architecture blog

Modative Architecture Wins Homeless Housing Development Competition

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 @ 14:06 PM

If you've been following along with us here over the last few weeks, you've surely noticed that we've been bashing open architecture competitions and even suggesting alternatives to these time wasters.

So you may find it a bit hypocritical that today I'm announcing that we won a competition. That is, until you note the following differences between this competition and a typical open architecture competition.

Not Just an Architecture Competition

The competition we entered was through the Urban Land Institute (ULI)  to develop housing for the chronically homeless. As I posted back in April, it was a team development competition consisting of other young real estate and social work professionals. Architecture was only a piece of the proposal. Our team had to find a property, create a program, design a project, determine the services offered, and develop a detailed pro forma of how the project would be financed. The process simulated a real project compressed into six weeks.

homeless housing los angelesThe site we selected in Glendale.

 

The Competition Wasn't Open

Our team had to apply in order to get accepted to participate. There were only five teams competing.

homeless housing glendale ca

We even got to make our own cool logo. We were called Team HETED (Homeless Empowerment Through Efficient Development)

 

Collaboration

Each team was assigned a city to work with in Los Angeles County: Pasadena, Whittier, East Dominguez Hills, Long Beach and our sponsor city, Glendale. We also worked closely with homeless non-profit advocates and developers, Path Achieve Glendale and Path Ventures. The city and these organizations acted like our clients. By working with them we got to make real connections. Connections that could lead to future work.

homeless housing bungalows los angeles

The project concept is a hybrid of preservation of 1920's bungalows and modern intervention of adding new elements to bring the project up to code and provide services for the residents.

 

Team Aspect

Our team really enjoyed working with each other on this. I think we will collaborate again on future projects.

Exposure

The Urban Land Institute is a diverse organization. It reaches all types of real estate professionals. We prefer this type of exposure over showcasing our work to a bunch of fellow architects.

homeless housing competition win

 

Pro Bono

This competition was our launch into pro bono work. We spent 130 hours working on this competition. This gives us a real gauge as to the level of commitment required to do future pro bono projects. We already have an idea for our next pro bono project. It won't be through a competition.

permanent supportive housing

Overall view of the project

 

Whether or not you buy our arguments for entering this competition, I encourage you to check out our winning proposal. You can also view our online press release.

 

What do you think of our proposal?

Tags: Residential, Los Angeles, Multi Family Housing, Affordable Housing, Architecture Experience, Architecture portfolio, Housing, Architecture Competitions, Homeless Housing

5 Things Architects Should Do Instead of Entering Open Competitions

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 @ 08:06 AM

Obviously, not everyone agrees with our last post "Why Architecture Competitions are Bad for Architects". A day after our post, archdaily, posted "Why open architecture competitions are good for Architects, a counter argument". 

The archdaily post, some blog comments, and a few twitter posts claim that our argument against competitions is an attack on creativity and passion within the architecture profession. This couldn't be further from the truth. A few questions to ponder:

Do open competitions have a monopoly on creativity?

Are competitions the only way to progress the architecture profession?

Absolutely not.

Open architecture competitions actually take much of the creativity out of what architects do. They provide everything: the site, program, objectives, and deadlines. Then they judge your work in private, without any back and forth collaboration.

It's comforting for architects to have all of this delivered to them. It's exactly how architecture school works. All the architect has to do is design in a bubble. I can certainly see the appeal.

Many architects will never be convinced that open competitions are bad for them and that's fine. But I would feel bad ripping on open competitions without providing some viable alternates. 

Architects will at some point inevitably find themselves with free time and/or needing a release from the daily grind. Instead of doing what architects have traditionally done (open competitions), consider one of these options instead:

1. Pro Bono Architecture

Pro bono work is more rewarding and has far more upside than an open architecture competition. And there are plenty of non-profit organizations that need an architect's help, but can't afford it. 

