Living with yo ‘rents


Multi-generational housing has seen steadily increasing demand throughout Northern Europe, and stateside as well. The concept even hit the NYT late in 2012.  While I don’t have a Grandpa Joe or live with my in-laws in a one room apartment (thankfully), the topic has come up more than a few times, and there’s a good possibility if we stay in the US, one set of our parents could move in with us. Multi-generational housing presents a unique typology that isn’t commonplace, but offers a lot of potential. It’s a typology that the City of Seattle should encourage–nay, must encourage. Unfortunately, the City recently blocked an intriguing proposal by a colleague of mine, causing the client to move to another jurisdiction.

There are a few different models of multi-generational housing, and size/form can vary from detached housing with additional living space to large complexes. They can be a means of pooling a family’s assets and building a better home where everyone is close together. Co-housing definitely comes with its own interesting set of demands and requirements, but there are also great opportunities in them. A family with children, a single parent household, or seniors would all be suitable for a multi-generational house. So, here’s a brief survey of a few innovative projects regarding those typologies.


At its most basic level, a multigenerational house could just be a (detached, row) house with mother-in-law apartment. If detached, they’re going to be the hardest to meet Passivhaus, slightly easier with the rowhouse. The incorporation of an ADU makes a lot of sense for Seattle’s SF zones (though it is highly unfortunate it’s limited to just one per lot). Unfortunately, even though ADUs are great for reducing insurance, mortgage and tax burdens–something like 1,400 (legal) ADUs have been permitted on Seattle’s ~124,000 single family lots since the ADU ordinance was passed in 1994. Obviously, a ton of potential to add density here. At a minimum, it would probably be responsible to design new housing to incorporate an ADU for future flexibility.


The incorporation of a DADU or backyard cottage could be another way to set up housing for the elderly. While the typology is intriguing–financing can be relatively difficult to pencil out and the DADU ordinance has some ridiculously onerous requirements. DADUs are often touted as a means of increasing density–though few have been built in Seattle. Sightline Institute had a great series of posts on ADUs/DADUs that revealed how the City could encourage more of this form of housing.

Das combi-HAUS

A step up from the ADU/DADU is the incorporation of multiple living suites combined in one building, with a central living space(s). This, to me, is a really great approach, and there have been several successful projects–some even Passivhaus or near-PH. I guess one way to think of this could be micro co-housing. Each family has their own space–with shared common areas. If kept relatively compact, it could be much easier to achieve Passivhaus than detached housing. I also like the idea of reducing the number of kitchens–helps keep costs lower.

One I’m very fond of is a concrete project in Loerrach, Germany by Gunter Pfeifer. The project consists of a space for the grandparents on the ground floor, children’s bedrooms in one concrete ‘wing’ and the parent’s bedroom in the other. The central common area brings natural light deep into the house and utilizes several aspects of Pfeifer’s ‘kybernetische prinzip’ for a lower energy residence. This central space that plays a key role in the thermal dynamics of the building is a common thread in Pfeifer’s work (Learn more and see additional photos).

Foto:  Francesca Giovanelli

Miyahara Architect Office’s TTN House is another interesting example. A 3-unit multi-generational house for an elderly couple and their two daughters. The project was designed for future flexibility, so each unit has self contained bathroom and kitchen. The structural images on this one are really interesting (Learn more from archdaily).

Teruo Miyahara

A relatively well-known and stunning example is Kraenzle + Fischer-Wasels’ mehrgenerationenhaus in Darmstadt. The project was built by an elderly couple, with the intention of their daughters’ families eventually moving in. The project is three  separate two-story units under one roof. Comingled between the units are some incredible common spaces and buffers (patios, gardens, entry). The project was planned to easily adapt to change (incorporation of an elevator or stairlift). Conceivably, it could even become a 6-unit apartment if the need arose. Not surprisingly, this won a number of awards.


