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How the Build Back Better Act could affect freelancers

Freelancers and Independent Contractors Beware: Build Back Better Vows to Impose the PRO Act Which Threatens Your Livelihood

The freedom to work as a freelancer or independent contractor provides flexibility for households and vibrancy to the American economy. It is tailor-made for architecture and design practices and the freelance architects seeking to fill the peaks and valleys standard in architecture practices.

The PRO Act bans Right to Work laws nationwide. Still, it also imposes the same independent contractor/freelancer-destroying policies of California’s AB5 law, which has destroyed countless lives and driven people out of the Golden State.

Freelancers and independent contractors want to be their bosses. AB5 and the PRO Act dictate they must have a boss. Households need greater flexibility than ever after the changes brought about by COVID in the workplace.

I have been fighting my whole professional career for the right to freelance and become an independent contractor. We need to rally the political wing of the AIA.org and ask their Advocacy group to engage and lobby against this provision of the Build Back Better bill.

Act Now Contact Sarah Dodge, AIA, Senior Vice-President of Advocacy & Relationships, and ask her to put the full force of the AIA’s advocacy group behind removing the AB5 provision out of Build Back Better!

[email protected]

Partial hat tip to the Freelancers Union

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Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles: Studio Director

In our third installment of Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles series, we attempt to tackle the nuanced role of the Studio Director without falling back on search engines like Google and Bing or job boards like Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, or Ladders [not in original article]. As with most positions within architecture firms, the lines are quite blurry when it comes to the role of Studio Director. For some, this leadership position acts as a kind of operations specialist and strategist while also functioning as a firmwide design leader. For others, the Studio Director might function as a buffer between design teams and the higher-level leadership of an organization. And for others still, this individual might run their studio as a kind of “mini-firm” within a larger firm, responsible for their own business development, hiring, project management, and overall growth. The intricacies and variations associated with such a dynamic posting can’t be explained exhaustively, there will always be some deviation. Nevertheless, what follows is our attempt to capture the inherent essence of this career path in architecture.

Structural Relevance

Architecture firms come in many forms. Depending on size, the internal structure of the personnel will differ. Some firms might operate in a departmental structure, where each team works on a specific phase of a project: a design “department” might work on the programming and schematic phases before passing the work on to a technical department that would realize the construction documentation. Others might have various project teams, each with its own project managers who are overseen by a Studio Director or Principal(s). And others still might divide into multiple studios, each with a specific function, and led by their own Studio Director, respectively. In this structure, each Studio Director would report to a Managing Principal, Design Principal, or both. Some Studio Directors may even be partners of the firm or Principals themselves. When it comes to the possible organizational structures of design firms, the variations are many.

While the interpretation of the role will differ from office to office, a Studio Director will typically oversee a studio. This may be a single studio under one roof, with a small or medium-sized staff, separated into smaller teams, each with a project architect/project manager, a job captain, and designers. Each team leader could report to a Studio Director who then might report to or collaborate with a higher-level leadership team, such as a firm’s Principal(s).

A studio could also be one of many within a larger firm, each with an expertise focus such as hospitality, healthcare, sports, workplace, restoration, or interiors. Each Studio Director would have specialized knowledge and experience in their area of expertise. In this model, studios might operate under the umbrella of a larger firm but would function as its own “sub-firm,” having its own clients, staff, and sometimes even its own receptionist. These “studio structures” can vary widely, and the nuances will depend on the organization in question.

A Studio Director Needs to be a People Person

In Archinect’s Growing Leadership and Practice: Laney LA’s Search for a Studio Director, we dove deep into conversation with Anthony Laney of Laney LA about his search for a Studio Director. “On day one, five project managers, each with their own team of one to two aspiring architects, will report to the Studio Director,” Laney told Archinect. “So, in total, the Studio Director will be leading a team of about 14 people. Right now, I’m giving about 30 percent of my time to a Studio Director role. We want to tear the lid off of that and allow someone to give it 100 percent of their time.” Here we have the leader of a relatively medium-sized firm in need of a Studio Director to act as a point person between him and his project managers. Laney saw this as someone who was not only in love with design, but who also had a deep passion for creating and building a great team.

People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more…

Archinect also spoke with Lindsay Green, Principal and Studio Director at OFFICEUNTITLED, and Shawn Gehle, Principal and Co-Founder. On the topic of managing a team and dealing with different kinds of people, the pair elaborated further. “People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more,” they said. “You have to deal with multiple personalities every day. Happy people; sad people; staff; clients; personal issues amongst the team.” They went on to articulate the expansive role a Studio Director might have within an office. In addition to effectively managing people, a leader in this role might also take on responsibilities of reviewing the office’s backlog and ensuring future staffing needs are fulfilled, overall professional development and client management, internal development of team members, human resources, and finance. “We really rely on Lindsay to run this office, we look to her to understand our overall health and outlook,” Gehle said of Green. “She acts as a kind of Chief Operations Officer, shepherding the resources within the office.”

