The new year will bring many changes to the greater Tri-Cities area.
With population growth rates outperforming most of Washington state, the need for more jobs, infrastructure and housing increases, is keeping architecture and engineering firms busy.
Architects design buildings and structures with the customers’ needs, requirements and their vision in mind, while engineers use these designs to focus on structural elements, such as electrical drawings, structural layouts, plumbing and more.
“Architecture and engineering work together to create the elements that keep society moving — things that everyone in the community interacts with every day in some way or another,” said Jason Mattox, engineering department manager of PBS Engineering and Environmental, which has an office in Richland.
“From your commute to work and the roads you drive on, to the buildings you live, work and shop in, all of these things were planned and implemented through an architectural and engineering process. This collaboration is why we enjoy the standard of living that we have, and it requires a lot of people putting thought and energy into how we interact with the spaces we inhabit.”
Local architects and engineers weighed in on the top trends to expect in the Tri-Cities in 2024.
The Tri-Cities can be considered one giant suburban area in terms of the way it was built and functions. Its agricultural and engineering background reflects the area’s practical approach to life, which is mirrored in the architectural design of its buildings.
As the area has grown and changed, so too have building designs.
Many early buildings were designed as single story, box-like or concrete tilt-ups. Today, developers want more striking features to attract tenants, customers and tourists.
“In the first few decades of my career, what was going up here was very boring architecturally, but practical and pragmatic. What’s happened with the growth, developers who want to get clients into the buildings want to make them look a little bit more special. The owners and clients are wanting that and that’s a change in the community,” Ed Luebben, AIA, LEED AP, a senior architect at Meier Architecture and Engineering in Kennewick. He has been involved in architecture in the area since the early 1980s. He joined Meier nearly 19 years ago. The firm specializes in engineering and architecture across industrial, commercial, educational and federal projects.
Meier has been involved in the design trend toward unique structural features, including at the Kennewick Artisan Wine Village that showcases a giant wine clock, as well the Family Health Associates clinic that broke ground in Umatilla, Oregon, last October. The clinic is a two-story 18,600-square-foot building with curves and glass.
Buildings wanting to update their facades, such as the Port of Kennewick, are asking for unique features, too.
“In any design that we create, we strive for functionality, practicality and safety,” Mattox said.
“A lot of what we do on the engineering side is dictated by state and local codes, after all. However, when we get the opportunity, we are excited to design meaningful community spaces that make people excited to gather. A great example is our recently completed Walawàla Plaza project in the city of Walla Walla.”
The project transformed a section of the downtown area into a permanent public gathering place.
PBS provides engineering services as well as landscape architecture, and assists architectural firms by planning surrounding infrastructure of a building.
Mattox has been with PBS for 18 years and leads the Northwest team of civil, structural, geotechnical, water resource and transportation engineers, in addition to landscape architects.
History is important to communities and often is reflected in architecture.
While the trend of unique buildings might focus on the new, the past never really goes out of style.
Just like downtown Walla Walla was revitalized in the mid 1990s, the Tri-Cities is preserving and refurbishing many of its historic buildings, from mid-century modern designs in Richland, to turn-of-the-century designs in Kennewick.
Not only do communities want to preserve their storied past but also their uniqueness, which can attract tourists.
“It ensures the legacy of the community is better represented,” said Luebben, who worked on the downtown Walla Walla revitalization as an architect from 1997-2005 before joining Meier.
Owners of Richland’s historic alphabet homes often want to maintain their homes’ unique charm while improving their World War II infrastructure. The same is true of Kennewick’s downtown buildings.
“Here in downtown Kennewick, they’ve started to take down the fake facades that covered the original buildings,” said Bobbi Keen, CPA, CMA and vice president of Meier, who helped restore her firm’s own building in downtown Kennewick. “The buildings that were stucco are now back to brick. They’re putting a lot of money into downtown Kennewick to make the buildings look nicer.”
The recipe for building structures is changing. There are more permitting requirements, which often take longer as firms must address more mandated safety or environmental protocols.
“The codes are constantly changing so we’re having to learn and relearn,” Luebben said.
More developers are looking at alternative project deliveries, according to Alex Fazzari, PE and area manager for the Kennewick and La Grande offices of J-U-B Engineers.
“Alternative project delivery has several different flavors,” said Fazzari, “but generally involves selecting a contractor based on qualifications, rather than low bid, and involving that contractor during the design phase.”
Traditionally, developers hire an engineer and architect to design a project and then create a set of construction plans and bidding documents.
General contractors or specialized engineers then bid on the project with the lowest bid usually securing the work. However, alternative project delivery eliminates the bidding wars as a team is assembled to create a more cohesive and team-oriented project.
“We have traditionally seen state agencies use alternative delivery, and it has also been used on many school/institutional projects,” Fazzari said. “I think we will see a trend where more municipalities choose to use alternative project delivery as well.
“The city of West Richland had great success with alternative delivery on its police station project a few years ago. The city of Pasco is currently using this process on a water tank. The city of Kennewick is currently using this process on some upgrades to their wastewater treatment plant. I think that this is a trend that will continue.”
Tax increment financing (TIF) is a public funding method that uses property taxes to subsidize community improvement projects.
While it doesn’t raise taxes, per se, it does draw property tax dollars from specific areas to pay for projects.
“One trend I think we will continue to see in the coming years is how projects are funded and constructed,” Mattox said. “There are new tools available to local municipalities such as tax increment financing that are being utilized by the city of Pasco and Port of Pasco, for example, to bring new projects to the community. TIF is being looked at by multiple municipalities in and around our area.”
Mattox and PBS are working on the Broadmoor Boulevard project in Pasco, a 600-acre site with single-family and multifamily developments, along with mixed-use commercial and retail properties. Also under construction is a new ramp at Interstate 182 at Broadmoor.
Local governments are always looking for ways to bring more economic growth to a community. With tools like TIF, this trend is more easily accessible to local governments to attract more businesses, tourists and ultimately residents. Ports and smaller communities are starting to serve as developers to generate money for municipal-funded buildings to generate income.
“Sort of an incubator business center type of thing,” said Paul Giever, PE, SE and president of Meier. “Basically like a private strip commercial plaza, but some of the ports are going into that to provide business opportunities in their regions.”
As technology improves, it changes the way people do things, including architecture. Meier uses an application called Revit to create visual designs of structures before they are built.
By offering this service, builders can involve an architect earlier in the design process.
“HGTV has made people demand it now,” laughed Luebben, “but I’m not joking.”
This trend has helped cities, churches and other entities secure funding through grants or donations by presenting the possibilities of a project rather than just the cost.
“We have had a number of buildings that use these renderings for funding,” Giever said. “They need a floor plan and a nice 3D picture for the people in the community to pass a bond or a church to raise money.”
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