Das HAUSes

Another variant, which may be more palatable from a long-term ownership perspective is a form of addition, apartments or row-houses that allow multiple generations to reside adjacent to each other. Grandma may not want to eat lunch with the rugrat on a daily basis–and so this provides a little more solitude in the present. And if the need arises to rent out the adjacent unit, there are fewer hurdles. The units can also be huddled together to make Passivhaus much easier to achieve. Better yet, a whole series of them to form a larger community, intertwined like some Corbusian wine rack.

This phenomenal, modern, low-energy addition by Anja Thede to a 1920s house outside of Darmstadt plays up the assets of the site really well. The incorporation of an addition allows for future flexibility–the elderly to live in one house while the younger family in the adjacent, the ability for one unit to become a separate rental, or even an office. With a total floor area of 3,060 square feet, this type of project would easily fit on a typical SF5000 lot here in Seattle. And I just find it to be rather stunning (Read and see more photos, pdf in German).

Das MAXhaus

In terms of large scale projects, there have been several completed buildings that combine housing for singles, families, and seniors. This is the version that I think is more common in the EU. Most Americans might say “well hey, isn’t this just typical apartments?” And at some level, it is–though these tend to be of two flavors. One, a mix of units including those incorporating ‘universal design’, as well as nursing facilities. Second, an elderly residence with community centers or pre-schools. In this sense, it’s more a community asset where multiple generations can interact on a daily basis. Of course, Passivhaus is overly applicable to a situation like this–the heating needs will be signifiacntly less while ventilation strategies may start to get fun. In many respects, the high level of comfort (No drafts! No cold surfaces!) of a Passivhaus, and excellent indoor air quality, pair phenomenally with the comfort requirements of elderly housing. I’ll actually go as far and say anyone building elderly housing at this point and not shooting for Passivhaus is going to lose a chunk of the market to the enterprising developer that takes that on.

One of the more interesting large-scale multi-generational projects is baumschlager + eberle’s Siedlung Ruggächern in the Affoltern district of Zuerich. A massive undertaking, 14 buildings of various height incorporating nearly 280 apartments for elderly, singles, and families. Pairing compact, well-designed density with great landscaping/public spaces, community spaces, and workshops? And then nearly hitting Passivhaus (20kWh/m2a)?!? Phenomenal development, the US could learn a lot from the work underway in and around Zuerich right now (More photos and information here (in German) and here (pdf in German)).

foto: b&e

The Anna Haag-Mehrgenerationenhaus in Stuttgart by aldinger + aldinger is another example of larger scale complex. The project is a senior living facility incorporated with a kindergarten, cafe, teaching facilities, gardens, and courtyards.

And as for a multi-generational Passivhaus? Yup, that’s been done, too. This 27-unit complex in Herrenberg, Germany features accessible kitchen, workshop and meeting room on the ground floor. Passivhaus (tho uncert’d) was chosen for economic as well as environmental reasons. A stunning, unrealized project in Koenigsbrunn, Germany by cukrowicz + nachbaur/Walter Unterrainer would have met PH or been relatively close (More information and images by Europaconcorsi).

There is something very attractive about recombobulating the nuclear family. What could be better than increasing density, increasing human contact, decreasing transportation emissions, all whilst living in uber comfortable, hyperefficient housing? Perhaps forming a baugruppe to accomplish this deliciousness?

U District parklet is fully funded

U District Parklet Visualization
U District Parklet visualizaton on the corner of 43rd Street and University Way.

We’re big fans of the University District Parklet project and we’re happy to report that it’s now fully funded. For those unfamiliar with the project, the ~240 square foot parklet will be located on NE 43rd Street and the corner of University Way NE. The location couldn’t be much more prime in the University District given its proximity to the retail and restaurant core, university, and local transportation services. The addition of a little more green and usable public space for visitors, employees, and residents alike will go a long way in a neighborhood that deeply needs more options for outside space to socialize, work, sit, eat, and relax.

As we reported earlier this month, folks from the U District Square (UDS) launched a Kickstarter campaign to fully fund the project. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods had already kicked in a grant for $8,000 to help fund the project, but the rest was up to the community. The goal by UDS was to reach $6,000 in donations by October 24th. And, they surpassed that goal by a healthy $500.

