Urban Agriculture and Organic Architecture

RBUFW Classroom building, view looking south from the entry path (architectural rendering) RBUFW Classroom Building

We've been on an intense push the last few weeks to develop a schematic design for the new Classroom Building at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands (RBUFW). We're incredibly excited that Seattle Parks and Seattle Tilth were able to compress a two-phase master plan into a single project, but the result has been a very aggressive schedule for the design phase!

For  inspiration, we've been looking at pragmatic agricultural structures, both the simple closed forms of storage sheds and more "prismatic" shapes of greenhouses and barns. Greenhouses are particularly intriguing in the way the inside reveals a complicated structure and interior volume that is barely suggested by their taut and simple exterior form.

Greenhouse interior & exterior images

Sited to preserve the maximum agricultural land, the Classroom Building is nestled into a hillside along the east edge of the property. Three closed "boxes" containing support functions are slotted into the hillside, with the open space between accommodating the classroom and a grove of existing trees.

RBUFW Classroom Building Floor Plan

Above the boxes, a pair of elevated canopies create the primary function spaces and extend out over the pathway to provide plenty of covered outdoor space.


RBUFW Classroom Building, view from the SW (architectural rendering)

From the outside, these canopies appear as simple translucent volumes, but the inside reveals vaulted space, filtered sunlight and expressive structure. We've taken inspiration from architects such as MW Works and VJAA who accept the construction techniques of industrial space-making, but turn around and use those conventional materials in a very refined and thoughtful manner.

RBUFW classroom building, view under main porch (architectural rendering)

RBUFW classroom building, interior view (architectural rendering)


More media about RBUFW:

Seattle Magazine "On the Urban Farm"

Seattle's Child "Urban Farms Grow Healthy Eaters"

The Seattle Times "An Urban Farm Helps Immigrants from East Africa Settle in Seattle"


IMG_4149 We had a fantastic turn out for the Sand Point Elementary Earth-day work party this past weekend. A special thanks to Loren Yaguchi and all the folks from Abbott Construction's special projects group for donating materials, shop time, and a whole lot of can do to make the benches we designed become a fantastic kit of parts for the community to assemble!



30 new stacking benches for the outdoor classroom fully assembled - a testament to the prep of the folks a Abbott Construction and all the volunteers who turned out to work on our local public school!


Thank you to Carter Capps, pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and Taylor Graham, defender for the Sounders FC for signing autographs and helping with our projects!

DSC_2641 copy

Richard Swann author of “Our School Garden” putting the newly assembled benches for the outdoor classroom to good use!





Mark your calendars! The Andersons Residence, a 4 star Built Green home, will be open to the public for touring as part of Northwest Eco Building Guild Green Home Tour on April 27th.

The Anderson residence is a Built Green renovation, addition and transformation of an existing single family home. The plan opened, simplified and streamlined the existing first floor in addition to adding a new second story to provide much needed space for a growing family.


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Rainier Beach Urban Farm--Community Meeting

If you are interested in urban agriculture and would like to share your ideas to shape the Rainier Beach Urban Farm, please join us Saturday, July 28th from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm for an open event to discuss the project!  Stay for the community picnic or just get your hands dirty during the drop-in work party every Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm.


Rainier Beach Urban Farm

In collaboration with Seattle Tilth, the Friends of R.B.U.F.W., and the Berger Partnership, CAST will be designing an urban farm in Seattle.  The site is a former municipal nursery in Rainier Beach--10 acres of mostly wetland with some hoop houses at the north end.  We'll be undertaking the challenge to not only make a model for urban agriculture, we'll also be greatly increasing the ecological function of the wetlands.

This project is in one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation, and we'll be involving the community to shape the design, as well as creating facilities for small scale commercial farmers, entrepreneurs, and other programs such as Seattle Youth Garden Works.  The hope is to make a community hub centered on growing and sharing food.

The first community design meeting is June 19th on site (time TBD).  Please come and share your vision with us!

Urban Intervention at the Seattle Center-- a vision for the next fifty years

In collaboration with the Berger Partnership ,Via Architecture, and Rushing, we put together a competition proposal for the replacement of Memorial Stadium and a new vision for the Center as a whole.