The 1% program website is a great starting point to learn about pro bono architecture and connect with with non-profits looking for architects. The 1% program asks that you donate at least 1% of your time to providing free or deeply discounted design work. In exchange, you get a rewarding experience working with people and building connections. Your work is also likely to be constructed and the publicity and experience you'll receive can lead to future paid commissions -often times in project types where you previously had no experience. 

2. A Design Intervention

This is how the 1% program got started. Public Architecture, a firm in San Francisco, decided that instead of entering another pointless competition, they would use that time and energy to improve their neighborhood through actual design interventions. They took an unused portion of the street and made it a temporary public park. The project was built with donated materials and labor. The neighborhood praised their efforts and the Mayor of San Francisco spoke at the project's opening. Now that's a great use of an architect's time.

mayor at architectur event

Mayor Newsome at the opening of Public Architecture's Pavement to Parks Project. Photo from Public Architecture's website.

Your Mayor doesn't give a shit about your open architecture competition entry.

A design intervention is essentially like doing your own competition. If you're going to do free work, you might as well do it for yourself and for something you're passionate about. Find a problem in your neighborhood, your city, and solve it. Get the community involved. Publish the process and the results, even if it never gets constructed.

3. Non-Architecture Projects

If you want a release, try out your design skills on something new. A few ideas:

Furniture - A coffee table for a modern lifestyle (laptops and ipads).

Building Materials - I have yet to see a building facade system that can be easily removed and recycled (like carpet tiles).

Products - Why let Karim Rashid have all the fun?

Karim Rashid Designs Stuff

Karim is laughing at you because you're letting him and Phillipe Stark design all the cool stuff. Photo by Roman Leo, New York

Textiles - There's a serious shortage of great modern rugs. I know, I've looked.

T-Shirts - A flooded market, but an easy one to get into nowadays.

4. Architect as Entrepreneur

Architects should be more entrepreneurial. We have some of the best problem solving skills around, yet we mostly wait for the phone to ring to get projects. We wait for the problem to come to us.

Imagine how much better our cities would look and function if more architects got involved in real estate development. Creating their own projects and developing them. Well, you don't have to imagine. Jonathan Segal, FAIA and Sebastian Mariscal have been doing this for years in San Diego with great success.

5. Go to a Bar

You are more likely to meet a stranger at a bar that will hire you to design them a real building than to win an actual architectural commission from an open competition. And even if you don't, you'll at least leave happy and having spent less money than you would on a competition.

 

If you have any additions to this list that you'd like to share, please add a comment.

Let's keep in touch - subscribe to this blog via email (top of right column) or RSS (for the techies).

Tags: Innovation, Marketing, Architectual Practice, Inspiration, Architecture Competitions

Why Open Architecture Competitions Are Bad for Architects?

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, May 18, 2010 @ 07:05 AM

Architects need to stop entering open architecture competitions. 

Most architecture competitions are not worth it, but none more than the complete waste of time known as the open architecture competition.This type of competition is what it says it is: open to anyone. Sometimes they are for a real project, but most often, they are fake, or as they're often called, an "ideas" competition.

As you may have seen in our last post, we're currently in the middle of a team competition for homeless housing, which is neither open nor purely architectural.

Our office has participated in only one open architecture competition in our four-plus years in business. And although the beach hut competition was fun and inspiring, it was a great example of why competitions are not worth it.

architecture competitions

Our inspiring, but financially draining Sand Hut competition entry.

Since the Sand Hut experience, there have been many opportunities to enter competitions, and of the three Modative partners, I'm often the biggest proponent of entering competitions. Thankfully, my logical business partners are able to convince me not to enter open architecture competitions. They use any number of the following five reasons why open architecture competitions are bad for us:

1.Waste of time and money

An open competition is a project. A project you are going to work on for free. Whether you like it or not, architecture is a business and businesses are in the business of making money, not working for free.

If you're one of the rare architects with idle time, there are plenty of more productive things to do with your time.

2. Projects are almost never built

Every architect knows this. Even the competitions that claim to be for real buildings almost never get built because competition budgets are nonexistent or ignored. The most eye catching and extravagant design wins. The most extravagant design rarely meets budget.

