Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Green Condos: Proving You Right or Wrong?

Is your opinion that spending time and money building sustainable, "green" condos is a risk that further compounds an already dangerous investment, or is it a perfect differentiation in a market of commodity that will lead your project to success?

Check out this video about one of the greenest residential buildings in NYC, The Visionaire, also previously featured on Inside the Brackets here and see what you think.

Video from McGraw-Hill

It should be pointed out that despite all of the 2008-2009 economic headwinds, The Visionaire sales team reports great results in this article by John Gittelsohn.
"Starwood is the majority investor in the Visionaire, a $300 million, 35-story apartment building that opened in October 2008. Apartments there have been selling at a pace of more than one per week, with six units closing in November, said Christopher Albanese, principal of the Albanese Organization that developed the project.
'In this market, selling more than one a week is
like hotcakes,' he said. Almost 60 percent of the Visionaire’s 250 apartments
have been sold, Albanese said."
Perhaps this is further evidence that well-designed, well-built, sustainable, and correctly priced units will vindicate a development strategy that may look riskier upfront because it is different from the norm. This is Albanese's third green residential tower in NYC, so clearly they believe they are onto something good.

Andrew C. Wilson, AIA, LEED AP is a Principal at [1016] Architecture in Chicago and New York. Contact him to discuss sustainable, infill development opportunities in either of these cities.

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Wrightwood Crossing: Progress Update 2

Construction continues at a healthy clip over at Wrightwood Crossing, a GCorp Development project and [1016] Architecture design. This project is LEED registered with the certification goal of Platinum.

The activity is attracting attention in a neighborhood that otherwise has few projects under development at this time, and was recently featured on the blog ChiTown Living in a post called Wrightwood Crossing Rises.

Despite being a 19-unit building, efforts were made to ensure that the street frontage of the building fit the scale of the neighborhood. From the front, only the two and a half stories shown here will be visible. The third floor and penthouse levels will be set well back from this wall.
The deep site will be well landscaped with native plants and trees along this long side. The corners of the building (now empty) will be high-performance window walls for floor-to-ceiling views.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So, You Want to Find an Architecture Job: 12+ Tips

If you're looking for an architecture job in today's tough market, chances are good that following some of these tips will help you stand out and get a better than average shot at landing one of the few positions available.

These tips come from experience of being both an potential employee and a small firm potential employer. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, especially if you have any additional tips.

Reality Check:
The majority of architecture firms are small businesses which don't have the ability to staff full time HR departments or hiring directors. This means that chances are good that the person who reviews your incoming cover letter and resume will have little time to do so, and will probably not have a formal system for keeping track of your attempts to get their attention. Think of the following tips as making this person's job as easy as possible.

Sending out resumes:
Sending out unsolicited resumes is time consuming and daunting. If you Staying organized about the task is the only way to avoid spending too much time with this activity.

5+ Tips for Sending out Resumes Electronically:
  1. Show you're not a spammer: Personalize the body of the email with a short indication that shows you reviewed the firm's website or otherwise makes clear that you are not copy-pasting and blasting 500 firms at once. 2-3 sentences will suffice.
  2. What a body!: Don't be afraid to include more information than not in the body of your email. You should include an attachment (see below), but it's better to get all important info in the body of the email (text only); this includes resume information.
  3. Keep it simple: Number of attachments: One. It is better to include all the info that you want to send in one file, rather than many. Sometimes this might not be possible, but remember: It is easier for a potential employer to scroll down through several pages than open multiple files, and getting them to open one file is a victory on your part. Send Adobe Acrobat files (.pdf) only, as this insures formatting will be retained and all of your superior aesthetic effort will not go to waste.
  4. Contents of attachments: Cover letter is great to include, but should be basically redundant to the letter in the body of the email. A one- or two-page formatted resume should follow the cover letter, and one or two pages of work samples with some brief text explaining the projects.
  5. Follow up!: Send out the info as described above, wait two weeks, and follow up with your targeted firm again, even if you don't hear back from them. The impact of this step is enormous, because it places you in a small, organized minority of job seekers who are organized enough to accomplish this task. Your follow up email should contain specific questions that might elicit a response or helpful feedback.
  6. BONUS TIP: huge attachments (+5MB) are generally a bad idea.
Your Portfolio:
Your full portfolio is what you would take on an interview, and is different from the selected works page(s) which can be easily distributed electronically.

3 Tips for your Interview Portfolio:
  1. Breadth of work is more important than bulk of work. In other words, highlight the full range of building types, sizes, geographic locations, and computer programs within your experience, rather than overloading with a bunch of very similar projects or drawings.
  2. Know something interesting to say about every drawing or project in your portfolio. This will allow you to focus the attention of the interviewer on a strength you want them to notice.
  3. Showing working drawings in a portfolio is okay, even better if it is accompanied by a design sketch or drawings from other phases of the design process.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 70% of all job hires are based on a networking connection. The importance of online and face-to-face networking cannot be overstated, even if you are following all of the tips above.

Check out this cheat sheet (.pdf) from for 20 Tips on Networking.

The following networking tips, which are not on the Careerspots list, are also useful:
  1. Network with your fellow alumni: alumni events in your area is one of the top recommendations not on the list.
  2. Attend events that are not necessarily business related, but approach them as a way to meet people and potentially expand your professional network. It is important to know professionals outside of architecture.
  3. Be open-minded: Don't judge people too quickly based on the answers to just a few questions. You may find yourself doing this after going to about four meetings and feeling like you're not getting anywhere.
  4. Be helpful: You are more likely to experience success when you start to think of things from the other person's perspective. Don't be afraid to lead with the question, "How do you think I could help you?"

