Case Studies

Tyler Gonzalez Architects

Familiarity with Pasadena breeds architectural expertise

When the city of Pasadena, California, or one of the nearby communities, tinkers with its zoning code or elects a new Planning Commission, principals Rob Tyler and Javier Gonzalez pay attention.

The firm they co-founded more than 30 years ago, Tyler Gonzalez Architects, has a vested interest in reading the pulse of the community. Much of the firm’s work is concentrated within a 20-mile radius of their offices in Pasadena’s prestigious South Lake District, and with the market hot, there could be a lot more projects coming their way.

Tyler Gonzalez Architects

Tyler and Gonzalez keep their ears close to the pavement because one of the firm’s selling points is knowledge of the nuances of community policies that guide lucrative development opportunities.

“We live, eat and work here and are part of the public dialogue,” says Tyler. “When the city talks of zoning or what makes sense—say, what trend the streets should take—we’re part of the discussion. So, when the ideas become code, we have our fingers on the community’s pulse and are able to help our clients envision what their projects could become, maximizing our clients’ potential return.

“Our particular skill set, what they [developers] seek us out for, is our community connections. These are forged over many years of living and investing in our city.”

Going for the max

While still offering services that include designing landscapes, upscale single-family residences, cultural and faith institutions, and some public work, Tyler and Gonzalez is deriving more and more of its revenue from urban-infill multi-family residences and mixed-use projects. It’s the latter, where Tyler says community knowledge can really be put to the test, as such projects often present unique challenges for developers.

Tyler notes a growing need for compact housing, which is popular with fledgling professionals and empty-nesters. TGA’s recent designs include many such smaller dwellings from 650 to 750 square feet. Other less dense developments include spacious family-size residences of 2,000 square feet or more. Designs are available in traditional or modern style, with the common denominator being a simpler, walkable lifestyle.

“Compact living is the way the market is going, that’s where the money is,” he says. Four such mixed-use, mid-rise projects the firm designed with 115; 96; 72 and 42 units are within a few hundred yards of TGA’s offices.

In a hustling, bustling city like Pasadena, large, vacant properties are few and far between, and compact housing may entail infill construction that makes maximum use of limited lot sizes. The practice has its supporters and detractors, the former saying it makes more efficient use of existing infrastructure while preserving green space elsewhere, and the latter decrying what it regards as urban congestion.

For such projects to be viable, balances must be struck, and Tyler says the firm’s familiarity with community values and building codes enables it to advise clients on what’s worth pursuing.

The firm “speaks developer language,” he says, adding that such communication betters the odds of a project navigating the complexities of the permitting process and construction phase.

Well-spoken

Among the projects Tyler notes is the 711 East Walnut development, which could be ready for occupancy by mid-2018. Well-advanced on the Tyler Gonzalez drawing board, it totals 250,000 square feet in six stories with office space and a restaurant on the lower levels, residences of various sizes on the upper floors  and two levels of subterranean parking.

Most of TGA’s larger projects are designed using California’s Density-Bonus standards, Tyler says, explaining that it enables an increased residential density up to 35 percent if developers are willing to include on-site affordable housing.

The majority of these larger projects are developed to LEED-Silver construction standards, making them environmentally friendly, healthy and sustainable.

The future

With the last recession—“the worst of the last three,” according to Tyler—becoming just a bad memory for the design and building industries, the greater Pasadena area could see continued vigorous development and redevelopment, he says. The firm is in the third year of a rigorous 12-year growth plan that includes promoting a third principal and bringing on several team members with backgrounds in design.

“The development community here is vibrant right now and we’re fortunate enough to tap into that market,” he says. “It’s on fire!”

But even boom times aren’t without challenges, he says, explaining that during a bust cycle, cities may loosen their regulations to encourage new construction, but then tighten them if the cranes go back to working around the clock. Another balancing act, he says.

“The community approach is very important to us, and we know what we can do and what doesn’t work,” says Tyler, who comes from a long line of builders and got his start designing churches in 1982.

“Our service format is very personal; it’s technical and conceptual, but we evaluate every project on its own merits. We’re able to develop the concept to make it acceptable to both community and jurisdiction while making it profitable to our client.”

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