Sunday, February 18, 2018

Equity in Architecture Survey

I received an invitation this past week to participate in the 2018 Equity in Architecture survey. This is the third edition of the survey, which is a product of AIA San Francisco and its Equity by Design committee. The previous surveys (conducted in 2014 and 2016) have contributed to the shaping of a broad movement whose aim is to promote sustainable and satisfying careers in architecture for all practitioners. The surveys generated a comprehensive national dataset detailing current positions and career experiences of architecture school graduates. The 2018 enquiry will extend the examination into differences in the experiences of architectural professionals based on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality. I dutifully responded and look forward to the results of the survey analysis when they become available. 

Rosa Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Although initiated as a committee of AIA San Francisco, Equity by Design has taken on a national profile in no small part due to the efforts of its founding chair, Rosa Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C. Currently the president of AIA San Francisco and a principal with SmithGroup JJR, Rosa largely formulated Equity by Design’s call to action, which is to realize the goal of equitable practice for everyone, advance the profession, and communicate the value of architecture to society. The group’s mission is to understand the pinch points of career progression and promote the strategic execution of best practices in the recruitment, retention, and promotion of the architectural profession’s best talent at every level of practice. 

Despite most architects self-identifying as social progressives, the fact remains there is a persistent and striking inequity of representation in architectural practice. For example, women presently comprise only 12–18 percent of AIA members, licensed architects, and senior firm leadership. Women and people of color continue to lag white men in terms of concrete measures of career success (such as annual salary and likelihood of leaving a firm). With minority groups set to occupy a majority of the U.S. population by 2044, there is and will be an increasing need to provide access to opportunities, not only in the architecture profession but also to all the constituencies architects serve. Equity is for everyone, and equity does matter to the design of our built environment. 

“Equity” and “equality” have long been used interchangeably, but the terms are often confused with each other. While the focus of equality is framed with sameness being the end goal, equity may be defined as a state in which all people, regardless of their socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic grouping, have fair and just access to the resources and opportunities necessary to thrive. Beyond equity’s newer association with pluralism, it has long been connected to financial capital, as well as to collective ownership, vested interest, and a sense of value or self-worth. One size does not fit all. 

The lack of equity in architectural practice has made it prone to losing talent to other seemingly more lucrative career paths. This is due to multiple factors that challenge retention: long hours, low pay, lack of transparency for promotion, and work that is misaligned with professional goals. As a consequence, the profession as a whole may inadequately represent to the public the importance of design to inform equitable, just, and sustainable public and private spaces. 

The 2016 survey (which incorporated the feedback of 8,664 respondents, hailing from all fifty states and several countries outside the U.S.) and the EQxD Hackathon Workshops sparked much needed dialogue, inspiring the organization of five sold-out symposia, wide spread media coverage, and requests for EQxD presentations nationally and beyond. The survey structured issues across two different frameworks: 1) career dynamics (the underlying tensions and factors driving career perceptions); and 2) career pinch points (professional and personal milestones). The findings were enlightening and included the following:

  • Men tend to have more positive opinions of their careers but gender wasn’t the top predictor
  • Men are more likely to feel like they have a seat at the table
  • Men and women reported different career aspirations at different points in their careers
  • Wage gap: Males made more money at average in every single project role (the biggest difference being reported among design principals)
  • The top predictors for burnout/lack of engagement include not having friendships at work, not knowing performance evaluation criteria, and an absence of feedback
  • Men with only a bachelor’s degree earned more on average than women with a master’s degree
  • Mothers much more likely than fathers to leave a job because of work-life challenges
  • The glass ceiling persists: firms continue to be mostly led by men
  • Interestingly, non-white men are less likely to be a principal than white men, white women, and women-of-color (which means I’ve managed to buck the odds) 

The findings are open source and free as a resource to everyone. 

While the results of the survey analyses are thought-provoking, what are we to make of them? How do we get to equity by applying design thinking? How do we eliminate the barriers to success for everyone? 

In Rosa’s words, we are all part of the problem if we are not part of the solution. The survey results may be eye-opening for some, and should be a call to action for everyone. They do provide us with tools for change: support for additional research, sharing of findings, and the means to measure progress and make changes. Periodically repeating the survey process will facilitate reassessment. 

