How we live [U]

A most insightful piece by architect Mark Hinshaw in Crosscut on urban construction, patterns, and personal preferences. Both Millennials and Boomers are flocking to the cities, Seattle being one of them. Unlike our parents, we shun the suburbs and sprawl. Well, not all of us, certainly, as the clogged freeways attest. Hinshaw:

…In a sense, Seattle is a victim of its own success. With all the articles and rankings touting its culture, its music, its natural setting and its high-paying jobs are we really surprised that so many people want to move here? Even corporations that previously located in outlying areas — Weyerhaeuser, Facebook and Expedia, for example — are piling on.

The pace of development here has also been fueled by dramatic changes in the national demographic makeup. Households are smaller but more numerous. Boomers, who make up a quarter of the population, are downsizing and opting for more compact dwellings in urban places that offer transit, cultural amenities and high-quality health care. Millennials, another 25 percent of the population, are eschewing the suburbs in favor of density, diversity and public transit that only urban places offer.

As for new families departing cities for the house-cum-garage-cum-fenced-yard, Hinshaw suggests otherwise:

…In sharp contrast to past generations, Millennials are putting off marriage and kids. Moreover, their values are rooted in lifestyles that only denser urban places can provide.

We are seeing a sea change in the preferences of younger Americans. For one thing, Millennials are acutely aware of the environmental damage done to this country by five decades of outward expansion into an auto-dependent landscape. Climate change is only one negative outcome of those growth patterns.

But these preferences for denser patterns of development are being met with questionable design and inferior construction, as property owners scramble to keep up. New apartment complexes, often built with five stories of lumber, suffer under the wet and windy Northwest climate. Hinshaw:

Because wood expands and contracts in response to changes in weather and moisture content, certain types of rigid materials used on building surfaces pull apart at their seams, leaving cracks that wind-driven rain can penetrate. And penetrate it did.

Along with the accompanying mold and mildew, water damage led to massive insurance claims, litigation and costly repairs. For more than a decade, numerous buildings around Seattle were cocooned in plastic wrap while their exteriors were being reconstructed. As it turns out, only a few materials perform well when stretched across many floors of wood framing. Many of these materials, such as “Hardy” planks and metal sheeting, are, well, as boring as sheet rock, aesthetically speaking.

Hinshaw tells us that new materials are now available to withstand the soggy weather. We urbanites hope that developers and architects will offer better design.

I look forward to the second part of Hinshaw’s essay.


Here is part 2 of Hinshaw’s piece. He makes the case for shared walls.