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Featured customer: Abe Design Group

"My dream is to work in Portland and the greater Pacific Northwest on passive house projects that combine both modern and traditional elements of Japanese architecture." - Hiroki Abe


In this continuation of a multi-part series, we are showcasing customers and users of UrbanForm — innovative people and practices who are making a difference in their environments. This feature is about Abe Design Group based in Portland, Oregon. UrbanForm co-founder and CEO Quang Truong had a conversation with Principal and Founder Hiroki Abe of Abe Design (ADG).


Hiro grew up in Tokyo and ended up in Portland after working and studying in Japan, Europe, and the US. This international experience, and in particular, a love for food, frames the focus of his design work.


Below are edited and condensed excerpts from our interview.


Quang Truong

Tell us a bit about your background and how Abe Design Group was founded.


Hiroki Abe

I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. In 2013, after studying, working, and living in Japan, the U.S., and across Europe, I moved to Portland, my wife's hometown. I worked for an architecture company in Portland for about a year, then decided that I had a unique design style and wanted to go out on my own and provide my services to the community.


Quang Truong

That's right, you studied at both Cal Poly and at the AA in London, and worked in San Francisco and Barcelona, as well as having been raised in Tokyo. That's quite an international experience. What do you think distinguishes Abe Design as an architecture firm?


Hiroki Abe

I think having worked in many different places definitely has influenced what I value in design. But my goal is to create affordable custom designs for everyone, no matter their budget, for a variety of project sizes, from small furniture to large-scale development. Furthermore, I want to contribute to the Japanese community and those living in the Pacific Northwest who are passionate about Japanese design. This is something that I've been really keen on developing, lately.



The Collective Oregon Eateries on SE 82nd


Quang Truong

What is the project you're most proud of, so far?


Hiroki Abe

The Collective Oregon Eateries in SE 82nd, a food hall with 10 indoor micro restaurants, 16 outdoor food carts, and a large event and dining space. In partnership with my clients, we transformed a 37,500 square foot vacant lot into a vibrant food hub that has revitalized the surrounding neighborhood. It's a great place to grab lunch or bring my family for dinner.



The Collective Oregon Eateries on SE 82nd

Quang Truong

Yeah, that's right. I remember going there with our families together, and it was great how all the food truck vendors knew you. I think we ate from almost all of the food trucks there in one sitting. I think that has been something that I think is distinctive in your work, which is a focus on food and how the rituals of eating manifest themselves in space. But to extrapolate that to the city--how would you like to see Portland develop as a city, and what is your dream project within Portland?


Hiroki Abe

I think it is a good thing that Portland is growing and becoming denser. As long as there are plans to create enough green spaces, public transportation, and street parking, I think there will continue to be a lot of opportunities here. My dream is to work on passive house projects that combine both modern and traditional elements of Japanese architecture here in Portland and the greater Pacific Northwest.

Quang Truong

Yeah, the Pacific Northwest has always seemed to be on the forefront of that kind of thinking, and it'll be interesting to see where it goes from here. Ok, which leads me to : how did you find out about UrbanForm?


Hiroki Abe

I learned about UrbanForm from an article in the Portland Business Journal. It was a great article that compared the zoning code to the tax code. I think that's a good analogy, because both are complicated, and I don't really want to spend time doing either too much, but I also know they both have some much influence on the world. So I'm happy to have UrbanForm to rely on.

Quang Truong

That's fantastic to hear. Especially that [UrbanForm] can help small businesses like yours focus more on their design goals. Can you take some time to describe a bit more how UrbanForm helps you achieve your broader firm-wide goals?


Hiroki Abe

UrbanForm saves me time. It helps me quickly check zoning requirements, and that means I can respond to clients faster about what is possible on a site, and that means I'm not spending a ton of time researching the zoning code each time I get a phone call about a potential project. UrbanForm helps my business focus on design, not on zoning research.


Quang Truong

Yeah, that's exactly what I was hoping it can do, because I know time and budgets are always a constraint when you're a small business and trying to juggle existing deadlines with potential new projects and clients. And if UrbanForm can help take a few hours out of the start of every project, then I hope that it can help you do more of the kind of work you want to do. Can you tell me about a specific project or situation where the information provided by UrbanForm made a big difference?

Hiroki Abe

Well, part of my work is preparing feasibility studies. I had to prepare a feasibility study for a residential project in NE Portland. With Urban Form, I was able to quickly determine the minimum setback and maximum footprint for the site. The downloadable Reports provided me with instant answers to my question, which I would typically spend hours researching or making phone calls to the city over a couple of days.



Quang Truong

This was exactly what I hoped it would help with, so just to dig into a bit more: how much time do you typically spend looking at the zoning code for a project? How much does UrbanForm cut that down?


Hiroki Abe

UrbanForm cuts the time down to 10-15 minutes what would usually take at least 2-3 hours. It's a lot.

Quang Truong

Fantastic. Ok, is there anything you would like to see UrbanForm provide in the future?


Hiroki Abe

For my business and the clients I typically get, it would be helpful to see the ADU [additional dwelling units] opportunities. And to have tools or comments where people can share their specific information on a property. I think that would be really interesting.


Quang Truong

Yeah, the new [Residential Infill Project] rules have generally meant everybody is now interested in ADUs, but the rules around them are quite complicated, especially for people who don't have immediate familiarity with zoning jargon. It's something we're getting a lot of use around, and it's something where we'll try to figure out how best to make this information as useful as possible. There's going to be a lot of development around those additional units, it seems. So, can you tell us about how ADG is growing, and what projects are in the pipeline?


Hiroki Abe

Currently I have some exciting residential projects in Oregon and Washington, and I hope to be able to tell you more about those soon!


Quang Truong

Hiro, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about UrbanForm.


Hiroki Abe

My pleasure. Keep up the good work.

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