Equity should be an ethos underlying all our work. Equity speaks to collective ownership, vested interest, and knowledge of our worth. Equitable practice promotes the recruitment and retention of the most diverse talent while building stronger, successful, sustainable practices. If, like me, you received an invitation to complete the 2018 survey, do make a point to complete it. You will contribute to a value proposition that will strengthen our profession, its relevance, and societal influence. If you choose to participate, only do so once. Equity by Design’s goal is to collect more than 10,000 unique responses. 

To preserve statistical integrity, Equity by Design is not providing a link to the 2018 survey on social media; I likewise will not provide the link. There are several factors for this, including self-selection bias and other forms of tampering. For example: More women may be interested in the issues of equity than men and therefore are more aware of the survey. In 2014, more women took the survey than men because of this interest. Since there are more men in the profession than women, this would influence the analysis and skew the results of the survey. Accordingly, the available options for taking the survey are limited to the following: 

  • You receive an email (as I did) with the survey link from one of EQxD’s distribution partners (AIA National, AIA state or local chapters, NCARB, ACSA, or NOMA.) 
  • You receive an email with survey link from your employer 
  • You receive an email with survey link from the architecture school(s) where you earned your degree
  • You are a firm owner/leader who signed on to participate with EQxD to distribute the email with survey link to ALL staff. 

The survey is open for a total of five weeks, which started this past week and ends on March 16. On average, the online survey should take 20-25 minutes to complete. EQxD will keep all responses entirely confidential. The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) serves as EQxD’s research partner for the project. The organizations will reveal the survey findings at the 2018 Equity by Design Symposium in San Francisco this November. The results will also be available online, and in a full report in the spring of 2019.  

For more information about the survey, visit  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Builders Exchanges

Many young people entering the design and construction industries may have little or no idea about what a builders exchange does and what its primary function is. Others who are somewhat familiar with the role of a builders exchange may first think of it as an anachronism in a digital age when access to seemingly unlimited amounts of information is readily available online. They may not be aware of the broader benefits such an organization can offer. The fact is a modern builders exchange serves as a cornerstone in the delivery process for many construction projects. If you don’t fully understand what a builders exchange is, you should.

So, what exactly is a builders exchange? In short, it is a member-driven central clearinghouse for information pertaining to construction projects during the bidding stage. Historically, the primary role of an exchange was literally to be a “plan room” where subcontractors and suppliers gained access to sets of documents for projects in the bidding stage. This access was limited to members of the exchange, who paid dues for this privilege. Owners, architects, and general contractors furnished the bidding documents free of charge, the quid pro quo being the promise of greater competition and thus lower bid prices. In the old days, it was not uncommon to see dozens of estimators scrambling to assemble their bids in cigarette-smoke-filled plan rooms, quietly poring over large sets of blueprints that reeked of ammonia.

The exchange would notify members of bidding opportunities, when bids were due, and which general contractors were looking for numbers. It would also keep its membership informed by distributing addenda and announcing who the apparent low bidders were for each project. The builders exchange was a critical component of the competitive bidding process, and indispensable before the advent of the Internet.

Today, builders exchanges do compete with a multitude of subscription-based, online construction plan services. Unsurprisingly, some mistakenly believe the old plan room era has passed and exchanges have gone the way of the dinosaur. By necessity, exchanges have adopted the latest, cutting-edge technologies in addition to maintaining physical plan rooms. Bidders can login to sophisticated software and download what they need when they need it. They’re notified of project changes automatically by email, and search filters make the process of finding projects quick and easy. Notwithstanding these technological improvements, the greatest asset of builders exchanges is one they have always leaned upon and one a virtual competitor cannot replicate: their people.

As with any organization comprised of many individuals, a builders exchange is dependent upon the relationships it nurtures. At its core, a builders exchange is a service provider. People are the main commodity of every exchange, as they’re who provide the services the members value. The staff of each exchange are dialed into the local design and construction community. They talk with local building owners and design professionals, often establishing strong personal relationships with real people. The priceless benefit of these relationships is greater assurance the flow of project information is steady, accurate, and reliable. Each of the nation’s approximately 200 exchanges is unique, focusing exclusively upon the needs of the members it serves.

The Eugene Builders Exchange is no exception. Founded nearly 70 years ago, the EBE is open for membership to local subcontractors, suppliers, manufacturer’s representatives, bonding and insurance companies, general contractors, construction consultants, and other service-oriented firms. It provides access to plans for public and private commercial projects it receives from architects, engineers, general contractors, and a broad spectrum of public agencies ranging from school districts to municipalities, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Army Corps of Engineers, the Government Services Administration, and others. These projects are typically proposed for construction throughout Oregon, with an emphasis upon opportunities of interest to the EBE members.