On Friday, the U District Square group released a project update saying:

With over a hundred backers, we surpassed our fundraising goal on Kickstarter and just raised $6,500 to complement the funding we received this summer from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. The U District’s first parklet is now funded and may proceed…

Next steps will be to begin fabrication of the custom elements of the parklet for on-site assembly on NE 43rd Street at the Ave, in the U District of Seattle. If you wish to join us for community construction day, be sure to sign up for updates on the parklet. Then be sure to come visit the parklet once launched for a coffee, lunch or ice cream.

With a $14,000 budget, beating their goal by $500 isn’t exactly huge, but it does secure the project. Hopefully with a bit of extra float in the budget, UDS can rollout a few additions to the project like more planters boxes to expand the public space around the parklet or choose superior materials and features for the parklet. The community construction day will take place in November with the parklet fully usable by December. If you’re interested in helping out, get in contact with UDS.

Sunday Video: Paid Leave


Seattle may have paid leave for sick days, but this Department of Labor video is a reminder that we still have a long way to go on true paid leave labor rules.

What We’re Reading: We Need Affordable and Inclusive Places, Pronto!

WSDOT Forecasting 2014
Office of Financial Management VMT Projections

Seattle Tries Out Bike Share: The Pronto rollout is going well, clocking over 4,000 rides in the first week and almost 1,500 memberships, despite all the rain. Capitol Hill Blog shows that bike share is popular on Capitol Hill even though it’s separated from the rest of the program by hills. Seattle Transit Blog and City Lab explore how bike share has largely failed as a tool for social justice. Tom missed the Pronto rollout in Seattle so made up for it by using Divvy and had some of the same observations I had about Pronto. We can only hope Pronto amplifies all these benefits in Seattle.

Hurry Up and Wait (In Your Car): WSDOT_Traffic captures the absurdity of commuting by car but focuses on delays and traffic rather than injuries from accidents. This happened to be almost exactly one year after this. Progress on fixing Bertha is now delayed until March. Things like this are probably why driving will continue to decline. Will WSDOT move past the denial stage with this new shockingly honest projection from The Office of Financial Management. It could have big repercussions on projections of debt servicing from the gas tax, basically indicating we can’t depend on future gas tax revenue to finance our massive highway spending.

Do You Like Places? Strong Towns has a great graphical breakdown of places versus non-places. Which reminds us of a previous link we’ve posted about the arrogance of space. Progress is continuing on making Seattle’s waterfront more of a place but Jared Smith, the director, resigned amid budget questions. The lack of place is probably a big reason why these pictures seem so amusing. And in case those aren’t enough places for you, the Project for Public Spaces is doing a big rundown here.

How Will Seattle Get To Affordable And Inclusive Housing: The city gets some national attention surrounding the new regulations on micro-housing and it appears that the mayor has gone silent on his threat to veto the legislation. But while that debate is slowly receding, a new debate on Linkage Fees is rising. Council Member O’Brien’s policy suggestion is the result of nearly a year long research endeavor by consultants. Council and Murray agree though that the fee won’t be implemented until after the Housing Advisory Committee meets and completes a comprehensive review of affordable housing policy. It’s also definitely not clear if the Linkage Fees are legal and developers have put the city on notice. A group of developers lost a previous lawsuit over incentive zoning fees but that was largely a procedural loss, they didn’t have standing to sue. The court ruled they weren’t allowed to sue because they hadn’t actually been assessed any fees. If the same route is taken on Linkage Fees, it’s likely that a lawsuit wouldn’t even be possible for another three years because that’s how long it would take to assess the fees.

Impressions From My First Pronto Bike Ride

It is hard to see but the car next to the station has backed into the white pole acting as a barrier here.

Yesterday afternoon I took my first ride using the Pronto! Cycle Share and I took away a few observations, both expected and unexpected.

