Skip to content

UW students face food, housing insecurity, survey shows

UW News

Preliminary data from a survey of food and housing insecurity at the University of Washington’s three campuses shows that an estimated 190 students may lack a stable place to live, and about one-quarter of students have worried recently about having enough to eat.

Results of the online survey, conducted by UW faculty in 2018, are still being finalized. But an early look provides estimates of the numbers of students who could be considered homeless, who rely on food banks or skip meals, and for whom the costs of housing and food clearly present a challenge as they try to obtain a college degree.

As students nationwide grapple with the costs of living — hundreds of colleges and universities, including the UW, provide some form of food pantry, emergency housing and other forms of assistance — University of Washington faculty and administrators have wanted to identify the scope of the problem on the Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses. Officials say these initial results help establish a baseline for quantifying, and addressing, food and housing issues among the university’s nearly 55,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

The researchers will discuss some of these findings Friday at a workshop called Higher Ed on Homelessness: Collaborating for Change. The event, held at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, is organized by the UW, Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University.

“As the cost of living increases, we are seeing more cases where – in addition to the normal stresses and challenges of completing a college education – some of our students are struggling to maintain stable living situations and reliable nourishment,” said Denzil Suite, UW’s vice president for Student Life.  “We certainly have a role in ensuring that our students are able to maintain these basic necessities, and we have taken important steps in that direction. These findings will help us not only assess the problem, but inform how we can continue to address it.”

Based on information contained in this study, the university will reconvene its task force on Food & Housing Insecurity to examine how to mitigate the challenges students are facing, Suite said.

“We must not romanticize the ‘starving student’ cliché,” said Lynne Manzo, an environmental psychologist, professor in the UW College of Built Environments and one of three faculty members who led the study. Nationwide, more low-income students are enrolling in college than students from middle-class families, a shift in demographics.

“We’re in an era now when we need to take those shorthanded scripts about poverty among students and look at them more seriously for the realities that students face, their vulnerabilities and what they need for their health and well-being,” Manzo said. “We need to rethink who our students are and what their needs are in a growing region that’s unaffordable.”

The idea for the survey began at a 2016 faculty summit hosted by Urban@UW, an interdisciplinary effort to tackle city issues through research, teaching and community collaboration. From that summit came the Homelessness Research Initiative (HRI), which connects faculty researchers involved in homelessness issues across the Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma campuses. HRI’s initiatives have supported faculty in their efforts to, for example, develop a multidisciplinary social change curriculum, and establish a safe community hub for social services and identifying housing- and food-insecure UW students. This study was initiated and implemented by the faculty researchers themselves under the umbrella of Urban@UW and with the help of partnerships across the three campuses. UW Housing and Food Services and President Ana Mari Cauce’s Emerging Priorities Fund provided some financial support for the analysis.

The confidential, voluntary survey, administered during February and March 2018, posed a series of questions about current, past-month and past-year living situations, access to food, strategies for obtaining adequate food and housing, and sources of financial support. Methods for assembling a study sample varied slightly by campus: At UW Tacoma, a survey link was sent to all students; at the Bothell and Seattle campuses, students were sent the link at random. These different sampling strategies were used to balance the needs of each campus with a rigorous research approach.

From those efforts, 5,440 undergraduate and graduate students ages 18 and older responded, a 20% response rate based on the number of students who received the survey. The majority of respondents were from the Seattle campus, with one-fifth from UW Tacoma and one-tenth from UW Bothell. Two-thirds of respondents were female, and fewer than half were white, non-international students.

Researchers then weighted the results statistically to project data proportionate to the entire tri-campus population (referred to as “population-level data”).

Rachel Fyall, an assistant professor in the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance and one of the study’s three investigators, said the results are still being finalized and interpreted. No one can say authoritatively, for example, exactly how many students are living in vehicles. But this estimate reflects the likelihood of such a circumstance, given the statistical extrapolation from the sample data, she said.

“It is clear that a minority of our university population is struggling,” Fyall said. “They may be better off than some of the nonstudent population who are struggling with housing and food insecurity, but it is undeniable that there are substantial unmet needs at the UW.”

Other key findings include:

  • About 160 people —an estimated 0.3% of the entire population —live in a car, shelter or “other area not intended for habitation.”
  • In the year leading up to the survey, an estimated 4,800 to 5,600 students experienced housing instability: They spent nights in a vehicle, shelter or tent, or doubled-up with friends.
  • More than one-third of students said they “sometimes” or “often” couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals, while 20% said they sometimes or often ran out of food, and didn’t have enough money to buy more.
  • An estimated 9,400 to 10,500 students in a given month cut the size of their meals or skipped meals to keep their costs down.
  • Some 21% said a rent increase in the last year had made it difficult to pay rent.

Similar studies at other universities around the country have turned up a wide range of data on student homelessness and hunger. Fyall, Manzo and co-author Christine Stevens, an associate professor of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership Programs at UW Tacoma, explained that differences in methodology, such as who is included in the study sample or how questions are worded, can impact outcomes and make it hard to accurately compare one study to another.

The UW study, for instance, includes graduate students, which many other food and housing insecurity studies haven’t done, and means many responses could come from students who support partners and children, as well.

The survey also relied on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of food insecurity: the reduced quality, variety and desirability in a person’s diet, sometimes alongside lower food intake. Surveys elsewhere have asked about “hunger,” which can generate different kinds of responses and interpretations.

UW researchers see a bottom-line takeaway: Students are struggling — some severely — with a lack of affordable housing and a generally high cost of living, while trying to go to class and achieve their goals.

Stevens, who helped launch a food pantry at UW Tacoma five years ago, said those survival issues — where to live and whether to eat — affect student health and success. If you don’t eat, you can’t concentrate, and you don’t do well in school, Stevens said. If you’re working multiple jobs to pay tuition and your bills, then the jobs probably come first.

“The problem is not in the students,” Stevens said. “The problem is in the economics of the system, the lack of financial aid to meet the need, and the lack of affordable housing to spend it on. We tend to look at the students as the problem, as separate from what is happening from the system-wide issues.”

