Monday, May 29, 2017

Ischia: 40 years on!

Mezzatorre Resort & Spa, a notch up from where we stayed in Ischia 40 years ago!
     In 1977, Sally and I visited Ischia for the first time. I wanted to go to Capri in the Bay of Naples, but her father suggested we go to Ischia, the neighbouring island instead. We might have still gone to Capri but the ferry to Ischia left before the ferry to Capri!
Hotel Oriente where we stayed last time.
     It was a most memorable trip. We stayed at the Hotel Oriente, which seemed quite lovely at the time with its private terrace, and enjoyed the best lasagna we had ever had at a cafe in the post office. We visited the thermal baths and gardens, where we were surprised to discover almost everyone was German.
     Since Sally turns 70 on June 3, she decided we should return to Italy for her birthday. She rented a small villa in Tuscany where we will be joined by Georgia and Patrick, who have been travelling the world since November (Georgia's last stop was Rwanda), Claire who is hopefully on a boat from Barcelona to Rome, and Maxine Long, her best friend from UK with whom she first visited Vancouver. Sally stayed; Maxine returned to UK.
The reception area
     Before meeting up, Sally wanted to return to Ischia. While I would have been happy to return to the Oriente, she booked what seemed like a nice hotel at the other end of the Island. We tried to get a rental car, but were told there was a 4 day minimum, and we wanted to come for 3. However, having seen the narrow, winding roads, and location of our hotel, I am so pleased we didn't get a car.
    We are at the Mezzatore Resort & Spa. Set on 17 acres of woodland at the northern tip of the island, it is quite a beautiful spot. We suspect we are the only Canadians....everyone else is Italian, German, a few Brits and Americans.
     Since Donald Trump just ruined the G7 meeting hosted by the Italian Prime Minister (according to the Italian press) we wish we were wearing small Canadian flags, but forgot to bring them.)
    As evident from the photos, it really is a good place to begin a 70th birthday celebration. The only problem is that Sally hurt her hip before leaving and is having difficulty navigating the steep terrain. Other guests are also having difficulties, and I have suggested to the management that they mention on their website that many of the rooms and suites are difficult to access by those who have difficulty walking.
This is where I enjoyed my first true whiskey ice-cream. Gelato covered in Johnny Walker Black Label
     Fortunately the resort offers a regular shuttle down to Lacco Ameno a delightful town below the resort. We went there our first night and while service in Italian restaurants is reportedly different than in North America, I'm convinced we got particularly poor service because our waiter assumed we voted for Trump.
     We also visited the nearby Giardini La Mortella which Sally had previously been told about. They were lovely gardens, with some fascinating water plants, and a lovely seating area which I will copy in the garden at Rush House, my next West Vancouver project. (However, I will design and build it out of white painted cedar!
At dinner last night, the people at the next table complained that they didn't get a better table location! We thought this was magical!


Opinion: Why are single family homes sacred? Vancouver Courier May 24, 2017

The panel at a recent talk was also asked what are we trying to protect when it comes to single-family zoned areas. Photo Michael Geller
     Why do so many people continue to protect the sacred single-family home? This was the question posed last week by four young, forward-looking municipal councillors to an audience gathered in a North Vancouver District public library. The event was the third in a series of discussions called Metro Conversations.
     Each Metro Conversation brings together a broad panel offering different perspectives. I was invited to share the perspective of an architect and developer.
     The first Metro Conversation looked at the prickly topic of regulating Airbnb and other similar vacation rental programs, since they are having a significant impact on the supply of rental housing, not just in Vancouver, but in cities around the world.
     The second conversation looked at ‘purpose-built’ rentals. How do we ensure that people at different income levels have access to rental housing they can afford, and how can we ensure that the rental housing stock in our region is kept in a state of good repair?
     At last week’s discussion, I was joined by local resident Krista Tulloch, who had served on the North Vancouver District Official Community Plan Implementation Committee, Cameron Maltby, a custom home designer, and planner and educator Neal LaMontagne.
     North Vancouver District councillor Mathew Bond, who organized the event, noted that like all communities in Metro Vancouver, his municipality’s residential areas are largely dedicated to single-family housing. He questioned whether they were limiting the opportunity for more affordable housing options in North Vancouver District and elsewhere around Metro Vancouver.
     The panel was also asked what are we trying to protect when it comes to single-family zoned areas. We generally agreed that for many, neighbourhood character is most important. In single-family neighbourhoods, this is often seen as the size of houses and setbacks, and the amount of landscaping, green space and trees.
     However, it was noted that neighbourhood character is also a function of resident composition. Are there children playing in the streets and front yards? Are there people walking along the sidewalks? Is there a sense of community or are too many houses vacant?
     The topics of housing affordability and density then came up.  All panelists agreed that neighbourhood character can be preserved while increasing density to provide more affordable housing options. Examples included front-and-back or side-by-side duplexes designed to look like larger houses, laneway or coach houses, townhouses, and even small apartment buildings.
     In most municipalities, obtaining approval to build these types of in-fill housing is often too difficult. It is so much easier to simply build a large, new single-family house. Local governments therefore need to update their policies and bylaws to allow greater housing choices.
     However, with single-family lots selling for $1.5 million or more, even if zoning approvals can be more easily obtained to allow these forms of housing, the resulting housing is not going to be affordable for those earning modest incomes and struggling to find a home.
     I offered, as an example, that even if a single-family lot could be rezoned for a 10-suite apartment building, the land cost per apartment is likely going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars, with construction and other ‘soft costs’ on top of that.
     Not surprisingly, the topics of traffic and parking also came up. It was the panel’s consensus that as public transit improves and areas become more walkable, even if densities increase, the amount of required parking may turn out to be less. This would be particularly true if neighbourhood corner stores, schools, and small childcare facilities could be integrated with new housing.
     Is this likely to happen?
     I am more optimistic today than I was 30 years ago when I first started to rezone single-family properties for new housing choices. Why?
     Because many of those who opposed rezonings at that time are the ones now seeking smaller houses, duplexes, townhouses, and small apartments in their neighbourhoods.
Metro Conversations series is being organized by Nathan Pachal of the City of Langley, Kiersten Duncan of Maple Ridge, and Patrick Johnstone of New Westminster, in addition to Mathew Bond, with financial and logistical support from SFU Public Square and other community organizations.

