Mission: Housing, Preserving the Historic while Building for the Future by Mai Bui

Last fall, Kwan Henmi collaborated with DCI Engineers to participate in an international wood building design competition. “Plan B: The City Above the City” prompted our team to envision how mass timber construction could be used as a tool in the quest for socially responsible urban densification.


San Francisco is currently experiencing a housing crisis that threatens its residents. By 2030, the city’s population is estimated to increase by 150,000 people while adding only 9,000 new dwelling units. The gap between the amount of housing needed and housing provided for residents has widened for decades due to both limited developable land and hesitance to densify the city. This has led directly to ballooning housing costs and has irreparably damaged two of the city’s most valuable resources: community culture and historic architecture.

A history of displacement: Mapping building fires and no-fault evictions in the Mission District.

Data credit: http://www.antievictionmappingproject.net/fires.html

Historic neighborhoods like the Mission District have become battlegrounds of cultural identity and gentrification. Low-income residents are vulnerable targets for displacement, while consequential existing buildings are under constant threat of demolition due to both deterioration and new construction. This critical situation has inspired the Kwan Henmi & DCI Team to challenge the current battle and propose an alternative path forward.


‘Mission: Housing’ showcases mass timber products as a tool for alternative development, providing additional housing in the heart of the city without demolition of existing structures or displacement of existing residents. El Capitan Theater & Hotel, built in Mexican Baroque “Churrigueresque” style, is one of many exquisite historic resources falling into neglect whose ongoing viability is at risk. The original theater was demolished and used as a parking lot, while the hotel was converted into a Single Resident Occupancy (SRO). The opportunity and goal of this proposal is to build atop the existing structure with minimal intrusions to the existing structure and embrace the affordability aspect of its current use while reconnecting the site to the surrounding community.


The building’s form is sculpted in reaction to its context through tapering and shearing actions. The resulting form is sensitive to the existing life of the street while increasing density. The skin system references Churrigueresque patterning, yet expands and shifts across its height to reveal lush gardens and an expanding array of delicate canopies.

The building’s original light well is extruded through the full height of the building, providing passive ventilation and natural lighting throughout the core. Communal spaces are provided for urban agriculture, irrigated via in-house greywater purification. This embedded horticulture purifies the air inside the building, provides nourishment for inhabitants and strengthens San Francisco’s tradition of civic parks.


The building’s construction is proposed in phases, dependent on need. As the project grows over time, the building envelope will reach its final form. In 15 years, the project is projected to reach completion.


The adaptability of urban development could be revolutionized through the inherent strength of mass timber construction. Conventional concrete and steel construction is often impractical and expensive for multi-story units. High-rise construction using traditional wood balloon framing is not possible due to the risk of rapid spread of fire in lightweight lumber, which could quickly cause collapse. This issue is not a vulnerability in heavy timber construction, since fire creates a layer of charred wood on the exterior, which extinguishes the fire before the structural integrity of the system is compromised. The designed proposal creates an innovative new composite floor system from products, which are already available. It uses a concrete topping with steel shear plates embedded into laminated veneer lumber floor panels, allowing for longer spans. The sandwiched joists in this unique floor design allow the bottom panel to be removed and replaced in the event of fire damage, enabling the building to be reoccupied quickly after a fire. The heavy timber columns employ a steel plate connections, minimizing shrinkage between floors (see system assemblage images for more detail). This design’s final 26-level height is determined by the 260-foot allowable height limitation set by the building system. Since the construction process uses a modular set of components, this solution is highly efficient and flexible for design growth.

The building’s flexibility is enhanced by the lateral force resistance of post-tensioned laminated veneer lumber rocking shear walls, which can be recalibrated as necessary to maintain optimal strength or resolve shifts in structure after an earthquake. The high compressive capacity of these wall panels makes them incredibly resilient, handling large seismic forces while exhibiting minimal damage. For more information on the structural components, see DCI’s project summary.


The unit’s modular design allows for dwellings of any size to be easily adapted, allowing families and homes to grow in tandem. Creating narrower multi-level units densifies the building and provides a variety of dwelling typologies. The modules can be changed over time depending on resident’s needs, or adding on stories as families grow. This aggregational method works in conjunction with the building’s phasing.


Historically, urban growth has been obstructed by the false dichotomy between preservation and progress, but this can be changed. The innovative variety of mass timber technologies facilitates our strong and diversified strategy for sustainable evolution, which can strengthen and mature the fabric of the city.

Kwan Henmi has merged with multinational design firm DLR Group by Mai Bui

Kwan Henmi celebrates the merge with DLR Group in one of KH's newly designed suites in 456 Montgomery Street.    Pictured here:  Kwan Henmi team with Griff Davenport, Pamela Touschner, Adrian Cohen, John Fuller, and Dale Hallock of DLR.