In addition to the food pantry, UW Tacoma has funded a full-time case manager to identify student needs and alert faculty to available resources to help students. Private donors support an emergency aid program that offers primarily cash assistance to students, and the campus recently collaborated with the Tacoma Housing Authority and a private developer on a property-subsidy program to get homeless students into housing.

UW Bothell also has an emergency aid program, and a food pantry in two locations, one on campus and the other in student housing. New this school year is a Health and Wellness Resource Center, which, among other services, connects students with one-time rental assistance and helps them enroll in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

And on the Seattle campus, efforts to address food and housing insecurity have extended to both the campus population and to young people in the surrounding neighborhood.

The Any Hungry Husky food pantry opened a permanent location on the west side of the UW Seattle campus last fall.

The Any Hungry Husky food pantry opened a permanent location on the west side of the UW Seattle campus last fall. Kiyomi Taguchi/U. of Washington

After a significant increase in the number of student visits from one academic year to the next, the Any Hungry Husky program last fall expanded and made permanent its food pantry. Both the campus and partner organizations in Seattle’s University District have hosted quarterly pop-up events — part social service fair, part pay-as-you-can café — through The Doorway Project, an effort led by Josephine Ensign, a professor in the UW School of Nursing, and supported by the Homelessness Research Initiative.

“The health and welfare of our students is our primary concern. That starts with reliable housing and access to food,” Suite said. “This survey deepens our ongoing effort to fully understand the need that exists, and we are committed to reviewing and updating our efforts to support our students in the years to come.”

Researchers say their next step will be to examine the way food and housing needs are distributed across the student population. The team expects that different student populations have different levels of need around food and housing insecurity, and future findings will help the university consider how and where to target additional assistance.

For more information on the survey, contact Fyall at or 206-616-7677, Manzo at or 206-616-8697, or Stevens at or 253-692-5675.

Seattle-area universities and colleges declare Affordable Housing Week, May 13-17


They join 25 cities and King County in recognizing the importance of safe, healthy, affordable housing

The presidents of four Seattle-area universities and colleges have joined forces to declare May 13-17, 2019 as Affordable Housing Week on their campuses. Dr. John Mosby, president of Highline College; Dr. Daniel J. Martin, president of Seattle Pacific University; Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., president of Seattle University; and Dr. Ana Mari Cauce, president of University of Washington, have signed proclamations or otherwise affirmed the importance of safe, healthy, affordable homes in communities of opportunity. The higher-education institutions join King County and 25 King County cities, including Seattle, in recognizing the benefits of affordable housing to everyone in the community.

To further recognize Affordable Housing Week, local universities are also hosting a first-time conference on their role in addressing homelessness, “Higher Ed on Homelessness: Collaborating for Change,” Friday, May 10 in Seattle. About 75-100 faculty, staff and grad students from more than 10 area higher-ed institutions will share their research, teaching, service learning, community engagement and advocacy best practices. The group will also explore the unique role of higher education in addressing homelessness; define how universities make a difference; highlight what benefits higher education brings to our region and our state on homelessness; and celebrate the accomplishments of students and alumni working to solve homelessness. The conference is hosted by Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University and University of Washington, and is open by invitation to colleagues at other area universities.

For more information on Housing Development Consortium and Affordable Housing Week, including a full list of community events:

Read the full article on UW News >

Remembering George Rolfe

George Rolfe leaning against the banister in Gould Hall.

George Rolfe, the founder of real estate education at the University of Washington,  passed away April 30, 2019 at 81 years old.

A celebration of his life will be held at Plymouth Congregational Church (1217 6th Ave, Seattle, WA) on June 2, 2019 at 2:00 pm followed by a reception.

George Rolfe’s Obituary

George Rolfe, the first director of the Pike Place Market Public Development Authority and a longtime University of Washington professor, passed away last week.

George was appointed to lead the Public Development Authority in 1973 and helped revitalize one of Seattle’s most iconic places. He worked with the city to create Seattle’s first pedestrian zone there, and he established the plan to build hundreds of low-income apartments at the market.

George had a long and impactful career as an architect, urban planner, real estate developer, and educator. He was the visionary who helped develop the UW Real Estate Certificate Program in 1988 and led a 20-year effort that established a master’s in real estate program and later created what is today the Runstad Department of Real Estate. George retired from the UW in 2016 and the mayor declared May 26, 2016, as George Rolfe Day.

We are grateful for the many lasting contributions he has made to the UW College of Built Environments, our community, and our lives. If you’d like to share remembrances or stories with his family and colleagues, please send them to

Read the full article on the Puget Sound Business Journal (subscription required) >

Read the letter from Christopher D. Campbell, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Urban Design & Planning >

Husky Builders Go For Gold in Green Energy Challenge

Students from the College of Built Environments’ Construction Management department are once again participating in the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Green Energy Challenge. A team of six junior level students calling themselves “Husky Builders” are competing against teams from all over the county in this annual competition co-sponsored by Electri International. The team’s approach is that of an electrical contractor bidding on an upcoming job; they have been working for the past several months to suggest energy efficiency upgrades to an existing building in the Seattle area.

Team members pose for a photo with their hands in the shape of a W for UW.
Husky Builders team members for the NECA Green Energy Challenge.

This year the team, comprised of Vanessa Sanchez, Renata Popov, Dumitru Robu, Sophia Grant, Zack Hinkley, and Cody Klansnic, have chosen to focus their project on the Magnuson Community Center located in Sand Point. Originally built in 1941 to serve as a recreation facility for U.S. Naval personnel stationed nearby, it is now a thriving community center. The facility is a hub for a variety of youth and adult events including theater productions, martial arts classes, and gardening workshops. The community center also serves as a host to afterschool programs utilizing the basketball and racquetball courts. The Green Energy Challenge team chose this facility because it had the perfect combination of size and age, allowing ample opportunities to suggest retrofit options to their lighting, insulation and HVAC systems in addition to a roof perfect for the installation of a photovoltaic system.

