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IRVINE, CA-The architectural firm of MVE & Partners has formed a new group called MVE Studio to specialize in urban design and infill projects. MVE principal Darin Schoolmeester tells GlobeSt.com that the 30-year-old firm aims to capitalize on the growing number of urban developments in Southern California and the firm’s own experience designing such projects.MVE is already involved in a number of high-profile urban design projects, including the Hollywood & Vine development in Los Angeles, a transit-oriented project that includes 350 apartments, 65,000 sf of retail space, 140 condominiums and a 300-room hotel. The Hollywood & Vine project is just one of a growing number of urban design and redevelopment projects that have been launched in Southern California in recent years as communities turn to higher-density designs that foster an urban life style, Schoolmeester explains.Although it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when higher-density and mixed-use projects took root in Southern California, it is generally within the past five years or so, Schoolmeester says. “From a national standpoint, urban infill has been a huge topic for decades across the nation, especially the farther east you go,” Schoolmeester says, “but it’s only been in the last decade that the western part of the US has seen an interest in urban development.”The rise of urban development projects has created “a lot of opportunity for urban infill design work,” according to Schoolmeester, who notes that builders, developers and others involved in various aspects of development have started to form separate companies and divisions to specialize in urban projects.This represents a distinct switch for some Southern California builders and developers who have in the past focused mainly on low-density and suburban projects, he notes.MVE Studio has been organized as a separate company within MVE & Partners, with its focus on designs ranging from ground-up high-rise residential and urban lofts to mixed-use lifestyle centers, transit-oriented developments, urban infill and conversion projects, according to Richard Emsiek, president and partner of MVE Studio.MVE Studio is just starting, but within a year or so about half of the company’s staff is expected to be involved in MVE Studio projects, according to Schoolmeester. MVE & Partners now includes about 110 professionals and support staff at its Irvine office, along with about 35 in Oakland.The differences between designing urban infill and designing suburban developments generally fall into two categories, according to Schoolmeester. He says urban design usually involves many more players, from community groups to redevelopment and planning agencies to all types of different organized groups that have an influence on how a site might be developed.The projects typically involve not only a design challenge but also a challenge in achieving consensus among the various interested parties. That means that the projects are not strictly architectural design assignments, but instead include every stage from concept through entitlements to design and construction.In addition, urban design buildings tend to be more complicated, tend to be more vertical, stacked up on top of each other, so they introduce technical and structural issues that often do not arise in suburban projects. In suburban design work, “You tend to deal with a single land owner or a single master developer or builder, and often with only one entity in terms of the jurisdiction or planning department that is approving the project,” Schoolmeester says.That, in turn, means that “It is usually much simpler to navigate the process” from concept through completion in suburban assignments, Schoolmeester points out. Among MVE Studio’s high-profile projects are the Fruitvale Transit Village mixed-use development in Oakland, the Plaza-Irvine high-rise residential development in Irvine and the California and Third Avenue Lofts in Scottsdale, AZ.

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