Andrew C. Wilson, AIA, LEED AP is a Principal at [1016] Architecture in Chicago and New York. Contact him for networking opportunities in either of these cities.

[1016] Architecture is ready. Are you?
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Monday, November 9, 2009

Wrightwood Crossing: Construction Progress

Wrightwood Crossing construction progress continues. First floor concrete plank is set, foundation is backfilled, and columns shown will support the second floor. Masons have begun laying the stone base which will eventually circle the whole building. Nothing too glamorous yet, but any construction activity in this environment is good news.

Speaking of news: the project was recently featured by, a leading website featuring green and sustainable architecture in the Chicago area. Click the link to the full article, "Wrightwood Crossing Adds a Green Touch to Lincoln Park," by Shafaq Choudry.

Caution tape, not a crime scene.

View from Northwest corner of front property line.

Rendering of final building. (Image by Studio 2a)

Wrightwood Crossing, a [1016] Architecture design, is LEED Registered with the certification goal of Platinum. The first group of the 19 overall units are scheduled for delivery in Spring 2010.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remodeling or Building? The Time May Be Now.


It might not be a newsflash, but the construction industry is slow, and the Wall Street Journal points out that you might be able to get more for your renovation or construction dollar now.

The article includes some good tips for saving money on your renovation or build. While most of these ideas will save you money in any market, the current climate may yield especially low prices and high values:

  1. Get multiple bids
  2. Don't select on price alone, check with the Better Business Bureau and references, and be wary of bids that are "too low."
  3. Confirm that the builder has experience with your project type, i.e. compared to new construction, renovation is a different animal
  4. Ask for a discount, but be prepared for a "no"
  5. Apply for available tax credits, especially for energy efficient improvements

Be aware that the biggest hurdle your project will face in the current economy is financing. Determining a realistic budget upfront is paramount.

Despite the slowdown, the best designers and builders may not be discounting prices much or at all. This does not mean you are not getting a value from them at this time; think: exceptional quality and attention. During the boom, a firm might have tackled a dozen (or more) jobs at once, but now they may only have a couple. This means, when you call or ask questions, you will be heard.

If you are unsure of the steps you need to take, the best place to start might be to speak to an architect or designer. Their network and connections should help you navigate your project successfully.

For more information on available Energy Efficient Tax Credits: click here.

Andrew C. Wilson is an architect licensed in Illinois and New York, a LEED accredited professional, and principal of [1016] Architecture in Chicago.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Combining Architecture and Real Estate Services

Finding and Renovating a Dream Home: A Case Study

About six months ago, while in the middle of a search for a new Chicago home, a (then potential) client approached [1016] Architecture principal Josh Canale, concerned about the quality of service he was experiencing from his buyer's agent.

Josh offered some house hunting tips from an architect's perspective, such as these and these, and the client nodded and said thanks.

Apparently, frustration continued to mount, because after several weeks, the client contacted [1016] again, this time for real help. The services and advantages that this client experienced with us en route to a dream home show the value of [1016]'s full service model, including:
  • Representation in the buying process by [1016] Principal Josh Canale, a licensed real estate agent with Chicago architecture, building code, and zoning ordinance expertise
  • Full market data research support via our collaboration with Jameson Real Estate
  • On site design collaborations allowing the client to envision what each potential property could become, rather than being bogged down by what it was
  • Increased leverage at the negotiating table due to full knowledge of code and zoning issued of desired improvements
  • Multiple offer negotiation assistance
  • Closing administration and assistance
  • Documentation and measurement of existing conditions of purchased real estate
  • Execution of design and permit drawings including client design review packages, sign offs, and professional certifications
  • Acquisition and expedition of required building permits via City Hall
  • Recommendation of multiple, qualified General Contractors for the renovation work
  • Pricing evaluation and negotiation with various contractors, ensuring maximum value for the rehab expenses
  • Potential discounted building supplies via [1016]'s trade relationships with well-known suppliers resulting in further savings
  • Construction observation service to help make sure the design is executed correctly
In short, we helped the client obtain a "not-quite-perfect" condo in a great location at a great price, then, with the vision for the property already discussed, assisted with the execution of the renovations to make it exactly what the client wanted. This particular property wasn't in need of as much work as a Chicago fixer-upper or foreclosure, but we can help with those, too.

For this busy client, the continuity of a single point-of-contact and combined [1016] real estate/architecture expertise provided value in addition to straight discounts via negotiation and trade pricing. [1016]'s interest in the overall success of the project, including quality, budget, and schedule, did not end at the closing table like a typical real estate agent: we serve our clients to the end of construction.

For private clients and potential real estate investors, [1016] is more than just another architecture company, and Josh Canale is more than a typical real estate agent. Better service on both fronts comes by combining expertise.

Even if you don't require of all of the services in this case study, you can benefit by contacting [1016] Architecture to discuss your project, or fill out our contact form.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicago Home Prices: A Moody Crystal Ball

Want to look into the future of home prices in Chicago? From

"Moody's provided Forbes with a housing price forecast for the country's 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas (or metros)--geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for use in collecting statistics. The forecast predicts the percent change in home prices over one year, three years and five years, using data from the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. In the MSAs for which Case Schiller does not publish numbers, Moody's used a weighted average of metropolitan divisions within those areas.

Chicago, IL

Percentage Change:

1 Year, 2009: -16.31%

3 Year, 2009-2012: 1.49%

5 Year, 2009-2014: 14%"

Full Forbes story: click here.

