Saturday, January 30, 2021

'Convertible balconies' How a retractable glass panel system can make a balcony so much more usable rain or shine

For the past 3 years I have been consulting to Lumon, a Finnish company that is the leader in the manufacture of retractable glass wall systems for patios, decks and balconies. In this post Covid-19 era, making outdoor spaces more usable year-round is becoming increasingly important and for this reason I am enamoured with this product, especially for balconies in new and existing buildings. Although Lumon is based in Finland, it operates in many countries around the world and now has a manufacturing plant in Ontario.  

While their system does not fully 'enclose' a balcony like a conventional, double-glazed window system, it does provide protection from wind, rain, noise and to a lesser degree the cold and pollution along busy streets. In many respects it is like a 'convertible' car with a large sunroof, which can be closed when it's wet and cold but open when it's sunny. I think it's a wonderful product. Here are some photos and a video I received yesterday for a major installation in Burnaby that is attracting a lot of attention! It's very short. Take a look!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Let's create more land. Geller Presentation to Tikva Housing AGM. Review by Pat Johnson in the Jewish Independent January 15th, 2020

In his December presentation, Michael Geller showed this photo of a building in Paris, where modular housing was added atop an existing apartment building to provide more units. 

 An old adage says that investing in real estate is always a good idea. “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” said Mark Twain. But local housing guru Michael Geller rejects this notion. “I think sometimes you have to create land,” Geller said. 

Looking at Vancouver from above, he said, you see a lot of green and a lot of blue. But you also see a lot of grey. Making better use of parking lots, rooftops, the top levels of parkades and underused space around existing buildings are among the ways Geller imagines we can create more space for housing. 

Geller spoke at Tikva Housing Society’s annual general meeting, held virtually on the first night of Chanukah. Tikva is a nonprofit society that provides access to affordable housing, primarily for Jewish low- to moderate-income adults and families. Its vision is “a safe, stable and affordable home for every Jewish person who needs one in Greater Vancouver.” 

Screenshot from Michael Geller’s presentation at the Tikva Housing Society annual general meeting Dec. 11. It was one of eight ideas he suggested to create more space for housing 

In honour of the eight nights of Chanukah, Geller offered up eight ideas, including building houses like we build cars – in factories. Also, taking the concept of laneway housing to new heights by allowing the construction of housing on parking lots. And designing apartments that can be divided into two studio suites or opened up to create family accommodation. Plus, matching people who live alone, or in a couple, and have extra bedrooms in their house to connect with people who need housing. 

 He showed one instance of a high-rise complex in West Vancouver where two new low-rise buildings were constructed amid the landscaped gardens around the older buildings. 

Geller was an early adopter of the concept of modular housing, having written a thesis on the subject in university. Modular housing consists of units manufactured and moved as completed (or mostly completed) structures to their temporary or permanent sites. He showed a photo of a building in Paris, where modular housing was added atop an existing apartment building to provide more units. The top levels of many urban parkades might make ideal locations for modular housing, he said, since few people park there unless the entire structure is full. 

 In European countries – Geller is doing work in Russia at present – families use space for more than one purpose, allowing better utilization of limited footage. Student accommodations, he suggested, could be developed by transforming a living area into a second bedroom through a pocket door or similar. Larger apartments could be made more flexible with extra external doors and tiny kitchenettes that allow one apartment to become two smaller ones – or those two smaller ones to be easily retrofitted for a growing family. He called these types of lock-off suites, “a mortgage helper in the sky.” 

Identifying new municipal, provincial and federal lands for affordable housing is another option. “I really like golfing at Langara,” Geller said. “But, I must say, if you were to take a 140-foot strip off that golf course all the way along Cambie Street, you could create a lot of land, which could be used for affordable housing and some market housing to support the non-market housing.” He admitted that some of his golfing friends might think this is a terrible idea. 

 Many of Vancouver’s older residents are “over-housed,” according to Geller, meaning that one or two people might live in a three- or four-bedroom home. Not everyone would be comfortable sharing their home with erstwhile strangers, he admitted, but some would. “They might want to share with another senior, they might want to share with a younger person who is willing to help around the house, to pick up prescriptions, to pick up food, to drive them to see friends,” he said. 

 Another idea Geller mooted was “the Tikva Suite.” “Maybe we should start a program where we basically approach every member of the Jewish community who owns an apartment building and say, rent us a suite, give us a suite, and the clever accountants in the community can work out some way so there can be a tax receipt for this and that way you can have a suite in every one of those buildings,” he said. “It’s a dream, but many of the dreams I’ve had over the last 50 years actually do materialize. They take awhile, but this is not such a crazy idea.” 

Geller is a planner, real estate developer and retired architect with five decades of experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. He is adjunct professor at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Sustainable Development. 

Beginning with a seven-unit building in South Vancouver in 2007, Tikva Housing Society has grown to support the housing needs of 288 individuals. The society provides housing directly through three complexes – with another under construction – as well as through rent subsidies. The AGM heard that the society has net assets of about $2.6 million. At the meeting, outgoing chair Shelley Karrel announced the launch of a new Jewish Housing Registry, an online platform for people who are looking for housing. It is a partnership between Tikva, Jewish Family Services, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the other Jewish housing societies: Vancouver Jewish Building Society, Yaffa Housing Society, Haro Park Centre and Maple Crest Apartments (which is under the auspices of Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch 178). 

