Desire of the Urban

I have to confess I have become an Urbanite. I am raising two little Urbanites as well. Yes, I grew up in a small town, rich in natural beauty and outdoor activities. But fairly lacking in opportunity, culture and efficiency. I never thought I would live in a large city. Never. Then I became an Architect. Then I became a city dweller. Then I became a parent. Now we highly value the things that density offers a family- opportunity, culture, efficiency, varieties of amenities at your fingertips. I don’t know that I could do it any other way. We have three parks within 3 blocks. Bus routes that will take us all over the city launching from the end of the block. However, increased density in itself does not preclude families. Most of the developers here in Seattle have missed the ‘Family’ in Multi-family. The overwhelming type of housing being built in higher density areas are nearly exclusively designed, marketed to, and inhabited by and populated by young singles, childless couples or empty nesters. The longer we are here, the more people we meet who value raising kids in the core of the city and are intent on staying here. Most of us have a completely different mindset than our suburban counterparts, we have bucked the notion that a 3000sqft house in the ‘burbs is the possession worth striving for as the upheld epitome of an environment for raising families. Sadly, this model is rarely questioned. Too much is measured in quantity rather than quality or scope, many have become too immersed in the mindset that it is a NEED rather than just another option.

Personally, it is our striving goal in our life and business to radically question the built environments and values people live within. That permeates both peoples mindsets as well as the physical objectivity of buildings and spaces they use and interact with. We want to develop a radically different model of Architecture that empowers and enables families to live well in the city. Live urbanely, live within networks of other families, provide infrastructure that shows kids are a valued asset to the community rather than a burden. There is a void in the market, a small niche, yes. But rich in opportunity to really make some concrete change in what is built in this city.

This is a huge driving passion in us. So naturally, as the gong I am constantly hitting on, I keep an eye out on what is being built around the city. Most of it is disappointingly redundant- more condos catered towards singles, a ton of huge retirement communities, ridiculously expensive per square foot prices, spaces that completely disregard aspects families require and value. It’s like most developers have overlooked and left out the entire middle portion of life. What happens in 5 years when the young couple who has bought into a nice new condo building decides they want to start a family but doesn’t want to give up their proximity to the things which define their life (such as job, recreation, shopping, friends)? It will be a need. Recently I have come across a few projects that have gotten me excited that the wave is starting to build. Places that I want to live, because, yes, I feel this house is a bit too removed for us (the next place will be far more urban, so I look ahead).

The first one is at the Trace Lofts– Trace North Units 201 and 220. These are pretty inspiring. 2 bedrooms, which would work with our two girls sharing a room, and each room has access to over 300sqft of enclosed patio. What a great emphasis on safe outdoor space for children! Open and modernist, which I like. The location in Capitol Hill is great, a few blocks from Cal Anderson Park, our favorite park in the city as well as grocery stores, shopping, eating, entertainment and so many other resources. The other 3 floors on top of these units are the same floorplans, only minus the patios which I think is imperative for children. I am impressed there is such an emphasis on multi-bedroom units, it makes having kids here very do-able. I read the prices for these are in the $550K range. Quite a bit less than I thought they would go for considering what you get.

The second project came across my email from someone who knows someone who is working on this project (as it is with Architecture friends). They thought I would like it, and I do. This project, called Leona, is on Queen Anne, a bit farther from where we live but a wonderful area. The building units are such a nice mix of sizes and spaces, what potential to draw a variety of residents together. Units 10 and 13 are a similar 2 bedroom plan, but also have a den, which can serve as an office or could make a wonderful play area for kids. But then there are three townhomes, each over 2000 sqft with 2 bedrooms each. My favorite, Townhome B, is shown below (the pictures are taken from the Lenoa Website). But, the best parts are the third floor family rooms that extend out onto individual roof top patios. These are a very unique aspect to this project, I am really giddy over it. In addition, these units offer spaces to have a home office. As someone who works from home, this is really appealing. I would suspect these will be at a price point a bit higher than is catered towards a normal family.



And of course, I look at this and start to modify the floorplans projecting that over time, things need to be able to adapt. Because, what if we were to have a third kid? That walk-in closet in the entrance to the Master could be a nursery nook. Then as that kid gets older, you could put up a wall at the top of the stairs of the family room and get one (or maybe two smaller) bedrooms there for older kids that open with barn doors out onto a play area in front of the larger patio. All in all, you could make space for like 5 kids in this townhouse (not that we are aiming for that or anything, but you could).

Both of these projects serve as wonderful precedents and more importantly, forerunners in the market. I plan to keep and eye on these. My hope is they will spur on more of this kind of development. In the mean time, I can lust over them.

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~ by gdesign on December 14, 2007.

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