So, on a metro area level, this calculation estimates that it will take five years for median home prices to get back to January 1, 2009 levels. Doesn't really sound exciting, but this is a macro indicator. Obviously, each property needs to be considered independently within this context. If you are in the market, your buyer's agent should be able to help you determine this. Check out this article with our Top Five Tips for selecting a buyers agent, if you aren't working with one already.

Price vs. Value
More importantly than price, however, is value. In other words: is any given purchase a good deal? or: Is the Chicago market still overheated?

Inside the Brackets believes the best way to understand housing market value is relative to median income (HP/MI ratio). This ratio tracks the comparison of housing prices in a given area to how much people typically earn there. Each area has a historical norm, and some are more stable than others. Especially when compared with other large metro areas, Chicago's historic ratio has been relatively consistent, with little volatility.

According to the New York Times, Chicago's historic norm for housing costs around 2.0 times median income. As of April 2009, this ratio sat at 2.5 according to this Interactive graph. The exact numbers are of relatively minor importance, the true meaning of the stat is the ratio.

What does this mean?
With an HP/MI at 2.5 in April, this meant housing prices would have to fall about 25% to get back to historic value levels (assuming negliegable income growth). If prices "only" fall the Moody's projected 16% this year, it means housing (in aggregate) still will not be as affordable as it usually is in Chicago.

So, even though Moody's projects a market price bottom in the next 12-24 months, value indicators like HP/MI may still indicate that prices are a little high historically. This only serves to reinforce the importance of evaluating the individual property and opportunity it presents within the market. In other words, even though prices are down, you can't just pick a house at random and get a great deal (a/k/a value).

What can you do?
During times like this, people who make careful purchases will come out ahead in the long-term. People who make careful purchases, as well as careful improvements to a property, will come out well ahead.
  1. Get a buyer's agent who knows your market to help you determine a home's real value.
  2. Invest wisely in properties where you can add value via appropriate improvements.
  3. Keep in mind that even though it's a buyers' market, it's still not like shooting fish in a barrel.

[1016] Architecture is ready. Are you?

Architecture and Real Estate

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On the River 2009

Last month, [1016] Architecture was one of many great sponsors of On the River 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was a huge party thrown on a riverfront urban lot which was converted into a beach by 18 truck loads of sand. This year, over 3,000 people attended, and all proceeds benefitted the South Bend Center for the Homeless.
Check out some of Matt Cashore's photos of the festivities and consider attending this great event next year.

[1016] Architecture is ready. Are you?

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

New [1016] Website

The newly redesigned [1016] Architecture website was launched today.

Check it out: [1016] Architecture

The new site was built around the following four goals:
  1. Make it easier for all visitors to understand the client types we serve
  2. Make it easier for potential clients to discover if we have services that fit their needs
  3. Stress the value of integrated real estate and architectural services
  4. Facilitate simple, free consultations and project inquiries
Let us know how we did. Comment below or send us an email.

[1016] Architecture is ready.
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Monday, August 31, 2009

How to Find a Buyer's Agent: Top 5 tips

If you are shopping for real estate in today's market you can and should expect more from the real estate agent (or Realtor®) helping you shop. Trust us, there are plenty of agents that would love to have your business. Don't just settle.

These are Inside the Brackets' top 5 tips for selecting a buyer's agent.

#5: Don't pick the first agent that avails his/herself:
It may seem simple, but it is important to understand that you are not obligated to work with the first real estate agent that reaches out to you, especially if you are like 80% of shoppers that start their search on their own on the internet (and we know you are). Inside the Brackets recently spoke with a house-hunting couple that used the internet to find a property they were very interested in putting a bid in on, and then scheduled a showing by clicking on an agent link on the internet listing page (not the listing agent), only to find that "their agent" seemed more interested in closing the deal than getting them a good price.

#4: Real estate is local, so should your buyer's agent be:
There is no point being loyal to the agent that sold you your current house if you are interested in relocating to a different market. Their knowledge and service will not translate unless your target market is very near your current one. Best to ask him/her nicely for a list of referrals in your target market. You can then start with a short list to interview.

#3: Don't sign a blanket exclusive agreement with a buyer's agent
An exclusive agreement that covers a certain period of time will lock you into working with a buyer's agent no matter how you find the property you are interested in buying. Ask instead to implement a property-specific agreement so that you are committing to work with the agent on certain homes, but not all. This is more flexible for you, and should be reasonable to most buyer's agents.

Some agents will try to tell you that because (in most states) the seller doesn't pay any sort of commission, it won't cost you anything to sign a blanket exclusive agreement. This is technically true. However, because house-seekers have so much access to online property information, an exclusive agreement is a non-starter because buyer's agent value should be added rather than contractually obligated. If a buyer's agent tries to push you into an exclusive agreement, it should send up warning signs about his/her intention to truly help you find and negotiate the best deal.

#2: Low volume = high attention
This one is simple, but often overlooked. You should ask a potential buyer's agent how many clients they are currently representing. If it is more than five, there is reason to think that they may not be able to give you the attention you expect and deserve. If the agent assures you he/she has a refined customer service model, despite representing 20+ buyers at a time, be sure you are comfortable with the other agents or assistants that you will be dealing with during your hunting and transaction experience.

#1: Seek professional knowledge beyond typical agents
In most states, any licensed real estate agent can represent a buyer. It is up to you to figure out how to get the most value out of the service. Our #1 tip is to ask the agent what makes them different. Their answer should concentrate on differentiating knowledge and service. Some agents just passed their state exams. Others are licensed in other professions as well. Others have real estate investment experience in a given market. These additional licenses and perspectives help ensure you get the most from your agent.

