co-founder of SoSF, 2 July 2012. 35. Interview with Hayes Valley merchant, 28 June 2012. 36. Interview with co-founder of SoSF, 2 July 2012. 37. Interview with Hayes Valley merchant, 28 June 2012. 38. Ibid. 39. Interview with Hayes Valley merchant, 28 June 2012; and cofounders of Biergarten, 5 July 2012. 40. Interview with representative from OEWD, 2 July 2012. 41. Interview with Douglas Burnham, 5 July 2012. 42. Interview with representative from OEWD, 2 July 2012. 43. Scott, 25. 44. Interview with representative from OEWD, 2 July 2012. 45. Scott, 26. 46. Interview with representative from OEWD, 2 July 2012. 47. Email with representative from OEWD, 12 July 2012. 48. Ibid. 49. Burnham, 34. 50. Ibid.


51. Interview with cofounders of Biergarten, 5 July 2012. 52. Interview with Douglas Burnham, 5 July 2012. 53. Ibid. 54. Interview with project manager, 13 July 2012. 55. Burnham, Douglas. “economic development by proxy: realizing the value of spontaneous interventions, envelope A+D project files, 2012. Research Methods The research design involved several specific strategic methods integrated into a single approach. First, archival sources provided necessary background information to orient us within the context of the study. Next, intentions and receptions of formal stakeholders (including the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, the Hayes Valley Merchant Association, the City of San Francisco, and the design team) were collected through a series of personal interviews. Finally, the reception by the patrons of proxy was determined using a triangulated approach. Site photography provided data regarding the number of visitors, where they spend their time, and how. On-site surveys were distributed to patrons to determine where visitors are coming from, how they heard about proxy, and how often they visit. Finally, an analysis of social media data was used to extrapolate data to a larger population of patrons. MINT PLAZA 1. Gladstone, Brett/SPUR Mid-Market Street Task Force. “The Mid-Market Street Redevelopment District: A Plan for Incremental Change,” January 16, 2002. 2. San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. “Redevelopment Plan for the Mid-Market Redevelopment Project,” October 18, 2005. 3. In this report, public interest design is design that benefits and engages the affected community not only post-project completion but also during the design process. Sustainability refers to socially, economically, and environmentally healthy communities and the capacity to maintain them. Sustainability as it is

holistically defined in this case is arguably inextricable from public interest design, which necessitates consideration of social, economic, and environmental issues rooted in a democratic process to be in the public’s interest. 4. San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. “Redevelopment Plan for the Mid-Market Redevelopment Project,” October 18, 2005, p. 13. 5. Dineen, J.K., “Plaza creators envision dining in the open air,” San Francisco Business Times, April, 29, 2007. 6. Viani, Lisa Owens. “Fresh Mint Taste,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, July 2011, p. 74. 7. Unfortunately, an economic analysis of property values, tax rates, occupancy rates, etc. was not possible given time constraints and was not within the author’s expertise. 8. Viani, Lisa Owens. “Fresh Mint Taste,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, July 2011, pp. 73-74. 9. Kottle, Marni Leff. “Area is less gloomy, more Bloomies,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2007. 10. San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. “Redevelopment Plan for the Mid-Market Redevelopment Project,” October 18, 2005, p. 8. 11. Gross, Jamie. “Mint Plaza in San Francisco,” Topos, 2009, p. 64. 12. Viani, Lisa Owens. “Fresh Mint Taste,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, July 2011, p. 73. 13. Mint Plaza project description from CMG project literature, courtesy CMG Landscape Architects. 14. Gross, Jamie. “Mint Plaza in San Francisco,” Topos, 2009, pp. 62-63. 15. “Works of Landscape: Mint Plaza,” Environment and LandscapeArchitecture of Korea (ELA Magazine), 2012, p. 74. 16. 17. 18. San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. “Redevelopment Plan for the Mid-Market Redevelopment Project,” October 18, 2005, p. 11. 19. Gross, Jamie. “Mint Plaza in San Francisco,” Topos, 2009, p. 65.


