Saturday, May 23, 2020

Remembering Ken Nagao

Ken Nagao Facebook, Twitter & MySpace on PeekYou

Ken Nagao (1939-2020)


Eugene architect and community leader Ken Nagao died unexpectedly this past Monday afternoon. He was scheduled to start chemotherapy following a recent diagnosis of leukemia. The cause of death was bleeding in the brain, with no known cause of the bleeding.

 

Like many others who knew him well, I was shocked and saddened by the news. Ken was not only a pillar of the local Asian-American community but also a stalwart supporter of all efforts to promote Lane County’s diverse cultural landscape. He was one of a kind—a tireless, respected elder who led by example. His passing is a tremendous loss for all of us.

 

Ken was born in Hawaii to a large family just before World War II. He came to Eugene to study architecture at the University of Oregon during the 1960s. It was during his studies at Oregon that he met his wife, Irene, who coincidentally was also from Hawaii. Following a stint in the Air Force and working for an engineering firm, Ken would establish his own practice, first in partnership with others (including Tom Oroyan) and eventually as Nagao Pacific Architectural PC. He only retired recently after a lengthy career designing many projects throughout Oregon (and also in Hawaii, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and California) for both private and public sector clients. Ken also served the profession as a three-term member of the Oregon Board of Architect Examiners(1).

 

I can’t exactly recall when I first met Ken and Irene, but it was very soon after my return to Eugene in 1988. I immediately recognized his infectious enthusiasm and positive attitude for everything he applied his attention and energy to (which was considerable). This included helping initiate the highly successful Oregon Asian Celebration (which marked its 35th anniversary in February), establishing the annual Asian Kite Festival, as well as the Obon and Taiko Festival. Additionally, Ken served many terms as a board member for both the Asian American Council of Oregon and the Japanese American Association of Lane County. Besides his leadership on behalf of the Asian-American community, he also was active with  Kiwanis International and Ducks Unlimited, and promoted career education through the Boy Scouts of America. His leadership on so many fronts is immeasurable and represent a legacy that will likely never be matched.

 

Eugene Taiko, circa early 1990s. Ken is at the back to the right of the high drum with his arms raised; Irene is immediately in front of him, third from the right. 


He and Irene were two of the founding members of Eugene Taiko and would be among our biggest cheerleaders following their retirement from the group. As a current member of Eugene Taiko, I can confidently say we will carry Ken’s contributions forward in our own small way.

 

The entire breadth of Ken’s interests and passions was truly remarkable. He was an avid hunter (I never knew what a chukar was until learning from Ken), kite maker, gingerbread house architect, potter, ukulele artist (as a member of the Iron Mango Orchestra), competitive roller-skating dancer and judge, gourmet cook, and all-round bon vivant. Ken and Irene annually hosted a large Christmas party at their home, at which their many guests would marvel at the enormous and lavishly decorated tree they could fit into their lofty living room.

 

If Ken had a dream that was not fulfilled, it was to see a dedicated multicultural center here in Lane County become a reality during his lifetime. While it is heartbreaking this did not occur, I am hopeful his vision will be realized at some point in the not-too-distant future.

 

Oregon State University interviewed Ken back in 2007 for its Multicultural Voices of Oregon project. I encourage readers here to listen to the interview or read the transcript to learn more about Ken and his efforts on behalf of Oregon’s ethnic communities. More than anything, he wished to encourage our community's acceptance of and appreciation for its fabulous mosaic of traditions and cultures.


Ken was always willing to help and give of his time, and he did so with the utmost joy and humility. He leaves behind a void that cannot be filled but he did provide us with a blueprint for how to live life well and in the service of our neighbors.

 

Irene asks at this time that her privacy be respected. Think of her in your thoughts and prayers. Save your phone calls for a later date; there will be time in the future for phone calls and hugs. Everyone hopes to be able to eventually gather to honor and share their memories of Ken. In the meantime, you can send your condolences to Irene at the home she and Ken shared at 1775 Tabor Street, Eugene OR, 97401.