Who will get you the best deal and give you the most confidence when writing offers to buy your first home or your next investment property? Ask the right questions.

If you have additional questions, send us a comment below.

If you are shopping for real estate in Chicago, consider contacting [1016] Architecture principal Josh Canale for questions on buyer representation.

Jameson Real Estate is one of the largest real estate companies specializing in Chicago real estate.

This post was inspired by a more generic article found on Yahoo! Real Estate:
Full text of the Dian Hymer article: Be Picky When Picking a Real Estate Agent.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."

Are you?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do we NEED Mainstream LEED?

Do we need LEED® to be mainstream? Inside the Brackets thinks not.

On the previous growth of LEED:
In his email newsletter, Rob Watson, a USGBC Board Member, explores the idea and consequences of LEED pushing into the mainstream:

About five years ago when we were wrestling with the phenomenal growth of
LEED, I came across a book by Geoffrey Moore that changed my life. Entitled
"Crossing the Chasm," Moore's book introduced me to the concept of market
composition and segmentation . . . it also scared me to death.

"Chasm" woke me to the fact that the 100 percent to 200 percent annual
growth we were seeing in LEED at that time was nothing compared to the frenzy
that awaited us if we "got it right." You see, 100 percent growth against a
small number is still a small number, but 50 percent growth against a big number
is a big number indeed.Moore argues that the Innovators and the Early Adopters
are fairly forgiving folks compared to the Early Majority segment of the market.

The titular so-called chasm refers to the performance and expectation gap
between products that succeed in the Early Adopter market compared with products
that exceed in the Early Majority market. Innovators and Early Adopters are
willing to put up with quirks and foibles of products that the Early Majority
will not tolerate.

As green buildings penetrate the Early Majority market, expectations of
performance and cost are becoming quite high.In order for green to succeed, any
gaps or holes in products' and buildings' performance must be plugged...

Consistent with the USGBC's commitment to providing excellent service --
for those smugly snarking, consider for one moment that in the year 2000 only
about 2,000,000 square feet entered the LEED system and in 2008 LEED had 2
BILLION square feet come in, and then ask yourself when was the last time you
handled a thousand-fold increase in anything with grace -- the
organization is beginning an intensive dialogue
with users of the system to
determine how it can be improved from an operational perspective. So, while LEED
is firmly into the Early Majority market in the United States, 2 billion square
feet represents less than 5 percent of the global market.

On the continued growth of LEED:
Inside the Brackets is, on one hand, very glad that LEED is growing so fast it can hardly contain itself. We don't like the idea of Mr. Watson making excuses for the shortcomings of the system during expansion, but we appreciate the dialogue for improvement. We are building an architecture firm around the design ideas that LEED and other green building rating systems espouse, so [1016] has a vested interest in exposure of the USGBC/LEED brand.

On the other hand, we posit that at a certain "tipping point" (to use a buzz word) we don't need LEED. Let us be more specific: we don't need LEED to grow so large as to certify 50% of the built square footage in the global market.

Once upon a time, the ideas, building practices, and materials that LEED sought to call attention to were progressive. The LEED designation meant a building's design and construction were truly "outliers" (another buzz word) and worthy of showcasing. Now, a combination of many factors, including the work that LEED has done, have raised the awareness of green and high-performance building to a much higher level. Municipalities are codifying sections of LEED standards and incentivizing LEED buildings with reduced permit fees or expedited approval... in other words, they get it.

LEED should be focused less on certifying more square feet, and more on progressing the dialogue of green materials and policy. Growing so large as to certify 5% of existing market is quite an accomplishment, though one not without growing pains. Growing larger than that threatens LEED's continued relevance by making a commodity of the designation and rendering the added expense of administering the checklist for any given building a waste of money.

Inside the Brackets is not saying that LEED is dead or pointless. (Full disclosure: Andrew Wilson, [1016] Architecture Principal, is a LEED Accredited Professional, and [1016] Architecture is a USGBC Member Firm.) We are saying that LEED and the USGBC should stick to the cutting edge, progressive green design that brought it to where it is today. In our opinion, this is the spirit of LEED. After all, the "L" stands for "Leadership," right? We think aiming to certify more than 2-3% of the built square footage in the world dilutes the brand and speaks more towards greed than green.

What say you about the explosive growth of the LEED certification? Should LEED stick to the cutting edge? Drop a comment to let us know what you think.

Full article text for the Green Biz newsletter.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a 501(c)(3) non profit that developed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System.

The LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.

Monday, August 24, 2009

AIA: Inquiries are up, but not translating into work

AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI), a/k/a "Work on the Boards," bounced back in July, returning to a level seen in the three months prior to June, 43.1. Since a score of 50.0 indicates a neutral month-to-month change, this score still represents a decline, but a modest one compared to June.

Inquiries continued their positive trend, with a score of 50.3. This is the fifth month in a row where firms reported an increase in month-to-month inquiries for new work. Clearly, though, a significant disconnect is occurring between inquiries and the more important billings.

AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker explains it this way:
"We are still seing a lot of inquiries out that that in all likelihood are not going to generate billings at firms because there is so much competition in the marketplace."

For more in depth analysis, check out this video with Kermit Baker.

Forward looking clients should get their ducks in a row before they miss an advantage of potentially decreased design and construction prices.

[1016] Architecture Inc. is ready. Are you?
Improving within Authentic Environments.
Inside the Brackets

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pre-fab Architecture is Dead? We Don't Think So...