20. Viani, Lisa Owens. “Fresh Mint Taste,” Landscape Architecture Magazine, July 2011, p. 72. 21. “San Francisco Stormwater Design Guidelines,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Port of San Francisco, November 2009. 22. San Francisco Planning Department, letter re: satisfaction of off-site open space requirement, February 15, 2007. http://www.sf-planning. org/ Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=6555. 23. The self-reinforcing process of city activity is a concept addressed in Life Between Buildings by Jan Gehl, who references Dutch architect F. van Klingeren’s formula “one plus one is three- at least” to demonstrate the compounding effect that activity has as individuals and events impact and stimulate one another. 24. Gross, Jamie. “Mint Plaza in San Francisco,” Topos, 2009, p. 65. 25. 2010. “National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. p. 13. 26. “San Francisco Stormwater Design Guidelines,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Port of San Francisco, November 2009. P. 27. 27. According to San Francisco’s 2030 Sewer System Master Plan, “Current funding only allows for replacement of about 4.0 miles of sewers per year maintaining a 200-year replacement cycle. Maintaining this current level of funding will mean that over 40 percent of the local sewers will be over 100 years old at the end of the SSMP planning period (2030). Given the age and current conditions of the local sewers, the current renewal and replacement funding for local sewers is not adequate to meet the replacement needs to ensure reliable sewer operation.” Thus, sewer replacement costs, not to mention added capacity, pose a financial burden in San Franciso. 28. Design characteristics of Mint Plaza were evaluated in terms of themes distilled from architect Jan Gehl’s writings, which present a codified way of researching and thinking about urban public space. 29. A ‘community culture of sustainability’ is a term used by Agyeman and Angus in their discussion of

public participation in the development of sustainable communities in “The Role of Civic Environmentalism in the Pursuit of Sustainable Communities.” SAN FRANCISCO MUSIC CONSERVATORY 1. Peter Zumthor, “A Way of Looking at Things” (1988), in Thinking Architecture, (Baden, Switzerland: Lars Muller, 1998), 14. 2. David Leatherbarrow, “Architecture’s Unscripted Performance,” in Performative Architecture: Beyond Instrumentality, ed. Branko Kolarevic and Ali Malkawi, (New York: Spon Press, 2005), 7. 3. The sort of approach we are taking has been around in varying degrees and forms for quite a long time. In the 90’s it was very common to include user quotes in major professional publications such as Architcectual Record, however the articles rarely dug beyond the one or two token quotes. Whyte’s The Social Life of Public Spaces takes an anthropological approach to study how people use public space, and what they appreciate. Anderson’s On Streets similarly analyzes urban planning’s effect on people’s behavior. 4. As Reid and Taylor argue in their interpretation of Dewey in John Dewey’s Aesthetic Ecology of Public Intelligence and the Grounding of Civic Environmentalism, these aesthetic experiences of the day-to-day shape our worldview and, in turn, the decisions we make. The problem then is “recovering the continuity of aesthetic experience with normal processes of living.” Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor, “John Dewey’s Aesthetic Ecology of Public Intelligence and the Grounding of Civic Environmentalism,” Ethics & the Environment 8, no. 1 (2003): 76. 5. We will commonly refer to these people as users, which can be misunderstood narrowly as only the people who inhabit the building on a daily basis. Let is also include the visiting public, and to a lesser degree the public who see and are affected by the building’s facades. 6. VP, Finance and Administration, interview by authors,


San Francisco, CA, June 28, 2012. “There was this sense of community that just happened just because if you needed to find someone and they weren’t answering their phone, or they were just ignoring you, […] you would walk the halls and find them. There [were] just a lot of spontaneous conversations, and the sort of community that would happen because everybody saw each other all the time.” 7. Specifically, the Conservatory wanted to move to either Yerba Buena Gardens or the Civic Center, both in San Francisco. 8. Page & Turnbull, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Report (2002). 9. SMWM originally proposed to make the façade of the new building a contemporary operable scrim that integrated sustainability, aesthetics and function. SFCM deemed the idea too contemporary, and the next several designs --including one by James Carpenter which closely resembled Simon’s original scrim concept -- were also met with disapproval. 10. As required by the City and County of San Francisco, per the 1% for Art Program, integrated into the final design was an art installation of dichroic glass fins on the exterior of the new 70 Oak building and a glass installation in the atrium by artist Dan Winterich. 11. Historic Preservation Consultant, interview by authors, July 3, 2012. “For a while there was an attempt to design within the two buildings that already existed in order to avoid this rather arduous environmental route we had to take which was writing of a full EIR and showing the overriding social benefit as a way to get this thing approved.” The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the city’s Planning and Historic Commissions, concludes: “Mitigation for [the proposed construction’s demolition of historic structures] can be partly achieved by allying the use and role of the proposed project with those of the other institutions and buildings in the San Francisco Civic Center, particularly those relating to the arts” (Page & Turnbull, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Report, 2002, 21)

