We have seen the future, and it does not look good for the moving business. This bit of clairvoyance comes by way of AIA Seattle's second group of FutureShack winners, a competition that's part public debate about how we want to live and part professional recognition of innovative urban residential architecture.

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WE HAVE seen the future, and it does not look good for the moving business.

This bit of clairvoyance comes by way of AIA Seattle’s second group of FutureShack winners, a competition that’s part public debate about how we want to live and part professional recognition of innovative urban residential architecture.

This year’s bunch are hardworking, compact, resourceful, social and, most notably, flexible for a lifetime.

These are not the homes (emphasis on the plural) of our parents, who typically packed up the clothes, the dishes, the furniture and the junk under the deck three times in the course of their lives: starter house to family home to empty nest. The dwellings featured here, and to be celebrated Sept. 15 at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion, are a limber and community-minded bunch. Equipped for life now and then. The architects offer streamlined spaces that work harder than ever. Spaces with the ability to share and to morph — from office, to guesthouse, to play room, to business or, when the need arises, to rental unit. Courtyards that extend a handshake among neighbors in town houses, communal spaces for parking and gardens.

Move in, stay put. Sustainable for the planet and a lifetime.

While reaching forward, though, these dwellings pull directly from the Northwest’s rich architectural past.

“Lasting flexibility has been a common approach for Northwest architecture since we started doing Modern houses; it’s part of the Modernist credo,” says David Miller. “The Northwest, though, has that outdoor-indoor connection.”

This is the kind of stuff Miller thinks about all the time, whether it’s from behind his desk as chairman of the University of Washington’s Department of Architecture or on a job as the Miller portion of the Miller/Hull Partnership. Miller/Hull made its reputation creating contemporary buildings that draw upon the heritage of Pacific Northwest architecture. The firm was the national AIA firm of the year in 2003, and this year Miller and Robert Hull received the AIA Seattle Gold Medal for lifetime achievement, the highest award AIA Seattle can confer on one of its own members.

Lending his scholarly and architecturally paternal eye to the five projects chosen this year, Miller sees our past hurtling forward.

“Starting with the early Modernist work in the region, these houses were about building rationally, simply, with a small footprint and very open plans,” he says. “The small footprint and indoor-outdoor relationships were strongly a part of this regional architecture of the 1950s and ’60s, and was born here. In Modern architecture’s infancy there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to regional climate and building patterns. You built these steel-and-glass or wood-and-glass buildings that could be anyplace. But what was unique in the Northwest, from the very beginning, was a strong tie to land and place.”

Now that continuity of principles, he says, is being advanced — “green strategies that are really an outgrowth of ideas from the 1950s and ’60s. But there is a clear progression of ideas that really defines this area.”

Two projects chosen by the jury, Barton Street Lofts in White Center and Urban Canyon near Capitol Hill in Seattle, are modestly priced, sustainable town houses that encourage interaction and cooperation among neighbors. Wall House on Queen Anne is a remodeled single-family home responsibly expanded (keeping the original foundation) for a growing family. Building 115 is a one-stop, mixed-use structure offering one retail, one residential and two commercial spaces in high-density Fremont. And the unbuilt Beacon Hill DADU offers a vision of the possibilities for detached accessory dwelling units now that Seattle has expanded zoning for them.

What our professor particularly appreciates about these dwellings is that they play nice with others. Or as Miller puts it, “They’re all increasing density without dramatically changing the scale or feel of the neighborhood. I think there’s a kind of rationalism, which is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest: that is avoiding the pacemakers. With the color (on siding), there’s a little bit of that, but the forms aren’t too striving. They’re simple, logical and rational.

“That’s a good thing. They’ll stand the test of time.”

And in each of the projects, sustainable products and systems are vital.

Several have photovoltaic panels, Miller notes, and a lot of them feature strategies that have dramatically reduced water consumption, including harvested water for the landscaping and flushing toilets.

Several projects use systems for reducing cost and gaining efficiencies in construction, Miller says. “The Beacon Hill project, for example, uses SIPS panels. They’re a composite panel, which has insulation in the core and stressed panels externally. They’re ready to go. If you use them on a standard module they’re quite cost-effective, and they’re fast to put up. They also used some pre-manufactured systems, like pin piles, a great way to save money on construction, which I think should be used more often.”

Sounds like they got an “A.”

Here is a look at each of this year’s winners:


Square footage: 1,900 for the residence, 500 for the garage/flex space, on a 3,600-square-foot lot in the Queen Anne neighborhood

Entrant: Adams Mohler Ghillino Architects

Team credits: Principal architect Rik Adams with Rick Mohler, Rick Ghillino and Brian Baker

Project address: 2148 Seventh Ave. W., Seattle

Wall House is a three-bedroom, 2 ½-bath, single-family residence with detached garage/flex space on a lot 30 feet by 120 feet with alley access. It was designed to shift with the needs of daily life on a tight urban lot. It features an alternating sequence of indoor and outdoor rooms connected by a cedar-clad wall. The main floor space is one open volume. Full-width, side-fold doors extend the space into the private garden, the more public front yard or both. The upstairs holds three bedrooms, two baths and a media/office space that could also be a fourth bedroom. The garage has access from the main house and the alley. It can serve as a rental unit, guesthouse, studio or play space.

“This is a very elegant, beautiful plan that took advantage of getting the most out of a tight urban lot. It does so many things on so many levels,” Miller says. “The use of the garage as a guest room or office that shares a courtyard with the main house I thought was really terrific.”