 

 

(1)  It was during Ken’s tenure on the Board that I acquired my licensure in Oregon. Back then (1989) the registration process included an in-person “interview” before the Board for the year’s crop of candidates to augment the written jurisprudence examination. Ken singled me out for one of the questions, which I answered erroneously, much to my embarrassment.    

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Home Office



My wife and I purchased our first and only, now forever home thirty-one years ago. It’s a very modest one-story ranch house, built in 1952 within what at the time was a new subdivision in south Eugene. Looking at it today, you would not suspect it belongs to an architect.

Our house has three bedrooms, one of which has for too long served as a de facto repository for the excess trappings of our bourgeois, middle-class lifestyle: my wife’s hoard of hobby craft supplies, furniture we weren’t using but wouldn’t part with, old computer parts, and many, many volumes from our overflowing collection of books. It was to put it kindly a mess, the one room in our house we effectively had forsaken. COVID-19 changed that. 

I spent my working hours during the first few weeks of our stay-at-home existence firmly planted on our living room couch. My laptop computer literally sat on my lap, less than ideal from an ergonomic standpoint. For the sake of my back and neck, I owed myself a better working arrangement. The solution was to rescue our neglected third bedroom from ignominy and transform it into a decent home office.

The photo above shows the setup today. The desk dates to when we first bought furniture for our new house. We never really used the desk much. Like the rest of the room, it would accumulate a surfeit of stuff that eternally awaited sorting or filing. Now that it has been functionally resurrected, the desk is proving quite serviceable. The chair, on the other hand, enjoyed its best days a long time ago. Both armrests were broken, so I removed them. I need to purchase a new chair because I miss having a place to set my elbows.

At the base of the desk are just a few of the countless boxes containing past issues of my ARCHITECT and Architectural Record magazines; despite cleaning up the space, they continue to occupy a good chunk of the room’s floor area. At the top is a watercolor rendering of my firm’s design for the North Clackamas Aquatic Park (1994), an Oaxacan wood carving acquired during a trip to Mexico many years ago (1985?), and the model of my final design project (an addition to the McMinnville Public Library) prior to graduating from the University of Oregon (1983). 

The windows to the room are at my back as I sit at the desk. This is not ideal, especially because I appear as a silhouette during video teleconferencing without supplemental lighting from the front. The light fixture I use for this purpose is hardly flattering; on video I look ashen and even older than I am. Given the room’s configuration, I cannot reposition the desk to enjoy a view out the windows to our backyard.

The virtual private network (VPN) connection to Robertson/Sherwood/ Architects’ server and my computer in the RSA office functions well, so working remotely hasn’t proven too inconvenient. I ordered a new computer this past week to replace my Lenovo IdeaPad 100S laptop. The old laptop has served me well but is woefully underpowered. Additionally, I plan to replace our Internet router and upgrade the download speed to take full advantage of the VPN connection. 

Despite the cautious reopening of the economy now underway in Oregon, I suspect working from home will continue to be a way of life for a while longer. We will be living with the virus until there is a reliable treatment or prevention, which experts say is many months off. Until my coworkers and I can return to our shared workplace, I am happy to stay safe and work effectively from my new office at home.  

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Jeffrey Commons

Rendering of Jeffrey Commons (Aligned Architecture)

The May 2020 meeting of the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute was noteworthy for two very different reasons. Firstly, it featured a presentation about the recently completed Jeffrey Commons tiny home village developed by Sponsors, the local nonprofit agency dedicated to reimagining social justice and transformative reentry services for people with conviction histories. Secondly, the meeting was a virtual one—we used GoTo Meeting as our video teleconferencing platform—a necessary move during this time of social distancing. Despite the limitations of the medium, we enjoyed an outstanding presentation by Sponsors executive director Paul Solomon and architect Nir Pearlson, AIA, LEED AP of Aligned Architecture

Paul described Sponsor’s history and philosophy. A group of Catholic nuns and community activists founded the agency in 1973. Since then Sponsors has provided transitional housing and other necessary services to individuals released from correctional institutions in Oregon who are paroling to Lane County. Sponsors’ philosophy is based on the belief people can and do change, and that a strategic intervention at the appropriate moment can serve as a catalyst in that change. Every year, Sponsors helps over 500 people re-enter our community to become productive, law-abiding, hardworking, and tax-paying citizens. Sponsors is ever-evolving, constantly moving, and forwardly imagining. 