We need more politicians like them.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

House out of Factory: Making a home for manufactured housing Vancouver Sun May 20th, 2017

Sage Creek in Kelowna is a good example of the use of modular homes

Imagine if cars were built like houses.
     One day, sheets of steel arrive on site for metal workers to cut and weld in the rain. Wheels show up, but unfortunately, the axle installer is sick so they are left lying around. Rolls of vinyl for the seats are delivered, but that installer is delayed because of an accident on the Second Narrows Bridge. You get the picture.
     I thought about the differences between building cars and houses on a recent tour of a Kelowna manufactured housing factory organized as part of the 2017 Manufactured Housing Association of British Columbia’s annual conference. I was invited to offer the perspective of an architect and developer on factory-built housing to an audience comprising manufacturers, dealers, transporters and government officials.
     I have had a longstanding interest in manufactured housing dating back to 1970 when I was one of seven architectural students from across Canada to win a CMHC travelling scholarship. Our travels took us across the U.S. with guide Warren Chalk, one of the founding members of Archigram, an avant-garde 1960s British architectural group, with projects that included Plug-in-City, a massive framework into which modular dwellings could be slotted and removed.
     For six weeks, we toured mobile home parks and housing factories on a government initiative to promote manufactured housing on a major scale.
      In my university thesis, I focused on a factory-produced relocatable housing system, and proposed that just as schools set up portable classrooms, governments could install modular housing on vacant lots. This could then be relocated when the property was needed for redevelopment, effectively eliminating the cost of land.
   That interest continued after I joined CMHC in Vancouver as assistant architect/planner. In the mid Seventies, CMHC was building seniors’ housing around the province and I proposed factory-production for smaller communities. Soon, modular housing was delivered and assembled in Keremeos and Chase.
     Today, BC Housing continues to build seniors’ housing projects in smaller communities using factory-built modular housing.
     In recent years, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver undertook a feasibility study of a concept to promote relocatable modular housing as an alternative to housing people in shelters. A team led by NSDA Architects and housing manufacturers Britco and Shelter Industries examined technical issues and costs associated with building, setting up and relocating private sleeping rooms and bathrooms.
Recently, the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, with financial support from CMHC, completed a factory-built modular housing demonstration project at Main Street and Terminal. The modules will be relocated in a few years when the site is ready for redevelopment. Hopefully, other vacant sites around the region will be similarly used.
     Throughout B.C. today, thousands of attractive permanent homes are being built in factories. Companies such as Triple M, Moduline, SRI and many other manufacturing plants are constantly improving assembly-line procedures to build complete homes in days, rather than weeks or months.
By building in climate-controlled settings, workers are not dealing with rain or snow. Waste is considerably reduced, and consequently factory-built homes are cost-effective, environmentally smart, and able to be customized as on-site construction. For this reason, many of the PNE show homes have been built using modular construction.
     At the Kelowna conference, I learned there are two basic types of factory-built housing: manufactured homes and modular-built homes.
     Manufactured homes are typically constructed on a steel frame in one or two sections and are virtually complete when they leave the factory. Thus, they are ready for move-in the same day or a few days after arriving on the site. These homes can be installed on simple foundations and even relocated, although most are never moved from their original site.
     Modular-built homes do not have a steel frame. A typical bungalow consists of one or two modules, while multi-storey homes or buildings are created with multiple modules. These homes are typically set on full-perimeter foundations with a crawl space or even a full basement.
Insulation, air/vapour barrier, plumbing, wiring, exterior siding and other construction details are largely completed in the factory. Interior work, including drywall, trim, flooring, cabinets and bathroom fixtures, is usually well advanced. Finishing the home on site can include adding pitched roofs, and an attached garage or stone facing. This generally takes a couple of weeks.
     While I am surprised that factory-produced housing is not more popular in Canada, expect this to change, since it is cost-effective, energy- and resource-efficient, and well suited to a variety of housing forms. It could be an affordable solution for infill and laneway housing, and multi-storey apartments.
     Imagine if houses were built like cars.