12. Cathy Simon, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, July 3, 2012. 13. The due diligence study placed the concert hall in the new building to be constructed at 70 Oak Street but that location lacked the dimensional requirements for proper acoustics. One acoustician recalled visiting 50 Oak Street to see the old ballroom: “We opened up the doors and walked into the old ballroom and we just gasped, because the old ballroom had all the kinds of architectural detailing that is so difficult to not only detail but afford these days. This should become the audience chamber for the new concert hall.” Acoustician, phone interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, June 28, 2012 14. The concert hall presented significant engineering challenges including deconstruction of a large portion of a primary shear wall. Other engineering feats included suspending the ballroom and floors above from major transfer trusses, replacing the pre-existing foundation with a floating mat foundation into which duct work was incorporated to meet height requirements, and many unconventional practices which required detailed, sequential documentation. The façade and old ballroom, which had to be protected, restored, and integrated within the new building, also required extensive temporary framing. 15. An engineer recalled, “There were times when I would say, ‘This is just lunacy’ […] and they just said, ‘We just need it. We have to, our hands are tied.’ It was characterized this way. We were both just trying to figure out, how do we make this work? That’s part of the reason why it’s so satisfying when you finish it – somehow we did this! […] You walk [into] these huge spaces that are somehow in this building. Like, how is this in here? So, it made it satisfying in the end, but a very challenging job.” Engineer, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, June 25, 2012. 16. The process was not without conflict, many at the SFCM expressed dissatisfaction with the contractor’s work, and there was a legal claim made. “A mutually acceptable resolution to all matters was settled in Mediation – the claim never made it to Court.” (Project


Manager, e-mail to authors, August 5, 2012) 17. VP, Finance and Administration, e-mail to authors, July 20, 2012. “While the Conservatory completed previous campaigns and building projects, this was by far the largest building and fundraising achievement to date. In order to successfully accomplish the $80 million project ($65 million fundraising component), they purposefully expanded the scope and depth of their Board of Trustees.” 18. Chloe Veltman, “Seeking High Notes In Bay Area Concert Halls,” New York Times, December 12, 2009, music/13sfculture.html, 2. A faculty member we interviewed said, “It has become a major, major, part of classical music of the audiences in the Bay Area. It’s a go-to place. It’s great, it’s convenient, there’s parking, they know where the restaurants are. […] It has really improved our interaction with the community.” 19. President of Neighboring Institution, phone interview by authors, July 6, 2012. 20. Production Manager, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, July 7, 2012. It is successful and public enough that the SFCM is also able to rent out its own spaces about 75 days or nights a year for a variety of events: “We’ve had all kinds of organizations. The salon is often used for meetings, seminars, conferences. The largest hall is obviously the one we rent the most because of its size. The kinds of groups we get calls from surprises me. I got a call from an insurance company that wanted to have their board meeting here. 8 – 10 years ago I never would have thought that.” 21. “One the hardest things for me is that some studios are super nice and some are just dark, banal, innocuous spaces with no windows. And so, it automatically creates a hierarchy to the faculty.” (Poole, interview) “When we moved into the building we had amped up security. It was very different from our old building which was very much a free flow of people. Here everybody had to be signed in and accounted for in some way. So that was definitely

a big shift in the culture.” (Admissions Director, interview by authors) 22. Theater Consultant, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, June 26, 2012. 23. “Society for College and University Planning “SCUP/ AIA-CAE Excellence in Architecture Renovation/ Adaptive Reuse, Merit AwardSan Francisco Conservatory of Music, with Perkins+Will; also Forell/Elsesser Engineers; Flack + Kurtz; Kirkegaard Associates” recipient/award16 24. Simon, interview. “The atrium is very much that idea of a central space that brings people together. And you can have music in there, which is nice.” 25. Ibid., 6. “One of the other things that was very appealing to us, was that Colin Murdoch – who is now the president and is about to retire – was very adamant that even though this is a public building with three public spaces which people come to all the time, he wanted the students to be visible. So the idea of the atrium with the café on the lower level is to, no matter what, notice that this is a school, and always remember that.” 26. John Long, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, July 3, 2012 27. Acoustician, phone interview. 28. Long, interview. “The intentional idea was to make that atrium lively. And, me, project manager, worrying about the future, said, ‘Are you sure we want nothing absorptive?’” 29. Simon, interview. One of the other things that was very appealing to us, was that Colin Murdoch – who is now the president and is about to retire – was very adamant that even though this is a public building with three public spaces which people come to all the time, he wanted the students to be visible. So the idea of the atrium with the café on the lower level is to, no matter what, notice that this is a school, and always remember that.” 30. Long, interview, 13. 31. VP, Finance and Administration, interview. “[They were] thinking about the student experience in the


