Lowney Architecture


Bisnow: Why this Architecture firm has staked his claim in Oakland


For Ken Lowney, architecture is not about the glory of creating an iconic building, but about improving communities and making cities better. Lowney, founder and principal of Lowney Architecture, is doing just that in Oakland, where he and his staff are designing a number of high-profile projects.

Lowney Architecture has designed some of Oakland’s smallest housing units and its tallest buildings. The firm's latest project, a 440-foot tower on Harrison Street, is among the current projects that excite Lowney the most. The mixed-use high-rise will create 185 residential units, 120K SF of office and a community market on the ground floor and will become the city’s tallest building. Lowney’s desire to improve communities through architecture was sparked by his travels in Europe, where he and his dad, an engineer, spent time looking at different types of buildings. His travels made him more aware of the impact buildings have on society. “Collections of buildings make cities,” he said. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Occidental College, Lowney considered going into law, but his real interest was in what makes society. He found architecture was a way to combine his interests. Lowney’s first job was at a big firm with 80 people where he would copy blueprints. At night, Lowney took drafting classes, and after six or nine months, he took a chance and asked his bosses if he could work on drafting and they told him he could. After a couple of years of drafting, he went back to school to get his master's degree in architecture at Southern California Institute of Architecture, which is known for testing the limits of design. 


After designing single-family homes in the Hollywood Hills, Lowney moved to New York City to work for Gensler, where he worked on office tenant improvements. He eventually transferred to the San Francisco Gensler office, where he was able to design office buildings and hotels and campuses. After the first tech bust occurred, he was laid off. Lowney decided to go out on his own instead of joining another firm. He had always thought of having his own office since his dad owned an engineering firm, Lowney Associates. “I thought there would be more freedom [starting my own firm], but it is a lot of work and responsibility,” Lowney said. “Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad.” Lowney Architecture has been in Oakland for 15 years, growing significantly in the last seven years. It has been expanding its portfolio to include all parts of the Bay Area and Hawaii. Lowney said he plans to increase the firm's San Jose portfolio in 2018. 

Why Lowney Architecture Loves Oakland


Lowney’s decision to work in Oakland was originally a matter of convenience. While at Gensler, Lowney lived in Oakland and commuted into San Francisco. When he started his own firm, he liked the idea of working where he lived. Today, Lowney Architecture’s Oakland portfolio is within blocks of its office in Downtown Oakland. “So much of our work is just right here,” Lowney said. “We can walk to it and ride our bikes to it and pass by our sites.” Lowney Architecture Project Manager Eric Price was Lowney’s first employee and worked on the firm’s first project, which was to redevelop the Cox Cadillac dealership into a Whole Foods. The project increased density North of Grand Avenue and brought in a much-needed large grocery store. “It was exciting to be part of something that represented change at a rather high level,” Price said. “Grocery is a very interesting project type because it is cool and serves a lot of people.” Price said Lowney is driven to make Oakland better and there are plenty of opportunities to improve Oakland. “He’s great to work with,” Price said. “He is a positive figure and he is optimistic.” What is most attractive about working at Lowney Architecture is the collaboration and comaraderie, Price said. Unlike other firms where work is done top down with a couple of people in charge of projects and other doing the design grunt work, everyone is involved in the design process at Lowney Architecture, according to Price. The staff will combine their design ideas and sketches and come up with the best solutions, Price said.


Oakland itself has provided a great landscape for growth and change, and Lowney Associates has been a big part of the city’s recent evolution. The firm started out doing the bulk of its work in retail, but now does more work in housing and other projects with a handful of retail, according to Lowney. The projects Lowney Architecture is working on include a Moxy Hotel at West Grand and Telegraph and a 1,000-unit housing complex in West Oakland with Panoramic Interests.   “Oakland is undergoing a very positive transformation, adding more people and more housing,” Lowney said. “It’s getting more interesting and exciting to be living here.” The most interesting and challenging project Lowney worked on in Oakland was the redevelopment of the Safeway shopping center on College Avenue. The project went through five years of entitlements, and community interaction and engagement. Lowney said he learned about what works and what makes people angry. Community engagement got everyone involved and there was a better outcome and better building that works for the community, he said.

Oakland’s Economic Boom Is Creating New Problems, Opportunities


Despite the economic and development activity, there has been an influx of homeless people in Oakland, Lowney said. “Homelessness is a terrible shadow side to all this great growth we’re experiencing,” Lowney said.   Oakland declared a shelter crisis in 2015, which freed up the planning process to make it possible to build cheaper, faster homes for the homeless. But not much as been done since then. The most tangible effort made is Panoramic Interests’ development of micro-pad modular units that could be used to house the homeless, according to Lowney.  Lowney said he is particularly passionate about the work his firm has done on modular housing because it can help solve the housing crisis and provide housing options for homeless people. Modular housing can create housing at 20% of the cost and decrease construction time up to 40%, he said. His firm has done five modular projects so far throughout the Bay Area. While fixing homelessness is a complex problem, Lowney said it is cheaper to put people in houses than leaving them on the street, where cities have to use police and medical resources to respond to a crisis. “We have to at a certain point stop pushing people around and recognize their humanity and fix the problem,” Lowney said. Find out more about Lowney Architecture and the latest on Oakland at Bisnow’s upcoming Oakland State of the Market event Feb. 2.