A Strong Business Acumen

Green’s role goes far beyond that of the traditional project manager or project architect, but rises further into rigorous strategic planning and execution, calling for business acumen and facility not typical in architects. “I think if someone is considering this role as something to work towards in their career, they should consider getting an MBA. Understanding business is crucial in this position,” Green elaborated. “And even after that, it’ll take on-the-job experience to establish an understanding of how firms operate.” 

Where before one’s core preoccupation might have been client satisfaction, design quality, timely deliverables, and internal team health, the focus now expands to a broader higher level concentration dealing with the business, strategic, and developmental aspects of the organization as a whole. Yes, project teams are concerned with these aspects, but on a fundamentally different level. They have a responsibility for their projects, whereas a Studio Director’s daily duties directly deal with the trajectory and direction of the bigger picture, moving beyond a partial focus to a comprehensive one.

What are firms looking for?

So what are firms looking for in a Studio Director? Take Gensler, a corporation based around a “collaborative studio leadership model.” Each studio has a specialty and is led by a highly experienced Studio Director, who oversees everything from overall management of the team and projects to the finances and budget. They work closely with staff in both professional development and mentorship as well as hiring in collaboration with HR. Studio Directors at Gensler are responsible for marketing, developing new business, and responding to RFPs, along with several other high-level responsibilities. According to Gensler, those pursuing this role should have a minimum of 15 years of experience and have a proven record in their area of focus. Moreover, Studio Directors at Gensler should possess a comprehensive personal portfolio of work, illustrating their aptitude and understanding of their expertise. Essentially, Studio Directors are leaders of their own small firm within the larger organization that is Gensler.

A Multi-Disciplined Leader

In the end, Studio Directors are multi-disciplined leaders with a depth of experience that allows them to lead a team of professionals of varying experience levels. They operate on multiple fronts, some of which include business functions such as staff development, hiring, strategic planning, finances, as well as traditional functions like QAQC, guiding design quality, and managing clients and projects. The possibilities appear broad and wide-ranging, but we’ve learned that business acumen is crucial, people skills are essential, and a deep understanding of the traditional functions of the architect, indispensable.

Author – Sean Joyner is an architect-trained writer and editor at Archinect. His articles and essays utilize themes in history, philosophy, and psychology to explore lessons for students and professionals within the fields of architecture and design. Sean’s work prior to Archinect focused primarily on k-12 and higher education projects in Southern California. Some of the things Sean enjoys are playing and practicing chess, studying obscure topics like quantum physics and cryptography, working out, and reading compelling books.

Sean Joyner’s Blog on Archinect
Archinect
Consulting For Architects, Inc. Staffing and Recruiting Hiring Trends Blog
Articles:
Salary and responsibilities for design directors for interior design
Harvard GSD announces winners of 2020 Richard Rogers Fellowship

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How to Make the Most of Entry-Level Architecture Jobs

No matter what you hope your destination will be, if you want to make a career out of architecture, it’s going to start with an entry-level job.

While that may not seem quite as exciting as your long-term goal, entry-level architecture jobs have a lot of potential if you know exactly how to approach them.

4 Ways to Make the Most Out of Entry-Level Architecture Jobs

Finding out you’ve been hired for your first architecture job is an absolutely incredible feeling.

However, don’t forget about the following four ways people have successfully taken full advantage of their entry level-architecture jobs, so you can make the most of this opportunity.

1. Consider the City the Job Is In

If you’re still applying for jobs, be sure to consider which city those jobs are in. Ideally, you want it to be a great city for architects, so you’ll be surrounded by opportunities.

That said, no matter where it is, brush up on your networking skills. This will help you on the job (more on that in a minute), but it will also go a long way toward helping you eventually find an even better role if you use these skills within your local industry.

2. Firm Up Your Soft Skills

Your duties as an architect include more than just preparing drawings and structure specifications.

Success will also depend on your soft skills, which include proficiency with:

  • Team-building
  • Communicating
  • Problem-solving

Look for every opportunity in your entry-level role to sharpen these skills and the road ahead of you will become much easier.

3. Come Up with a 90-Day Plan

Every entry-level employee should come up with a 90-day plan to hit the ground running. This is especially true in architecture, though. You should also have a plan for the first week and the first month.

For example, during your first week, meet everyone on your team, department, or inside the entire firm, depending on its size. Become 100% clear on what your responsibilities are, too.

Over the first 30 days, finish meeting everyone if you haven’t already. Make it a point to ask at least one question a day, provided you genuinely don’t know the answer and you’re not slowing down your coworkers. It’s vital that you learn as much as possible.