Points for the submitted proposal are awarded to competing teams based on a variety of factors including technical analyses on the existing energy usage of the building, a whole building lighting replacement option, and the installation of a photovoltaic system capable of helping the building achieve Net Zero energy consumption. The team performs a schematic level cost estimate, prepares a construction schedule and provides a financing plan with research in to the public and private incentives available to such energy conservation retrofit projects. Teams are also awarded points for volunteering with the organization and this year’s team helped to organize and set up an Easter egg hunt for the surrounding community. On April 20th, nearly seventy-five children ranging in age from 1 to 14 were treated to a well-stocked field of hundreds of candy-filled Easter eggs thanks in part to the efforts of this UW team. The event was a great success and future efforts by the team to assist the Magnuson Community Center are in development.

The NECA/Electri International Green Energy Challenge has been undertaken by numerous UW teams, resulting in several wins and many top 3 placements. With the help of the local electrical contracting industry including employees from Cochran Inc., Prime Electric, Artisan Electric and the Puget Sound NECA Board, this year’s team hopes to “bring home the gold” once again (not to mention the prize money that comes along with it). The final bid package is due on April 29 and, if that earns them one of the coveted top 3 spots, they go on to present in front of a panel of judges at the 2019 NECA Convention and Trade Show on September 17 in Las Vegas, NV. Good luck to the Husky Builders!

Meet our College’s 2019 #Husky100

Each year, the Husky 100 recognizes 100 UW undergraduate and graduate students from Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma in all areas of study who are making the most of their time at the UW. The Husky 100 actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom and apply what they learn to make a difference on campus, in their communities, and for the future. Through their passion, leadership, and commitment, these students inspire all of us to shape our own Husky Experience.

In honor of their many contributions to the University of Washington, each member of the Husky 100 is eligible to receive exciting benefits, and to participate in a range of activities and opportunities offered by the UW’s on- and off-campus partners.

The three students from the College of Built Environments represent a range of disciplines and causes: David Cox, an undergraduate student in Architecture, utilizes his experience as a Green Beret to strive for excellence and create meaningful architecture. Yishan Guan, an international undergraduate student studying Construction Management is working to advance women and minorities in the field. Catarina Ratajczak, an undergraduate student in the Community, Environment, and Planning program, strives to connect her background with agriculture in creating useful green spaces in urban settings.

Congratulations to all the students selected for the 2019 Husky 100 award! To learn more about their experiences, please visit the Husky 100 page. 

Bellevue named national “Outstanding Community Partner” for Livable City Year Partnership

In a partnership with the University of Washington expected to generate out-of-the-box solutions to civic challenges, the City of Bellevue has been named Outstanding Community Partner by a national group of universities.

All 31 schools in the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N)are working together with cities to improve livability and sustainability for their communities. EPIC-N honored Bellevue at an awards ceremony Monday for fostering strong community involvement and embracing UW recommendations.

“The City of Bellevue is an absolute example of service-minded innovation,” said Courtney Griesel, an EPIC-N board member. “Their investment and truly authentic and open engagement with the University of Washington is a shining illustration of how EPIC partnerships can inspire and energize both partners, while activating a community. ”

The 30 projects the city and university are working on together include ones proposed or significantly modified by faculty.

The University of Washington Livable City Year program selected Bellevue to be its community partner for the 2018-2019 academic year, following successful partnerships with the cities of Auburn and Tacoma the previous two years.

“This honor is very gratifying,” City Manager Brad Miyake said. “City staff have been impressed with the original ideas and useful data generated by UW professors and students so far. Innovative partnerships like these extend our ability to provide high-quality services for the entire community.”

Faculty and staff with the Livable City Year program pose with the award for Bellevue

Livable City Year matches faculty, courses and students across all UW schools, colleges and campuses to best match the projects identified by the city. Through the partnership, city staff are connected to the research and project work at the university.

Since September, the city and university have been collaborating on projects exploring topics ranging from a public/private business incubator and smart buildings to food truck permitting and neighborhood planning. All of the projects advance City Council Vision priorities.

In its nomination for the city, the university cited community engagement that included dozens of residents participating in a question-and-answer session with Health Services students about neighborhood planning. For food truck permitting, Public Health graduate students and city staff compiled best practices and interviewed stakeholders, including food truck operators, other businesses and residents.

As the city considers whether to use unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, it is getting help from UW Law School students, who are evaluating current trends, drafting policy language and recommending public engagement strategies.

The Livable City Year partnership will wind up with a celebration and presentation of student work in the concourse of City Hall on Monday, June 3, 6-8 p.m. The City Council will participate, and the public is encouraged to attend.

About the City of Bellevue

Known as a “City in a Park” with nearly 100 parks and a vast network of trails and greenbelts, Bellevue is the fifth largest city in Washington state. The Eastside city spans 33.5 square miles from Lake Washington to Lake Sammamish. As part of the Innovation Triangle, Bellevue is the high-tech and retail center with a downtown skyline of gleaming high-rises, a diverse population of approximately 140,000 and schools that are consistently rated among the best in the country. To learn more about why Bellevue is the city where you want to be, visit

About the University of Washington’s Livable City Year program

The Livable City Year program launched in 2016 in collaboration with UW Sustainability and Urban@UW, and with foundational support from the UW College of Built Environments, the Department of Urban Design and Planning, UW Undergraduate Academic Affairs and the Association of Washington Cities.

Elizabeth Ayer was a pioneer in 20th-century architecture

Washington State’s first registered female architect left her legacy all over the Puget Sound

Meg van Huygen 

 Ayer began her architecture career in 1918, while still a student at the University of Washington, with a job at the offices of prominent local architect Edwin Ivey. This started Ayer’s illustrious practice—which included becoming not only the first (registered) woman architect in Seattle, but in Washington State.