The design is an organic and topographic intervention that flows through the Center and surrounding neighborhoods, creating new connections, opportunities for new programs, and experiences at the Center. It creates a dense, flexible fabric stitched together with multi-modal transit to bring in new audiences, local/daily users, and new amenities for regional visitors.

Some of the important features:


Right now the Center acts as an island in the city, but should be a hub linking neighborhoods rather than separating them. To that end, we're showing a linkage through the Bay to Lake trail, a transit center with bus, Rapid Ride, sub grade parking, and a new loop of the streetcar. The northern edge, bounded by Mercer will have a new lid park to bring in foot/bike traffic from Queen Anne and a plaza at the corner of Mercer and 5th. Broad Street becomes a greenway linking to SAM Sculpture Park to Lake Union. In effect, it's location makes it an ideal 'transit oriented park' to draw Seattleites to and through the Center.

Layered landscape:

The new topography defines the Center Green, an organic open space at the heart that spills out in all directions. Memorial Stadium is replaced by a field with a 'kop' style hill as seating, perfect for multi-use such as a musical performance space.  From 5th, the landscape opens up for a vista to the International Fountain. Underneath the Center Green, we have a series of public event spaces, storefronts for fringe/alternative cultural institutions to colocate and share resources, layers of parking, and finally a grid of ground source heat pumps to lessen energy use for the Center overall.

We didn't stop at the boundaries of the original 9 acre site, but extended the idea to carve out new access from Uptown and the meandering pathways that run through the Center Green terminate at a bridge to the apex of Key Arena--a great new public view point to downtown and the Sound.

Expressive Environmental Infrastructure:

Beyond Seattle 2030, the design begins to illustrate the path toward making the world's first Living Building District. The goal is to create a beneficial closed loop system for using on site resources and expressing the infrastructure so visitors can see, understand, and take the lessons of sustainability home. Floating above the landscape, there is a layer of solar canopy (about 150K SF) to generate energy for the spaces on the 9 acre site. We also did a first pass on other locations for solar throughout the Center, and could easily add twice that amount on existing roofs and walls of other center buildings. The draped landscape collects storm water and purifies it through a series of rain gardens and native landscape.

The Center as a cultural incubator:

We're also proposing a mix of new, smaller multi use spaces to support the growth of new cultural generators, like SIFF and KEXP.  Tucked under the knoll overlooking the performance/field, we are proposing a new multi-use performance/community space which can be configured like the Center's Northwest Rooms or opened up for larger events. At the corner of Mercer and 5th, we've opened up a new urban plaza that acts as both a local Queen Anne gateway and spill out space for the community space and cultural incubators.

Although we were not selected as a finalist for the competition, I think we put together a very forward looking, connective, and sustainable solution which would do the city proud.

Special thanks to Studio 216 for the help with the renderings!

Seattle Center Urban Intervention competition-sneak peak

Soon we'll be able to post our design concept for the revitalization of the Seattle Center, as part of the Urban Intervention competition, but here is a little sneak peak:

Once they announce the finalists, we'll be able to release the full content of our proposal, as well and give full credit to all the great collaborators we worked with.


Urban Olympic reboot

We've been investigating what the Urban Olympic project would look like as an 27 unit apartment building.  One potentially excited twist on the building is that we have split the bulk into two volumes with a 18' wide courtyard atrium.  The atrium and circulation are exterior, so we can apply another 2000 S.F.for an extra 3 units and still come in under the FAR limit.

We also did a first run at some energy modeling, using Archicad's EcoDesigner program, and feel that given the bulk it would be fairly straight forward to achieve the Passive House standard, but the return on investment is better if we design to the envelop to Washington State Energy Code, add solar hot water, switch the lighting to LEDs, and add an ERV.


Future Shack 2011

Join us tonight at Future Shack 2011 for another evening of great dialogue about houses.  Last year I participated in the 'Speed-Date'---seven minutes to lay out the project and have a design brainstorm, then on to the next architect.  It was a blast, and this year Tim will be sitting in for me. After Speed Date Design, there will be a presentation of innovative ideas in housing.

