Future Shack 2009

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by Christa Morris

A multi-use townhouse with a lawn on the roof. A Flip-Flop house designed so two families, sharing a lot, can each have their own patio and garden. A row of cozy single-family houses sharing a front yard. These were just some of the creative urban housing ideas presented during the design competition Future Shack, proving that no matter where you want to hold your end-of-summer barbecue, density can be desirable.

Hosted last Sunday by American Institute of Architects, Future Shack sought to recognize these innovative housing solutions and engage Seattle on the issue of quality of life in the 21st century city. Future Shack invited design entries of existing and proposed housing solutions to be judged by two juries, one made up of industry professionals and the other of "outspoken" community members. Each jury narrowed their selections down to five, and on September 13th compiled, showcased, and debated their choices in front of a packed Fisher Auditorium in Seattle Center.

The three projects that impressed both teams, 5th and Madison, the Cobb Building, and Sky Ranch, technically the "winners" of Future Shack, varied in intention from a mega-apartment complex in downtown to the small, single family "Sky-Ranch" built on top of a commercial warehouse. The problems they attempted to solve, however, were the same: How do you create density that is livable? How do you create community while allowing introverted Seattle-ites some space? How do you integrate living with working? How do you plan for transportation, public or parking lot? How do you mesh the cutting edge with historic Seattle character?

Moderated by Steve Scher of KUOW's "Weekday," the discussion of these issues was lively and thought-provoking with Angela Brooks of Pugh and Scarpa Architects and Portland architect and developer Kevin Cavenaugh on one jury and author Knute Berger, activist Kent Kammerer and real-estate Maven Bob Melvey on the other.

Disagreements mostly centered around the appearance of buildings, with Brooks and Cavenaugh campaigning for a new status-quo where "small is the new big," tall is the new sprawl, and yards go on the roof. Berger, Kammerer, and Melvey on the whole were more concerned about retaining aesthetic, historic integration and not turning Seattle into the land of large rectangles.

Professionals and community members alike agreed that decreasing the emphasis on cars, creating community through shared outdoor spaces, and providing a variety of affordable housing choices, from backyard cottages to skyscraper apartments, should all be guiding principles for the future of residential architecture. To learn more about these issues, I suggest reading Berger's thorough writeup on Crosscut.com.

In the background of the discussion was a commentary on the impending housing code changes; the first revision in 20 years. While city council member Sally Clark, a member of the Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee who joined the two juries in their discussion, didn't anticipate any major overhaul of the code, she did say they were working toward streamlined permitting for green design, multifamily zoning, high rise zoning, and townhome design. These type of changes would allow for the designs presented during Future Shack the freedom to grow and adapt to our 21st century needs.

The event was an unofficial kickoff for the sixth annual Reinvention 2009, a symposium dedicated to architectural innovation in a changing world.

Image: 5th and Madison, Ev Ruffcorn, FAIA

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