3. Too much competition (You won't win)

Obvious but true. Open competitions have few barriers to entry - it's free-for-all. No matter how good your competition design skills are, you're competing against hundreds or thousands of other architects.

So, for example, if the competition jury reviewed submissions for 8 hours (a generous assumption), and they received 1,000 submissions, that would give them about 28 seconds to look at your project. The same project you just worked on for 100+ hours is getting judged in less than half a minute. You get the point.

4. Provide little publicity, if any.

If you don't get gold, silver or bronze, no one cares. Even if you are recognized in the competition, the publicity will rarely match the effort.

Besides, the world of publicity has changed significantly in the last few years. Hoping to get press through a competition win is an old-school mentality. Nowadays, you can design great stuff then let the world know on the interwebs. If you're really good, and decent at getting the word out, people will find you. You don't need a competition for publicity.

5. They devalue architects

Ooh look, we can get all these silly little architects to work for free. Have you ever seen doctors or lawyers sign up in droves to do free work?

Exhibit A

A few weeks back I received the following open competition email announcement from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This clearly highlights some of the problems with these types of architecture competitions.

architecture competitions suck
 

Disclaimers: I'm an AIA member, and like anyone that pays a lot of money towards a professional organization, I have the occasional right to gripe. Before everyone gets all cranky, I do realize that this competition is for a good cause. However, there are many other ways for you to use your skills as an architect for a good cause which we'll touch on in a future blog post.

Problem #1: Submission Fees: Not only is this not a competition for a real building, nor do you get money if you win, but you have to pay to enter. Pay them, then work for free. Does anyone else find this crazy?

Problem #2: The Reward: So, if you're lucky enough to win this competition, you get to show other architects your work for a few days at the AIA National Convention in Miami. None of these architects will hire you to build your genius temporary relief housing scheme. Not such a great reward for all this work, huh?

 

Instead of just complaining about open competitions, we've got some solutions. In a future post, we'll discuss some alternatives to architects wasting time with open competitions. UPDATE: That post now exists - 5 Things Architects Should Do Instead of Entering Open Competitions

 

Side Note: This post has been sitting in the draft box for several weeks. A few days back, I noticed that a very talented fellow architect blogger, Jody Brown, AIA, LEED AP, posted a very interesting article about architecture competitions on his "Coffee with an Architect" Blog. At first I was hesitant to publish this after seeing his post on the same topic. Who wants to be seen as a topic copycat? But we have very different takes on open competitions. I encourage you to check out his post - Architectural Competitions are a Glorious Waste of Time. He makes some very interesting points that go against most of what I just said. He's pretty convincing.

 

What are your thoughts on open architecture competitions?

Tags: Business, Marketing, Ethics, Architectual Practice, AIA, Architecture Competitions

Modative Architecture Joins Homeless Housing Competition Team

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Apr 27, 2010 @ 09:04 AM

We're big believers in incorporating personality and creativity into our professional brand. In our Rethink Your Resume guide, we encouraged integration of personal interests and photos into professional resumes.

But a resume is just one step in a career. There are so many opportunities to use this strategy.

Once such opportunity was our recent team application to participate in the Urban Land Institute's 1,000 Homes Competition for Housing the Chronically Homeless in LA County.

This annual development competition asks young professionals with different backgrounds to form teams of four to eight members and submit a group application. From those applications, the judges  select five teams to participate in the competition.

Our team, called Team HETED (Homeless Empowerment Through Efficient Development), consists of five members with a variety of experience in development, construction, real estate finance, social work, and architecture. While we were confident in our chances of being selected based on our backgrounds (resumes were part of the application), we took no chances and got creative and personal with our statement of interest.

Instead of the typical, bland, corporate sounding group statement, we split our statement of interest into short blurbs about our individual personal interest in entering this competition. Our statements also include our role on the team, education background, and a small picture.