building. Not just having them have the right number of practice rooms, but to have them be a place where they could practice well.” 32. Acoustician, phone interview. 33. Simon, interview. 34. Acoustician, phone interview. 35. Simon, interview. The designers “carried that metaphor right through”, perhaps most visibly in the concert hall. “Where the audience sits is elaborate and very beautiful and classical, and then you have a contemporary stage, all of which has great acoustics. So it is that idea of excellence, described and expressed in contrasting ways.” This metaphor is also visible on the contrasting facades - one elaborate and classical, and the other contemporary. 36. Simon, interview. 37. Long, interview. “A huge issue was lack of daylight… we had to pack it in. It’s a pretty broad plate, you’d like to have a more long narrow plate.” 38. Long, interview. “I think what’s extraordinarily successful is that when you are in one of those upper floors, you don’t really have a lot of natural light, and you still don’t ever feel that far away from it in some way. It doesn’t feel like you are in a rabbit warren.” 39. “I don’t know what you thought, but honesty there are some pretty dull spaces in this building.” (Long, interview) 40. “[The nature of the project] forced us into some unconventional stuff, [stuff] you really wouldn’t do […] unless you were backed into a corner. This more than any other project was just taking a lot of constraints and making it work.“ (Engineer, interview) 41. Simon, interview. “It is very theatrical, which I think is appropriate for a school that is about performance... It’s all about the windows of appearance.” She had fond memories of attending concerts in the courtyard of the Isabella Gardner Museum and “looking up to see life presenting itself in the windows.” She had a similar concept for the atrium. 42. Faculty, interview. “I see how the design incorporates different places for people to meet and gather; I think they are very good in that way – the deliage on the

second floor (atrium space). That’s good, and people do use that space.” 43. Poole, interview. “During the school year, especially, when all the singers are waiting to go into their required class in the recital hall, it just gets unbelievably loud. Which is good in a way – it creates a lot of buzz, it creates a lot of community, but it’s almost an OSHA issue with this space [ticket booths without ceilings, open to atrium space]. So while the acoustics are, perhaps, as intended, loved by guitarists, and do create a lively buzz, they are not well received by all.” 44. Student, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, June 28, 2012. “Sometimes you will walk in on a Wednesday afternoon and there will be like five or nine of us just sitting outside [in the hallway] just talking -- or the space that’s outside is just great for having lunch or meeting with people.” 45. One respondent wrote, “Atmosphere has a lot to do with the people as well as the facility.” This is an important statement, and we agree that a building does not determine atmosphere. 46. 72% of students responded that the building has enhanced their ability to learn and perform. Similar results were recorded for faculty and staff (72%, 70%). 47. Faculty, interview. 48. From the survey: “I was astonished. The groundbreaking was exciting. Seeing it complete was impressive. Using it on a daily basis and inviting friends to attend events is thrilling.” (faculty) “When I first saw the building I was impressed with how new and modern it was. It looked like a place that facilitated learning and was on the forefront of musical education. That impression hasn’t changed.” (student) There were also some lukewarm responses that questioned elements of functionality, such as: “My first impression was very positive. The atrium is awe inducing. The classrooms are also very well lit and acceptably spacious. Many offices however are tiny and without windows, which makes it difficult to work in for an extended amount of time, especially


if you have to share the office with someone else. “(faculty) There were negative comments on the atmosphere, created by the aesthetics of the building, one that described it as “shopping mall meets airport” and another as “the home offices of a large corporation”. Another said, “It seemed quite beautiful at first, but eventually it grew to feel a little cold and unwelcoming.” 49. Vice President, interview. 50. Admissions, interview. “I get the sense that the building has been a more professional space for our students to learn in, in that has been really been a draw for our student body.” 51. Poole, interview 52. Veltman, Seeking High Notes. 53. Poole, interview. “The name ‘conservatory’ means you’re conserving things, but you also have a responsibility to advance the art. And so, I think that part of our mission is well executed in this building.” 54. Production Manager, interview. 55. There has been some criticism of the new façade from both the contrasting perspective and the conforming perspective. Simon commented that it was fine, but wished for something more contrasting and that better communicated verticality. And from the other side, in a newsletter published by the San Francisco Architectural Heritage organization: “While supporting adaptive use of this building, we cannot support such treatment of the interior. An acceptable project would be one that retains and enhances the building’s historic integrity to a greater degree.” And specifically on the new façade: “we would like to see a design for the new building more clearly informed by the architectural qualities of the old building at 50 Oak” (Heritage News, Vol. 30, No. 1, p4) Page & Turnbull commented: “SMWM, and later Perkins + Will, thought about the stories of the horizontal lines and how they carry across, they were thoughtful in that way but they certainly didn’t create anything that looked like it was designed by the Shea brothers who designed the original building. I think that composition falls somewhere in the middle between

