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Point Access Block Policy Brief

Over the last few months, we've been working with several policymakers, advocacy groups, and jurisdictions on Point Access Block legislation. To facilitate those conversations and educate policymakers, developers, and planners - we've developed a policy brief highlighting their benefits, and what Seattle's Building Code allows.

Larch Lab Policy Brief: Unlocking Development with Point Access Blocks: a path towards more livable, climate adaptive, and family friendly homes

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Problem: After decades of underbuilding, an extensive shortage of housing exists in the United States – not just in large cities, but in suburban and rural areas as well. Building code requirements and the economics of construction have made small to medium-sized multifamily housing increasingly difficult to develop. Over the last twenty years, multifamily development has trended towards larger and significantly denser buildings, with a poor mix of unit sizes. In 2000, buildings of 50+ units made up just 13% of all multifamily completions. Today, over 55% of all new multifamily homes are in 50+ unit buildings. The majority of these are double loaded corridors, hotel-like buildings with a hall running down the middle and single aspect dwellings on either side. These homes tend to get little daylight, and have no opportunity to cross ventilate or mitigate urban noise.

We believe that the solution lies with allowing more diversity in building access. Specifically, by employing Point Access Blocks – compact single stair buildings with dwellings centered around a stairway and elevator core. They are the fundamental building block of cities around the world, in buildings up to six or more stories. However, for most of the U.S. they are restricted to just three stories. Seattle and New York City are the only jurisdictions where taller Point Access Blocks are allowed, with conditions allowing up to six stories.

This policy brief touches on how Point Access Blocks can lead to more livable, climate adaptive, and family friendly housing versus the way multifamily housing is designed and built in the U.S. today. They are incredibly compact, which makes them ideal for cost-optimized Passivhaus buildings. They also play well with Mass Timber.

 

We are looking forward to the robust discussions about housing, livability, and qualities of urbanity that are severely lacking in North American multifamily development. If you’re interested in discussing this issue, or other issues around decarbonized and family-friendly housing, please contact us.

 

Larch Lab’s Eliason to present at AIA Virginia’s Annual Symposium

Larch Lab's Michael Eliason will be presenting at the AIA Virginia's 2022 annual symposium, Architecture Exchange East.

Michael will be co–presenting with City of Charlottesville planner Lyle Solla-Yates, for the track titled, ‘Unlocking Better Design through Regulatory Reform.’

ArchEx’s description for the presentation, ‘After some background in zoning history, particularly in Virginia, engage in a discussion on comprehensive planning, zoning, and building code reform.

Using Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan and pending zoning rewrite as a case study, discover examples of creative infill designs to unlock historically R1 and other areas.

Learn why point access blocks/single stair multifamily buildings are uncommon in the U.S. but could present a solution to help address the climate crisis and create access to more affordable, equitable housing.’


The talk will be on 4 November, 2022. More information via ArchEx.

scrabble tiles spelling out "livable, low car-bon city"

Launching the Livable, Low-carbon City Podcast

After some prodding - we decided to launch The Livable, Low-carbon City - a podcast that explores the stories, places, and people working to make our buildings and cities more sustainable, enjoyable, and humane – in the face of a changing world.

scrabble tiles spelling out "livable, low car-bon city"

We’ll be discussing some of the themes central to our work, and having conversations with colleagues and friends on things that make for climate adaptive and livable cities – with a low carbon footprint.

Episodes 1-8 focus on unit access and point access blocks, missing mid-rise, and overheating in buildings, and various forms of housing. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts – and several other directories.

New episodes every Friday. ish.

Mid-rise Mass Timber Cities are the proven climate solution

Larch Lab's Michael Eliason was quoted in an Inside Climate News piece summarizing recent research on the potential carbon savings of Mass Timber cities.

One of the ways to [mitigate carbon at scale] is to be incredibly resource-efficient when designing buildings. Limiting sprawl can also play a significant role. The IPCC’s Working Group III report on mitigation highlighted that compact, walkable cities are some of the most effective means of mitigating carbon emissions. Mid-rise timber cities, such as those studied in this report, with resource efficient and sustainably sourced timber do exactly that.