A bit of background on Ayer’s family, which perhaps set the stage for a young woman to do such hardcore pioneering: Elizabeth Ayer’s great grandparents, Joseph Harrison Conner and Phoebe Maertha Kirkendall, arrived in just-created Thurston County—two counties south of Seattle—with their three children in 1851 or 1852, about a year before the Territory of Washington was established separately from the Territory of Oregon. The nearby city of Olympia had been freshly platted in 1850, and there were around 1,000 settlers in the area.

The Conners built a homestead, just east of where the Evergreen Forest Elementary School is in Lacey today; the neighborhood was known locally as Conner’s Prairie. Their daughter Martha married logger and racetrack developer Isaac Chase Ellis, who would later become the mayor of Olympia in 1874, and they made their home on the site of the current Elks Building downtown. The Ellises’ daughter, Cora, grew up pretty well-to-do for being only one generation removed from hardscrabble Missourian settlers. She studied art and married Charles Henry Ayer, an early Superior Court judge (and eventually mayor of Olympia, mimicking his father-in-law) became the mayor of Olympia. The Ayers had five children, the youngest of which was Elizabeth, born in 1897.

Growing up in well-established family with a strong foothold a still-new, rapidly growing community, Elizabeth Ayer was perhaps uniquely enabled to forge her own way in the world—or if not the world, at least nascent Thurston County.

After Elizabeth graduated from Olympia High School in 1916, she did something very few turn-of-the-century American women did: She enrolled at the University of Washington. When asked why she chose to study architecture, she snarked, “I had no ability to spell, so I couldn’t be a stenographer, no patience, so I couldn’t be a teacher, and no memory so I couldn’t be a waitress. I had to be an architect!” In fact, it was her penchant for math that led her to the industry.

Ayer designed “Schafer Castle” (1938-1939) for Albert and Helen Schafer. Now, it’s a wedding venue known as “Chateau Schafer.” University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW 39978

The male professors at UW didn’t make things easy for Ayer—at the time, the department didn’t even have a ladies’ restroom—and she was told by prospective clients that they would never hire a woman. In 1918, about halfway through her degree, she worked for Andrew Willatsen, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, but her tenure there was brief, possibly owing to the fact that Willatsen publicly vowed never to hire a woman on his staff and had generally low confidence in the professional abilities of women in the architecture field.

She moved instead to the firm of Ivey & RIley, run by architects Howard H. RIley and Edwin J. Ivey, the next year. Edwin’s wife, Katharine, was acquainted with Ayer through fine arts events s at the University. Ayer was hired for a job she later described as “office boy,” assisting Ivey’s draftsmen. To call her an “office girl” in the jargon of the era would be to imply that she worked in the front of the office, typing and answering phones, so Ayer was always careful to mention this distinction. Ayer was re-employed by Ivey and was listed as his sole employee in 1921 when he broke away from Riley to start his own practice.

Read the entire article on Curbed Seattle >

Relocating for climate change

Aerial photo of homes near the water in Kivalina, Alaska. ShoreZone/Flickr.

Managed retreat due to rising seas is a public health issue

By Jackson Holtz |UW News | Read the original post 

Sea-level rise associated with climate change is a concern for many island and coastal communities. While the dangers may seem far off for large coastal cities like Miami or New Orleans, the advancing oceans are already displacing some small indigenous communities, and many others are at risk around the world.

Prior to catastrophic flooding expected during the next few decades, people living in these communities can begin an orderly process of managed retreat, or planned relocation, to higher ground either nearby or at a distance.

A University of Washington study published last month in the journal Climatic Change examined through the lens of public health how this process affects the people in question.

“Managed retreat has disruptive health, sociocultural and economic impacts on the communities that relocate,” said lead author Dr. Andrew L. Dannenberg, an affiliate professor in the Department of Urban Design and Planning in the College of Built Environments and in the UW School of Public Health.

Those impacts include mental health, social networks, food security, water supply, sanitation, infectious diseases, injury and health care access. The analysis found that relocating may bring some positive changes such as improved living conditions as well as some challenges, such as impairment to subsistence livelihoods.

“It can be a mixed blessing,” Dannenberg said.

The researchers focused on eight villages — four in North and Central America and four in the South Pacific — to learn what happens to people and communities when rising oceans force people with limited resources to relocate.

Researchers looked at existing literature, including academic papers and news reports, to examine the public health impacts of these relocations. The community populations ranged from 60 to 2,700 people, in places including Alaska, Louisiana and Washington state, as well as Panama, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

One of the affected communities in the Northwest is the Quinault Indian Nation village of 660 people in Taholah, Washington, that is at growing risk from sea level rise, storm surges and tsunamis. With a $700,000 federal grant, the residents have completed a Master Plan to rebuild on nearby higher ground and to incorporate best development practices consistent with community input. Substantial additional funds will be needed to complete the relocation, Dannenberg said.

The authors of the new study suggest that human health should be a consideration in the managed retreat process, although health issues received relatively little attention in most of the case studies reviewed. While some relocations were successful, other communities faced barriers, such as lack of a suitable new location, funding, or community consensus on when and where to move. As one official in Fiji commented: “Relocation …[is] not about moving houses, it’s about moving lives.”

“Further research is needed to better understand the public health implications of managed retreat and how to facilitate population resilience before, during and after relocation,” Dannenberg wrote.

Co-authors are Jeremy J. Hess and Kristie L. Ebi of the UW, and Howard Frumkin of both the UW and the Wellcome Trust, London.


For more information, contact Dannenberg at

Designing for Resilience

How a design studio at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments engaged students in defining strategies for a community to evolve amidst disruptions.

Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the country– a hub of innovation with a thriving economy. Yet, this rapid growth challenges the capacity of the city to adapt without damaging its current communities. Students from The University of Washington’s College of Built Environments (CBE) responded to these and other challenges through the Winter 2018 Studio and Seminar titled “Staying in Place: Designing for Community Resilience.” Students explored and tested urban design strategies to address resilience — the ability to stay in place in response to threats of displacement, natural disasters, and climate change.