EBE operates as a non-profit corporation, with an elected board of directors. Jeremy Moritz is the exchange’s present manager, having held the position since 2013. Under Jeremy’s leadership, the EBE has constantly updated its facilities and expanded the suite of benefits members have access to. These include website access (from which members can download project documents), a full-service reprographics service, education programs, and a weekly newsletter (listing the projects it has, planholder lists, bid results, descriptions of new projects, and recently issued local building permits). Additionally, the Exchange offers affordable health insurance plans as part of a large group purchasing collective (providing access to multiple carriers, compliance documentation, and complete electronic benefits administration for CCB licensed contractors), as well as EBE vacation travel discounts through its partnership with TravelPerks.

The cost of EBE membership is surprisingly reasonable, ranging from $200 annually for Associate membership (weekly newsletter, but no access to projects online or at EBE) up to $650 per year for Premium membership (which includes full access to the plan center and website, advertising in the newsletter, eligibility for the Exchange’s health insurance program, TravelPerks, and more).

The current membership of the Exchange numbers around 350, down from its highwater mark of 530 members before the 2008-2011 economic recession. Jeremy hopes to grow the membership and EBE’s market area, while also establishing strategic partnerships with related industry organizations, such as the Homebuilders Association of Lane County and the Construction Specifications Institute – Willamette Valley Chapter. With respect to the latter, CSI-WVC has enjoyed a mutually beneficial arrangement with EBE by renting its fully equipped classroom facility for the chapter’s CSI Certification Classes.

Far from being holdovers of a bygone age, successful, vital builders exchanges have capitalized upon their value proposition, which is to aggregate specific, local bidding opportunities for use by their members, and deliver focused education, benefits, and fellowship their impersonal online competitors cannot. In a world that is ever more indiscriminate about how it manages information, the true worth of builders exchanges is increasingly evident.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Better Housing Together

One of the ironies for those who work tirelessly to expand prosperity, increase livability, and generally enhance the desirability of their communities is a concomitant loss of affordable housing. The affordability issue is enormously complex and stubbornly resistant to easy solutions. Nevertheless, it is an issue we ignore at our peril.

The southern Willamette Valley boasts the dubious distinction of being one of the tightest housing markets in the United States, second only to Seattle.(1) Nearly half of our residents are housing “cost-burdened,” stretching their incomes just to pay for housing and other basic necessities.(2) The crisis affects young people unable to break into the local housing market, working families struggling to make ends meet, and seniors looking to downsize with few options available. It impacts every homeowner, renter, neighborhood, business sector, and organization in our community.

Many have attempted to crack the housing affordability nut with little success. Despite the intractability of the problem, an exciting new Eugene-Springfield metro area group is stepping up to assume the mantle, having fully dedicated itself to the development of effective strategies to meet the challenge.

Better Housing Together is a coalition of community leaders working to address the local affordability crisis. Including key representatives from Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST), the Eugene Association of REALTORS, AARP Oregon, University of Oregon researchers, AIA-Southwestern Oregon, and an impressive list of other organizations, these leaders want to better understand the problem and identify practical solutions. The members of Better Housing Together are committed to identifying policies and strategies that support local affordability and more quality, walkable, age-friendly housing.

To help meet achieve its goals, the coalition has organized what promises to be an outstanding event. The Better Housing Together Forum, which will take place on February 21 at the University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union Ballroom, will include a facilitated community-wide discussion, as well as an exhibit of work about housing in our community by University of Oregon researchers. Additionally, there will be a short video featuring personal stories underscoring the magnitude of the crisis. Members of community focus groups will share their diverse perspectives. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, Lane County Commissioner Pat Farr, and other elected officials will actively participate and learn more about how they can help advance community desires.

Despite the immensity of the challenge, the outlines of a solution exist. As Better Housing Together steering committee member Kaarin Knudson, AIA, noted in her piece for the 2017 Register Guard Design Annual, there is a direct connection between housing affordability and the wellbeing of all of a community’s residents. By adding supply to the market, affordability increases. By locating housing in areas where infrastructure and transit access already exist, we increase our tax base without increasing our acreage of liability. By supporting more walkable and efficient housing types, we also advance many of our climate and equity goals.