Here's a sampling of our statement of interest page for the competition application, reformated for this post:

1,000 homes homeless housing competition

Team HETED homeless housing competition
The decision to enter this competition is very personal for each member of Team HETED. While our goal is to combine our skills to create an innovative solution for the homelessness issue in Los Angeles, we feel compelled to share our individual motivations for entering this competition.
Jed Tarr Developer
Jed Tarr  Development + Project Feasibility
William Warren Group
Development Associate

Arizona State, B.A. Economics + Real Estate, 2007
I think this competition will be a great exercise and experience working together as a team and with the various city agencies to confront a serious issue that not only affects city budgets but more importantly people’s lives.  I personally expect this program to inspire my career as a developer, to include non-profit and low-income projects. I bring to the team experience in overall development, including project feasibility & management.
 
Connor Humphreys Finance
Connor Humphreys  Finance
Budget Finance Co.
Director of Acquisitions

Emory University, B.A. Sociology, 2006
This competition provides a chance for me to expand on the real estate related community work I have been involved with in Los Angeles. The competition will allow me to use my expertise and experience in order to provide a valuable service to a section of the community that often goes overlooked. Through my work in residential mortgage finance, I have been involved in efforts to provide counseling and housing solutions to Los Angeles communities that have been hardest hit by the recent wave foreclosures stemming from the mortgage crisis. I have done extensive work building financial models and projections related to real estate and mortgage investments. I hope to bring this skill set to my team to strengthen our project through building a solid financing foundation for our development. I am excited at the opportunity to work with other young professionals across different professional disciplines to bring positive change to the problem of homelessness in the Los Angeles area. I think that the wide array of expertise that each member of my team brings to the table will allow us to create a strong, comprehensive plan that will not only provide shelter for the homeless, but will provide empowerment for members of the community who have, in many cases, been forgotten.
 
Laura Leavitt Social Work
Laura Leavitt, MSW  Social Work
Columbia University School of Social Work, Masters of Social Work, 2009
                                                      
Kenyon College, B.A. Psychology, 2005
With over five years of experience as an advocate for disadvantaged communities, I have seen the life changing effects of providing housing and social services to individuals and families in need. For the homeless, housing does not simply imply having a roof over one’s head.  Housing means safety, health, community, job productivity, educational opportunity, and most of all, hope. With the same vigor that I organized a nationally recognized campaign against homelessness for survivors of domestic violence, I will use my skills in program development and community outreach to establish an innovative, comprehensive and sustainable program that will change the lives of the homeless community in Los Angeles.  My complex understanding of homelessness will strengthen our inspired multidisciplinary team and help guide the project towards a model that is both relevant and tangible, as well as effective and efficient.

derek leavitt architecture
Derek Leavitt, AIA  Architecture + Development
Modative, Inc.
Principal + Founder

University of Southern California, B.Arch + Minor Business, 2000
I love being an architect, but often feel that something is missing from my professional life. My industry is primarily geared towards designing buildings for the wealthiest sector of our population. One of the reasons I became an architect was to use design to make a difference in the lives of people whom need my help the most. This competition is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to use my design and development skills to assist both the people that lack the basic human need of shelter and the communities that seek creative solutions to homeless issues. I am enthusiastic about the diverse skills of Laura (my sister), Jed, and Connor and our ability to create an innovative and appropriate concept for the competition.
 

Our fifth team member, Idalia Santos, was added to our team after this original application was submitted. Her knowledge of development and construction combined with her passion for homeless issues makes her a highly valuable part of our team.

Going creative and personal can be difficult. The easier approach is to play it safe and go with what's been done before. However, for Team HETED, the creative route worked as we were selected as one of the five teams to participate in the competition. Our team is now  partnered up with the City of Glendale and Path Achieve Glendale and over the next six weeks we will develop a proposal for a permanent supportive housing project in Glendale.

 

What are your thoughts on professional applications?

 

 

Tags: Announcements, Innovation, Communication, Affordable Housing, Housing, Inspiration, Architecture Competitions, Homeless Housing