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Marriott-branded boutique hotel planned for Uptown Oakland


The boutique hotel boom is headed to Oakland via a Minneapolis developer's proposal to replace an Uptown gas station with a 173-room Marriott-branded hotel.

Graves Hospitality is proposing to demolish the existing station at 2225 Telegraph Ave. and replace it with a seven-story Moxy Hotel, including a full-service restaurant on the ground floor.

The Minneapolis developer expects to close on the land once it secures all the entitlements.

Neither Graves nor its applicant for the project, Oakland-based Lowney Architecture, responded to requests for comment.

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Bisnow: Why this Cycle is Different for Oakland Multifamily

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Developing in Oakland is a point of pride for St. Regis Properties Director of Development Sam Remcho. While the Oakland native started his career as a broker, he always wanted to develop and loved the idea of working with land and construction. He teamed up with St. Regis Properties Chairman John Allen and President Nick Allen in 2012. The family-owned Bay Area-based business has since made strides to build more housing in Oakland and throughout the country.

“We like Oakland because of the people, the open space, the ease of transportation, the great weather, the employment opportunities and the overall quality of life,” Remcho said. St. Regis Properties is part of a growing group of developers building housing in Oakland. With housing projects becoming too difficult to pencil and more red tape in San Francisco, developers are preferring to build housing in the East Bay, where the housing need and demand is just as high. Large employers also are moving into Oakland and the East Bay, where many of their employees live. Oakland has shed its label of being a secondary market to San Francisco, and developers are recognizing it as a market unto itself. “Oakland has its own culture and own attraction,” Remcho said. “You can do everything you want here. There is fine dining and entertainment.” Housing is in high demand in Oakland as well and new projects are leasing up quickly. St. Regis Properties has three projects in the works and one completed project. Its first Oakland project, Idora, a JV with Signature Development in the Temescal neighborhood, is nearly leased up since it was completed in April. The 33-unit apartment complex includes 2,400 SF of retail, which could be filled in part by a restaurant, according to Remcho.

Read full article here 

The Top 5 Issues Impacting The Future of Silicon Valley Multifamily


Our President Ken Lowney recently spoke on the Silicon Valley Multifamily panel for Bisnow which touched on key issues affecting the future of multifamily housing. Read the full article here

The Rise and Expansion of Multi-Family and Mixed-Use Development in Oakland

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Bisnow event - The Rise and Expansion of Multi-family and Mixed-Use Development in Oakland, was held on May 9th 2017 at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center in Oakland. Our Director Ken Lowney joined the panel and shared some insights about the challenges developers face and projects the firm is currently working on.

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From the right: Charles Long - Junction Properties, Michael Johnson from UrbanCore Development, Ken Lowney - Lowney Architecture, Doug Leventon - Alliance Residential, Robert Raburn from BART, and far Left (moderator) Todd Williams from Wendel Rosen.

Topic of discussion was the expansion of Mixed-Use developments in Oakland. Specifically the challenges of developing successful and inclusionary buildings that cater to both market rate and affordable, with just the right amount of parking and retail to meet the demands and fit into the context of the area.

Also spoken about was how Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is key for the growing demands of residents and in particular how residents are opting for bike share and BART - reducing the need for parking spaces.

Michael Johnson from UrbanCore Development had some interesting things to say about their project Lake Merritt tower under development with EBALDC and The Oakland City Council. The site was originally proposed as 100% market rate however after feedback from the community, the site will now be 30% affordable and have a focus on inclusivity with things like shared amenities and common areas for all residents. This project is similar to Lowney Architetures Mixed-Use TOD project with Bridge Housing at the El Ceritto BART station that includes live-work and flex space, shared open space, and local and neighborhood retail. It will include a total of 234 housing units, with 30% affordable.



Rebuilding Oakland Together

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Through the generous sponsorship of Wendel Rosen and Bell Investments, a group from Lowney Architecture volunteered their day on Saturday April 29th to help to improve the life of an 82 year old widow. Josephine hasn’t been able to go outside in 10 years because of her inability to manage stairs. The dedicated group from Lowney built her a new ramp from her backdoor for her to access her new patio and planter boxes along with separate teams who painted the entire house and garage. Check out the before and after photos below!