Apparently, there is a growing opinion that pre-fabricated architecture is dead. To the heap of recent pile-ons for this form of design, once heralded by modernists as the next generation of housing in America, you can add: "bad business," "cliche," and "over-designed" for common consumption in the United States.

This excellent blog article by Build LLC stakes out the "death" case well from their practical point of view: Pre-fab Houses Don't Work. After reading, be sure to subscribe to their RSS; they write good stuff.

Theirs is a provocative, intelligent piece supporting the idea that pre-fab is dead. Most of the arguements are well-written, but thankfully easily countered (as done by reader Brian of Method Homes in the comments). We're going to take a bigger-picture approach to the arguement to further discussion.

So, what of it? Is modernist pre-fab over-designed, cliche, bad business, or just plain dead? On one (small) hand, we think yes (see qualifier below), but on the other hand, decidedly no.


  1. While pre-fab is at its heart a process (not dead), we think modernist pre-fab also brings baggage of aesthetic (dead) into the discussion. We will address both.
  2. Also, we are including shipping container architecture in the pre-fab arguement, because it is relevant to a project [1016] Architecture is working on right now.

On the count of over-designed: GUILTY

Let's face it, architects usually over-design. It is a pleasure of the artist-patron relationship that is the reason for our profession. The one-on-one attention and problem solving that is the key to successful residential design is a major hinderance to producing scalable, mass-market solutions. Taking too much time means you have to charge more money to make a profit, which kills the main economic driver of pre-fabricated architecture.

Also, modernist pre-fab misses, or more probably, chooses to ignore, a blatant mass-market fact: Americans, as a whole, do not prefer the modernist aesthetic for their homes. They prefer traditional looking houses. Successful mass market products fill a need, they don't instruct people on how a designer thinks they should live.

On the count of cliche: NOT GUILTY

This is where modernism really gets in the way of success for pre-fabricated architecture. The out-of-the-box, avante garde thinkers that push moderism to new places, like pre-fab and shipping container architecture, are only happy at the edge of the envelope. As soon as the "newness" wears off, it doesn't even really excite them and they are on to different things.

The real problem is countless critics, followers, and media pile on and reinforce the stigma that an idea is no longer worthwhile.

Traditional architecture evolved over hundreds of years, yet still has a place in everyone's heart (except Arch'l Record editors, we'd suppose). The fragmented, haphazard way in which housing is delivered, codified, and regulated in this country will take many years to change

Just when modernism leaves something behind it is good and ready for mass acceptance. The flight of the modernist is mostly driven by the fear of being called cliche because they dare do something that has been published before.

Most people that we tell about our container project have never heard of container or pre-fab architecture at all. How can this be cliche?

On the count of BAD BUSINESS: Adjournment requested

Imagine a tailor on Saville Row cranking out hand-made suits, out of some flaboyant fabrics, in one size, and then wondering why he can't sell (for a profit) to anyone who walks in the shop. Even if he could make them fast enough to sell them cheap (he can't), the design is too intense, they won't fit everyone, and the mass market therefore rejects them.

This is ITB's understanding of the current pre-fab. The pioneers of the business are having a tough go: they over-design, use a production method that doesn't quite have enough efficiencies, and generally push a product that most Americans don't want.

Another example: Twitter. This internet service is all the rage right now. Even though Twitter makes no money whatsoever, no one close to it is really calling it dead. The owners are taking time and investors are risking capital to find the recipe for profitability.

On reports of it's death: GREATLY EXAGGERATED (but fun to read)
In a May 2009 Q&A interview with Dwell, Adam Kalkin (an interesting character, and self-described performance-artist-architect) had this to say about the future of container architecture.

[Currently] the people using containers in building are mostly very
sophisticated clients; they’re not, at this point, for every man. If you were
able to figure out the manufacturing methods and scale them, you could make
containers inexpensive, though right now they’re not.

The end user does not care about the process used to deliver housing. Therefore, the process of pre-fab is alive and ripe for innovation.

We at [1016] Architecture and Inside the Brackets believe that pre-fab has tremendous potential in urban infill architecture settings, with a slightly more traditional aesthetic responsive to its location, and when not pitched to the public as a truly custom solution (i.e. is embraced by for-profit developers).

The benefits of pre-fab (controlled quality, reduced construction schedule, sustainable construction practices, etc.) are undeniable. With time, investment, and tweaks to the way modernist pre-fab is brought to the public, it will be a viable chunk of the residential housing market share.

Join the discussion: comment below.

Inside the Brackets is looking for contributing authors. Contact us if you are interested.

Full text to Build LLC blog post: Pre-fab Houses Don't Work.

Side note: it was through this article that ITB heard Michelle Kaufmann Designs was closing their design shop after previously shedding ownership of a factory to produce their pre-fab designs.

Check out our other posts on Container Architecture.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to Buy a Chicago “Fixer-Upper.”

A Fixer-Upper, or other distressed property such as foreclosed property, bank-owned property, or REO, can represent a great real estate opportunity, especially in today's market. Of course, the potential is wrapped in risk. If you are an individual interested in this type of real estate investment, [1016] and Inside the Brackets attempt here to take some of the mystery out of tackling a fixer-upper in Chicago.

Some of these items were mentioned in our earlier post: What to Look for When Shopping for a Home in Chicago: From an Architect’s Perspective. This is not an exhaustive post, so feel free to contact us with questions.