- Michael Eliason

Reporter Bob Berwyn’s article, ‘Timber Cities Might Decarbonize the World,’ summarizes recent research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research showing that proper land management and the construction of compact, walkable cities built with mid-rise mass timber buildings, could reduce carbon emissions by up to 100 gigatons through 2100. Eliason and his colleague, RDH Climate Change Specialist Monte Paulsen, also indicate that wood construction alone wasn’t a feasible solution – decarbonization needs to be happening across the construction industry.

Larch Lab’s Eliason has been working on projects incorporating Mass Timber since 2003 – including the first dowel laminated timber building in Washington State. Along with potential ecological benefits, Mass Timber offers a number of others including reduced construction timelines, tighter construction, quieter constructions sites. It also pairs incredibly well with high performance standards such as Passivhaus. If you are interested in discussing how to build climate adaptive buildings and districts, please contact us.

Mercatus Center references Point Access Blocks for new solutions to housing shortages

The Mercatus Center at George Washington University recently released a policy brief on solutions to statewide housing shortages, referencing Eliason’s writing on Point Access Blocks.

The policy brief, written by Mercatus’s Salim Furth and Emily Hamilton, features sixteen options for housing reform. The last option, ‘Option 16: Allow Skinny Apartment Buildings‘ is a direct reference to the reason Point Access Blocks in low-rise and mid-rise buildings are rare in the U.S. outside of Seattle and New York City.

The International Building Code, which is used across much of the United States, requires that multifamily buildings over three stories include two staircases that are accessible from each unit. This requirement leads to multifamily buildings that generally have long corridors with units on each side, known as double-loaded corridors. Double-loaded corridor buildings cannot be built on small sites, and the requirements lead developers to build small units because each unit only has windows on one side. Like several European and Asian countries, New York City and Seattle’s building codes permit multifamily buildings up to six stories with a single staircase if they have other fire safety features including sprinklers and materials with slow burn times. This has opened up opportunities for lower-cost multifamily construction and units large enough to accommodate families. States can either revise statewide building codes to permit single-stair buildings or allow cities to permit them in local building codes.

Salim Furth & Emily Hamilton

The report references an article Larch Lab’s Eliason wrote for Treehugger in April 2021, The Case for More Single Stair Buildings in the US.’

There are numerous benefits to Point Access Blocks, but unlocking small-scale low-rise and mid-rise multifamily housing – that can better incorporate climate adaptive architecture and a mix of unit sizes and types over status quo construction almost exclusively double loaded corridors – is a big one. You can read more about Point Access Blocks in our report on the topic for the City of Vancouver.

We are very much interested in expanding the discourse on housing, livability, and qualities of urbanity that are severely lacking in North American multifamily buildings. If you’re interested in discussing or collaborating on this issue, or other issues around decarbonized and family-friendly housing, please contact us.

trees plus density

Eliason pitches Sustainable Urban Ecodistricts for Increased Livability in Seattle

Larch Lab's Michael Eliason gave a presentation for Seattle's Urban Forestry Commission on density and trees being necessary for a livable city.

On 20 July, Larch Lab’s Eliason was invited to give a presentation on how alternative housing forms and urban arrangements can increase the number of trees in the city, while addressing the housing shortage. Eliason’s presentation expanded on his 2018 piece for The Urbanist, ‘Trees + Density = Livability.’

The presentation was followed up by an interesting but brief discussion. You can catch the video on the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s website, here (the presentation starts at 28:30). If you would like to discuss how we could collaborate on planning and building climate adaptive buildings and neighborhoods, please get in touch.

Larch Lab’s Eliason featured on the Urbanist Podcast

Last week, Michael Eliason sat down with Ray Dubicki and Natalie Bicknell Argerious of the Urbanist Podcast, to clarify several of the terms and concepts we write about and champion at Larch Lab.