Focusing on the Mount Baker Light Rail Station and its surrounding neighborhood—the Mount Baker Hub—students immersed themselves in understanding current conditions, challenges, and initiatives underway. This diverse community, with concurrent development strategies and initiatives in place, provided a robust foundation for students to apply their creativity. Students interacted with members of the Mount Baker community by spending time near the transit hub with materials and maps to engage commuters and community leaders.

Addressing themes of community engagement, emergency response, food, housing, mobility, public space, and water, the students’ projects mapped out short and long term strategies. A design “charrette,” or workshop, brought together community leaders, agency representatives, design professionals, and faculty to collectively advance the students’ design visions. A final presentation inspired comprehensive conversations about the potential of the student proposals addressing community resilience. These outcomes continue to serve as a community resource online.

Students participating in the Winter 2018 Studio were graduate and undergraduate students from the College of Built Environments’ Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Planning programs, along with exchange students from the University of Melbourne’s School of Design. Stakeholders from the Mount Baker Business Association Board convened with the students throughout their work, identifying the needs of the Mount Baker community and the challenges it faces, as well as providing insightful feedback on their design visions. CBE faculty Rachel Berney and Julie Johnson co-taught this interdisciplinary studio and seminar.

Building equity: A talk with Renée Cheng, new dean of the UW College of Built Environments

Renée Cheng comes to the University of Washington from the University of Minnesota, where she was professor and associate dean of its school of architecture and design. A licensed architect, Cheng is a leader in the American Institute of Architects and advocates for equity in the architecture field and practices related to the built environment. She joined the UW on Jan. 1.

Cheng answered questions about the college and her new role for UW News.

What is it about the College of Built Environments, the UW and the Seattle area — with its many challenges — that attracted you?

It was actually those challenges — particularly around housing and homelessness — that attracted me, especially because the College of Built Environments has a real chance to have an impact on an urgent societal issue. It goes without saying that housing and homelessness is incredibly important, but we also know that it’s not the only “wicked problem” or grand challenge facing us. It’s clear to me that the college can establish a method or approach to contribute positively to the dialogue and lead where we are best suited to do so.

You’ve had an interesting career path, starting your education with pre-med in mind, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social relations, and then a master’s in architecture — and founding your own firm. How do these diverse experiences help inform your work?

It’s easier to see now in hindsight, but all my choices have been based in trying to make a difference in the world through action and to take those actions with respect for humanity. I try to have my actions — whether they are large or small scale, on my own or with others — to be the best: with care, integrity and beauty.

What are some of your priorities coming in as dean, both in the short and longer term?

I’m fortunate to come at a time when our college, students and faculty are very strong. I’m not starting with a blank page, instead I’m helping add a chapter to a wonderful book. My first step is to speed-read that book to catch up with everyone else who understands it so well. That content includes internal college matters but also its partners, alumni and community as well as its past history and context.

Moving forward, I would love to amplify and enhance the college’s contributions to advancing solutions to our most intractable problems that involve or include the built environments. I think most people know that College of Built Environments disciplines are good at looking to the future and designing beautiful places, but its even more than that: The college has great visionaries and designers, but they work with historians who know that the future is in the context of the past, and with scholars who understand the policy and financial models that shape the parameters in direct dialogue with designers. In the ideal world, faculty and students from our disciplines respect the distinct differences and find ways to work effectively to impact society.

In Seattle as in Minneapolis — where you headed the University of Minnesota School of Architecture / College of Design — there is a great focus on homelessness, housing affordability and density in communities. How can the college contribute to conversations on these topics and pursue solutions?

Housing, homelessness, affordability and density involve some of the most difficult issues in society and there needs to be a diverse set of skills and great depth of information brought to bear to make progress. Lots of good ideas with many insights and resources are needed to have constructive dialogue.

The college offers a great platform for multidisciplinary collaboration including a coalition of academic experts, students, communities, public and private institutions. In addition to providing the space for productive dialogue, we are able to envision scenarios and we are comfortable with holding open multiple parallel options simultaneously. This lateral thought process, sometimes called “design thinking,” can be incredibly powerful to define and solve complex layered problems.

Coming decades will bring continued environmental challenges such as rising seas, warming temperatures and extreme weather. Innovation is bringing driverless cars, the proliferation of drones and more. How might — how must — the built environment world respond?

The built environment has already adapted, not always in positive ways, to changes in climate and technology. Changing in a positive way is the key.

We also need to realize that we don’t just react to those forces of change, we have a responsibility to attend to the social justice implications of environments. Change will happen, it’s guaranteed. Positive change is not guaranteed, it will take concerted efforts by colleges like ours to define, nudge, cajole and lead.

You are an advocate for equity in the built environment professions and recently led the research effort for the American Institute of Architecture’s guides for equitable practice in the workplace. How will this inform your leadership in the college?

You asked earlier about my background; I think in many ways I’ve come full circle to my focus on human interaction and relationships. Practicing equity and inclusion have shown me that bridging across differences — cultural, gender, disciplinary — is at the heart of so many things I care about. It has also taught me that we learn through taking risks and making mistakes.

I love that the UW has been such a leader in equity, diversity and inclusion. President Cauce has set such a great example in her aspirational yet grounded approach, and she has well defined values that are clear and shared among the deans. It’s impressive and exciting to be adding to this mix that which I have learned about equity in the practice of architecture.

Originally posted on UW News. Questions by Peter Kelley of UW News and Kailey Waring of the College of Built Environments.

$250,000 gift from NBBJ to the UW College of Built Environments will advance applied research in the built environment

NBBJ – a global architecture, planning and design firm – will donate a quarter of a million dollars to establish a ground breaking partnership with the University of Washington’s (UW) College of Built Environments (CBE). The gift will forge multiple relationships over many years, touching faculty, students and researchers who advance knowledge of our understanding of how the built environment positively affects human health and wellbeing.