Get Financing in Place:
This might seem like it should come later in the process but for several reasons this should be the first step (except for maybe contacting us). Here’s why: Getting pre-approved by a lender (not a broker) ensures you can determine a realistic budget for your project.If the property you find is a bargain, it won’t last long. Being pre-approved will allow you to make your offer more quickly and without financing contingencies. For example, bank owned and foreclosed properties typically require the letter of pre-approval with the offer. If you don’t have one, the property could go under contract while you scramble to get financing lined up.It is smart to shop around for the best lender, and this takes time. Rushing to get an offer put together is not conducive to getting a good loan.Confirm the lender is very experienced with the type of properties you are interested in buying. Confirm that the lender will do purchase and construction loans. If you want to use FHA financing, get the requirements from your lender, and make sure you’re looking at properties that meet them.

Determine the Type of Property You are Looking For:
With thousands of properties on the market it is important to narrow your search criteria as much as possible. When working with a real estate agent, and utilizing the MLS, it’s pretty easy to set up very specific search criteria to narrow down your list. Doing this from the beginning will save you time.

Here are some other things to help you determine which type of property might work for you:
  • Your interests, existing skills, time available, and budget will help narrow your search. For example, decide ahead of time if you want a multi-unit building, number of units, commercial space or all residential, target neighborhoods, price-range, features, zoning (if necessary), condition of the property, etc.
  • Can you perform the rehab work or will you hire contractors?
  • How do you plan to use the property and what is your exit strategy? Will you live in the unit (owner occupied buildings are generally eligible for better financing options)? Will it be all rental? Will you sell it as soon as the repairs are complete?
  • Depending on the deal that you find, your answers to the above could change.

Working with a Realtor® from the beginning of your search can save time and perhaps even money. In addition to MLS searches in realtime, they can provide you with tax searches, property history and other valuable information to evaluate the property. Plus, in Illinois, the seller pays all commissions, so the buyer gets these benefits with no out of pocket expense.

Find a Property and Make an Offer:
Once you determine your target property type, there will be many that meet these general criteria. How to determine which one deserves your offer? How much should you offer? Is the property worth what the seller is asking? Answers to these questions can be determined by property specific due diligence.

The purpose of due diligence is to uncover and quantify things that affect property value. There are always additional “surprises” along the way, but the more you find ahead of closing, the safer your investment becomes. Formalize your due diligence with written charts or spread sheets.
Formal due diligence will help you compare different properties in an apples-to-apples manner.

Your chart, also called a pro forma, should include all hard cost and soft cost estimates, purchase price, expected rent, expected price when you sell, etc. This will help you understand the value of the property and what the monthly cash flow will look like.

Here are some other top tips for this phase of buying a Chicago fixer-upper:
  • Have a contractor on your team to help you get a handle on potential renovation costs BEFORE you offer.
  • Don’t be afraid to make offers that are below the ask price. It is common to make offers on 5 to 10 different properties before getting one accepted. If your first offer got accepted, it probably means you were offering too much. In most situations, it is okay to offer well below the asking price, especially in this market.
  • If you are confident in your pro forma, the ask price is almost irrelevant. Offer what you want to pay for the property.
  • If the seller is a bank, expect long delays in communication. They might ask you to be ready to close in 15 to 30 days and then not respond to you for two months. Just be patient. There’s no way around it, so utilize the time for additional due diligence before closing.
  • Work with an architect to have any necessary drawings for repair ready for permit before the closing.
  • Interviewing contractors during the closing period can allow construction to start immediately. Because of interest charges, time is expensive in real estate. The sooner you can get the building occupied the better.

Close, Rehab and Move In/Rent
The key to this step is speed, unless you are planning on living in the property. If you are planning on renting your property, market to potential tenants even during renovation/construction. When tenants move in, they pay your mortgage. Until they move in, you are paying it all yourself. Consider using a rental agency to fill your vacant units. They will save you time, which as we said, is money.

Being able to accurately and quickly evaluate the potential of a building is critical to making a good purchase, knowing the required team members and actions to take during closing and renovation are critical to ensuring your purchase becomes a good investment.

[1016] and Jameson can help you with all of the above.

Through our relationship with Jameson Real Estate, we can represent you as a buyers agent (at no cost to you) and [1016] can help you evaluate each property for zoning and code issues that might arise or stand in the way of making the changes you want to make. Through our relationships with highly qualified contractors we can also help you get estimates for the repairs. And finally, if you would like, we can help you navigate the building permit process and execute construction.

If there are any steps you have questions about, or if you would like to discuss searching for a property, please feel free to contact us. We would be happy to discuss the process further or help you start your search. Let Jameson and [1016] make your purchase and renovation an experience that you’ll want to repeat.

For additional information, see this How to Buy, Find, and Renovate a Fixer-Upper by Andrew Wilson, AIA.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If Robert Stern thinks it a good idea, sign us up.

Last month's issue of New York House Magazine featured an interview with the influential architect Robert A.M. Stern, at his firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA). We at Inside the Brackets happened to have been trained at an architecture school that was/is extremely sympathetic to Mr. Stern's traditional approach to architecture, interiors, and urban design.

While not specifically known for "sustainable design," the list of Stern's accomplishments in this arena is nonetheless impressive. For instance, his firm is responsible for the following:

  • the first LEED Platinum business school in the world;

  • the first LEED Platinum speculative and multi-tenant office building;

  • the first LEED-certified museum;

  • the first LEED-certified U.S. General Services Administration courthouse, among many others.
So you can see why when he talks, Inside the Brackets, among others, listen. From the article,

Sustainability is inherent in each project his firm touches. Says Stern:
'We don’t wear it on our sleeves, but it’s there... I don’t think we have any projects on board, nor have we had in a while, that haven’t had sustainability built into the agenda just like structural integrity. It’s a very important part of our practice.'