'Each of architectural terms discussed in the episode holds a key for designing better cities, and Mike also shares insights how Seattle and other cities could be doing more to unlock their potential. You will definitely walk away from this episode with a larger vocabulary and a bigger appreciation for all the wonderful things architecture can achieve.'

Natalie Bickness Argerious

It was an opportunity to break down several of the themes foundational to who we are, including Passivhaus, Mass Timber, Ecodistricts, and Baugruppen. Listen in at the Urbanist.

Eliason: ‘Throwing Shade at How Buildings Must Adapt to the Climate Crisis’

Larch Lab's Michael Eliason dropped another op-ed over on Treehugger, calling for a radical rethink in urban planning and development to make climate mitigation possible.

'Should our building and urban planning designs change in response to a changing climate? The answer should be an overwhelming yes. And yet, the North American AEC [architectural, engineering, and construction] industry as a whole has seen almost no change from business-as-usual development. One might think we are not in the midst of a rapidly worsening climate crisis. '

-Michael Eliason

Over the last few months, Larch Lab’s Eliason has been on several panel discussions, and had ongoing conversations with firms and jurisdictions to discuss how politicians and planners need to break away from unsustainable business as usual development, and rapidly pivot to new models of climate adaptive housing and neighborhoods.  The op-ed is a call to arms for the planning industry to rethink how cities incentivize housing that is adaptable to a significantly warmer world.

Naturally, it touches on several themes at the forefront of sustainable buildings: Passivhaus, active solar protection, social resilience through communal housing like Baugruppen, and Point Access Blocks. Together, these offer an opportunity to unlock livable, family-friendly, and climate adaptive buildings. Read more on Treehugger.

#ShowYourStripes Day

On #ShowYourStripes day we reflect on the effects of climate change on our warming world.

The climate stripes are an intuitive and simple visualization to understanding how the world is warming, inspired by IPCC AR6 lead author and climate scientist Ed Hawkins. Find your warming stripes graphic here.

According to the IEA, the buildings and construction industry is responsible for nearly 40% of global emissions annually. It is a sector that should be leading on decarbonization, but transformation has been slow to come. At Larch Lab, we understand how imperative it is to be minimizing the carbon expenditures in the construction and operation of buildings – this is why we’ve prioritized high performance building standards like Passivhaus, and low-carbon building materials for over a decade.

It is also imperative that we plan our buildings to be adaptable to this changing climate. This means that designing building envelopes and mechanical systems on cooler historical data is no longer adequate. We should be planning buildings for how they perform in a significantly warmer world. We should be ruggedizing against wildfire smoke, cold snaps and prolonged heat events. We should be thinking about how building layouts enhance or prevent cross ventilation and daylight autonomy. The lack of an active solar protection industry in the U.S. is also confounding – this should be standard practice on buildings moving forward.

At Larch Lab, we are committed to building a better world in the face of these challenges. We have the knowledge, tools, and network to realize transformative change. If you’re interested in discussing how we could collaborate on these issues, please contact us.

Eliason to round out NYRA’s ‘Cancel the Corridor

Larch Lab founder Michael Eliason will be joining SO-IL’s Florian Idenburg, and Tankhouse’s Sam Alison-Maynes for a panel discussion on housing without double loaded corridors, hosted by New York Review of Architecture. The panel will explore why moving away from the double loaded corridor typology is imperative for livability, family-sized units, and a plethora of other reasons.

Larch Lab has been a vocal advocate for the utilization and legalization of point access blocks, single loaded corridors, and other means of vertical access that unlock affordability, small lot development, and foster stronger communities and livable buildings. Our City of Vancouver report on point access blocks can be downloaded here.

The NYRA-hosted discussion will be a hybrid event, taking place online and in-person in Brooklyn on 23 June at 4.00 pm PST / 7.00 pm EST. More information and registration here.

We are looking forward to the robust discussions about housing, livability, and qualities of urbanity that are severely lacking in North American multifamily buildings. If you’re interested in discussing this issue, or other issues around decarbonized and family-friendly housing, please contact us.