Why Use Pronto?

I expected that my first ride would be just for fun but I didn’t have an opportunity since the launch to check out a bike. Yesterday, I needed to get to South Lake Union from Capitol Hill and I was running late. It turns out the fastest mode was by bicycle. You can see my route here:


I planned to take my own bike but I was afraid that when I needed to leave SLU later in the evening it might be raining and I would get drenched. It is of course always an option to put your bike on the bus but occasionally the rack is full and I would still have to leave my bike out in the rain. Taking Pronto allowed me to not have to worry about my own bike while still taking the fastest option to SLU.

I already understood that allowing one way trips by bicycle would be a key benefit to the Pronto system. Prior to this ride, the only reason I thought I might need to do this was if I planned to be out drinking or was afraid of leaving my bike somewhere. It didn’t occur to me that rain would actually motivate me to use Pronto.

Planning the Ride

Before I walked to the station, I was trying to figure where I could see a map of the stations. My default choice was looking at Google Maps and this proved unsuccessful. I ended up just walking to the Pronto station and the map on the helmet locker was sufficient. After my ride, I realized that I could use both the Transit App, covered here previously, or the Pronto Website.

With that said, I spent way more time trying to figure out where to ride than I actually needed. I didn’t realize that the stations had maps and once I was at the station it was easy enough for me to find a station near where I was going and simply remember the intersection. I’ll have to look more closely in the future but I’m curious if the online map is advertised at each station.

What Riding The Bike Was Like

Pronto’s bikes are big and bulky. It’s been a long time since I rode an upright bike and heavy bike but it’s definitely comfortable. The very first thing I noticed was that it’s impossible to go as fast as I typically travel. This is probably a good thing and is most likely why bike shares are remarkably safe.

There was one unexpected drawback to this slower speed. I realized that travelling faster among cars actually makes me feel safer. I may or may not actually be safer when I’m travelling faster in traffic but I do feel like I am. As I’m travelling slower I don’t feel like I’m travelling with traffic and the speed at which cars pass me is more jarring. This wouldn’t be a problem at all if I didn’t use Eastlake, a road with faster moving traffic and 4 lanes.  Harrison (in SLU) and Mercer (in Capitol Hill) felt completely safe, largely because they are two lane road with four way stops.

The bikes are generally very nice for a casual ride. I didn’t realize that they came with functional lights. Shifting was easy and the gear selection was more than sufficient for my downhill ride but I still need to test the bikes on an uphill ride. It was a little difficult to read which gear the bike was in although that wasn’t really important to me since I’m used to using a paddle shifter. It was easy to get on the bike simply by stepping through the frame. Overall I would say it was a very comfortable ride.

Is The Cost Too High?

Pronto’s pricing closely mirrors the pricing of a few other bike share programs, like the one in Washington. That program generates a lot of revenue and nearly pays for itself but that’s not necessarily a good accomplishment. Last night after my initial ride, I almost decided to use Pronto again but chose not to because of the price.

I was going downtown with three friends and we all planned on having a few drinks. Because we were running late, we thought the best option would be to take a taxi together. We all walked to meet each other in order to share the taxi ride and happened to meet next to a bike share station. Of course standing next to the station made us all realize that we could just use Pronto to get downtown. After looking at the prices though, we decided against that option.

Eight dollars for a short, ten minute ride was too much. I have a membership so my ride would’ve been free but between my two friends it would’ve been $16 dollars, and that’s not counting the additional cost if we had to pay for helmets. The cab ride ended up costing $7.14 for all three of us, less than the cost of one person using Pronto. This leaves me wondering, for short trips like this one, wouldn’t the city prefer people to use Pronto over a cab? If that’s the case the pricing will need to be a little different. This might affect revenue but that shouldn’t be the top priority since nearly all transportation receives subsidies in one way or another.

Additionally, this would’ve been a great opportunity for two people to try Pronto that aren’t members, possibly encouraging them to sign up. I was left wondering how Pronto plans on enticing people to pay for the annual membership? It seems like people will need to try it out in order to take that larger leap.