It is encouraging to know one of the best "traditional" firms is publically approaching sustainability not as an "add on" to a traditional design, but as an integral aspect. Also, it's nice for [1016] Architecture to have something in common with RAMSA.

Read full text here.

Inside the Brackets wasn't familiar with NY House Magazine until the GreenBuildingsNY 2009 Conference. It is a really striking publication: large format, good articles, and great photos. Check it out.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shipping Containers and Alpacas

Inside the Brackets previously posted about the Midnight Moon Alpaca Ranch project (click here and scroll down). In all probability, MMAR is to be the first alpaca ranch made from shipping containers (ISBUs, to be exact).

[1016] Architecture recently made some good progress on the main house design for the ranch.

  • This design is made of (3) 8' x 40' High Cube (HC) containers, and the owner wants the containers to be visible on the exterior.
  • The decks, stairs, and curved metal roof are all additional parts, but can be disassembled in order to be reused should that become necessary.
  • The building will be sited to take advantage of summer/winter sun angle differences to promote energy savings and daylighting.
  • The result... not your typical midwestern agricultural building, for sure.
Here is an animation of the main house design in progress:

There is still a lot of work to be done before this becomes reality, and eventually Inside the Brackets will bring you updates on the planned barn and guest cottages for the property.

Visit the Midnight Moon Alpaca Ranch site here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

2-flats as Investment Properties

The Chicago Tribune recently published a great article articulating a current [1016] investment strategy: 2-flat ownership.

The 2-flat: A classic Chicago property type.

The article by Heidi Stevens (full text here) hits on a lot of great bonuses of owning a 2-flat as compared to condo ownership, including:
  • Owner-occupied 2-flats, where you live in one unit and rent out the other, qualify for fantastic FHA financing. You can still get a great place with only 5% (or even 3%) down.
  • When rental income is considered, it is possible to afford to buy in a neighborhood that would otherwise be outside of your budget.
  • Need to move? You may not have to sell: you can rent out your unit and borrow against the ownership of the entire building. Of course, this will require you to have lived there for some time to have built equity.
  • No condo associations. Yes, this may require a little more owner 'proactivity,' but that is a small price for real estate freedom.
In short, 2-flats are a great way to both: 1) establish home-ownership and 2) get into the real estate market in an entrepreneurial way. Click here for some more Tribune tips.

If you are interested in shopping for a 2-flat, or any type of Chicago real estate for that matter, [1016] knows a guy who can help you out. And we might even have the place for you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Inside NeoCon 2009

This first-hand account and summary of NeoCon 2009 is kindly brought to you by Erin Bodnar, owner of EEB Interiors, an Inside the Brackets guest contributor.

The resounding theme of NeoCon 2009…Let's make work fun!!

Furniture manufacturers responded to a continuing shift within the modern workforce. Employees no longer want to be restricted within cubicles (!), rather, they want/need
open spaces that foster innovation and teamwork.

Companies such
as Allermuir, Teknion, and Allsteel responded to that by dropping panel heights and creating more open, collaborative workspaces.
Allermuir - Crossover Desk

Teknion – Marketplace

Allsteel – Stride Collection

While some might question the usability of these shrinking workstations, companies are counter-acting that concern by creating a multitude of “teaming areas” where employees can meet and collaborate. The typical conference room is still an option for meetings an
d presentations, but studies have shown that a more casual atmosphere tends to foster creativity. This led manufacturers to introduce a wide array of bar/standing height and soft seating options.

Turnstone was one manufacturer that broke the mold of typical office furniture with their introduction of the
paper table. This light-weight end table is easy to move and allows people to jot their ideas onto the tables’ paper top. (If wasting paper is a concern, you can opt for the writable glass version of the table).

Turnstone also introduced movable screens that provide privacy for groups that choose to work within a soft seating area. Carpet, fabric, and wallcovering manufacturers seemed to follow suit as well by introducing more vibrant color palettes that will compliment the trend toward newly energized workspaces.
Turnstone – Soft Seating and Bar Ht surfaces

MDC Wallcovering and paint manufacturer stretches the limits as they continue to develop their “IdeaPaint” product which is a low VOC, water-based paint that “makes it possible for us to put our heads together almost anywhere.” Basically, it turns any paintable surface into a dry erase board.

MDC Wallcoverings – IdeaPaint

Although colorful introductions reined supreme this year, more traditional offices and formal executive suites were not overlooked. Introductions were highly influenced by residential design style. With people spending more time at the office, we are left to question, “why can’t the office have the comforts of home?” And the answer is…it can! More subdued color palettes, and warmer wood tones created luxurious spaces that any employee would enjoy.

Coalesse – Denizen Collection

Davis – Tix Office LaCasse - Morpheo Collection

Whether your company is progressive or more formal, contemporary or traditional -- NeoCon 2009 had something for everyone!

Erin Bodnar is owner of EEB Interiors based in Chicago. Erin draws design inspiration from her experience with fine furniture, art and architecture, to create spaces with unparalleled elegance and unique flare. Visit her website to find out more. [1016] and Inside the Brackets is proud to have EEB as a collaborative partner. If you see anything you like here, contact Erin. She can help you put it together.

For another photo-intensive review of NeoCon 2009, visit this post on Metropolis POV.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

GreenBuildingsNY 2009 Conference: thoughts and observations

[1016] Architecture Principal and Inside the Brackets contributor Andrew Wilson, AIA, LEED AP recently attended the GreenBuildingsNY 2009 conference to bring you this first person account.

