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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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Marriott-branded boutique hotel planned for Uptown Oakland

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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.

Read 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.

 

 

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.

 

SENIOR DESIGNER

Lowney Architecture is a vibrant 30-person design-oriented architecture firm in downtown Oakland. We work on a variety of projects, with a focus on multi-family residential, mixed-use, and retail. We create beautiful places that advance the quality of life in their communities and with an environmentally aware approach. Our office culture is one of casual professionalism. We work hard and we push each other, but we never forget to have fun in the pursuit of excellence. We want you to enjoy working here.

We are seeking a highly qualified senior designer with in depth experience in multi-family housing projects with a minimum of 7-10 years of relevant professional experience.  The ideal candidate has an in depth knowledge of constructability, is confident giving design presentations, is versatile with generating digital 3D design ideas, and has a diverse portfolio of clearly resolved built work. The position is full-time. Compensation is based on experience and skill-set. The successful candidate must be legally authorized to work in the United States.

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Architecture – Master’s degree preferred
  • 7-10 years of post-academic, professional design experience [at least 2 years of which is in mixed use residential and/or high-rise projects]
  • Able to quickly and efficiently produce working/study models and presentation quality renderings using SketchUp (with rendering plug-ins)
  • Exceptional design, management, organization, and communication skills
  • Proficiency in Revit a must have – expertise a plus
  • Extensive knowledge of architectural design, detailing, building materials and methods, building codes, and comprehensive understanding of the entitlement process
  • Applicants must excel in working collaboratively and effectively with the ability to lead fast-paced projects through all phases of project delivery, while fostering team spirit and an atmosphere of teaching and learning
  • Highly organized, collaborative and detail oriented

 

Please email your cover letter to elisabeth@lowneyarch.com, resume and portfolio in pdf form [10MB max file size]. Thank you for your consideration.

Field trip to SFMOMA

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This past Thursday, Lowney Architecture ventured out of the office and over to SFMOMA for some full-scale design inspiration. We took a guided tour of the Mario Botta building and Snøhetta addition, stopping in to appreciate the art exhibits along the way.

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In the same trip, we stopped at Panoramic's office to experience the first of many MicroPAD units we have worked with Panoramic in designing, where we then answered the question, "How many architects does it take to fill an SRO unit?" (Answer: At least 18)


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Afterward, we were treated to a beautiful dinner at Hakkasan, a Cantonese restaurant in the heart of San Francisco. (Highly recommend it!)


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Images courtesy of our very own Nick Gomez.

Happy Halloween from the Lowney Team!

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It may look like any ordinary day at Lowney, but a few of us definitely forgot to shave this morning. Happy Halloween! May it be full of plaid shirts and scruffy beards. 

Lowney Architecture Stays Profitable by Design, Lands ‘Best Year Ever’

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

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