Better Housing Together wants everyone to join the discussion and learn more about how we can increase housing choice and affordability. Make plans to attend the February 21 forum. Registration is necessary to guarantee a seat. The organizers expect this free event to be at capacity. Registration opens on February 5, 2018.

The housing crisis isn’t just coming: it’s here. Better Housing Together knows we can all do more to help, which is why the group has organized the coming forum event. I hope to see all of you there.

What:  Better Housing Together Forum

When:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 5:00–7:00 PM

Where:  Erb Memorial Union Ballroom University of Oregon, Eugene

Cost:  Free

To Learn More: Visit

(1)   "Sold Out: These 10 U.S. Cities Have the Biggest Housing Shortages"

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Rebuilding Eugene’s Civic Center

Image from Placemaking in Eugene: Findings, by Project for Public Spaces

The following is a draft of a piece regarding the future of downtown Eugene’s Park Blocks, primarily authored by Eric Gunderson. The AIA-SWO Committee on Local Affairs (of which Eric and I are both members) intends the letter as an opinion piece for publication in The Eugene Weekly or The Register-Guard. It remains subject to further editing by CoLA; I’ll update this post once the committee has finalized it.

We’re excited by the unprecedented opportunity to transform four downtown city blocks with a new City Hall, Lane County Courthouse, and updated Park Blocks. How the City of Eugene chooses to enhance the Park Blocks and create a possible new City Hall-Market Plaza is especially intriguing. Should the City enhance the existing Park Blocks or start over?

The Eugene Park Blocks are central to downtown Eugene’s identity. Known to most as the home of Saturday Market and Lane County Farmers Market, they draw 10,000 people to downtown on a good day. The stone walls, fish fountain, arched roofs, and tall trees are all familiar. Together, the Park Blocks comprise our town square and are "Eugene Modern." But they feel forlorn on most weekdays. Can we do better?

The City recently commissioned New York-based Project for Public Spaces (PPS) to produce a study entitled Downtown Placemaking Initiative—Places for People. This effort focused on the need to make our urban open spaces more active, and notoriously described downtown as “dirty, homeless and unsafe.” The winter lights display and holiday music performances, improvements to crosswalks, and the creation of spaces for food carts are welcome experiments using the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach championed by PPS. The report also recommended longer-term improvements, but what improvements and what of the place itself?  What about architectural design excellence or the value of the existing Park Blocks as an artful place of history and meaning in our community?

Both the PPS effort and the Eugene Park Blocks Master Plan from 2006 recommend a major new building and new plaza on the block currently occupied by the “Butterfly” parking lot. The 2006 master plan additionally recommended improved security, better lighting, an enhanced shelter for performances, improvements for both market days and non-market days, additional water features, redesigning the Park Streets and sidewalks, and more. A proposed New City Hall and year-round Lane County Farmers Market will add vitality, but more is needed.

We believe the lack of active uses surrounding the Park Blocks is the key issue. Downtown has changed greatly since the park’s construction. A 1956 downtown land use map shows fifty ground-floor businesses including retail stores, restaurants, and hotels fronting on the Park Blocks. Today, we have only the back door of Full City Coffee and Park Street CafĂ© as active uses facing the park. Unless this changes, the lack of “eyes on the street” and pedestrian activity will continue to be an issue, regardless of what occurs with the Park Blocks.

We can capitalize on a mix of old and new for our downtown public spaces. Successful cities consist of diverse buildings and places. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs states that “in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use.” Historically, Eugene hasn’t valued “diverse surroundings.” 1960’s urban renewal resulted in the wanton demolition of downtown’s older buildings. Today, our community struggles to recognize the merits of noteworthy mid-century buildings (the debate about the old City Hall being a case in point). Other cities do value mid-century design highly—imagine Seattle without the Space Needle.

The southwest park block during a weekday evening last summer (my photo).

The Eugene Park Blocks were built in 1958, designed by Wilmsen Endicott Architects and Lloyd Bond Landscape Architect. It is one of the few midcentury-modern public squares in Oregon. The plan drew its inspiration from modern art of the early 20th century, including that of painter Piet Mondrian (think Broadway Boogie Woogie). The plan contrasts with traditional civic spaces that follow the designs of Olmstead and his followers. Public art in the park includes sculptures by Jan Zach and Tom Hardy, both well-known mid-century modern northwest artists. There were once two fountains in the east park block, now gone. The plantings are much changed from the original plan. Continuing to chip away at the Park Blocks will result in the loss of their original, truly unique character.