"GreenBuildingsNY is the place to source green solutions and materials for the
design, construction, restoration, renovation and historical preservation of
existing commercial, residential and industrial buildings. See how eco-friendly
can be economy friendly. Discover how a smart investment on environmental and
sustainability improvements can deliver up to 20–40% risk free return on
investment. NY Metro focused, convenient, and ever evolving, GreenBuildingsNY
provides easy access to more of the green sustainable products and services that
building professionals need."

Overall Impressions:
While I only toured about 50% of the overall conference floor, and this was the first year I attended this event, I did walk almost the entirety of the Green Buildings presenter booths and got a good feel for the show. The quality of the displays and direct applicability to "green" buildings varied extensively and not in direct relationship. In fact, just determining what some companies did was not readily apparent.

Fortunately, I came prepared, having armed myself with a list of exhibitors I was interested in visiting by utilizing the software developed by Map Your Show. Click here to see how it works, though I am not sure how long this link will stay active after the show is done.

Top Five Standout Exhibitors:

Inside the Brackets would like to acknowledge its favorite products/presenters from the show. ITB's selections are based on the following criteria:
  • If the product was new, or just new to me. I didn't waste time going to large manufacturers displays... I was there to expand the options to bring to my clients.
  • How helpful the company representatives were in person. This is a big deal, because I want to work with people who are passionate about sustainability, not just there only to boost commissions (nothing wrong with commissions, though).

  • Quality and utility of product literature and take-away items. Sorry, but I'm not impressed with a pencil with your product logo on it.

  • How likely I am to specify the showcased product(s) in future projects. This probably has the most weight

#5) Mythic Paint:
A direct, and perhaps superior, competitor to Benjamin Moore's premium lines, Mystic touts itself as "the world's only high performance premium paint with zero VOCs, zero toxins, and zero carcinogens."

In addition to their interior and exterior opaque finishes, the company is scheduled to turn out a line of stains sometime this year.

These products will be a welcome addition to designers working in California and some East Coast state which have very tight VOC and air quality standards.

The company's website has an excellent FAQ if you are interested in more information.

#4) Trespa (metal panels):
Honestly, there's really not that much exciting about metal panels, but Trespa gets the nod for providing the most comprehensive design materials as a take away. Inside the Brackets like this.

#3) Leibherr Appliances:
I was quite impressed with the quality, feel, and look of these refrigeration appliances. The door hardware and action exuded cool quality, and the appliances are available in free-standing, built-in, and fully-integrated options to suit the needs of any design.

Leibherr is a German company which has only relatively recently expanded efforts to sell in the United States. They are positioning themselves as competitors to SubZero, but the representative was sure to stress that they are both greener (100% of their models meet or exceed Energy Star requirements, not so for SubZero) and less expensive than their American counterpart. The company has summarized all of the green benefits for owning a Leibherr appliance in their ActiveGreen campaign.

Liebherr proves that green can be beautiful, and less expensive than other alternatives.

#2) Roofscapes, Inc.:
Melissa Muroff, a Roofscapes Principal, displayed both a noticeable passion for the ideas behind green roofs and a high level of technical knowledge about them. Inside the Brackets applauds Melissa and Roofscapes for their dedication to providing it clients the best possible green roof. Since they don't manufacturer any particular system or component, they are able to look objectively at each client's needs and deliver the best solution.

Also, they incorporate maintenance, landscape design, and roofing contractors upon request to provide a fully warranted and performing product. I hope [1016] Architecture can work with this shop on a future project.
This company is in the top spot simply because Inside the Brackets and [1016] believe in their business model and think that companies that educate and outfit existing building owners with more efficient buildings are going to do the most to lessen the impact of our built environment on the earth.

From their website:
"Sustainability Partners LLC is a collaboration of professionals from the architecture, finance, engineering, real estate, and construction industries who have joined forces to reduce energy consumption and stabilize our critical housing resources. We have pooled this expertise so that we may offer practical insights and advice to property owners on how to design and cost effectively implement energy saving measures for their buildings, while also taking advantage of the many powerful incentive programs currently in place to help finance such improvements."
Any existing building owner in New York should contact Sustainability Partners to see if they can help them save money on operating costs by implementing tax-subsidized building improvements.

Did we miss something big? Let us know.

Further commentary:
LEED Platinum and Beyond (Education Session)
Presented by: Chris Benedict, R.A., and Jonathan Rose of Rose Companies
I happened into this education session to take a break from walking the floor and was pleased with the time spent. While the LEED checklist was not really discussed much at all, the presenters definitely highlighted ideas which make up the backbone of the program. In my opinion, it was more interesting this way.

Chris Benedict presented recent projects showcasing her sustainable building science knowledge. Emphasis on strategies for detailing tight, super efficient buildings composed the bulk of her part of the presentation. One of her latest projects is set to meet the Passive Building Standard (Germany), which according to her is one of the most rigorous "green" building standards in the world. For more: Check out this Passive House article by Greenline.

Jonathan Rose brought an intriguing, casual passion to his presentation on building sustainably (by choosing the right development location). He long ago concluded the most sustainable sites to be dense and urban, and has built several companies around the desire to improve and restore cities. This is, of course, a shared belief of [1016] Architecture, and one we have written about before. If you haven't heard of Jonathan Rose, check out his website (linked above).

Inside the Brackets is the blog for [1016] Architecture, Inc. Visit our company's website to find out more. Comments are encouraged. Please join the discussion about sustainability.