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Summary

The mission of the Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program at Woodbury University’s School of Architecture is to change the role of architect from consultant to entrepreneur and to empower architects in a profession where they are rapidly losing their traditional role as leaders of project teams. Students graduate with the skills to be not simply consultants, but also builders and real estate developers. MRED graduates are establishing a new localized culture of building and an architectural vernacular that speaks to San Diego’s context, place, and time. The built results have created a quiet storm of new housing and commerce that both fit nicely within and raise the design bar in San Diego’s more urban neighborhoods. These new projects and architect-builders are creating a buzz, drawing attention from funders and others wanting to build upon their budding success, and establishing a new responsibility through raised expectations. The MRED program is creating a group of young architect-developers who can determine their own fates, design, and places while contributing to a better urban environment.

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The Problem

Over the past 30 years, architects have been relegated to serving as consultants in a process, relinquishing their time-honored role as leaders of development decisions. This results in projects without the important elemental conception essential to building urbanism. Developers, engineers, contractors, and citizen groups have taken the architect’s role in city making. Uneducated in the culture, history, civic-awareness, and aesthetics of urbanism, and often having the wrong motivations, these stakeholders frequently make wrong decisions on the schemes, locations, types, and functions of new buildings.

The architecture academy has shifted its curriculum in response to this diminished role. Historically, an architect’s education was under an apprenticeship system. Working under a master/mentor, a student’s education was delivered in an organization-centric, hierarchical, and function-based work program. That system still exists today in the Intern Development Program licensing process. In contrast, the architectural education curriculum is now organized to provide graduates with a range of professional skills to provide consultancy services. Education is delivered in a collaborative, network- and project-based program.

Because students expect to graduate from architecture school with bloated student loan debt, larger university programs sell themselves as well-known brands and professional networks to be leveraged immediately upon graduation. For example, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design markets “Landscape Urbanism” as the appropriate discipline to conceive urban environments. It sponsors lectures, produces social media content, and publishes books and magazines to sell the brand.

In contrast, Woodbury’s smaller MRED program blends the apprenticeship model with the project-based program, as thesis projects are actual building projects. The program is designed to teach the art of architecture plus the key building and development skills needed to realize great buildings and communities.


The Curriculum

The Woodbury MRED program is unlike any other real estate development program. The entire curriculum of the 12-month, three-semester program is project-based and delivered through a studio format under the direct tutelage of the program’s co-chairmen, Ted Smith and Jonathan Segel. This course of study introduces more than the typical elements of development. Students are exposed to a broad array of building industry professionals and MRED graduates. Students work with successful architect-developers to understand innovative, inventive, and specific strategies to overcome financial shortcomings and policy roadblocks. These strategies are studied, refined, and evolve in this hands-on, interactive studio.

The program is taught in three studio semesters. It begins with local MRED graduates presenting their successful developments in a case-studies studio. Students have the opportunity to consider alternative designs for these existing developments while they become familiar with and manipulate the specific business plans or pro formas of the projects. Industry professionals including bankers, contractors, building officials, lawyers, market analysts, and sales representatives teach classes in a parallel professional studio that supports the design studio.

The second semester continues with the parallel professional studio, under the direction and advice of industry professionals who continuously participate in the learning process. Student presentations are tied to a series of sketch problems that integrate specific learning outcomes and real world examples. In this professional studio, students survey possible alternatives for new developments and are directed toward a specific project proposal, which concludes during the final thesis semester.

For the thesis, students begin their own development project. They prepare finished presentation packages, including market analysis, partnership agreements, funding proposals, architectural designs, and sales and leasing strategies.

It is the program’s goal to produce architects who are no longer reliant on the traditional service-industry/client-based paradigm. The program seeks to teach students the means of production so they possess a holistic understanding of the process and can be in charge of their own professional destiny, with the freedom to design as they see best for a given situation. This creation of the autonomous architect as entrepreneur is changing the field of architecture and the built environment.


The Location

Since the 1950s, San Diego has grown in a conventional suburban sprawl pattern of development, to the detriment of progressive planning and environmental goals. Since the 1980s, Smith, Segel, Rob Quigley, and other architects have quietly cultivated the architect-developer model in the older urban neighborhoods of downtown. They found success in taking risks on designing, building, and owning urban development opportunities that were rejected by conventional suburban developers. As the risk-averse conventional developers have shifted toward compact, infill, urban projects, these pioneering examples become even more prescient. The architect-developers are capable of executing the more difficult, fine-textured infill projects that are often too complex and too fine-grain for large developers.

The program is located in downtown San Diego, in the urban laboratory of San Diego’s Little Italy Neighborhood Development block. A well-known case study itself, the LIND project was intended to be a model for mixed-use, multi-ownership, downtown full-block development. However, due to the complex nature of the project, the local jurisdiction, San Diego’s former Redevelopment Agency, determined the model to be too difficult and abandoned it for full-block, single-ownership, urban renewal models. While San Diego has lost its Redevelopment Agency, the LIND project continues to generate economic development, provide attainable housing, commerce, and open space to visitors and locals.