During the first 90 days, you should look for a “mentor.” This doesn’t have to be an official capacity, but get a sense for whom – aside from your boss – you can learn the most from and keep asking them questions.

Of course, if they ever need help, go out of your way to repay their kindness.

Want Help Finding the Best Entry-Level Architecture Jobs?

As you can see, entry-level architecture jobs can be so much more than just an opportunity to get your foot in the door.

When you take the right approach, they can become a real launching point for the rest of your career. You may even be surprised to find just how quickly the above advice can bring you to your next step.

Of course, long before that happens, you need to land that first position. That’s where we come in. At Consulting For Architects, Inc. we’ve helped people just like you land their first jobs. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help you with your specific goals.

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Pinterest and architecture, really? really.

I have been having a lot of fun lately with Pinterest, a social bookmarking site where users collect and share photos of their favorite events, interests and promote their companies and services.  I know many architect and design colleagues use Pinterest for these purposes and more, but wondered if you do too? Follow CFA on Pinterest!

Pinterest is the third-largest such network behind only Facebook and Twitter, and it is expanding in countries around the world. Of interest to us, most significant architecture publications and prominent architecture firms have a Pinterest account with multiple “Boards” with today’s architecture and design news or a firm’s latest work.  A great example would be the online architecture magazine, Dezeen (Follow Dezeen on Pinterest»). Their latest Board is an ongoing collection of “best hotels” (See our new hotels Pinterest board»), which is very interesting.  Two good examples of an architecture firm’s beneficial presence on Pinterest, are the popular work of Zaha Hadid and SOM. 100’s of Pinterest users who admire architecture or work in the field will “Pin” a project they admire.  Just look at how popular the works of these two firms are among the Pinterest community  Zaha Hadid and SOM

This post by Scott Meyer on Digital Homesteading titled, “Six ways Architects Can use Pinterest” breaks it down.

Six Ways Architects Can Use Pinterest

by Scott Meyer on October 19th, 2012

Pinterest is the fastest growing social network and there are many creative ways to use it for your business.

Fentress Architects from Colorado recently downloaded our most popular (and free!) ebook, The Advanced Guide to Pinterest. After reading it, they wrote to ask how architects specifically are using Pinterest. Let’s take a look at six ways architects are using Pinterest:

Architects on Pinterest

To kick it off, annharr87 provides a great slideshow highlighting some of the best practices for architects on Pinterest. As you can see, grouping styles of homes into boards creates an easy way for clients to browse fun and sometimes fantastical homes. Showcasing your homes is a key use of Pinterest.

Showcase Homes

View the slide show

Share interior design ideas

Another effective use of Pinterest is to help consumers with ways to improve their homes. MB Design in Vermont provides home improvement ideas as well as interior design ideas:

1. Screen-Shot-2012-10-15-at-4.05.58-PM

Provide Tips

This firm is doing a good job of giving viewers valuable resources that they can use on their own. These are the true drivers of traffic to bring users to your site. Once there, make sure you offer them valuable content and ways to capture their information as a lead. If you can follow-up with them and continue to offer advice, you’ll have them hooked.

Many “best ways to fix your (insert thing) in your home” type pins are shown below. These are great to get customers in your door.

2 Screen-Shot-2012-10-15-at-3.42.09-PM

Showcase work in bite-sized pieces

This firm, DxDempsey Architecture in Scranton, PA, is doing a wonderful job of organizing their pins and creating them to be very relevant to viewers. They are showcasing their own work, which is a key detail in winning customers. They show their home portfolio, retail stores, commercial properties, bathrooms, living rooms, etc, all that they designed themselves. This gives the consumers an idea of what they can achieve with DxDempsey.

3 Screen-Shot-2012-10-15-at-4.00.59-PM

In addition, this will encourage customers to pin their finished DxDempsey spaces on their own pages, and link back to the company. This greatly increases visibility, especially when you consider that 85% of pins are repins.

Enable user-generated content

Consumer-generated content is very important for architecture firms, as they are highly reliant on their clients for feedback and popularity. By enabling them to upload their own content and link to your profile on Pinterest, as well as share your content on Pinterest, you will increase your website traffic and also customers will assign more credibility for your business as visuals communicate so much more than words.

Attract specific audiences

Another firm, TCA Architecture from Seattle, WA, knows what they are doing on Pinterest. They include a variety of board types, and they are showing the public that they truly care about the environment with their first board being “Sustainable Architecture.” This will appeal to the environmentally conscious customers and is a way for this firm to stand out among their competitors.

4 Screen-Shot-2012-10-18-at-5.35.04-PM (1)

This firm is also doing a good job of showing architecture in a variety of lifestyle viewpoints, which gives them more reach with different types of customers and reminds viewers that everyone encounters architecture in their lives.

