Lowney Architecture

Grocery

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

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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

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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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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.

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Albany Sprouts Grand Opening

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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.

 

Another Successful Tour

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Lowney Architect Tony Valadez led a hard hat tour of Lowney's Chow Oakland on Saturday, September 24th. Participants learned about this unique project which includes a hybridized program: part food market, part restaurant, part café, and part commercial bakery, and which intentionally blurs the line between interior and exterior. The project is an adaptive re-use of and addition to an existing building with (almost) every type of construction represented: masonry, cast in place concrete, original wood and sheathing, new dimensional and engineered lumber, and existing and new steel. Construction is slated to be done in January 2017.

Chow Oakland Tour on Saturday, 9/24

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AIA East Bay will be hosting a tour of Chow Oakland, our project currently under construction on Piedmont Avenue. Lowney’s Tony Valadez will lead the hard-hat tour, offering insights and a preview of this exciting new project before it opens to the public – part food market, part restaurant and café and part commercial bakery. More information and a link to register can be found here

Architects Reign as Grocery Kings

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Publication: San Francisco Business Times
By Richard Procter
Photo: Spencer A Brown

For Ken Lowney, 2012 was “the year of hell.”

He had to buy out his business partner and his longtime girlfriend died.

His firm, Lowney Architecture, had been bringing in around $1.3 million in revenue annually since he founded it in 2003. After a grueling 2012 and 20 years as an architect, Lowney had to decide: Either double down on his gig specializing in designing grocery stores and pre-fab housing, or do something else, like real estate development.

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