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How We’re Doing Building Development As Architects

Our firm is in the process of a building development project. If you know anything about architecture, construction, real estate, or lending, you know how exciting (and challenging) this is for an architectural firm. 

A developer is someone who constructs a new building or who rehabilitates or refurbishes an existing building. A developer decides which piece of property to purchase, determines whether or not a development project will pencil out, and explores lending options. 

Architects aren’t typically in the business of building development. We stay in our design lane and leave land development to other folks. 

But we have this dream. And in the spring of 2025, that dream will be a real-world space where we will run our firm, provide housing options for members of the Tumwater community, and host community events to help bring people together. 

Developing on a small scale — and for the first time — is a scrappy, grassroots effort that we’re figuring out as we go. But it’s also a custom experience, one in which we get to have full control over the entire design and building process, a thrilling change of pace — and a satisfying one. 

Our Building Development Project

In 2019 our principals, Roussa Cassel and Tessa Bradley, bought a building in Tumwater, in an area that the city is looking to develop into a city center. At the time of purchase, the building was a house. For a year, they worked closely with the tenant to support her as she found a place where the family could relocate comfortably.

During COVID, they worked to remodel the space themselves. Once the pandemic had started to subside, the firm relocated back to in-person work in the new space. Since returning to the office, the team has worked from the beautifully appointed, but modest, 1000-square-foot space. 

The development project will build onto the existing structure while keeping the spaces separate. The 8,360-square-foot Rookery Passive House Mixed Use Project will house the new Artisans Group office on the ground floor, a space three times larger than the current office with a mix of open work spaces and private offices. The second and third floors will have six market-rate, one-bedroom boutique apartments with larger-than-market square footage. The two units on the top floor will feature large, private rooftop decks.

The entire building will feature:

  • Passive House construction.
  • Architectural design and detailing.
  • High-performance HVAC and a constant flow of fresh air.
  • An abundance of glass.
  • High-efficiency European appliances.
  • On-site energy generation through solar panels.
  • A shared courtyard and tiny house that will serve as a venue for events, such as pop-up art gallery openings, live music, and other neighborhood gatherings. 

We’re especially proud of this design because it respects the scale of the neighborhood, provides an anchor for a future urban center, and leverages our skills. Most important, it centers one of our core values: being rooted in our community. 

If this excites you and it has you thinking about your own building development vision, consider doing the things we’ve learned as we’ve worked to make this building a reality:

Partner With Like-Minded Community Members

All of us have professional relationships that work for us. You might particularly like working with a bank or a construction company, for instance. 

Build on those relationships! Go to these businesses and see if they’re interested in making your idea happen. If they’re in, great! Form a partnership and get to work.

Leverage Your Professional Services

If you have an idea that’s going to create a new market, it may not be attractive to funders — yet. You should still seek funding, but have another plan in case your idea is too new to attract the amount of capital you need. 

Profit isn't the only goal. Leverage your own services to demonstrate that this project is valuable. As a professional, even in an industry adjacent to construction or planning, your services have value: you can leverage these services in lieu of cash, making small-scale development more achievable, even if you’re not sitting on a pile of dough!

Work With A Local Bank 

We love working with local banks because they respect and understand our process. We also love working with them because they’re members of the community who can see and experience the impact that we’re having, firsthand. We recommend you look into lending opportunities with banks in your local area, too. They might be your biggest fans.

(Note: Two of our local favorites are Oly Federal Savings and Washington Business Bank. We love you guys!)

Do The Same Things For Yourself As You Do For Your Clients

If you’re an architect, you know what to do: look at the piece of land you want to develop. What does it look like now? What will it look like in 10 years? Does your idea make sense holistically — both for what the structure will look like and for what it will be used for? Let the answers to these questions guide you.

If you’re not an architect, partner with one! A reputable architecture firm will know how to do a feasibility study, a unit study, and other preparatory work.