A Great Addition To The City’s Transportation Network

The people who are responsible for rolling out the program deserve a lot of praise. It’s a critical addition to the city’s transportation network. It’s easy to use and the price is relatively competitive with other modes. The two situations I had yesterday are great examples of when Pronto is the best mode choice but I’m sure I’ll encounter more as the system matures and I use it more frequently.



“Black Don’t Crack, But Asian Ain’t Playin’,” And Other Thoughts


Picture 2


“Hey, wha’s happening.” That’s me, greeting the OG’s stepping on at Othello. The Valero gas station there is a 24-hour institution, a cultural fixture on Rainier, a landmark of commerce and questionable exchange as necessary to announce as Chase Bank and the Columbia Tower. It’s never a question of whether there will be anyone at the zone, as there always are, even at 1am; it’s a question of how many want to get on. Tonight we have a few takers. The last, a mixed African-American man with the wispy grey beard of a kung-fu master, stops and stares at me without responding to my greeting. Then, in a tone of incredulity, he says, “holy shit! Wha’s goin on here? Ain’t no way this is for real. I got to be checkin’ for your license, ’cause ain’t no way you old enough!”

It’s a song I’ve heard before, and I respond with the line about the learner’s permit. But this version of the conversation feels amped up to eleven. Certainly it’s the first time he’s seen me, and his emotions feel new.

Staring at me from the chat seat, thinking it out for a second: “and I know I ain’t the first to say that shit either. But damn!” Daayumn. “You look younger than my youngest!”
“It’s all for real, I promise! All on the level,”
“Ain’t no fuckin way!” His tone is one who’s witnessing something too good to be true, like he hesitates to believe. “I got a nephew who’s eleven, and you dont look a day… man, where the camera crew at, ’cause I know this shit is a setup! People must be sayin’ this shit to you all the time!”
“At least a couple times a day,” I say, realizing it happens way more often than that.
“I’m surprised it ain’t all day!”
“I guess it’s about once a trip….”
“I’m ’bout to pull out some Doogie Howser shit, you know that, right?”
“Oh, I do!”
“How they HIRE you, bro?”

We’re starting to come down off the initial high, and glimmers of reality enter the conversation–
“I remember thinkin’, during the interview, there ain’t no way they gonna hire me, ’cause I dont look like any of the other bus drivers! But they did!”
“Man, but man, you got a, honestly, you got a good thing– and hold up, you only half Asian, right?”
“Wow, you know me! Yeah, exactly!”
“Hey, it’s the genes. black don’t; BLACK DON’T CRACK, BUT ASIAN AIN’T PLAYIN’.” Authoritatively: “That’s my new sayin’. I’m a roll with that. Black don’t crack, but Asian ain’t playin’. I knew a half-white guy once and he well, he weren’t playin’ cuz he wasn’t Asian, but he definitely cracked. But you, holy shit, you got a double dose o’ the good stuff.”
“Guess we got the genes,”
“I know you been down to the Caribbean, ’cause that’s where they say the Fountain of Youth is. You really got that shit. I know some white women who would KILL you.”
“I’m just tryin’ to grow up and be like you guys!” Referring to him and one remaining passenger, an older black man who desperately wants to go Auto Zone. “I know that’s right,” Auto Zone says. I say something about how I love the job, that I started seven years ago but I still–
“The– what? Am I believin’ in what I just heard? Do mah ears deceive me? Did I just hear you say–”
The old guy interrupts with, “how long you been doin’ the 7?”
“On and off since ’09.”

Our friend turns to the older gent. “Man, this guy got it goin’ on. You’ll be doin’ somethin’ else before long. I see you got some serious shit together. And man, when you turn sixty, dude, everyone gon’ think you thirty.”

I downplay his praise, and he downplays my modesty. I never thought about mortality so much until I started this job.