a kind of caricature or dumbed down version of the original building, or something highly contrasting. But, that is always a big issue when designing an addition to an existing building.” This is a fascinating topic, but one ultimately we decided not to focus on. It demands a study of its own. It would be interesting, for example to compare similar additions and projects in the Bay Area amongst themselves . Turnbull cited three examples in the immediate Civic Center alone: “the Civic Center Library which is now an Asian art museum, and that is what I would call a fairly abrupt addition …particularly when viewed from Hyde street. Again in the civic center, the California State Building has a 12-14 story addition immediately behind it – that is something that I would call somewhere in the middle. And then, again in the Civic Center, the Opera House had a stage house addition done to it in 1980 by Skidmore, Owings, and Merril, and it is a dead copy of the original terracotta, except it is executed in precast.” It would also be interesting to compare three of Simon’s high profile and well received projects in the San Francisco that are all very relevant to this subject: the Ferry building, the Public Library, and the SFCM. The Ferry building project was as adaptive reuse project which received a tax credit for its preservation as such and was a much less invasive project than the SFCM. The Public Library was entirely new construction, but was designed to have the exterior fit in with the old civic center buildings on the outside and takes a more contemporary approach on the inside. The team’s historic preservation consultant, while happy that the preservation of the original facade has been well received, also reflected on its irony; in a traditional sense the approach to only keep the façade and ballroom does not qualify it as a preservation project. 56. These categories were adapted from some of Professor Lawrence Speck’s categories from the popular class UT class ‘Architecture and Society’ which is designed for students who are not architecture majors. The exact wording of categories was:


periodic natural relief: such as outdoor space, views, or even daylight • the ability to accommodate a variety of activities and people • spaces that facilitate interaction: spatial quality, light quality, and sound all can affect people’s behavior, as well as the placement of social areas next to circulation areas. • variety of visual experience • freedom from intrusion or distraction • signs of human presence“ 57. “The good is that the building has a positive feeling. I can’t exactly say why, but I think a lot of that has to do with the atrium and the openness of it, and the windows in the various classrooms that have windows...I teach primarily in a studio on the third floor, which is an early music, baroque studio. And it’s a big room with high ceilings and big windows. Its perfect…I love the rooms with the light. I do lectures in the classrooms here, and the windows and the view, it’s marvelous. And most of the classrooms have that.” (Faculty, interview) 58. The student interview subject confirmed the importance of having natural light while practicing. The staff interview subject expressed gratitude for the extensive daylight in the library, and the efforts that the designers made to bring daylight into the building whenever they could. Faculty, interview. 59. Faculty, interview. 60. Poole, interview. 61. “I still get lost when I take some of these elevators. There are corners of this building I still don’t know about. There’s some room I haven’t found actually. We have faculty that cannot really negotiate stairs very well, so it’s a gamble [with people getting around]” (Admissions Director, interview) 62. As opposed to traditional methods, the system installed at the SFCM operates without any chemicals and instead uses electricity to clean the water, making maintenance healthier for staff, contributing to an overall less costly operation, and freeing up the small maintenance team’s time to do other things.

63. The building’s heat exchanger was installed in such a way that the chiller can be used significantly less – they now use it so infrequently, in fact, that the mechanic who maintains the chiller told them that they need to run it more often to keep it operating efficiently. “To me, that’s a badge of honor, right there, in terms of design and what they were thinking of when they built this building.” (Assistant Chief Engineer of building maintenance, interview by authors, San Francisco, CA, June 28, 2012) 64. “You’d think that doubling the size of the Conservatory would have solved [space issues]. All institutions will fit the container. No one bounces around a building if they’re doing it right” (Theater Consultant, interview) PARKLETS All interviews referenced were conducted by Gilad Meron and Katie Mays, full interview transcripts available upon request with written consent of interviewee. All photos not credited in the document are property of the authors, for further information or for request to use the photos in the document please contact the authors. 1. “Honk, Honk, Aaah!” The New York Magazine, May 17, 2009. 2. “Bicycle Visionary” The New York Times, September 10, 2011. 3. “For City’s Transportation Chief, Kudos and Criticism” The New York Times, March 4, 2011. 4. “Janette Sadik-Khan Is The Best Mechanic...” The New York Observer, September 6, 2011. 5. Wrestling with Moses. By Anthony Flint. 6. Pavement to Parks Website. 7. Content paraphrased from “Taking Place”; Chapter 4 of Insurgent Public Space. 8. Riyad Ghannam on the process of working with SPUR. 9. Out of Site Organization’s website. 10. Interview with Paul Chasin on 6/29/12.


11. Interview with John Carroll of EAG on 6/28/30. 12. Interview with Craig Hollow on 6/30/12. 13. Interview with John Carroll of EAG on 6/28/30. 14. Interview with Craig Hollow. 15. “Architect Meet Your Non-Profit” Booklet produced by Public Architecture. 16. Whitney M. Young Jr. in his 1968 address at the AIA National Convention. 17. In August of 2012 the first MLA Thesis on Parklets and Public Plazas was completed by Robin Abad Ocubillo of USC School of Architecture titled “Experimenting with the Margin: Parklets and Plazas as Catalysts in Communities and Government.” Qualitative Research Methods: Interviews were conducted with individuals from the Planning Department, the Bicycle Coalition, the Public Architecture staff and interns, business owners, parklet designers, parklet organizers, staff of multiple related nonprofit organizations, transit advocates, public users, tourists, writers, architects, San Francisco residents, and leaders of neighborhood coalitions. The authors personally visited 26 of the 29 parklets in the city and documented their own impressions of each. During these visits photography was used as a means to document each parklet and keep a record of each. An archival search was completed on each of the parklets highlighted in the case studies section, including extensive investigation of blog posts as a means to gauge community input and community reactions. In all cases in which it was possible, multiple involved parties were interviewed as a means to gain as many perspectives as possible and thus form a clearer and more honest understanding of the process that went on to create each parklet. Various newspaper and journal articles were read and their content was filtered and incorporated into both the authors’