The partnership will strive to translate basic research into action, create innovative solutions to design problems, and engage the next generation of leaders through the teaching and research at CBE and across the University of Washington. CBE dean Renée Cheng, FAIA, says partnerships like the one between NBBJ and the CBE are essential to define and identify solutions to the grand challenges of the 21st century.

“Connecting the knowledge loop between practices and academy is key towards ensuring our buildings foster and nurture human health. Partnerships between a leading design firm like NBBJ with a leading multidisciplinary college like ours will accelerate the impact of our research, directly benefiting our industry, our communities and society. While our initial focus will be on human health, we see this as a model for collaborative, complementary and applied research that this college can and will use to address the most urgent issues of our society – from finding smarter ways to deal with carbon to increasing affordable housing and addressing homelessness,” said Cheng.

“The built environment is a powerful tool to provoke change, and is inextricably linked to positive health outcomes,” said NBBJ Managing Partner Steve McConnell, FAIA. “The partnership between NBBJ and UW will advance the next generation of research related to design and health by anchoring it more deeply in project work and sharing it more broadly across competitive boundaries. Our entire industry – and ultimately our clients and the community at large – will benefit from its impact.”

NBBJ will engage with students and faculty from the CBE and across health sciences at the UW. The specifics of the multi-year partnership will evolve organically but it will engage faculty, students and practitioners in activities such as projects, studios, seminars, charrettes and symposia.

About NBBJ

NBBJ creates innovative places and experiences for organizations worldwide and designs environments, communities and buildings that enhance people’s lives. Founded in 1943, NBBJ is an industry leader in designing corporate office, healthcare, commercial, civic, science, education and sports facilities. The firm has won numerous awards and has been recognized as the world’s “Most Innovative Architecture Firm” by Fast Company magazine. The firm has a history of spearheading innovative partnerships that provide benefit beyond its walls — including the creation of VR start-up Visual Vocal, the formation of NBBJ’s Fellowship program focused on neuroscience research, and a collaboration with Time Inc. to “hack” the future of work. Clients include Alibaba, Amazon, Beacon Capital Partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing, Cambridge University, Cleveland Clinic, GlaxoSmithKline, Massachusetts General Hospital, Microsoft, Reebok, Salk Institute, Samsung, Stanford University, Starbucks, Tencent and Tishman Speyer. (
Contact: Daniel Skiffington,

About the College of Built Environments

The UW’s College of Built Environments (CBE) is one of a few institutions where Architecture, Urban Planning, Landscape Architecture, Construction Management, and Real Estate come together under one roof. The CBE has three foci which are professional practice, public service, and research and each serve the College, University, and community in profound ways. Its mission is to teach students to be skilled practitioners and strong collaborators, who are conscious of the natural environment and cultures they serve. (
Contact: Kailey Waring,

‘Carbon accountability’: UW architecture professor Kate Simonen sees progress in work to reduce embodied carbon in construction materials

 UW News

“We acknowledge that we hold this world in trust and recognize the immediate threat climate change and its impacts pose to current and future generations,” reads a statement signed this fall by more than 100 construction-related companies and nonprofits.

Kate Simonen, UW professor of architecture and head of the Carbon Leadership Forum

Kate Simonen

“We must act urgently and collaboratively to transform the built environment from a leading driver of climate change to a significant and profitable solution.”

Such strong words of industry agreement are good news to Kate Simonen, architect, engineer and University of Washington associate professor of architecture. Simonen leads a UW-hosted research group called the Carbon Leadership Forum that brings together academics and building industry professionals to study carbon emissions across a building’s life cycle, or entire period of use, and to focus on reducing the amount of “embodied” carbon in building materials.

The statement comes from a declaration that was shared and signed at an event called Carbon Smart Building Day, linked with the three-day Global Climate Action Summit in September in San Francisco.

“Together, we can help draw down excess atmospheric carbon,” reads this Carbon Smart Building Declaration, “and create a built environment that supports a healthy, equitable, and sustainable human community.”

Carbon emissions from the built environment account for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide, and must be dramatically reduced to combat the effects of climate change. Simonen says that construction of a single “low embodied carbon” office building could save 30 million kilograms, or 33,000 tons, in carbon emissions, Simonen says — “the emissions equivalent of avoiding driving a car around the Earth 3,000 times.”

Exciting, too, Simonen said, is a new, open-source tool to track the carbon emissions of raw building materials called the Embodied Carbon Calculator for Construction, or EC3 for short. The tool, developed by the Carbon Leadership Forum in collaboration with Skanska and Amsterdam-based C-Change Labs, can help construction professionals better report and reduce embodied carbon. No less an ally than Microsoft announced in September that it will pilot the calculator as the corporation remodels its campus. Funding for this has been provided by the Charles Pankow Foundation, the MKA Foundation and other building industry supporters such as carpet manufacturer Interface and the American Institute of Steel Construction.

The Carbon Leadership Forum is now an affiliate of EarthLab, a new institute at the UW seeking to connect academics with people working on these environmental challenges and translate science into practical solutions.

Simonen said she was encouraged by a standing-room-only audience for Carbon Smart Building Day, the new calculator tool and the fact that so many have signed the Carbon Smart Building Declaration.

“What this means,” she said, “is we are approaching global consensus on the challenge ahead and exciting momentum on where to act to increase impact.”

Simonen added that the Carbon Leadership Forum continues to work with industry and NGO partners to build awareness of embodied carbon in construction. Another ongoing initiative, she said, is the Embodied Carbon Network, a platform for engagement and information to help achieve the aim of a carbon-neutral built environment by the year 2050.


For more information, contact Simonen at 206-685-7282 or

Read more about embodied carbon and the Carbon Leadership Forum:

UPDATED: AIA “Guides for Equitable Practice” now publicly available


The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has publicly released “Guides for Equitable Practice.”

Download the Guides

WASHINGTON – Nov. 29, 2018 – The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the University of Minnesota are helping shape architecture firm culture by releasing the first three chapters of the “Guides for Equitable Practice” to AIA members today.

AIA sponsored the development of the guides to help educate architects and firms on best practices for equity, diversity and inclusion principles and to provide strategies for incorporating the values into architectural practice.