Our entry, Urban Olympic, is a nine unit townhouse complex designed to use 90% less energy that typical code compliance housing.  See our entries over the last few years : 2011, 2009

It is at Fisher Pavillion in the Seattle Center, starting at 5 pm.

Alternate views of the Passive House conference in Olympia, March 18

Stefan and I attended a conference put on by Passive House Northwest at Evergreen State College on Friday and I feel like we got a bit more of the nuance of the standard, understanding of more of the nerdy building science, as well as a chance to look at first hand some of new projects being brought to the US market. A little more background: Passive House is a concept developed by the PassiveHaus Institute in Germany.  They developed the tools that are used to model performance, and do the training and certification of Passive House consultants.  While there are about 30,000 PH projects worldwide, the US rollout has led to a few complications.

First, within the name, there are two inherent misconceptions:  that they are passive solar houses, and that it is a strategy for houses (since the direct german translation for haus would be 'building' , it's easy to overlook the impact on larger institutional and commercial projects).

Second, the Passive House standard was developed in Germany, and there are concerns that it doesn't address other climates.  In very cold climates, for example, the PH standard would call for an impractical amount of insulation, while in hotter areas, a code compliant house with an interior air seal might make the cut.

Third, the software is a black box, and as one conference goer pointed out, the Northwest is home to a lot of DIY building science 'rogues' who want to see into the box, fiddle and tweak the system to optimize it for our climate. It's a bit of a culture clash manifesting itself in the black box/open source conversation. Plus it is proprietary, so I feel a little bit of the same resistance I have to LEED and the USGBC.

Fourth, the spent energy metric is based on an area measurement.  Since the US first adopters are building houses, and on the small side, the bar is pretty high because the same energy hogs populate big and small homes alike.  Joe Giampetro has recently finished his 'Mini-B' passive house--essentially a small DADU, so it can be done, but there is no inherent reward for building not so big.

The flip side of the argument would be that we shouldn't be building single family detached at all.  Urban Olympic, our multifamily Passive House, seen in the prior post, will be an excellent data point to compare how the overall size of the building affects the energy model's performance and cost of construction.

All in all, if you are a building science nerd, I'd recommend the next event, scheduled for June 17th.  Regardless of your commitment to green building, the underlying idea is powerful, and will have a big impact on the industry over the next 20 years.

On the Boards: Urban Olympic Passive House

Urban Olympic multifamily Passive House Urban Olympic is a community of 9 townhouses, and will  mark a couple of firsts for us:  our first Passive House project and also our first project under the new Seattle multifamily code.

Passive House is a rigorous green building standard focused on exclusively on energy consumption, energy efficiency and air quality. They are super insulated, almost airtight, and therefore need very little energy input to heat (up to a 90% reduction of the energy used by a typical code compliant house).  The heat from equipment, people and lighting retained within the insulated building envelope essentially replaces the furnace/boiler as the primary heat source. Fresh air is conditioned through a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) with the exhausted air.  Although solar gain does factor into the equation, Passive Houses are not passive solar houses.

Urban Olympic, to my knowledge, will be the first multifamily Passive House in the United States.

Phinney Ridge Home Fair

2011 Phinney Ridge Home Fair Join CAST and 89 other exhibitors at the Phinney Ridge Home Fair!  Always a good time to pick the experts' brains about whatever home improvement issue you may be having.  Plus, there is a special emphasis on green companies and services, including landscaping, solar tech, 'passive house' (super insulated/energy efficient construction--not 'passive solar')

See you there!

Green Home Design Tour - Fremont Town Homes

Fremont Town Homes - Green House Tour The Fremont Town Homes completed last year are going to be on a green design tour hosted by Mark Mays of ecohome seattle. This is a great opportunity to get inside and kick the tires of some really interesting sustainably minded projects.

For more information see Mark's annoucnment below or contact him directly at Mark Mays 425.280.4223. Follow this link for a list of all the addresses and an option to view them on a map, or cick through to view the invite in its entirety.

Greetings Green Home Tourists!