Kwan Henmi celebrates the merge with DLR Group in one of KH's newly designed suites in 456 Montgomery Street.

Pictured here: Kwan Henmi team with Griff Davenport, Pamela Touschner, Adrian Cohen, John Fuller, and Dale Hallock of DLR.

Pictured here:   Kwan Henmi Principals with Griff Davenport, Pamela Touschner, Adrian Cohen, John Fuller, and Dale Hallock of DLR.

Pictured here: Kwan Henmi Principals with Griff Davenport, Pamela Touschner, Adrian Cohen, John Fuller, and Dale Hallock of DLR.

Kwan Henmi has merged with multinational design firm, DLR Group. We are excited for this new KH evolution and look forward to what's to come!

About DLR Group
DLR Group is an integrated design firm delivering architecture, engineering, interiors, planning, and building optimization for new construction, renovation, and adaptive reuse. Our promise is to elevate the human experience through design. This promise inspires sustainable design for a diverse group of public and private sector clients; local communities; and our planet. DLR Group is 100 percent employee-owned and fully supports the initiatives and goals of the 2030 Challenge, and is an initial signatory to the China Accord and the AIA 2030 Commitment. 

Read more about it here: http://www.dlrgroup.com/about/news/dlr-group-kwan-henmi/

Other articles: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2017/05/11/kwan-henmi-architects-dlr-group.html

Pilot project at Fremont Station tests hearing loop technology to help those with hearing loss by Mai Bui

BART Senior Web Producer

A BART platform like the one at Fremont Station can be swamped with sounds: cars rushing by on nearby roads; wind whooshing through; bystanders talking.  Cutting through the clamor in order to hear important announcements can be challenging even for those with perfect hearing.

It's even tougher for the hard-of-hearing riders who use hearing aids amid that cacophony of sounds. Through a pilot project, BART is working with the hearing-loss community on new technology that could make a big difference.

The technology is called a hearing loop and it's being installed at Fremont Station with completion expected later this spring. Riders who use most typical modern hearing aids, which employ something called T-coils, will be able to toggle a switch on their hearing aids to get a much clearer, isolated sound of announcements made over the public address system, or interactions with the station agent.

"It's like wifi for your ears," said Richard McKinley, managing director of Contacta Inc., which is the contractor’s vendor supplier on the pilot project.

Carl Orman, project manager for the installation, said the idea came through collaboration with the BART Accessibility Task Force (BATF). Orman also is BART’s accessibility program manager in the Office of the District Architect.

"We're trying to improve the situation so people can better hear and understand what’s going on in the noisy, environment,” Orman said. "This is a pilot so we're going to experiment and see how things go." To set up the loop, grooves were cut into the platform surface; wire was laid in the grooves and sealed over to transmit the electromagnetic signal that is picked up by the T-coil in the hearing aid.

Janice Armigo Brown is a member of the Accessibility Task Force and uses a hearing aid with T-coil technology. 

"In public transit situations such as BART, noise can be a huge factor," said Brown. "People with hearing loss rely on visual cues such as lip-reading to compensate for or 'fill in the blanks' when communicating with Station Agents, transit personnel or other riders when asking questions or obtaining vital information," she said. "Any added background noise can prevent a person with hearing loss from understanding or deciphering speech."

Brown explained how it can be especially stressful when there are special announcements conveying non-routine information.

"I look at facial expressions from transit riders for cues-- frightened look on face, disgruntled look on face or possibly a frustrated eye motion -- to make sense of what has been said," she explained. "Sometimes, suddenly I feel a bit tense as I do not know what is happening. Is it an emergency or safety concern? Is it something such as a track or work delay announcement that I should hear and respond to such as tell a family member, friend or co-worker that I will be delayed? The truth is that I do not know what has been communicated so I am unaware of how to respond. The ‘not knowing’ is most frustrating, and thus, the situation can be stressful."

Hearing assistive technology such as the hearing loop pilot can be a major improvement, said Brown, who has tested hearing loops at other locations that employ hearing loops, such as the Landmark Theaters at Embarcadero Station

It's like your own "personal sound system" that eliminates background noise and funnels the sound directly into the assistive device, she said.  "Riders with access to the hearing loop system can feel more assured of receiving important information without straining to understand and decipher what is being said; however, users will still have to factor in different tones, voice volume, speed of speech and/or an accent."

Brown said making riders aware of the technology will be important. Once it is up and running, BART will invite riders who use T-coil hearing aids to test the pilot project and give feedback. Some users including Brown, pictured above at right, already gave feedback earlier when a more limited demonstration project was tested at Colma Station. 

Also, hearing-aid users may want to check the settings on their device; a toggle to the T-coil only mode may be needed to isolate the correct sounds. There will be pictogram placards placed in the area indicating that hearing loop technology is available.

