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2023 Outlook: Bob Tiscareno Discusses the Future of Transit-Oriented Design in the Puget Sound

Tiscareno Associates, Seattle, Puget Sound, Mill Creek, Kent, Redmond, Lynnwood, Shoreline, Federal Way, The Spark, Main Street Properties
Courtesy of Tiscareno
Bob Tiscareno

By Kate Snyder

With nearly 30 years of experience working on urban projects in the Puget Sound area, Bob Tiscareno has seen a number of trends in Seattle area architecture, and one of the most recent is transit-oriented design.

Tiscareno is the president and founder of Tiscareno Associates and recently participated in a Q&A with The Registry to not only talk about the future of transit-oriented design but also to discuss the 2023 outlook when it comes to development in the Puget Sound.

Tiscareno has won recognition from organizations including the NAIOP, American Institute of Architects and Gold Nugget Awards. He also has a master of architecture in urban design from Harvard University and a bachelor of architecture from USC. Projects that he has worked on have shaped communities throughout the greater Seattle area, including Mill Creek, Kent, Redmond, Lynnwood and Shoreline.

What noteworthy design trends have emerged over the past year? What does 2023 hold in store?

The big story is the continued expansion of light rail, and the opportunities expansion generates for transit-oriented design. Most big mixed-use projects announced during the last year or two have all been near transit stations. Places like Redmond, Shoreline, Lynnwood and Federal Way are coming to life as light rail extends farther east, north, and south. Although a few of these projects do not fall into the luxury category, most now include amenities normally associated with upscale lifestyles. Many also include options that make it easier for people to work from home such as co-working spaces. Also, in vogue are features that support walkable communities such as car-free streets known as woonerfs. Together with ground-floor features that dial up street-level engagement, they bring a human scale design to large multi-use developments.

We are seeing technology advance and changes in the design, delivery and operation of TOD projects. As an example, we use BIM technology to design projects, coordinate permit drawings with engineering consultants and coordinate with our contractors. Smart Buildings are the norm, and multifamily property managers are accelerating technological platforms to drive leasing, amenity features and conveniences of opening your door and setting your heating/AC and lighting on your phone application.

What stands out about the multifamily/mixed-use market outside of urban areas?

We are seeing strong demand for projects with distinct architecture that mirrors classic urban forms and delivers great community spaces. Cities are telling us they do not want the forgettable rectangular boxes of the past. The Marymoor Design District in Redmond, for example, requires that projects make “eclectic” design choices so that this pedestrian-oriented neighborhood will be filled with a collection of unique mixed-use buildings. Our firm has become amazingly comfortable thinking freely to create unique and ambitious living environments like The Spark, developed by Main Street Properties.

What is transit-oriented design and what does it mean for the community?

People should think more broadly about what transit-oriented design really means. It’s about creating more opportunities for people to become less reliant on the automobile and more comfortable with all modes of alternative transportation. Although proximity to rail and bus hubs is top of mind when talking about transit-oriented design, we are still in a transitional period here before transit is fully embraced. Easy access to ride sharing or proximity to a bike path that connects people to job centers can be as important.

There is another concept here, which is a little different –they call “the last mile,” which is having options to access from your home to the mass transit (a half mile radius). And so, if you want to make neighborhoods more transit-oriented, you must introduce a coordinated way to have facilities where you have options for how you cover the last mile. That is rideshare and bike, and sometimes a bus to access the transit hub for a larger network of alternatives around an urban area.

What surprised you the most over the last 12 to 18 months?

Our biggest surprise was the amount of momentum for transit-oriented design throughout the area. Even during COVID, it remained strong. Today transit-oriented design is a major sector of the commercial real estate market. People are embracing it. Increased information is coming out about the health benefits of living in a walkable environment and the money people can save by driving less.

How did 2022 end for you and your firm?

It was a good year for us overall. Some projects were finally completed and took a lot longer in construction than we thought. And we are optimistic about 2023. The primary reason for our success is the strong demand for quality multifamily and mixed-use market-rate development. That has been our firm’s bread-and-butter for the last 15 years.

Although we were predicting a good year because of our backlog of contracts, we were not expecting such a slow revitalization in parts of downtown. In the past, Seattle has been a top city for real estate prospects according to the Urban Land Institute Survey. The 2023 survey has Seattle moving down the list to number 17. Nationally, Sunbelt is considered a stronger market in terms of real estate prospects.

What will define the industry in the coming year based on market trends?

Delivering affordability in the face of rising construction costs is the number one challenge. We need to find creative ways to help owners hold down construction costs because inflation, supply chain issues, and capital costs are squeezing budgets and budgets slowing or shutting down projects – all of which makes affordability that much harder to address. As a result, we are spending a lot more time collaborating with owners, contractors and consultants to develop strategies that keep costs down by ensuring our designs perform as efficiently as possible  whether it is through the layout or the systems, or the materials. It is all about a co-creative process with the entire project team. In a market like this, it is a terrific way to provide value to clients.

What opportunities do you see in the year ahead? How are you preparing?

Given the need for affordability, workforce housing is the greatest opportunity. For example, one of our large projects, Solera by Devco, combined affordable units and market rate. This is a 590-unit mixed-use development we designed in the Sunset neighborhood. We also see the opportunity to explore unique and innovative projects such as the Spark in Redmond, which is net zero carbon and has an urban forest.

What will we be talking about a year from now?

In terms of news about our firm, the first thing that comes to mind is our pending move to the Pike Place Market neighborhood. The market/waterfront area is the most dynamic location in the city right now and offers wonderful amenities to our employees.

In terms of broader issues, we will still be trying to address affordability. The cost of construction – including the cost of capital – is a huge drag on affordability. Developers need to do more with tight budgets, so we will be talking about innovative ways that architects, consultants, and contractors can bring value. We will also be talking about how to get remote workers and absent shoppers back downtown. All our employees are back in the office now and it has been a good thing.