Here are the final four selections for the Green Home Tour this Sunday starting at 1pm at Martha Rose’ Fish Singer Place development in Shoreline. The address is 433 Fish Singer Place with access from Dayton Ave N., just a couple houses south of N. 160th just up the hill from Sears and Central Market on Hwy 99. We will spend 45-60 minutes at Fish Singer as there is so much to see and Martha will be there to help explain the green features and systems. The site development is amazing with many eco-friendly functions along with the great aesthetics.

We can carpool or caravan to the next homes on the tour. For those that asked, there is no charge for the tour. We are fairly passionate about green homes and are happy to share the passion with others. Of course we are happy to provide real estate services for those that would like us to provide them, but this is all about seeing, learning and appreciating the fantastic work these architects and builders have done in their green home implementations without a bunch of sales hype.

The second home is a green remodel just a few blocks from the Phinney Center. This is one of the best Built Green remodels I’ve seen in terms of staying within the character of the original design as well as the neighborhood, and the quality of craftsmanship, materials and green systems is fairly rare compared to many of the green remodels I’ve seen.The architect was Amy Williams with Blue Canyon Construction as the contractor. I’m supposed to be getting a copy of the checklist so we can know more about what is behind the walls and under the floors that would demonstrate a good green home design.

Home #2 on the map is a Four Star Built Green home that has many green features and systems which you will already have seen at Fish Singer, but this is definitely one of the better infill townhomes I’ve seen with tight energy envelope, plumbed for solar hot water, great daylighting, nice choice of materials and great feng shui. This home was designed by Stefan Hampden at Cast Architecture and was presented at last year’s NW EcoBuilders Guild 10x10x10 event.

The last home on the tour is in a high density luxury home development, but really it is not so ostentatious like the Street of Dreams green homes with massive square footage. I’m sure the pricing has more to do with the location and views, but the unique geothermal system along with the overall energy efficiency design, choice of green materials,and high quality craftsmanship definitely makes this home worth seeing. The listing broker will be available to answer detailed questions about the home.

Here is the NWMLS link if you’d like to get more details about the homes and preview some pictures.

Click the following URL to see the Listings:

<<...>> Look forward to seeing everyone Sunday and feel free to pass this email on to anyone else you think might be interested.

Mark Mays Real Estate Broker LEED Green Associate CHAMPIONS REAL ESTATE SERVICES 525 5th Ave S. Suite 100 Edmonds, WA 98020 Cell: 425-280-4223 Fax: 206-905-0810

Washington Park Arboretum's new Visitor's Center

Arboretum Visitor Center-North Gateway I have been collaborating with Susan Black and Associates to formulate a vision for the expansion of the Washington Park Arboretum facilities, as part of the SR 520 replacement and the demolition of the highway ramps that currently dominate the north end of the Park.

With this project, we are proposing a " new gateway structure to orient visitors, provide space for general services and curation/collection exhibits, and fulfill many of the aims of the 2001 Master Plan.  As conceptualized, the development respects the history of the site and reclaims the altered landscape to natural, healthy conditions.  It will provide organization, orientation, and education for visitors as a means to explore the greater Arboretum.

view of entry plaza-Washington Park Arboretum Visitor Center North Gateway

As a gateway, the design will put visitors in the frame of mind for the study and enjoyment of the Park.  Balancing educational needs and recreation activities as functions that informally overlap and inform each other, the facility welcomes both types of visitor and enfolds them in the living greenness of the Arboretum/Lake Washington edge environment.  The building concept blends with the naturalistic organization of the site with minimal visual impact and performs as a closed loop system with regard to energy and water, using only resources collected on site.  The concept also enhances the connectivity to the adjacent neighborhood and trail system and welcomes pedestrian and bike traffic.


The buildings are gently folded into a rolling wetland rise like leaves blown in on the wind.  The roofs are gently articulated to provide shelter and solar access.  Rammed earth walls announce the gateway yet continue uninterupted through the glass to become an integral part of the ambiance of the facility.  Glass walls provide an invisible barrier to the surrounding landscape during the day.  In the evening, light from the buildings spills out onto grounds muted by the vegetation foliage.