Juliette Sterkens, an audiologist based in Wisconsin, is the hearing loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). “In the T-coil-only mode a person can isolate the sound that is coming through the hearing loop, which is particular advantageous in a place with a lot of background noise,” she said, adding that some newer hearing aids can be adjusted by a smartphone app. “The hearing aid industry is responding to hearing loop technology as it becomes more widespread,” she said.

Indeed, hearing loop technology will also be among the capabilities of BART’s Fleet of the Future. BART is working with train car manufacturer Bombardier to develop and test an induction loop system for BART’s new fleet. If the testing goes well, this system will transmit audio announcements and other BART information directly to receptive hearing aids and cochlear implants while riding in the new fleet – a much more comprehensive deployment, for which the Fremont pilot project is another step in laying the foundation.

BART customers who use hearing aids and/or cochlear implants with T-coils will be invited to try out the new onboard system and provide feedback.  (Note: those who might be interested in participating can send an email to bartresearch@bart.gov.)

Hearing loss affects people of all ages, and it's on the rise. Various studies have looked at reasons why; one theory is a negative impact from the nearly ubiquitous use of earbuds, often at high volumes, by people listening to music or using their devices for speaking.

While the hearing loop is a promising new technology, it cannot be the solution for all riders with hearing loss, said Dr. Ike Nnaji of BART's Customer Access Department, and liaison to the BART Accessibility Task Force. For the profoundly deaf or those who do not use hearing aids, alternative delivery of information remains the textual messages that are displayed on the station information signs.


Source: Hearing Loss Association of America

* About 20 percent of Americans, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss.

* At age 65, one out of three people has a hearing loss.

* 60 percent of the people with hearing loss are either in the work force or in educational settings.

* Almost 15% of school-age children (ages 6-19) have some degree of hearing loss.

* Hearing loss is a major public health issue that is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease.

* Gradual hearing loss can affect people of all ages -- varying from mild to profound. Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in how well you can hear. Depending on the cause, it can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

* Congenital hearing loss means you are born without hearing, while gradual hearing loss happens over time.

* Hearing loss is an invisible condition; we cannot see hearing loss, only its effects. Because the presence of a hearing loss is not visible, these effects may be attributed to aloofness, confusion, or personality changes.

* Sudden, noise-induced hearing loss from gunfire and explosions is the number one disability caused by combat in current wars.

* More often than not severe tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) will accompany the hearing loss and may be just as debilitating as the hearing loss itself.

For more information visit www.hearingloss.org

Source: http://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2017/news20170421-0



by Roger Showley

Street-level view rendering of new Forge SD Tower at India & Beech. It will feature San Diego's first-ever robotic parking garage.

Street-level view rendering of new Forge SD Tower at India & Beech. It will feature San Diego's first-ever robotic parking garage.

San Diego’s first-ever robotic parking garage is heading downtown in an innovative project given design approval Wednesday by Civic San Diego.

The 150-unit, 28-story apartment project at India and Beech streets, expected to win final board approval Nov. 16, is a development of San Francisco-based Forge Land Co, headed by Richard Hannum, and designed by Kwan-Henmi Architecture Planning.

The 155-parking spaces would be located in what Hannum describes as something like an Erector set built inside the first three floors. Users’ cars would be automatically lifted into cage-like units, thus saving height and circulation space.

“We’re taking a risk but if we succeed, we’re reducing the risk for all others,” Hannum said.

CivicSD directors praised the project for this innovation as well as several others.

“I love the mechanical parking,” said director Ted Shaw. “I really hope that’s successful because we’re heard so many times that it won’t work.”

Unlike most downtown apartment projects, Hannum also is planning to include eight affordable rental units onsite with an additional five covered by inclusionary fees.

Hannum said construction is expected to begin by late next year or early in 2018 and be completed 22 months later. He estimated the construction cost at about $60 million.

An art installation of metal mesh on the lower floors would recall Little Italy’s heritage as a residential zone for fishermen active a century ago.    

(See this animation video of how such a system works by CityLift parking in Oakland.)


Retail Design Institute Awards JINS 1st Place by Elaine Chan

Congratulations to our JINS Flagship Store for winning 1st Place in Retail Design Institute’s Hard-Line Specialty Category for Excellence in Store Design. This award was presented at Retail Design Institute’s 45th Annual International Store Design Competition. Founded in 1971, the Retail Design Institute is a non-profit international organization dedicated to the professions of retail store planning and design.

Retail Design’s judging panel recognized JINS’ Union Square store for excellence in design and execution. The store, located in San Francisco, is the brand’s first flagship in the U.S. More than 126 projects from around the world competed in 21 categories ranging from department, specialty, supermarket and mass merchant to pop-up and common area.