What would a set of all new Park Blocks look like? There’s no doubt a talented team could produce an outstanding design. Starting over would allow the design to fully address today’s needs without compromise. The PPS plan seems to favor this route and offers suggestions for the types of activities that might occur in different areas. On the other hand, why not restore and rejuvenate the spirit of the original 1958 design? As we said, the success of the Park Blocks depends as much or more upon the active use of the properties that define the edges.

We hope this piece prompts others to comment and that we as a community openly discuss the merits of differing directions. We should fully commit to achieving design excellence in our most important civic open space regardless of which path we follow.

Eric Gunderson, Scott Clarke, Stan Honn, Travis Sheridan, Katie Hall, Austin Bailey, Randy Nishimura
Members, American Institute of Architects Southwestern Oregon Chapter Eugene-Springfield Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA).

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Homes for Good

The Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County has renamed and rebranded itself as Homes for Good. The old name was bureaucratic and difficult for people to remember. Likewise, the acronym HACSA wasn’t particularly helpful (“Hacksaw? Why is the housing agency named after a hand tool?”). After meeting with and surveying community members, HACSA worked to develop a new identity that better embodies who it is and what it does. Mission accomplished: The new name immediately sets the stage for the organization and what people can expect from it.

Despite being burdened by the cumbersome and less than memorable old moniker, Lane County’s housing authority has successfully provided housing and community-related services for the residents of Eugene, Springfield, and rural Lane County since 1949. It has worked to connect tens of thousands of low-income individuals and families with homes they can afford, helping these people succeed by achieving stability in their living arrangements.

Homes for Good is the second largest housing authority in Oregon, presently providing housing to more than 5,000 Lane County families who otherwise would be homeless or at risk of homelessness. It owns and manages a broad portfolio of public and assisted housing units throughout the county—single-family homes, duplexes, and apartment buildings—and additionally partners with private property owners and local service providers for hundreds of others. The agency also provides Section 8, Veterans Affairs, and Shelter Plus Care rental assistance vouchers. It works with governmental, non-profit, and private partners to maximize its impact and effectiveness. It actively develops new housing to meet our community’s continuing and growing need. Underlying the work is its commitment to providing services and programs for people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, gender, and status. Homes for Good truly does good work.

Lower income families find it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing. The demand far outstrips the supply. According to the Washington Post, the number of apartments low-income families can afford fell by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2016. Here in Lane County, a shortage of land and market forces are pushing housing beyond the reach of far too many. Costs are rising rapidly, while incomes for low-income families are staying level or falling behind. Worse yet, the recently passed overhaul of the federal tax code is likely to exacerbate the problem because the lower tax rates make Low-Income Housing Tax Credits less valuable and consequently less attractive. The bottom line is funding for affordable housing is at its lowest point ever. A challenge of Sisyphean proportions confronts us.

The solutions to the problem are elusive. Where will new sources of funding to subsidize inexpensive housing come from? Can local communities summon the will (and open their pocketbooks) to support programs that reduce the cost of renting or buying for lower-income households? Increasing the diversity of the housing stock by removing restrictions on the construction of underrepresented types (such as accessory dwelling units and “missing middle” housing) may be one answer. More inclusionary zoning and policies providing incentives for the creation of affordable housing when new development occurs are another. So too is considering expansion of the urban growth boundaries to include areas not suitable for farming and restricting their use to affordable and subsidized housing.(1)

My wife and I are fortunate because we can afford the four walls around us and the roof over our heads. We enjoy a comfortable home (now mortgage-free), food on our plates, and much more. While we don’t take this good fortune for granted, it’s been all too easy for us to overlook the plight of others who struggle every day to locate and pay for warm, clean, and safe housing. This shouldn’t happen.

Homes for Good is doing its part to connect everyone with all the good that comes with a home. The old name didn’t roll of the tongue and didn’t have a soul. Because the agency’s work is more important than ever, to succeed Homes for Good needed to be super clear about why they are here. With the transition to its new name, it’s clear now they’re here for people, for homes, and for the good of our entire community.  

(1)    A problem with expanding the UGB to make room for low-income housing is doing so would likely relegate individuals and families who can least afford the expense of driving automobiles all over town to locations lacking in convenient access to goods and services.