Washington Park Arboretum Visitor Center North Gateway

Retaining a small remnant of the “flyover” bridge allows for the development of an elevated promenade for the establishment of a “pier garden”.  The pier would be planted in a series of linear landscapes culminating in an overlook of the southern waterway of the Mountlake Cut.  The pier garden provides the visitor a new perspective of the northern limits of the Arboretum, Foster Island and the day-lighted Arboretum Creek." (from the Concept Plan)

Ideally, the building will be designed to the standards of the Living Building Challenge.  I've anticipated about 75kW of photovoltaics on the roof, plus a ground source heat pump for building climate control, harvesting all rain water for the building's use and to irrigate the demonstration gardens.

We've only just put this out into the public sphere for comments, and I can imagine that we'll have some lively discussions about how a modern structure fits within the Olmsteadian structure of the park.  I ultimately think that the contemporary architecture will best serve the Foundation, rather than grafting high performance energy and sustainable systems onto something that is overtly historicist.   The Washington Park Arboretum can look both both into its own history and the future to chart a path for success in it's second century.

Renderings courtesy of Lambert Design Studio

10x10x10 Green Building Slam wrap up

The Guild gathers to honor innovative projects

Friday's nights Green Building Slam was a big success. The Guild packed the auditorium in the Central Library and was, dare I say, raucous?  There was a lot of energy in the room and the enthusiasm was palpable.  I wanted to highlight a couple of trends that we saw in multiple projects.

Matt presenting the Sunset Substation Park

1.  Passive houses--super insulated, airtight buildings that consequently use very little energy to heat (a hair dryer or toaster would do the trick).

Projects ranged from Joe Giampietro's Mini B house , Jim Burton's Backyard Box, and Dan Whitmore's house.  There are a lot of people working on the details, and trying out innovative strategies for meeting the rigorous standards, like the .6 air changes per hour (Joe's was .58ACH and Dan's measured .41 ACH).  Here is a blog about passive houses--Existing Resources.

2.  Beyond Passive Houses specifically, there was a drive for measuring building performance using blower door tests, thermal imaging, etc.  The point was made  that the real time feedback is a great learning and teaching tool for both the designers and the craftspeople, linking the attention to detail required at all phases of construction to execute a high performance building with regards to energy usage.

3.  Waste stream minimization:

Two projects highlighted efforts to reduce construction waste: Bastyr University housing, and Walsh Construction's Salishan redevelopment.  The Salishan project was especially notable, not only for the context, an affordable housing project with upwards of 100 units, but because they put in place a system of labled dumpsters to sort all the construction waste--down to just one unrecyclable dumpster load over the project's construction.

I had a great time, first presenting the Sunset Substation Park, and second, learning about what other like minded companies are working on in our region.

CAST presenting at the NW Ecobuilding Guild's 10X10X10

I'll be presenting the Sunset Substation Park to the NW Ecobuilding Guild at their annual "green building slam," 10x10x10. It's "a high-energy introduction to ten cutting-edge sustainable building projects in and around Seattle...featuring fast-paced presentations by the region's leading green builders and delicious food and drink."

This marks our second year in a row presenting (last year, we showed off the Fremont Townhomes)!


beam-ends Kate and Ric have begun construction on their backyard cottage... They have been working hard the last few weeks and have enlisted the help of a few friends and colleagues along the way. A few key players have been helping guide us through the process:

  • Rusty Borromeo of Borromeo Construction LLC is providing his general contractor and construction expertise
  • James Jenkins of O'Brien & Company is contributing his green building knowledge and will be our Built Green Verifier  - we are aiming for 5 star Built Green certification
  • Cory Fraser of LFD Structural Engineering LLC provided the calculations and engineering for our plan set

Ric has been doing a wonderful job of photographing the process and has put together a few galleries of the construction process thus far (all images in this post are © 2010 Ric Cochrane). He has also agreed to write up a blog post on the experience thus far - so stay tuned for that!

DECONSTRUCTION GALLERY An existing shed (that was a bit worse for wear) was painstakingly deconstructed and all reusable and recyclable materials were sorted and stacked deconstruction

LABOR OF LOVE - THE FOUNDATION Digging in the dirt and other fun activities - the true definition of 'sweat equity!' slab

LUMBER FROM THE BONE-YARD Salvaged beams, columns and decking are being purchased from Bruce Borjesson of Pacific Resources boneyard