Pinterest for Architects

Pinterest is a perfect media to showcase architectural work. With the visual nature of architecture and the fact that it is the fastest growing social network, it should be at the center of any architectural firm’s social strategy.

My Recommendation: What are you waiting for?

Follow CFA on Pinterest! My two favorite boards lately are “Building I like today” and “Buildings I don’t like today”.  Tell me what you think of my choices in the comment section.


Learn more

Need more help? Free resources to teach you how to use Pinterest along with the myriad of other social networks. Visit our resources page to download our free guides to social networks and digital marketing. You can also sign up for digital foundations class. This free email series will walk you through the most important concepts and networks for building a successful digital marketing strategy.


Related

Inside @Pinterest‘s beautifully spare new headquarters. http://f-st.co/J05eMfa pic.twitter.com/BXtoKe6yEb

The architects’ guide to Pinterest

What the Heck Is Pinterest and Why Should You Care? Let Us Tell You.

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How to transform independent contractors into employees

First, make an architecture or interior-design independent contractor into an employee by formalizing the person’s work arrangement and paying him or her regular wages. The IRS and its interpretation of payment and work plays the most important role in deciding a person’s status. At our staffing firm for architects and designers converting a independent contractor to a full-time employee is a third of our business.
Characteristics of an independent contractor

The IRS views an independent contractor as a person who works apart from the firm, and the rules governing them are not extremely clear cut. This wide room for interpretation has led to disputes in a number of workplaces. Fortunately, the status of an independent contractor is not as ambiguous as that of intern architect or draftsman.

By definition, an independent contractor is a person who has a significant amount of control over his or her work, achieves goals independently from the firm, doesn’t need to adhere to all the firm’s rules, uses his or her own equipment and doesn’t require close supervision by a member of the firm.

Characteristics of an employee

An employee must follow the set rules of the firm. He or she receives payment through a W-2 rather than a 1099 form. An employee uses the firm’s equipment to complete jobs, has a title with the firm and is subject to supervision by a member of the firm.

The transformation from contractors into employees

4 Key Points

  1. A person’s status changes when the firm takes them under its wing. Typically, this process involves the following aspects: training, giving the person authority to make decisions for the business, assigning the person key duties to perform and redefining the person’s work status as permanent, off-probation or retained for a set period of time. The process is complete when the new employee understands their work responsibilities and begins a project on behalf of the firm.
  2. It is critical that the person understand what it means when he or she has become an agent of the firm. The best way to accomplish this task is in writing. The new architect or interior designer and the owner of the firm should sign a letter of agreement stating the worker is now an employee.
  3. You can ratify and celebrate the change in a person’s status by providing them with business cards that state their title and contact information. Having a letter signed and dated by the owner that contains a start date is also helpful and thoughtful for those changing from independent contractors into employees.
  4. Finally, it is meaningful for the firm to circulate an internal announcement that they have hired the independent contractor as a full-time employee.

 

Source list:

http://www.cons4arch.com/
http://www.aia.org/akr/Resources/Documents/AIAB095064
https://www.mbopartners.com/resources/article/what-is-independent-consulting

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Architecture Billing Index

Architecture Billing Index

Firm Billings Remain Solid in October

Architecture firms anticipate relatively slow adoption rates for new and emerging technologies in design and construction

By Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, AIA Chief Economist
U.S. architecture firms reported another solid month of growth in October 2015. The AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was 53.1 for the month, demonstrating a solid increase in firm billings that was just below the 53.7 score for September. New project inquiries, with a score of 58.5 for the month, and new design contracts at 51.7, point to healthy business conditions at architecture firms. However, both readings fell a bit from their September level, suggesting that growth may moderate just a bit in the coming months.

Architecture Billing Index

Click to expand

The overall strong performance in business activity in recent months is beginning to show a regional pattern. Firms in the South have been reporting continued strong business conditions through the year, while firms in the West have been reporting acceleration in billings over the past few months. In contrast, Northeast firms have been reporting weak conditions in recent months, and Midwest firms—while reporting growth—have seen billings increase at a somewhat slower pace.

Firms in all the major construction sectors reported healthy conditions in October, with the strongest growth coming from commercial/industrial firms. Residential firms recorded their second straight monthly increase after   seven straight monthly declines. Institutional firms saw growth on par with September, but their ABI scores have been declining for the past several months, indicating that the pace of growth of billings at these firms has been moderating.