Being located in a vibrant, walkable, and rapidly evolving urban area, students are able to draw lessons empirically from their surroundings. Case studies are made both from nearby successful architect-developer projects and the traditional merchant-developer model. The program is housed in the distinctive Merrimac building, which serves as a Lean educational facility. It acts as a studio, classroom, dormitory, community space, and a nexus for the growing architect-developer community. It is a bustling workshop and crucible for innovative approaches to architectural design, understanding regulatory controls, financing, and construction. Within this laboratory space, students are exposed to examples and outcomes of the architect-developer methodology. Concepts are given physical form in lessons that draw from a project’s context, with topics ranging from construction techniques to the understanding of spatial manipulations through volumes.

Ted Smith has shaped a subtle secret culture in direct response to his curriculum and innovative design approaches. The ‘secret’ aspect is typical of developers not wanting to skew the market place as they investigate deals, in addition to not wanting to alert city staffers and community members of their expertise in legally manipulating overwrought regulations and out dated rules. The MRED students are taught how to redefine, re-imagine, and reinterpret existing rules and regulations in order to build more efficiently and profitably in a very expensive market. The students are taught to understand the ancillary cost and time spent updating public codes and policies necessary to achieve their goals. They choose a different path to reform, which is lighter, cheaper, faster, and Zen-like in its manipulation of the existing rules to create a new urban development model. In short, the studio has remained very quiet while making revolutionary change in San Diego’s politically and economically toxic discretionary development review services.


The Results

After 11 years of graduating eight to ten Masters students per year, an informal MRED Alumni and Supporters association has emerged. This group of 30 to 40 graduates meets monthly to share new techniques, technologies, and insights. An informal mini-Congress for the New Urbanism model, this program has given this group of architect-developers a common and shared language, tools, and intent. The result has been a small revolution. In a city where the built environment is primarily sprawl, and where the regulations encourage more of the same, a group of young architect-developers deftly maneuver through the morass of rules to create their own developments and contribute to a better urban environment by building new development that speaks to a community’s character and context.

Tyler Hanson

Tyler Hanson

Tyler Hanson is a professor in Woodbury University’s Masters of Architecture for Real Estate Development program. He has more than 15 years of experience in design, construction, project management, cost estimating, market analysis and project strategies. He is a licensed general building contractor, and since 2008 has been the principle of Tyler Hanson Building Workshop a design/build/development company. His company utilizes a vertically integrated process that rapidly develops innovative multi-family housing. Tyler received a bachelor’s degree in Construction Management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He holds a Master of Architecture Real Estate Development from Woodbury University.

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  Publications

November 23rd, 2016

Tool Survey – Existing and Proposed

Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.

November 4th, 2016

The Pink Zone – Where Small Is Possible

Summary

The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.

August 18th, 2015

Lessons from PHX – Embracing Lean Urbanism

Summary

The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.

August 13th, 2015

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism

Summary

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

July 29th, 2015

The Katrina Cottage Movement – A Case Study

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Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.

April 15th, 2015

Lean Urbanism and the Right to the City

Summary

The potential for a natural partnership between Lean Urbanism and social-justice groups is self-evident and should be explored. A growing movement of social-justice organizations across the world are coalescing behind the concept of “the right to the city” as a means to garner support for a wide range of social issues that can be characterized by a belief that everyone has a right to design and shape their community. These groups have the energy and determination to alter the status quo of financial and regulatory structures that prevent people who lack access to resources and capital, such as millennials and immigrants, from becoming active in small-scale development. But these groups often also lack the technical knowledge to achieve such goals. Lean Urbanism can provide tools and know-how that these groups need.

April 15th, 2015

Regulatory Barriers to Home Construction and Rehab

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Regulatory barriers make housing less affordable to millions of households in the US and abroad. If regulatory barriers were reduced, small developers could provide housing at more affordable prices. This article assesses the current state of knowledge about the effects of federal, state, and local regulations on the supply and cost of housing.

April 7th, 2015

Low-Fat Vanilla Finance – A Simple Financial Model

Summary

New developers should create their own financial models. Only by doing so will they truly understand the variables and how each affects financial performance. This paper attempts to walk new developers through a financial model that includes development budget, annual return, and capital return. It is simple enough to create but sophisticated enough to present to investors and lenders. It represents one small residential rental building — not condo, and not office or retail.

April 6th, 2015

Lean Financing – Alternatives to Institutional Capital

Summary

Financing Lean Development requires both institutional and non-institutional sources of capital. This paper focuses on project equity from non-institutional sources. Years of observations and anecdotal conversations with developers of small, innovative projects suggest that Lean Development is coming of age, but it has significant hurdles to realizing its potential, and financing is among the more difficult to overcome. Understanding the motivations, requirements and techniques for working with non-institutional investors is critical to overcoming one of the primary hurdles for Lean Development.

April 3rd, 2015

Pilot Projects – Testing Tools, Building Platforms

Summary

The Lean Urbanism movement will come to life through pilot projects, as they will spread the knowledge from the professionals to community builders and entrepreneurs. They are at the core of the Project for Lean Urbanism, as they will serve to demonstrate the potential for and value of incremental, community-scale revitalization and development by tapping local physical, financial, and social assets that are currently underutilized. The pilot projects will also be used to test and refine the tools, to identify and seek solutions to common barriers in regulation or practice that inhibit small-scale development or rebuilding, and to serve as models for use by other communities.