“Sometimes I wonder it’ll happen overnight, I’ll wake up look in the mirror have a bunch of grey hairs.”
“Fuck that. You’re good. How do you DO it? What the hell do you eat?”
“I’m just tryin to hit them fruits and vegetables!”
“No man, you be hittin’ some BLACK shit, seriously….”

The older gentleman gets off, absolutely reeking of marijuana, and our friend good-naturedly ribs him for it: “Damn, I know where to come for the good shit. I know you got the good stuff, ’cause ain’t nobody else left on the bus. And I know it ain’t the muhfuggin’ bus driver!”

Alone on the bus, he and I continue chatting as we go up the Prentice loop at the end of the route. His word choice is very street, but his enunciation and general air (plus that refined goatee) connote a formal education and more importantly, a wisdom gained from multiple fronts of life. I feel comfortable speaking what’s on my mind.
“I had two fights today.”
“Only two?” he says.
“See, you got a good attitude!”
“How did that, I mean how did it affect the running of your bus?”
“You know, it was okay. Everybody else was heeeeellla nice, and I think they appreciated, uh, me tryin’ to level everything out, balance out the situation, you know?”
“Aw yeah, people appreciate that no doubt. You tryna keep it movin’. Motherfuckers out here don’t like to put up with that bullshit. I smoke my weed, maybe drink a little too much sometimes, but I don’t interefere with the commerce, you know? And dude, dudes out here got your back. For a dude like you, I’ll fuck up anybody, man. I got your back. Anybody tries ackin some stupid shit, I be right there.” Quite a few other brothers have told me this before, and there have been times when they have followed through with aplomb. “I’ll give ’em the double elbow, send ’em flyin through the window for you if you need it. But we gotta be workin’ in concert. You gotta have that door open just the right second–”
“Precision timing–”
“Ezzactly. Send ’em flyin’ out there, close the doors we be movin’ right on away, we gone, ain’t nobody gettin on the back doors,”

He’s carried away in his daydream, and continues to explain hypothetical details. I’m thinking about how I like his use of the phrase “in concert.” Not really the parlance one hears in fictional ghetto dialogue. Out loud I say, “you know what I like about the 7 is, is that respect goes a loooong way out here.”
“Oooh yeah. And a long time.”
“People remember stuff.”
“My Uncle was for thirty years a Metro driver,”
“Oh, nice!”
“Well, but he was an asshole.”
“And that shit just really don’t work out here.”

I think I like the 7 in part because it forces discipline. It’s like balancing on a knife edge. My Father and I were recently discussing a certain 554 driver’s unconscionable behavior toward a passenger, and we agreed that with his attitude he wouldn’t last a second on the 7. The tolerance level for condescension and judgment out here is extraordinarily low. But if I’m patient and generous and capable, the rewards are tremendous. The gratitude is palpable.

Pronto! Cycle Share kickoff party


pronto party time

Pronto! Cycle Share continues to roll out the welcome carpet this Thursday with a “bike warming” party at Hotel Max in Seattle. They’ve put together quite a list of partners and vendors including Timbuk2 Seattle, PeopleForBikes, Zipcar, and Peddler Brewing to help you settle in to the new bikeshare system while hanging out with your fellow bikeshare members (though everyone is invited, including non-members).

The first 100 people to arrive get a swag bag filled with “surprises” so be sure to get their on time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014
6pm to 10pm
Hotel Max

Be sure to RSVP at Do206.

They are using the hashtag #PeopleForPronto for the event so check that out for additional information or visit

Seattle Installs New Red Bus Lane Markings

Courtesy of SDOT

On Tuesday, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) finished installing red paint on bus only lanes through the Battery Street corridor. The red paint is meant to clarify the fact that the lanes are bus only and better deter motorists. The city plans to step up enforcement of this traffic law as well. SDOT traffic engineer Dongho Chang captured the work on Twitter.

When asked about the work, transportation director Scott Kubly said that the city had its “focus on using the roadways as efficiently as we can.”

Urbanist Advertising Partner: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente

Urbanist Advertising Partner: Bike Works

Bike Works