In Spite of International Concerns, U.S. Economy Doing Well

The economy sputtered a bit in the third quarter, producing only 1.5% growth at an annualized basis. However, there appears to be some firming in economic conditions to date in the fourth quarter. There was a net increase of 271,000 payroll positions nationally in October, well above expectations, and the strongest monthly increase so far this year. That pushed the national unemployment rate down to 5.0%, its lowest level since early 2008. The construction sector has been an important contributor to the employment front, adding 31,000 payroll positions for October and 159,000 through the first ten months of the year. Construction has thus accounted for almost 8% of payroll gains so far in 2015.

An improving labor market, coupled with continued low gasoline prices, has improved the consumer’s outlook. The preliminary consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan jumped up in November to its highest level in several months. This has produced higher levels of consumer spending, as retail sales—after netting the lower amounts spent on gasoline—saw healthy gains in October. A key test of the perceived health of the economy will come in mid-December when the Federal Reserve Board decides whether an increase in short-term interest rates is warranted to prevent potential future overheating.

Innovative Technologies May Not Yet Be Ready For Prime Time

In the design professions, as in other sectors in our economy, change is inevitable, but the pace of change may be slower than commonly thought. In an effort to see how the profession might be evolving over the coming five to ten years, this month’s question to the AIA’s Work-on-the Boards panel looked at design and construction elements that might be increasing in importance over this time period.

Topics covered included the areas of design and construction process and techniques, building characteristics, building features and systems, and construction materials. Several of the areas deemed to be becoming more widespread over this period are already fairly widely utilized, such as lighting technology systems (LED, day lighting/natural light), water conservation/efficiency, and energy efficiency designs and retrofits. The overwhelming majority of respondents felt that these design elements would be increasing in importance over the coming five to ten years.

However, other recent innovations that typically have garnered more attention may not reach the same levels of adoption over this period according to architecture firms. One example is the use of robotics in the construction process. Only one in nine respondents feels that this technology will significantly increase in importance over the next five to ten years. Conversely, about four in ten respondents feel that there were be no significant increase in this technology over the coming years. The results were not much different for 3D printing used in the construction process. Only about one in six respondents feels that this technology will significantly increase in importance in the coming years.

This month, Work-on-the-Boards participants are saying:

• After a late summer lull, clients seem to be back at their desks, making decisions and issuing RFPs and RFQs. Prospects for 2016 are looking up.
—33-person firm in the West, mixed specialization

• Firms are very busy and fees are slowly catching up with personnel salary increases.
—6-person firm in the South, institutional specialization

• Northeast (other than NYC) is still struggling to come out of the recession.
—4-person firm in the Northeast, mixed specialization

• New problem for us, long-predicted: talent shortage. Could increase staff by 15-20% if people were available. I expect this to last a long time.
—20-person firm in the Midwest, commercial/industrial specialization

Additional Resources:

Join the AIA Practice Management Knowledge Community to receive more practice-related content

Reference:

The ABI Work-on-the-Boards Survey Panel is open to any AIA member who is principal/partner of their firm. Apply to join the ABI panel by completing a brief background information form on your firm here.

Article originally posted on the AIA.org Website.

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Perkins Eastman

Assembling a City

Perkins Eastman designs a city on the former site of an Atlanta car factory

The City of Doraville, population 8,300, is a 15-mile drive from downtown Atlanta. The suburban enclave is also the last stop on Atlanta’s METRO Gold line rail transit system. Around the station, Stan Eckstut, principal at Perkins Eastman, has designed a “city-within-a-city” on the 165-acre site of a former General Motors assembly plant, adding a heavy dose of transit-oriented walkability that developers at The Integral Group hope can entice city-centric millennials to the city’s fringe.

“It is a city, there’s no question,” Eckstut said of the development, dubbed “Assembly, Doraville, USA.” His master plan design—a mix of about 50-percent public space and 50-percent developable land sandwiched between railroad tracks and an interstate highway—embraces density around the Doraville transit stop, connecting to the city’s historic downtown with an armature of parks that will guide development over the next decade.

Eckstut said streets and public spaces organize development parcels, which are envisioned as fluid land-use designations rather than prescribed uses—much like in a real city. In turn, market forces guide what ends up getting built. Eckstut cautioned against the pitfalls of large-scale “Renaissance plans,” that guided 20th century urban renewal, and today have influenced heavy-handed development in China. “The issue is creating something that can be implemented over time with many ideas and many innovations,” said Eckstut. “You need to focus on how it will get implemented and how you can create a fabric where things can evolve and change—much like the grid of Manhattan.”

Assembly sits on one side of a 30-foot-tall freight and transit rail line, one of the busiest in the Southeast, and Doraville on the other. Eckstut said connecting the two was important to create a real urban place. He plans to build a 60-foot-wide tunnel beneath 13 active tracks, an expensive feat, to create connections that can also foster density.

