Ben Walter: Working For a Need

Ben Walter of CWS Architects has worked extensively with Avesta over the years including some of its most recent developments such as Logan Place, and Oak St. Lofts. He speaks with us today to talk about his experiences working as an architect in the nonprofit world.

Tyler DeVos: What is the process like designing a building with Avesta?

Ben Walter: Usually Avesta has an idea for a development; we brainstorm with them how best to carry it out. It's a very interactive process from day one. For example with Oak St. Lofts, Avesta's development team came to me with the idea of providing housing for artists. If you think about it, this city is full of young artists working other jobs at restaurants or coffee shops as cooks or wait staff. This is a large part of Portland's population. And the reason they're holding these jobs is that they want to make their art at the same time. So in planning the building with our target demographic being young artists, every decision about every detail was based on how best to serve that type of person. There's a lot of natural light in the building, wide open spaces in the individual apartments, a work room and gallery in the building itself.

TD: How is working with a nonprofit different than with a for-profit?

 BW: There are a few important differences and challenges in working with nonprofits. A project that is built for profit draws questions like "What does the market say I can get for rent?" That's the design of for-profit developments. In nonprofit residential development, the developers are asking different questions. They ask questions like "Where is the need?" and "What type of person needs housing in that area?" They are working for populations. Another important difference is advocacy, because the resources are always under scrutiny. It's tempting to look at a nonprofit agency and see only the resources used on a development, but that's misleading. Take Oak St. Lofts again, now there is a concentrated population in the downtown of Portland living independently, who spend their money supporting the community. There is a social value, community value, and an economic value. Nonprofit developments have to convince people of this in each project they attempt to build in order to acquire the resources they need. The other important difference between profit and nonprofit is nonprofit agencies are tied to financing regulations that are more burdensome than a private developer.

TD: In your experience, how has Avesta dealt with abiding by higher restrictions on its developments?

BW: These developments cannot be successful with one resource; this has to be a team effort from all standpoints, including from a financing standpoint. A lot of people look at these developments at a cost-per-unit level, but a building that looks more expensive in Portland may be funded substantially by other sources that support urban living. Avesta has a lot of good minds, and they are always trying to collaborate with other good minds. They're aggressive in how they seek out funding. They're very committed to their mission, investing in quality for their future residents.

Ben Walter 
President, CWS Architects

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Contact Development and Communications Manager Sara Olson at 207-553-7780 x3352 or by email.