The registry will provide a single source for housing applications and will also provide partners with a more accurate way of determining the scope of the community’s housing needs. (See The 2011 Census reported 26,250 people in Metro Vancouver’s Jewish community, of which more than 16% reported incomes below the low-income cutoff, giving Vancouver the second highest rate of Jewish poor in Canada. Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Metro Vancouver is more than $2,000 a month and the vacancy rate is about one percent.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Brandon Donnelly's 2021 Predictions

Most of us receive far too many things to read every day. I certainly do, and too often delete things without even reading them. But one thing I do read religiously every day is Brandon Donnelly's blog. He publishes it every day. Yes, EVERY DAY! 

Like me, he has a background in architecture but turned to property development, but that's where the comparison ends. He calls himself an 'Archipreneur'. He's a very bright young man, with excellent writing skills, and a considerable level of self-discipline. 

Today, he posted his predictions for 2021, and while I may not agree with them all, I think they are all well worth reading. So, read on. 

His website is and you might want to subscribe.

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My 2021 predictions

Jan 01, 2021 06:34 pm | Brandon Graham Donnelly

Life will feel a lot more normal by spring/summer (Q2). By this time, the various vaccines should be broadly available (at least in the developed world). This is something that never happened during the Spanish Flu. From what I have read, the Spanish Flu lasted about two years and there were four major waves, the second of which was by far the most deadly. Ultimately, a vaccine was never found. It just petered out as people developed immunity. But medicine then was not what it is today, so surely we are destined to do better.

What happens with working from home is going to be one of the most important outcomes of 2021. Right now it feels like tech vs. commercial real estate. The tech industry has been quick to renounce offices (while many large tech companies continued to lease more space through 2020). And the commercial real estate industry has naturally pointed out that we’re all still going to need physical offices.

My view is that, yes, people appreciate the flexibility of being able to work remotely, but that we’re greatly exaggerating the extent to which work is going to disperse in the short-term. I think it comes down to three main things. 1) It’s nice being around other humans, both in the office and for those after work drinks. 2) Collaborative and knowledge-intensive endeavors work better when people are in the same room. And 3) corporate politics will encourage people to return to the office. Who do you think is going to get promoted first, the person who Zooms in from the Caribbean for meetings or the person who shows up to the office and grinds it out every day?

As the world returns to normal, we will, however, see an explosion in global travel. Many will be questioning how Airbnb’s sky-high valuation makes any sort of sense, but it’ll have the right story for what’s going on in the world (some people call these “story stocks”). The reality is that there will be a massive amount of pent up demand that starts to come out as soon as people start to feel safe and governments start to allow people to travel en masse. I’m already looking forward to the 2021-2022 ski season, which I fully expect to be a blockbuster season.

Because of this, we will see a decline in recreational real estate. The kind that was fulfilling people’s need for local travel during this pandemic. Instead, people will turn their attention to more international experiences and try and make up for lost time. Many will also come to realize that the whole working from home thing didn’t stick as expected and so they’ll start deriving less utility from their property outside of the city. Expect a kind of reversion to the mean when it comes to prices.

Urban/downtown real estate will strongly rebound in the second half of 2021. As restaurants reopen, as people return to offices, and as urban life in general resumes, we will see an increase in demand for condos/apartments, and probably larger urban spaces given the run-up in prices for single-family homes that many cities saw last year. (A bit more on this point can be found here

The trends that are being accelerated as a result of this pandemic are not going to stop, though their rate of increase will temper. The apps and platforms that people started using in 2020, perhaps for the first time, have established new habits. People’s credit cards are now on file and it’ll be very easy for those online habits to remain. But the opposing force to all of this will be the strong desire for socializing, travel, and novel experiences. It’ll be the more routine stuff that will continue to live entirely on our phones.

The restaurant/food industry will bounce back in a slightly different form. Sadly, many businesses will have failed. But we will also see an explosion in new ideas and new concepts, satisfying our demand to be out socializing and trying new things throughout the new roaring twenties. Ghost kitchens and on-demand food delivery companies will continue to disaggregate how some restaurants are setup. Companies like Uber will see their ride-sharing businesses quickly snap back, which will more than offset the decline in food delivery as people resume eating out.

Public transit ridership probably won’t return to its pre-pandemic levels until at least the fall. Possibly late fall. This is going to be a serious problem for the various levels of government that subsidize virtually all public transit authorities. Many transit networks have seen ridership declines of 70% or so and, if my timing projections are correct, that will have been the case for about a year and a half.

The migration from high tax states (like California and New York) to low tax states (like Texas and Florida) will continue. This trend was well underway before COVID-19 and so I don’t see it reversing. What is perhaps more interesting to consider is how this dispersion of economic activity will ultimately play out against some of the centralizing/polarizing forces of the global economy. Urban agglomeration economies aren’t going to go away.

To end, I will say that I think it’s safe to assume that we’re all looking forward to the world getting back to normal, whatever that happens to mean. But ironically, once that happens, I reckon that some of us might look back on this period of time and feel hints of nostalgia. Perhaps you learned a new skill or perhaps you were able to spend more time with love ones. Time and distance may better reveal these silver linings.

Onward, my friends. What a time to be alive.