“Everyday, architects solve critical challenges in society through design and advocacy of the built environment,” said AIA Equity and the Future of Architecture Committee Chair Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA. “We know there’s more work to be done to shape the profession to be more equitable and accessible. These guides frame the conversation and provide actionable items for individuals, firms and allies. Achieving this vision has a direct impact on the relevance of our profession and our work.”

The guides were developed using current research on gender, race and culture in the U.S. and perspectives from architects on what equity, diversity and inclusion mean.

Topics included in the first three chapters of guides explore intercultural competence, workplace culture and compensation within firms. Subsequent sets—both due next year—will address career progression, talent recruitment, leadership development and community engagement.

“The guides provide tangible steps for increasing the intercultural skills of the profession and for creating robust and healthy workplace cultures in our firms,” said Renée Cheng, FAIA, who was recently named Dean at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments. “It was an honor for our team at the University of Minnesota to be selected to author them.”

The guides are one component of the AIA’s broad commitment to overcome inequities and advance the profession. In 2015, AIA formed the Equity in Architecture Commission to address broader concerns about disproportionate demographics in the profession. The development of the guides was one of the Commission’s eleven recommendations adopted by the AIA’s Board of Directors.

In 2017, the commission’s work was assumed by the AIA Equity and the Future of Architecture Committee. The committee is tasked with helping implement the commission’s recommendations and tackling other equity, diversity, inclusion and workforce issues.

In addition to the ongoing development of the guides, the committee is also making two anti-harassment training videos available to all AIA members.

“There’s an opportunity for architects and firms to create a more inclusive and welcoming culture,” said AIA 2018 President Carl Elefante, FAIA. “Architects have a duty to be socially aware and social entrepreneurs. It’s up to each of us to do our part to make the profession attractive and available to all people.”

“Guides for Equitable Practice” can be accessed by AIA members through their AIA accounts online. The guides will be available to the public early next year. Members of the media can request a copy of the guides by emailing

About AIA

Founded in 1857, AIA consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through more than 200 international, state and local chapters, AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing.

AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation, and world. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards.

Parks help cities – but only if people use them

Tiny Paley Park, surrounded by skyscrapers in New York City, introduced the concept of a ‘pocket park’ in dense urban centers. Aleksandr Zykov/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Written by Thaisa Way, faculty director of Urban@UW and Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture in the College of Built Environments.

In cities, access to parks is strongly linked with better health for both people and neighborhoods.

Children suffer higher rates of obesity when they grow up in urban areas without a park in easy reach. Because low-income neighborhoods have fewer green spaces, poorer children are most likely to face other health problems, too, including asthma due to poor air quality.

But access to green space is not the only ingredient in creating healthy communities, my research on urban landscapes shows. Parks are good for people only if people use them. And that’s a question of design.

The first truly public park – a green space paid for by public funds, on publicly owned land and intended to serve the public – was Birkenhead Park, near Liverpool, England. Designed by Joseph Paxton to improve the health of the poor, it opened in 1847 to a crowd of 10,000. When landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted visited Birkenhead in 1850, he was inspired to bring the idea home to “democratic America.”

Continue reading at The Conversation >

Originally posted on The Conversation

National Science Foundation grant to fund research on urbanization and the ecosystem

Professor Marina Alberti, Ph.D. has been awarded a five-year, $500,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate and understand how humans and their settlements affect the planet’s ecosystem. Professor Alberti is Associate Dean for Research in the College of Built Environments and director of the Urban Ecology Research Lab (UERL).

According to the grant abstract, “a new Research Coordination Network (RCN) to bring together scientists from different institutions to design and perform long-term cross-comparative studies, to synthesize the science, and to explore mechanisms that link urban development patterns to rapid evolution and the potential for those changes to feedback to shape ecosystems. The RCN will train scholars, postdocs, and PhD students, and will recruit members with diverse backgrounds offering them direct experience in collaborative, transdisciplinary research.”

The RCN has five objectives:

  1. Develop a shared research framework to integrate multiple disciplinary approaches and domains of knowledge to study urban eco-evolutionary dynamics.
  2. Produce a new synthesis of existing evidence on the mechanisms that link urban development patterns to rapid evolutionary changes and their potential feedbacks to ecosystems.
  3. Identify scientific gaps and research priorities to advance knowledge of eco-evolutionary dynamics in an urbanizing planet.
  4. Build a global network of collaborators with complementary skills and diverse study systems to support the development of multi-city empirical studies of urban eco-evolutionary dynamics.
  5. Explore implications and generate insights for conservation and ecological planning.

For more information contact Marina Alberti at 206-616-8667 or (Twitter: @ma003)

Valuing older buildings: Architecture professor’s book argues for reuse rather than wrecking ball

UW News

In her new book, Kathryn Rogers Merlino, University of Washington associate professor of architecture, argues for the environmental benefit of reusing buildings rather than tearing them down and building anew.

“I was trained as both an architect and architectural historian,” Merlino says, “and have always been drawn to older buildings and the layered narrative of history they embody.”

Her book, “Building Reuse: Sustainability, Preservation, and the Value of Design” was published this year by UW Press. Merlino discussed the book, and the topic of building reuse, with UW News.

Merlino-bookcoverWhat are the central ideas of the book?

It draws from three main concepts, she said. “First, I believe most of us are attracted to older buildings. This is a major driver of why we travel — to learn about cultures. Older buildings can teach us so much about the past. I think the patina of age and the combination of styles and textures in older buildings intrigues all of us.”

The second and perhaps the most important idea is sustainability. Here in the environmentally progressive Pacific Northwest, Merlino said, “We are so good at recycling and composting on a daily basis, but it’s surprising that we have no cultural ethic about reusing our largest manufactured goods — our buildings. We quickly demolish buildings in the name of new, ‘green’ structures, rather than looking for the possibilities of how we can work with what exists. To me there is an inherent conflict in there, and I think we can do better.”