“The plans that preceded us all had bridges that went over the tracks,” said Eckstut. The massive approach ramps required for such a structure precluded creating a compact town center. “I realized I could bring a street right under the tracks and meet up with grade. That became the whole scheme.” Eckstut said the street—an extension of Doraville’s civic heart, Park Avenue—will form the framework for the rest of the development. “This is the glue that connects the historical town center with the new 165-acre site,” he said.

Just inside, an approximately 1.7-acre “Transit Square” serves as the forecourt to the larger parks system. From here, everything in Assembly is an easy walk. “I drew a circle with a radius of about 1,200 feet—a five minute walk,” said Eckstut. “When you reach a five-minute walk, the world changes—people don’t walk after that.” You can get just about anywhere in Assembly in five minutes, and your walk will always be close by a park.”

Eckstut said that Assembly’s park system is a sustainable machine for the entire neighborhood. “Most large-scale projects today have one major sustainability challenge: keeping stormwater on site,” he said. “The best way of doing that is creating a park system. Wherever you have streets, you’re going to have rain gardens.” Rather than build wide sidewalks, Eckstut hopes these gardens will create a more intimate and vibrant streetscape.

Eckstut said streets and public spaces organize development parcels, which are envisioned as fluid land-use designations rather than prescribed uses—much like in a real city. In turn, market forces guide what ends up getting built. Eckstut cautioned against the pitfalls of large-scale “Renaissance plans,” that guided 20th century urban renewal, and today have influenced heavy-handed development in China. “The issue is creating something that can be implemented over time with many ideas and many innovations,” said Eckstut. “You need to focus on how it will get implemented and how you can create a fabric where things can evolve and change—much like the grid of Manhattan.”

Assembly sits on one side of a 30-foot-tall freight and transit rail line, one of the busiest in the Southeast, and Doraville on the other. Eckstut said connecting the two was important to create a real urban place. He plans to build a 60-foot-wide tunnel beneath 13 active tracks, an expensive feat, to create connections that can also foster density.

“The plans that preceded us all had bridges that went over the tracks,” said Eckstut. The massive approach ramps required for such a structure precluded creating a compact town center. “I realized I could bring a street right under the tracks and meet up with grade. That became the whole scheme.” Eckstut said the street—an extension of Doraville’s civic heart, Park Avenue—will form the framework for the rest of the development. “This is the glue that connects the historical town center with the new 165-acre site,” he said. Perkins Eastman

The City of Doraville, population 8,300, is a 15-mile drive from downtown Atlanta. The suburban enclave is also the last stop on Atlanta’s METRO Gold line rail transit system. Around the station, Stan Eckstut, principal at Perkins Eastman, has designed a “city-within-a-city” on the 165-acre site of a former General Motors assembly plant, adding a heavy dose of transit-oriented walkability that developers at The Integral Group hope can entice city-centric millennials to the city’s fringe.

“It is a city, there’s no question,” Eckstut said of the development, dubbed “Assembly, Doraville, USA.” His master plan design—a mix of about 50-percent public space and 50-percent developable land sandwiched between railroad tracks and an interstate highway—embraces density around the Doraville transit stop, connecting to the city’s historic downtown with an armature of parks that will guide development over the next decade.

perkins eastman

Everywhere within the Assembly development is a five-minute walk away.
Eckstut said streets and public spaces organize development parcels, which are envisioned as fluid land-use designations rather than prescribed uses—much like in a real city. In turn, market forces guide what ends up getting built. Eckstut cautioned against the pitfalls of large-scale “Renaissance plans,” that guided 20th century urban renewal, and today have influenced heavy-handed development in China. “The issue is creating something that can be implemented over time with many ideas and many innovations,” said Eckstut. “You need to focus on how it will get implemented and how you can create a fabric where things can evolve and change—much like the grid of Manhattan.”

Assembly sits on one side of a 30-foot-tall freight and transit rail line, one of the busiest in the Southeast, and Doraville on the other. Eckstut said connecting the two was important to create a real urban place. He plans to build a 60-foot-wide tunnel beneath 13 active tracks, an expensive feat, to create connections that can also foster density.

“The plans that preceded us all had bridges that went over the tracks,” said Eckstut. The massive approach ramps required for such a structure precluded creating a compact town center. “I realized I could bring a street right under the tracks and meet up with grade. That became the whole scheme.” Eckstut said the street—an extension of Doraville’s civic heart, Park Avenue—will form the framework for the rest of the development. “This is the glue that connects the historical town center with the new 165-acre site,” he said.

perkins eastman perkins eastman perkins eastman
The Yards will be the first portion of the plan built.

Just inside, an approximately 1.7-acre “Transit Square” serves as the forecourt to the larger parks system. From here, everything in Assembly is an easy walk. “I drew a circle with a radius of about 1,200 feet—a five minute walk,” said Eckstut. “When you reach a five-minute walk, the world changes—people don’t walk after that.” You can get just about anywhere in Assembly in five minutes, and your walk will always be close by a park.”