Square footage: 2,640 lot in Fremont

Entrant: Graham Baba Architects

Team credits: Architect, James E. Graham. Client, Dave Boone (Enoob, LLC). Contractor, dBoone Construction. Engineer, Swenson Say Fagét

Project address: 115 N. 36th St., Seattle

Building 115 is a mixed-use project that provides a solution for live-work and income-generating, in response to the changing housing and financial needs of the community. “The ability to live, work and shop within the same structure lessens the need for constant commuting and fossil-fuel consumption. Reduced need for motorized transport will enrich the communities that these buildings are a part of and create a pedestrian-centered experience on our streets,” reads the entry for 115. “Fremont is a vibrant and pedestrian-oriented urban hub of Seattle, so the location of Building 115 is optimal to support a myriad of different commercial endeavors for years to come.”

Miller called 115 the most adventurous of the FutureShack winners, both stylistically and aesthetically: “It uses channel glass, a translucent wall material, so it gives a nighttime presence on a street that has traffic 24-7. And that nighttime presence, I think, is a great contribution to Fremont. Being in a commercial zone, it maximizes use of the building. It’s a great hybrid mix. I’d like to see more projects like that.”


Square footage: 14,600-square-foot lot for seven homes ranging from 1,640 square feet to 2,530 square feet near Capitol Hill

Entrant: b9 architects

Team credits: Bradley Khouri, b9 architects. Graham Black, gProjects

Project Address: 1911 E. Pine St., Seattle

“Town homes don’t have to be ugly and dampen the human spirit.” This is from the architect and builder of Urban Canyon. Their project attempts to foster community through connection: people and place, the neighborhood’s past and present, ground and sky and between neighbors, the entry says. It is a seven-home community designed around a central “canyon,” from 10 to almost 18 feet wide. It is a place for people to walk, hang out and visit. The canyon’s orientation allows for southern light and air to reach each unit and to penetrate the site. Front doors connect to the south-facing canyon, which concludes at the community P-patch. The homes have roof decks with views into the canyon and the Cascade Mountains. Parking is covered under a trellis.

Miller admires the number of units fit on the site. “It’s an affordable project. It’s also doing a lot of things; it’s a very practical, straightforward project about community and green living.”


Square footage: Fourteen 1,000-square-foot town houses on a 14,000-square-foot lot in White Center

Entrant: Joseph Hurley Architects

Team credits: Architect, Joseph Hurley. Owner/builder, Bill Parks. Landscape architects, Maggi Johnston, Benjamin Barrett

Project Address: 18th Ave. S.W. and S.W. Barton Street, White Center

“We can replace every incandescent bulb in Seattle with a compact-fluorescent and mount solar panels on every roof, but the hardest and most important choices we make will be around one issue: settlement patterns,” Hurley writes. “Can we live close together? Can we shop and work and live within a more circumscribed area? This lot accommodates 14 households where there used to be three. The units’ small size and simple construction make them more affordable than other units.”

This density is what appeals to Miller. “And it’s around a central courtyard, so it has a different approach to the open space than Urban Canyon. The double-height spaces inside get more volume within a tight site. The forms and materials work well in terms of sitting nicely in a neighborhood and being a good neighbor.”


Square footage: 16,628-square-foot lot; unbuilt

Entrant: BjarkoSerra Architects

Team credits: Chris Serra, Valerie Wersinger

Project Address: 2317 S. Hinds St., Seattle

Seattle has allowed accessory-dwelling units inside or attached to a property’s main house since 1994. But the city has been a holdout in allowing backyard cottages (officially called detached accessory dwelling units). Southeast Seattle, Clyde Hill, Issaquah, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Shoreline, Newcastle, Redmond, parts of unincorporated King County, Woodinville, Yarrow Point and Portland have all permitted them previously. On Dec. 4, 2009, Seattle joined the crowd.

“We believe this change in legislation opens opportunities for property owners to adapt to changing economic conditions in our city,” the entry says. “DADU’s can be supplemental-income generators, create greater diversity in family/living conditions and will, in general, foster more sustainable conditions such as supporting public transportation and other services that depend on density.

“This design is intended to create a bright, efficient, modern mini-dwelling that has a comfortable relationship with its backyard-garden environment.”

This truly is the future of the future, and it sets a fine example, Miller says.

“It really is the prototypical project for accessory dwellings; a simple form but an interesting form with the butterfly roof. Maximizing space is a really great characteristic of this project: It has a really small bathroom; the way it opens to the decks; it has a large, transparent wall. It’s a very simple, direct, but light-filled house with great volume. It’s a terrific example for others to build off of and to emulate.

“There’s probably going to be some really bad examples of these, because people will want to do them on the cheap, and there will be constraints. I’m sure the jury really wanted to feature the potential of this.”

And now for the moral of our story:

“These projects do this, but we need to build smaller,” Miller warns. “We need to avoid extravagance with our residential stock. It should be space that is efficient and flexible and provides multi-uses. You can get a lot of program in a small footprint if you plan well. And that should be something we all strive for as we move into the future.

“Wood is still the most sustainable building material in the Pacific Northwest, if it comes from managed forests. It’s really the best material. We should continue that. It’s affordable. And it reinforces the character of the region’s architecture.

“And I would like to see more photovoltaics on our houses. We’ve got to do everything we can to minimize our energy consumption. I think people talk themselves out of it because of our cloudy days, but they’re becoming more and more efficient. I like to see them all over the city.”

The conversation continues.

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.