analysis as well as the understanding of each case study. Quantitative Research Methods: Authors compiled data on amenities in each parklet using a standardized checklist and short answer section, making note of all physical attributes as well as uses and behaviors occurring during that time. An online poll administered via the website Kickstarter was used to determine the location of “backers” for the farm:table fund-raising initiative. The survey asked whether individuals had contributed to the fund-raising and if so how far they lived from the site. Archival data on number of parklets, dates of completion and estimates of cost was obtained through numerous online searches and personal interviews. SUNSET COOPERATIVE NURSERY SCHOOL 1. “History,” Sunset Cooperative Nursery School, 2012 July 20, 2. Lella Gandini, “Foundations of the Reggio Emilia Approach,” in First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way 1997, ed. Joanne Hendrick (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997), 16. 3. American Clover Construction “AmerClover_budget dec 09” (general contractor budget, 2009), 1. 4. McCall Design Group, “Project Description and Data” (competition submission, 2011), 1. 5. Rebecca New, “Reggio Emilia as Cultural Activity,” Theory Into Practice: Reggio Emilia 46, no. 1 (2007): 7. 6. Linda Avery, “Planning Commission Motion #17635” (coastal permit, 2008), 4. 7. McCall Design Group “2011 AIA SF Design Awards Sustainable Design Supplement ” (competition submission, 2011), 1-3. 8. Lella Gandini, “Foundations of the Reggio Emilia Approach,” in First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way 1997, ed. Joanne Hendrick (Upper Saddle River:


Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997), 18. 9. OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, and Bruce Mau Design, The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning (New York: Abrams, 2010): 131. 10. Lella Gandini, “Foundations of the Reggio Emilia Approach,” in First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way 1997, ed. Joanne Hendrick (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997), 16. 11. Baji Rankin, “Education as Collaboration: Learning from and Building on Dewey, Vygotsky, and Piaget,” in First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way 1997, ed. Joanne Hendrick (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997), 74. 12. Rebecca New, “Reggio Emilia as Cultural Activity,” Theory Into Practice: Reggio Emilia 46, no. 1 (2007): 12. Research Methods Data collection in support of claims made include: •

Eleven transcribed interviews with parents, teachers, designers, building committee members, contractors (note: all names of persons interviewed have been changed in this report). • Observation of 2 class sessions--1 morning, 1 afternoon. • Reading through material from the designers: meeting notes, permit rulings, schematic plans, competition submissions, etc. • Reading through material from the school: parent handbook, criteria list, program statements, etc. • Research into the Reggio Emilia approach and The Building as a Third Teacher. • Picture-taking and walking through the surrounding neighborhood. Data was then organized into five categories by common themes that relate to the intentions and receptions, including both intended and unintended impacts and results. Thank you to all of the teachers and parents at Sunset Nursery, as well as design and build professionals from McCall Design, Gillern Designs, and American Clover who contributed to this report.

AUSTIN RESOURCE CENTER FOR THE HOMELESS 1. “Gail Vittori,” author’s interview, August 5, 2013. 2. See Raymond Cole, “Regenerative Design: The Design of Coevolving Systems,” in Platform, “Beyond LEED,” Fall 2012, p.12. 3. United Nations. “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.” Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Accessed August 16, 2013. 4. Moore, Technology and Place: Sustainable Architecture and the Blueprint Farm, p. 136-7. 5. “Mitchell Gibbs,” author’s interview, July 9, 2013. Gibbs explained that the ARCH is the only social service agency in Austin whose model is “housing first.” The program is just as it sounds—it is a program aimed at getting these people in a home of their own in order to establish stability. Charlie Betts of the DAA, another proponent of “housing first,” sited an example of recently housing 20 men. It took an entire year to place them. They tracked the number of citations for these men before and after receiving housing and there was a difference of around 25 collective community court violations before the men were housed, and only 2-3 afterwards. Betts took this as a very positive statistic, and it indeed seems to be substantial. 6. Ball, Andrea. “Homeless Shelter Repairs Pile Up.” The Austin American Statesman. Statesman, 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 15 July 2013. < news/news/local/homeless-shelter-repairs-pile-up-1/ nRfS5/>. 7. “Helen Varty,” author’s interview, July 19, 2013. Ms. Varty was the first to tell us definitively that there was no other place for ARCH. We subsequently heard about this problem from Herman Thun and Charlie Betts. 8. See Ball, “Homeless Shelter Repairs Pile Up.” The Austin American Statesman. Statesman, 13 Sept. 2011. See also, “Mitchell Gibbs,” author’s interview, July 9, 2013. Herman Thun also provided further information regarding this transaction in an email, August 15, 2013. He stated, “The Homeless Task Force (HTF) 165