Eckstut said that Assembly’s park system is a sustainable machine for the entire neighborhood. “Most large-scale projects today have one major sustainability challenge: keeping stormwater on site,” he said. “The best way of doing that is creating a park system. Wherever you have streets, you’re going to have rain gardens.” Rather than build wide sidewalks, Eckstut hopes these gardens will create a more intimate and vibrant streetscape.

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Around the parks, the city has approved up to 10 million square feet of development governed by form-based codes that call for maintaining a street wall without setbacks for the first 60 feet of height. Eckstut said the tallest buildings around the Transit Square will top out at up to 15 stories, as dictated by the airspace requirements of an adjacent airport.

The first section of the plan to be built is called “The Yards” on the southwest corner of the site, where a spur of the rail line once entered the factory. Eckstut convinced developers to save leftover remnants from the old GM plant to be repurposed as a film studio. Perkins Eastman is also designing a new minimalist loft building with an industrial aesthetic adjacent to the studio. Cottage-like outbuildings will surround the studio and additional offices will fill train cars. Developers plan on breaking ground on The Yards within the next year.

With the master plan complete and approved, each of six distinct neighborhood districts will go through a separate site planning process that goes into more detail about buildings and public space design. The district surrounding Transit Square and including the new underpass will go into planning in the next 18 months. Eckstut said this phase “is very complicated because we have to engage the transit station and the street that goes under. It involves at least a dozen entities.”

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Architects Billing Index

Firms Report Strongest Billing Since Before Recession

PHILADELPHIA (MNI) – U.S. architects are enjoying the fastest growth in billings since before the recession for their work on a range of residential and commercial construction projects, and expect continued growth in coming months, according to company owners and a trade association.

Architecture firms in Los Angeles, New York, and Charlotte, North Carolina said they have hired more people in recent months and expect to hire again to cope with the extra demand from developers of apartment buildings, retail space and in some cases institutional properties like charter schools.

While some companies have at least doubled their billing and the size of their payrolls since the depths of the recession, most said they have work in the pipeline that suggests even stronger revenue in 2015.

“This is really just getting underway,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Association of Architects, in an interview. “We are very much in the early innings of what looks to be a healthy recovery.”

The AIA’s monthly index of billing, which in July showed its strongest growth since mid-2007, is expected to show continued strength when the August index is released on Sept. 24, Baker said.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence that August was off that trend line significantly,” he said.

The industry has seen intermittent growth during the last three or four years so the evidence of a sustained upturn is not yet conclusive but the current increase is the strongest since the recession, Baker said.
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The growth suggests there will be an upturn in non-residential construction spending of around 10% in 2015, Baker said. He attributes the upswing to improving business confidence and better access to capital.

“Businesses are finally at a stage where they are comfortable reinvesting in their facilities, and comfortable that the economic upturn is going to be sustained,” he said. “They are seeing sufficient demand to justify reinvestment.”

The greater availability of financing is allowing the restart of construction projects that stalled several years ago because of a tight credit environment after the recession.

“Financing has begun to ease up a little bit,” Baker said. “Surprisingly strong numbers of firms are saying they are now working on projects that they had begun three or four years ago, but stopped work and now they have come back.”

Even the market for design of institutions such as schools is coming back after a period when it was hurt by a decline in local government tax revenue.

“The last couple of months we have seen very strong numbers on the institutional side, which would suggest that construction activity moving into 2015 will begin to pick up,” Baker said.

The higher demand for institutional work has been seen in New York City where Caples Jefferson Architects is designing schools for both public and private-sector clients, as well as undertaking more work on residential projects.

“There are lots and lots of charter school construction going on right now as well as public construction,” said Sara Caples, president and principal of the firm in Long Island City.

Caples said demand for her firm’s services is at its strongest for at least five years, and that billing in the last few months has been about double its level of a year earlier. And in a sign that billings will growth further, she said she has had a “flood” of requests for proposals in recent months, and is responding to an unusually large number of them.

“We throw out a lot of requests for proposals if we don’t think we have a strong chance, and we’re still putting out a major proposal every week or so, which is just extraordinary,” she said.

Current projects include a 20,000 square-foot charter school in the Bronx, and a 40,000 square-foot charter school plus a 12-unit residential component in Manhattan, she said.

Residential developments are facilitating the construction of associated institutional projects because of the strong retail market in New York, Caples said.

“The market is strong enough that the residential makes it viable to build the six-story school on quite a challenging site,” she said. “The 12 residential units will allow them to pay off the mortgage very rapidly. The residential market seems to be the little engine that’s financing quite a lot of things.”

architecture jobs in nyc
The eight-person firm already is two architects bigger than it was at the start of 2014, and may add more, despite an extremely selective hiring policy, if it takes on just one or two projects, she said.