Buoyed by the brilliance of the person who ordered Bakesale Betty fried chicken sandwiches for lunch, the team powered through and made a difference. Councilman Abel Guillen also paid a visit and shared his appreciation for all involved.

Thankyou to everyone wo was involved. To read more about it, and to get involved visit Rebuilding Oakland Together.





Albany Sprouts Grand Opening


We are pleased to announce our project with Oppidan Investment Company, Sprouts Albany had its official opening on April 26th 2017. This grocery-store-anchored shopping center is 28,000 SF, alongside two secondary retail buildings currently under construction, comprising a total of 45,000 SF. The land features a pedestrian and bicycle path and trail, as well as a public art piece currently underway.

The land is leased from the University of California and frames a gateway into graduate student housing at UC Village beyond, serving the local community in Albany, CA as well as the students.


Building owners can profit from home-sharing


Our President Ken Lowney joined Airbnb's Jaja Jackson on a exciting discussion for the future of Residential.

For Airbnbhttps://www.airbnb.com/ head of multifamily housing partnerships Jaja Jackson, home-sharing is one of many ways building owners can benefit from partnerships with residents. Residents benefit from the supplemental income while building owners get a slice of the profits.

During Tuesday's Bisnow residential event, Jackson, the keynote speaker, discussed Airbnb’s Friendly Builders Program with moderator Lowney Architecture founder and principal Ken Lowney. Jackson talked about why the program is increasingly popular among building owners and residents. “Newer developments in urban centers where the customer is professional, mobile and maybe a Millennial in tech or related scientific sectors tends to want the flexibility of home-sharing,” Jackson said. The average guest is about 38 years old, and more women are hosts than men. Hosts tend to be older than guests and senior women are the fastest-growing group of hosts and are the highest-rated hosts. Airbnb hosts tend to have a college degree and use Airbnb as supplemental income. Guests come from various demographics and income levels, according to Jackson. Jackson said a recent survey found about one-third of renters are interested in having home-sharing as an amenity while one-third do not care or do not know about it and another one-third do not want it at all. He said he expects if a new survey is done in the fall, the number of renters wanting home-sharing would move up to about 40%.


One way Airbnb is working with business owners is through its nearly one-year-old Friendly Building Program. The program came about after hosts were violating and continued to violate the terms of their leases or were unaware of the lease terms and hosted in their apartments when they should not have. The program provides a way for building owners to better understand home-sharing in a way that makes sense as a business strategy, Jackson said. The program provides property management tools and sets up rules for residents. Jackson said the program is built around four commitments: transparency, control, insurance and profit-sharing. Building owners receive a weekly report with information about which units are hosting and when guests are expected. The information-sharing provides building owners with more control because they can use that data to set caps on the number of nights each resident can home-share. Primary and liability insurance with limits of $1M also are included. Building owners set the profit-sharing amount, which Jackson suggests should be 5% to 15%. The program has been rolled out in 20 to 25 cities where laws are favorable to short-term rentals, and Airbnb is seeing additional interest from the owners of midsized and small buildings and REITs across the country. San Jose is among the cities to have an active Friendly Builders Program, and Equity Residential was one of Airbnb’s first partners. Jackson said the program has been successful at Equity Residential's Vista 99 in North San Jose. The property management team is involved and helps with check-ins and checkouts. Jackson said the owner set a cap and the profit percentage and decided to donate most of those profits to housing charities.

Profit-sharing through home-sharing need not be the only way building owners can partner with residents to increase revenue. Jackson said building owners can design their common areas to provide small office spaces for residents to use for additional payment. Owners also could meet the demand for farm fresh food by offering rooftop gardens with rentable space. “All of these types of opportunities are unlocked when you rethink your relationship with the resident, and you get a little bit more creative,” Jackson said. AvalonBay has allowed home-sharing at its San Francisco Market Street property, but has residents paying a fee for hosting. Since Airbnb's founding in 2008, more than 160 million guests and more than 3 million hosts have used the platform. Jackson said the company has doubled every year and is currently profitable with strong growth in core business and new areas like the multifamily housing sector. Airbnb recently launched its latest service, Airbnb Experiences, which offers guests the ability to meet with local experts who share interests or experience various aspects of a particular location. Jackson said eventually the platform will include flights and car rides.

This article was originally posted by Bisnow

Lowney Architecture hosted AIA Trivia Nights

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Lowney Architecture in collaboration with AIA East Bay hosted the second joint "Trivia Night" - an event put together to foster a sense of support and comradery for ARE exam candidates. The evening was hosted by the always entertaining, Mark Donahue - the firms Design Director, who was assisted by Project Manager and AIA East Bay President, Winston Win.

"It is a great opportunity to support our local architecture community and younger colleagues" - Winston Win

For upcoming events held at Lowney Architecture, email us.

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