looked at numerous solutions including constructing a building on property at the northeast corner of 7th & Neches owned by The Salvation Army (TSA). TSA would manage a facility built by the City of Austin (COA) on TSA property. Then the issue of “Separation of Church and State” and the building operation rules of TSA got in the way. That evolved into the COA purchasing the property, constructing the building, and finding an entity to operate the building - Front Steps. LZTA (his firm) eventually was selected to design the project inasmuch as I was more knowledgeable about the subject than other local architects due to my TSA connection.” 9. “Cynthia Jordan,” author’s interview, July 24, 2013. 10. “Murray Legge,” author’s interview, July 10, 2013. 11. “Gail Vittori,” author’s interview, August 5, 2013. 12. AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects. Last modified May 25, 2005. Accessed August 16, 2013. http://www2. 13. “Charlie Betts,” author’s interview, July 29, 2013. 14. Moore, Steven A., and Barbara B. Wilson. Questioning Architectural Judgment: The Problem of Codes in the United States. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013. P. 4. 15. Cole, Raymond J., Amy Oliver, and John Robinson. “Regenerative Design, Socio-ecological Systems and Co-evolution.” Building Research and Information 41, no. 2 (June 2013): 237-47. 16. Campbell, Scott. “Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?” Journal of the American Planning Association 62, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 296-310. 17. Baird, George. Sustainable Buildings in Practice: What the Users Think. London:Routledge, 2010. 18. Preiser, Wolfgang F.E., and Jacqueline C. Vischer. Assessing Building Performance. Oxford: Elsevier, 2005. P. 136. 19. We were told early in the interview process by both Murray Legge, architect, and Jessica Burkemper, Shelter Director at ARCH, that the rainwater harvesting system no longer worked and that it had maintenance issues from the beginning. Neither were sure if the PV panels and solar hot water heaters work.

The day before our report was due, we finally heard from a City official who stated all systems work. We choose to leave this statement here as we explain later in the paper our thoughts about this misinformation. 20. “Murray Legge,” author’s interview, July 10, 2013. 21. Ibid. Legge explained to us that as far as how the shelter aligned with City goals, it fit very well. There was an initiative at the time to promote a vibrant streetscape called Great Streets. The City wanted buildings to be two-four stories, have a clearly visible and celebrated entrance, and have transparency from the street inward. ARCH was designed so you could see the people doing their laundry inside. Legge stated, despite the City initiative, there were a lot of people who preferred to hide the shelter, but this initiative, along with the desires and goals of the team helped keep the building transparent. 22. Herman Thun,” author’s interview, July 23, 2013. 23. Ibid. 24. “Gail Vittori,” author’s interview, August 5, 2013. 25. “Herman Thun,” author’s interview, July 23, 2013. 26. Thun email, August 15, 2013. 27. “Jessica Burkemper,” author’s interview, July 25, 2013. 28. “Mitchell Gibbs,” author’s interview, July 9, 2013. 29. “Charlie Betts,” author’s interview, July 29, 2013. 30. Preiser, Wolfgang F.E., and Jacqueline C. Vischer. Assessing Building Performance. Oxford: Elsevier, 2005.p. 16. 31. Betts, Varty, Gibbs, and Thun all told us the story of how this resource center took so long to plan and finally build. One reason for this was the protests from neighborhood groups. Betts told us that at one point, the center was supposed to be built in South Austin, but someone leaked this information, it got to the press, and the neighborhood put up such a fuss, the City gave up on that plan. Betts told us he thought the center ended up in the best place possible, given the situation and they did all they could to make it work (referring to the DAA, the City Council, and the Mayor’s office). 32. “Charlie Betts,” author’s interview, July 29, 2013. 33. Ibid.