The growth is being fueled by easier access to finance, which is helping not only to revive dormant projects but to launch new ones, Caples added.

“That’s what’s different about this,” she said. ‘Now, people are actually making new deals with their financiers that haven’t been kicking around forever.”

And she said her firm’s current growth seems to be representative of the market as a whole. “Most of the people that we talk to seem to be experiencing similar patterns,” she said.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, The Housing Studio, an architecture firm specializing in multi-family housing projects around the East Coast between Philadelphia and Charlotte, and in the Denver, Colorado area, is seeing an “explosion” in growth, said President Chuck Travis.

He said the company is billing about $3 million annually or more than three times the level during the recession. Its 28-strong work force is now about twice its traditional size, and four times its level at the low point of the recession. Travis said he’s looking to hire four or five more architects.

Travis said the growth is unprecedented in the company’s 18-year history. “It’s exponential growth in a two-year time frame,” he said.

He attributed the upswing to increased demand for rental housing in the walkable or transit-oriented urban areas that are favored by the “millennial” workers who eagerly sought by developers across the country.

That sector of the population is less interested in housing as an investment than was the previous generation, and prefers the flexibility of rented accommodation, he said, predicting continued growth.

“We’re not showing any signs of slowing down,” he said.

The demand for downtown living is also being seen in a three-square-mile area of Los Angeles, where 6,000 residential units are under construction and another 14,000-16,000 units are being planned, according to Simon Ha, a partner with TSK Architects.

That is creating more work for firms like TSK which is billing 30% more than it did a year ago, and has hired four architects this year for a total of 10, Ha said. And demand is stronger than it was in the pre-recession years of 2006-2007.

The construction boom, which he said is being fueled by investment from China, has resulted in land prices in the downtown area jumping to around $400 a square foot from $250-$300 two years ago. Land near LA’s Staples Center is now selling for about $600 a square foot, or about double its level two years ago, he said.

With a booming population of single people demanding housing in previously desolate urban areas like downtown LA, there are big opportunities for companies like TSK which has increased its billing for residential design to 70% of its total, Ha said.

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New Jet Age Design

New Jet Age Design

new jet age designDubai International Airport has surpassed Heathrow as the world’s busiest global hub, while three Gulf airlines—Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad—are scooping up passengers. Boarding a lavishly appointed Airbus A380 at Dubai’s $4.5 billion Terminal 3, Graham Boynton examines the tectonic shift in aviation that threatens to leave the West’s cramped, bare-bones carriers in the dust.

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In the spirit of the Olympics

New York City architecture in 2013:  The great and the not-so-great

In the spirit of the Olympics, here are our three favorite projects from 2013 — plus one that didn’t stick the landing.

A toast to 4 World Trade Center, Sunset Park’s new recycling center and Walker Tower, plus a hard look at Prospect Park’s new skating center.

This seems like a stretch to tie in architecture criticism to the Olympics, but it did get me to read the post by Matt Chaban of the Daily News.  He brings his critique to a pedestrian level in my opinion, which is probably why I don’t know him as an architecture critic – that’s just my opinion. Do you agree with Matt’s Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medal projects? Do you have your own medals you would like to award?

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Gold medal
4 World Trade Center

It may not be the biggest building on the 16-acre site, nor the boldest, but it is certainly the most beautiful — a quiet, dignified tower that honors its sacred home. Using simple geometries, Japanese master architect Fumihiko Maki put a notched parallelogram atop a trapezoid and covered the whole thing in a crystalline glass sheath. The result is a solemn sentinel watching over the site.

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Silver medal
Sims recycling center

Annabelle Selldorf is best known for designing Fifth Ave. boutiques, Chelsea galleries and luxury apartments. And now a recycling plant in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (below). The firm used standard prefabricated beams and modules to create the hangar-like structure on the harbor. The surprisingly sleek industrial facility shows that simple components and a clever hand can achieve great results.

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Bronze medal
Walker Tower

There’s a reason the wealthy and celebs like Cameron Diaz have been flocking to Walker Tower (right). Take a neglected art deco telephone exchange towering over Chelsea, gut it and turn it into a modern throwback. Period details and newfangled accessories are expensive, which explains why the penthouse is in contact for $50.9 million, a downtown record.

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Dishonorable mention
Lakeside skating center

A good effort by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, but the new skating center in Prospect Park (right) is more of an unpolished diamond — nice rinks, but utterly lacking in necessities like changing rooms and benches for hockey. We can only hope the problems will be addressed.  By Matt Chaban

My Medal Picks are more simpatico with these projects

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