Zac Miles – Oakland is Leading the Higher Density Charge

March 18, 2019

KTGY’s Zac Miles says Oakland has more cranes in the air than any other Bay Area city at the moment.

OAKLAND, CA—The demand for additional housing and the rise in rental rates has spurred more high-rise concrete and steel-framed construction, according to Zac Miles, KTGY Architecture + Planning’s newly promoted associate principal. Although that type of construction is more expensive to build, he says it nets a considerably higher number of residential units, which can make the project pencil out for the developer.

“Oakland is one of the cities that is leading the way, allowing developers to build at higher densities and has more cranes in the air than any other Bay Area city right now,” Miles tells in this exclusive.

He cites a report in the San Jose Mercury News indicating Oakland has permitted a staggering 9,710 new homes since 2016, and, currently there are approximately 8,500 residential units under construction. Some of the high-rise apartment buildings in the works in Oakland include a 33-story building at Broadway and 17th Street, a 40-story building at 1314 Franklin Street and a 23-story building on Webster Street.

KTGY is also maximizing the density of wood-frame construction by designing five levels of wood-frame construction sitting on two to three levels of a concrete-podium base. This configuration has proven to be a cost-effective construction system and a more expedient construction schedule. Often portions of the wood frame system are panelized, adding even more efficiency, Miles says.

In an effort to spur more development and promote public transportation and ridesharing, San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted to eliminate the city’s minimum parking requirement late last year. This allows developers to respond to the reduction in car ownership in the city and determine what is best for projects.

“Less parking can open doors to additional development sites and a lower development cost,” Miles points out. “In Oakland, on a very compact site, KTGY has designed a new 35-story residential tower that incorporates the use of an automated parking tower within the building footprint. This parking tower stacks and stores cars in less space. Automated parking systems reduce a development’s footprint by 40% to 80%. Residents can retrieve cars using an app. It is perfect for those who want to walk or use public transportation around the city but still want to own a car.”

And, because of the impact of ridesharing, designers are looking at how the use of Uber and Lyft changes apartment building design. Consideration is given to where the rideshare drivers pick-up and drop-off building residents as well as where the residents wait for drivers, similar to how architects design hotel arrivals/departure porticos and lobby wait areas.

On the horizon, analysts predict a decline in sales of new passenger vehicles as ride-sharing apps combined with autonomous driving technology create transport networks that reduce demand for car ownership, especially in urban areas.

“So, what will happen to existing parking garages?” Miles ponders. “In an effort to find a sustainable solution to this problem, KTGY’s R+D Studio proposes a system that not only repurposes under-utilized parking garages for much-needed housing but does so by using repurposed shipping containers that can simply be plugged in to maximize efficiency and minimize the disruption to the existing context. Other re-uses include retail or medical.”

Ideas include using the parking garage for shared parking with an adjacent building or leased out to a company that provides autonomous-car pick-up and needs car storage. In Oakland, a public surface parking lot is being transformed into a replacement parking structure owned by the city and a 234-unit mixed-income apartment community with 15,000 square feet of retail developed by Trammell Crow Residential and designed by KTGY. The design includes a parking garage with 242 public city stalls as well as 110 exclusive-use parking spaces for the apartment community’s residents, Miles explains.

Modular construction is also playing a role because of labor and construction cost hikes.

“Due to rising construction and labor costs, we are seeing an increased demand for designs that include modular construction or factory-built construction,” Miles tells “In modular construction, a structure is assembled in cartridge units, typically six-sided boxes that are prefinished and structurally self-contained. These modular units are then shipped to the site and craned into place. Modular has maximum size constraints for shipping and is typically in a box form, which can limit design options.”

However, on large apartment projects, where stacking units of consistent sizes are repeated throughout the building, the modular box is a great option, Miles points out, and can decrease construction time and increase quality even further. This is because most of the units are prefinished and little field work is required.

In panelized construction, the walls of the structure are built in a factory, then shipped to the construction site and assembled. This expedites the construction framing time, is more accurate and allows for greater design flexibility as there are no box requirements, he says.