practical architecture
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With over 35 years’ experience in the architectural profession, Joel Niemi Architect has been involved on many kinds of projects in many places for many owners.  No hospitals, no zoos, no college libraries – if that’s what you’re after, you will need to look somewhere else.

With so many projects to choose from, the following samples represent favorites.  Some are here because they met, and continue to meet, basic community needs.  Others are here because they demonstrate practical architecture working hard for owners.  And, some because they demonstrate the great results that can come when owners truly value the contribution an architect can make.



Gil Saparto, then-CEO of the Volunteers of America – Western Washington, called on the telephone one morning.  “I saw a for-sale sign on a lot at the northwest corner of 13th and Broadway.  Would it work for a new food bank building?  I need to know this afternoon!”

The answer, delivered to Gil before a board meeting, was “Yes”.  We’d been talking about possible improvements to the building they were working from at the time, so general parameters of sizes and the operation were known.  Quick zoning code research, and some sketches, supported the recommendation.

The finished design worked out even better.  High-bay storage in the warehouse consolidated storage, local charitable giving paid for a high-rack freezer and cooler, and the sorting area supports 20 food banks.  A local food bank, classroom and offices fill out the building; delivery truck loading, parking and landscaping fill out the rest of the just-big-enough site.  Fifteen years later, the building is going strong. Read more

Portion of Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center Floor Plan
Shading patterns indicate different agency’s areas

Dawson Place Plan portion

Hard to top the contribution to the successful Food Bank / Food Distribution Center?  Yes.  But, playing a role in the launch of Snohomish County’s Dawson Place is on the same level. 

For a number of years, the law enforcement, child protective services, medical, victim advocacy, prosecution, and mental health agencies of Snohomish County provided their services from scattered locations.   Families of abuse victims had to go from place to place, and continuity of their care was compromised.

An opportunity arose, and a small bit of funding was available, to bring them all together in one location.  Other county offices had moved out, and the lease payments were still running.   County leaders brought the care providers together and helped establish a framework for a group of public and private agencies to work within.  Joel and fellow professionals at Dykeman Architects came up with ways to re-use as much of the existing office layout as possible, while separating victims from offenders.   Having a well-organized workplace made a large difference for all.

During the process, we were moved by the dedication and care of Dawson Place’s agencies.  Architecture is easy.  What they deal with isn’t. 

Records - from NE

Snohomish County Records Storage (Sheriff’s Evidence and Ten-Year Archives) Building in Everett, Washington was built on a property acquired through tax foreclosure and funded though fire insurance claims.  Two warehouses on the site had burned, and the County had limited funding to replace them – but only for the same basic purpose, storage.  This facility became the first part of the “Campus Redevelopment Initiative” which improved the central County offices in Everett and reduced the County’s dependence on rented office and storage space.

After leading Dykeman Architect’s effort to be hired by the County for professional services required for the project, Joel sought out training in best practices in the Property and Evidence Management field.   This new facility was a once-every-fifty-years opportunity to give the Sheriff’s Office staff a fresh start.  The sizes and shapes of items to be stored, security needs for high-value items, and special needs for refrigerated or frozen storage were reviewed.  Each step in the processing, storage, and disposal of evidence was considered, in order to increase reliability and reduce costs. Read more

Everett Public Schools broke ground on the new Community Resource Center in the summer of 2012.  During the preparation of the construction documents, then-Director of Planning and Construction Hal Beumel brought Joel Niemi Architect into construction administration role on the project.

Initial assignments included peer review of drawings and specifications.  Joel applied his knowledge of the Everett District standards (the primary members of the design team had not worked on Everett’s school projects before) to point out variances, and identified missing and conflicting information.  The tabulation of “things to explain and/or change” resulted in more unified drawings and specifications for bidding, and reduced the number of during-construction questions.

 During the 17-month construction process, Joel Niemi Architect served as the Owner’s “eyes and ears”, visiting the site three times a week, documenting observations with text and photographs, and participating in the weekly site meetings.  His work supplemented the role of the architects of record, Integrus’ Seattle office.  Joel reviewed the details of virtually every cost claim presented by the contractor, often finding markups not-allowed by the contract and clerical errors, saving Everett Public Schools thousands of dollars.

Everett Schools CRC front

Mar31 2014 006 ESD CRC from SE


Food Pavilion Anacortes cropped
During the 1970’s and beyond, Dykeman Ogden Aldridge & Quinton Architects (predecessor to Dykeman Architects) was known in the Puget Sound area and Alaska as “the Safeway architects”.   Commercial developers, and down-the-nose-looking architects, weren’t the only ones who knew the firm was extremely competent in the specialized grocery store field.   Store planners and owners from the Associated Grocers organization in Seattle also took notice.

Major store chains on whose stores Joel Niemi played a major role included Safeway, Olson’s Foods (merged into QFC, and now part of the nationwide Kroger network) and Consumers’ Choice / Thrifty Foods / Brown & Cole.  The 1990’s and early years of the 21st century was a time of rapid expansion by way of new store construction along with consolidation of store ownership .

For Consumers’ Choice and Thrifty Foods, Joel created store plans for four mega-stores.  Three of these were derived from a similar prototypical plan, with variations for local market preferences; a tortilla production line in the bakery of a store serving areas with numerous Hispanic shoppers, for example.  Straightforward construction details, efficient structural framing systems, and close attention to the Fire Code’s requirements regarding “high-piled storage” were key elements in these examples of practical architecture.

Gap Blade Sign #2
In February, 1999 a “post-it” note appeared on my keyboard.  Someone from Gap, Inc. had called to find out if Dykeman Architects would be interested in working with them.  I knew that Gap used the same software – Sigma Design’s ARRIS – that we did, and that they had a number of stores in the United States.   I called the 650-area code number to find out what was on Gap’s mind.  What we didn’t have known at the time was that Gap was planning a major growth in the number of stores, and was looking for additional architectural resources.

After a series of back-and-forth visits, Gap invited two of us to come to San Bruno, California for training before trying us out with a store in Idaho.  We made it past that first hurdle, and did better on the second one.  In late fall, 1999 the “Gap Crew” traveled to California again, for the roll-out presentation to architects and engineers of the “Gap 2000” store design.  Gap had a wonderful design concept and a well-organized set of prototypical drawings.  Read more

Minolta DSC
“Hello, Joel.  This is Hector.  How close is your office to Seattle?”   The caller had been a project manager at Gap and was now in charge of new stores for Urban Outfitters.  We met at a proposed store location the next afternoon.   As it turned out, the building was a basket case and the landlord was inflexible.  Sometimes walking away is the best policy.   “Urban” has a unique aesthetic – inserting visually distinct new  elements into old building shells.   Stores in San Diego and San Luis Obispo, California, near Portland, Oregon, and Seattle followed, as did consulting on stores in Vancouver, BC and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Urban’s Store Design and Construction team worked with design firms in Philadelphia and New York.   Depending on the level of completion of documents forwarded to us, the Urban group at Dykeman either performed a thorough review of “fit” into the existing buildings, or worked back-and-forth to best incorporate the design concepts into the available space.  In many cases, Joel helped with sourcing of reclaimed materials to create unusual (for any other retailer, that is) interiors.  Who else would turn old gym bleacher seats into flooring?