Tearing down buildings and “throwing away the energy and materials embodied in them” is contrary to our values as sustainable builders and environmental stewards of our community, she said. Sustainability is particularly relevant “in a city that has been leading development nationally for the past several years.”

The third idea is that architects have the opportunity to use their knowledge to change the culture around building design “and embrace adaptive reuse as much as we embrace designing new structures.

“I’m not arguing that all buildings are worthy of preservation and reuse, but I think a change in discourse is necessary. Currently we have one way buildings can be saved from the wrecking ball: through historic preservation designation. While this is necessary and applicable for many buildings, it’s a challenging process, and it doesn’t apply to the majority of our building stock — such as the vernacular, everyday buildings that have plenty of good use left in them.”

If a building is not deemed historic, she said, “that can be used as an argument for demolition. Failed historic designations are used to justify demolition all the time. So I think we need to fundamentally shift our perspective on what constitutes ‘significance’ in our buildings.  I think all of these things need to be reevaluated if we are going to have truly sustainable buildings.”

Read the whole interview at UW News >

Landscape Architecture Foundation Perspectives: Jeffrey Hou

Jeffrey Hou, ASLA is a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington. There, his work and research focus on issues of social and environmental justice including design activism, public space and democracy, and engagement of marginalized groups in design and planning.

What drew you to landscape architecture?

I would say education and a trip to a far-flung place.

Like many in the field, my professional education was first in architecture. As an undergraduate at Cooper Union and like the instructors who taught us (including A.E. Bye), we aspired to be nonconformists, to challenge the established norms and status quo, to take a radical stand on design and the profession. In retrospect, switching to landscape architecture was perhaps my way of being radical.

More directly, when I finished my fourth year at Cooper, I had a chance to visit Pongso-no-Ta’u, a small volcanic island southeast of Taiwan. The indigenous tribe on the island still retained two of their traditional, pre-modern settlements. Built on a complex, sculpted, terraced landform, the settlements provide protection from fierce winter wind while allowing for drainage, privacy, and other social functions. The experience was eye-opening and made me see the built environment beyond the lens of architecture. It drew me to landscape.

I went on to develop a design thesis on the disappearance of architectural sites in my final year at Cooper, worked on several projects in rural Taiwan after graduation, then returned to the States for my MLA study at Penn where Ian McHarg was in his last years of teaching ecological planning studio. What I learned at Penn opened another world for me. It enabled me to see landscape as dynamic systems and processes.

My interest in social issues then brought me to Berkeley, where I took classes in anthropology, planning, and participation. Working with Randy Hester, I got involved in environmental activism (to protect coastal wetland habitats in Taiwan) and learned that landscape architects could be agents of social change. My career path would have been very different had I not studied at Cooper or traveled to Pongo-no-Ta’u 30 years ago.

What is driving you professionally right now?

My professional and scholarly work has been driven by my interest in issues of social and environmental justice. The relationship between landscape architecture and social and environmental justice is twofold. On one hand, the environmental challenges that we face today are in essence social, political, and cultural. They require us to look beyond technical and rationalistic solutions. On the other hand, the impact of social and environmental catastrophes tend to weigh heavier in socially and economically disadvantaged communities than those that are more privileged. I see it as our ethical and professional responsibility to address the deep social and economic divides in our society as we deal with the impacts of climate change, access to clean water, air, and food, and other issues of equity and justice in the environment.

In addition to these issues, I am also interested in the agency of ordinary people in transforming and shaping the built environment. This stems from my earlier collaborative research on community gardening in Seattle in which we learned about the profound, collective efforts of individuals and communities in transforming not only sites in the neighborhood but also city decisions regarding parks, green space, and food policy. I carried this focus into my later work looking at public space and placemaking, including Insurgent Public Space (2010) and Transcultural Cities (2013).

Historically, landscape architecture has been viewed as a domain of professionals which dismisses the agency of citizens and communities despite the rhetoric of participation and engagement. By discounting the agency of the public, we lose our biggest ally in shaping the built environment. In my teaching, research, and practice, I try to focus on a model of co-production and co-creation that challenges the established paradigm and bias.

Read the whole interview on >

LAF’s Perspectives interview series showcases landscape architects from diverse backgrounds discussing how they came to the profession and where they see it heading.

KUOW covers launch of Livable City Year’s partnership with Bellevue

Students in Bellevue, WA
Photo by Daimon Eklund

Every year, students at the UW study a city and help that city with its biggest problems. This year, they’ll study Bellevue.

Running a city like Bellevue, a person can get consumed by the problems of the day. “Our staff are so busy, because of the level of service we provide to the city residents,” said Danielle Verwahren, a Bellevue official.

In that environment, politics and money can narrow a bureaucrat’s view of what’s possible. But students haven’t been worn down by countless public meetings and budget negotiations, yet.

The UW Livable City Year program brings these two sides together.

This week, students met Bellevue officials at the UW for the first time. In the year ahead, they’ll spend hours talking to Bellevue residents and businesses. Under the guidance of faculty, they’ll study the latest academic research on making cities livable. And at the end of the year, they’ll produce glossy reports officials can share with the wider Bellevue public.

Read the whole story at KUOW >

Celebrating the Life of Richard Haag, Founder of UW Department of Landscape Architecture

Seattle’s Gas Works Park, one of Richard Haag’s most prominent projects.

Emeritus Professor Richard Haag (1923-2018) founded and served as the first Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington and rose to prominence as one of the most celebrated landscape architects and beloved professors in the College of Built Environments.

Richard made it known he did not want an obituary or memorial service as it would distract from the important work that needs to continue in the public realm.

Those wishing to celebrate his life and legacy may consider the Richard Haag Endowed Scholarship in Landscape Architecture, established in his name to support exceptional students who demonstrate a passion for living nature, plants, and horticulture as sources of design inspiration. Donations may be made online at or by contacting Claudia Vergara, Assistant Director of Advancement for the College of Built Environments, at or 206-221-4027.