With a downtown storefront office space that often hosts panel discussions and gallery openings, Seattle’s b9 Architects frequently focuses on community. Owner Bradley Khouri, AIA says that for their wide range of projects, including yoga studios, homes and mixed-use developments, fostering communal experiences onsite and creating dialogue with the greater Seattle area is paramount to their design process. It’s a distinctive approach exemplified by their recent Solhaus development in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood, a project that also showcases how the firm achieves these goals with Graphisoft’s BIM-based ARCHICAD software.
All exterior photography by William Wright Photography
When Khouri was first contacted about the Capitol Hill property, he tried to find a client that would want to invest in the development. Realizing the potential for the property, Khouri realized he wanted to find a way to develop the site himself. Khouri chose to partner with Cascade Built, a developer/builder with whom Khouri had worked in the past. Together they took on the Solhaus site, with Khouri acting as both architect and co-developer.
“It could have been much bigger,” Khouri says. “But the previous owners wanted a townhouse project to be designed by b9 on the site.” With larger, newer developments east of Solhaus and smaller, finer-grade buildings just to the west, Khouri and his team sought the perfect balance for the neighborhood. At the same time, another recent project co-developed by Khouri in the area had shown him that, while Capitol Hill is walkable, its home-buyers are not ready to ditch their cars altogether. In order to find the right scale, efficiently fit parking and avoid identical units, the b9 team turned back to the idea of community.
The designers transformed the site’s rectangular lots into two L shapes, creating a central courtyard that would also allow for a single below-grade parking structure.“This irregular shape on the site plan for us was really important,” says Khouri. “Everybody who would walk to the site would walk through the courtyard, all the mailboxes are on that center path and anybody coming up through the garage would enter the courtyard before going to their unit.”
Once the design was in place, the project team’s goal was to activate the spaces while making them as sustainable as possible. Passive house windows and electric car charging ports were installed to achieve the highest level of local certification. “Then we installed roll-up transparent garage doors for the four units with courtyard level kitchen, dining and living rooms,” Khouri says. “So the living space can actually spill out: In nice weather, people can bring their living experience out into that communal space.” For Khouri, all these different elements bringing that communal space to life would not have come together without the BIM software he has used since 1996: “It was all about the center courtyard, so we had to do a fair amount of drawings renderings, diagrams and other illustrations, all of which come out of ARCHICAD.”
While the design worked for Khouri’s vision, there were still some Seattle-specific issues facing its realization, particularly topography and code compliance. A 12-to-14-foot slope and surrounding tall buildings made the 16-foot dig for parking difficult. However, Khouri found that using ARCHICAD models from day one made it easy to create realistic construction solutions and to sell them to the city. “From the very early diagramming all the way to the presentation drawings for sales, it’s all the same file,” says Khouri. And having that single file made it easy to manage efficiency as both developer and architect. Khouri used Archicad to order materials, double check models with the contractor and, most importantly, produce diagrams and renderings that showed the city the benefits in variations on certain codes.
Thanks to ARCHICAD’s unique BIM environment, complex calculations like elevation are generated at the same time as 3D shapes, making it easier for the b9 team to get realistic visuals of their solutions and all necessary data. “We were able to use the software both to model topography and to understand how to fit the garage below grade in order for it not to count against the square footage we were allowed,” Khouri says. “It’s nice to know that we have a tool that takes into consideration navigating it all and getting the project to sync up with design, code compliance and constructability concerns.”
As a small firm where team members often travel or telecommute, b9 looks to Archicad to help it maintain its own sense of community, allowing team members to contribute no matter where they are through a cloud server. “ I worked on this file from all over the world, from Germany to Seattle with work travel. It allows people in the same room to be working on it in a stable platform,” says Khouri. It also makes it easy for new team members and contractors from as far away as Athens to join the design process along the way. “We’ve had employees leave and end up buying their own copies of Archicad to work on other projects. Whether they were working with us or not, they wanted it.”