34. “Murray Legge,” author’s interview, July 10, 2013. 35. See Way, Mark, and Bill Bordass. “Making Feedback and Post-occupancy Evaluation Routine 2: Soft Landings - Involving Design and Building Teams in Improving Performance.” Building Research and Information 33, no. 4 (2005): 354. 36. “Gail Vittori,” author’s interview, August 5, 2013. 37. “Murray Legge,” author’s interview, July 10, 2013. 38. For example, Gibbs stated in our interview that as soon as ARCH opened, they decided against using the planned detox room. Because they were concerned about liability and not being a medical provider, they decided it best not to offer this service at ARCH. The former detox room is now the maintenance office at ARCH. 39. See Raymond Cole, Amy Oliver, and John Robinson, “Regenerative Design, Socio-ecological Systems and Co-evolution,” page 241. Part of this quote comes from, Glaser, M., Krause G., Ratter, B., & Welp, M. (2008). Human-nature interaction in the Anthropocene. Potential of social-ecological systems analysis.” 40. Cole, Raymond J., Amy Oliver, and John Robinson. “Regenerative Design, Socio-ecological Systems and Co-evolution.” Building Research and Information 41, no. 2 (June 2013): 238. 41. “Herman Thun,” author’s interview, July 23, 2013. Thun told us he had plans for a composting system that involved having clients be in charge of the process. He gave up on that idea, realizing that the population would be transient and probably not able to maintain the system. He was likely correct. Yet, we like his interactive approach. References AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects. Last modified May 25, 2005. Accessed August 16, 2013. http://www2.aiatopten. org/hpb/overview.cfm?ProjectID=470. Ball, Andrea. “Homeless Shelter Repairs Pile Up.” The Austin American Statesman (13 Sept. 2011).

Baird, George. Sustainable Buildings in Practice: What the Users Think. London: Routledge, 2010. Betts, Charlie. Interview by the authors. Downtown Austin Alliance Office, Austin, TX. July 29, 2013.   Burkemper, Jessica. Interview by the authors. ARCH Offices, Austin, TX. July 25, 2013. Campbell, Scott. “Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?” Journal of the American Planning Association 62, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 296-310.   Cole, Raymond J., Amy Oliver, and John Robinson. “Regenerative Design, Socio-ecological Systems and Co-evolution.” Building Research and Information 41, no. 2 (June 2013): 237-47.   Gibbs, Mitchell. Interview by the authors. ARCH, Austin, TX. July 9, 2013.   Jordan, Cynthia. Interview by the authors. Telephone Interview, Austin, TX. July 24, 2013. Leatherbarrow, David. 2005 [2010]. “Architecture’s Unscripted Performance”. In, Performative Architecture: Beyond Instrumentality, edited by B. Kolarevic and A.M.Malkawi. New York and London: Spon Press.pp. 7-18.   Legge, Murray. Interview by the authors. LZT Architects Office, Austin, TX. July 10, 2013.   Moore, Steven A. Technology and Place: Sustainable Architecture and the Blueprint Farm. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.   Moore, Steven A., and Barbara B. Wilson. Questioning Architectural Judgment: The Problem of Codes in the United States. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013.   Preiser, Wolfgang F.E., and Jacqueline C. Vischer. Assessing Building Performance. Oxford: Elsevier, 2005.  


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Steven A. Moore

Amy Ress

Dr. Moore teaches design and courses related to the philosophy, history, and application of sustainable technology at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture. In 1999 Moore was appointed Director of the Sustainable Design Program, in 2002 was co-founder of The University of Texas at Austin Center for Sustainable Development, and in 2006 he became Bartlett Cocke Professor of Architecture and Planning.

In 2012, Amy Ress was named an ambassador at the intersection of design and service by the Public Interest Design 100 campaign and accepted ASID’s Design for Humanity Award on behalf of The 1%. Amy serves as the public programming chair on the board of the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. Previously, she was Architecture & Design Forum Coordinator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, supporting exhibitions, publications and programs. Amy earned a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.

Moore received his undergraduate degree in architecture from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, and is a Loeb Fellow of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He has practiced as the design principal of Moore/Weinrich Architects in Maine and has received numerous regional and national awards for design distinction. He has recently published articles in Center, the Journal of Architectural Education (JAE), and the Journal of Architecture (JOA), Urban Studies, and Science Studies. Moore has published, co-authored, or edited five books related to the social construction of sustainable technologies, buildings, and cities. John Peterson John Peterson is the founder and president of Public Architecture. The 1%, a program of Public Architecture, has built a national network of design professionals providing $42M in pro bono services annually. He is also the principal of Peterson Architects. John is the recipient of numerous design and social innovation awards. He writes and speaks internationally about the role that the design of the built environment has in improving underserved communities. John has degrees in architecture and fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. He is an adjunct professor at California College of the Arts and was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Barbara Brown Wilson Dr. Wilson is director of the Center for Sustainable Development, the head of the school’s Public Interest Design Program, and an Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning and Sustainable Design at the University of Texas at Austin. Brown Wilson is a co-founder of the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC), and serves on the board of directors for ACDDC and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. Brown Wilson is also a founding member of and a reviewer for the SEED Network. The Public Interest Design Program at UT engages students from across the globe in awardwinning, community-driven applied design research, and aspires to contribute to the maturation of an academically rigorous discussion of the ethics, methods, and theory of Public Interest Design.



Public Interest Design: Evaluating Public Architecture  
Public Interest Design: Evaluating Public Architecture  

A collaborative report by the University of Texas School of Architecture Center for Sustainable Development, its Public Interest Design Exte...