Paul provided some background to underscore how important the work Sponsors does and the support its services provide are. Shockingly, while the amount of crime has remained statistically steady for the past fifty years, the rate of incarceration in this country has increased seven-fold over that same period. Today, over 2 million adults are in prison or jail in the U.S. An additional 7 million are currently under criminal justice supervision; in Oregon, the numbers are 83,000 people either behind bars or within the parole and probation system. As well, there is the entrenched injustice of racial disparity. Unless there is change, one in three African-American male babies born in this century can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes; there are more back people under correctional supervision today than there were slaves during pre-Civil War times! The figures for Latino individuals tell a similarly tragic tale of racial bias within our society and judicial system. 

This year alone, approximately 5,000 individuals will be released from prison in Oregon. According to Paul, about half of these men and women will have nowhere to live. Lacking perceived alternatives, many will return to the same environments and behaviors that led to their imprisonment. All this highlights the tremendous need for transitional housing and societal reentry programs of the sort Sponsors provides. Today’s worsening housing affordability crisis on the local, regional, and national levels only magnifies this need and its urgency. Additionally, while the unhoused population continues to expand, the cost of building residential units escalates, exacerbating the problem. 

In response to the growing challenge of providing its clients with affordable living arrangements, Sponsors started providing housing in 1988, beginning with just five beds. Today the agency manages twenty buildings on seven sites. Together, these provide over 220 beds of transitional, long-term, and permanent housing for people with criminal histories. In addition to the new Jeffrey Commons, the projects include Roosevelt Crossing, which provides 45 units of transitional housing and on-site parole & probation services, and The Oaks at 14th, which includes 54 one-bedroom apartments as permanent housing solutions. All contradict stereotypes associated with institutional housing developments. Sponsors has emphasized the importance of aesthetics, amenities (such as workout rooms, meeting spaces, basketball courts, etc.), unique design features, and durable, quality construction. Funding for the projects come from a variety of sources, including private foundation grants, low-income housing tax credits, SDC waivers, and Lane County Housing Improvement Program grants through partnerships with Homes for Good. 

The Sponsors application process takes into consideration length of incarceration, risk to re-offend, and other relevant factors. People who have served eight years or more and/or are at high-risk to re-offend (as evidenced by a validated risk-assessment tool) are given highest priority. Additionally, the priority population includes seniors (Oregon has the highest percentage of older parolees in the nation), women with children, veterans, and people with disabilities and mental illness. 

Between 65-75% of Sponsors’ clients achieve what the organization considers to be measurable success. The metrics include:

  • Passing all drug and alcohol screens
  • Finding and maintaining employment or schooling
  • Obtaining permanent housing
  • Maintaining compliance with the conditions of their parole

The results speak for themselves: The statistical baseline for recidivism is 33%, whereas the rate of recidivism for Sponsors’ clients is only 13%, a 60% reduction relative to the baseline. Sponsors’ transitional housing developments have contributed greatly to this measure of success. 


Jeffrey Commons

It is within this context that Sponsors undertook its latest development, the Jeffrey Commons project. From the outset, Sponsors envisioned it as a collection of tiny homes. The project driver was a desire to explore an alternative housing model and its suitability for helping fulfill the agency’s mission. 

Nir and his team at Aligned Architecture designed Jeffrey Commons. The cluster of tiny homes utilizes a piece of property owned by Sponsors on a lot adjacent to Roosevelt Crossing. Unlike another recent tiny home development—the Emerald Village Eugene project by SquareOne Villages—Jeffrey Commons is comprised of duplex homes rather than individual dwellings. The ten units and a shared commons building are arrayed around an interior courtyard featuring sheltered gathering spaces, arbors, and food gardens. Pathways connect and link the homes into a village, and a rich tapestry of landscaping weaves it all together. 

In Nir’s words, the design provides the essentials of a place that is wonderful to live in at an affordable price. The tiny homes are intended to fulfill big dreams. Their covered porches are welcoming. Pop-out bays add interior space and exterior variety. The simple roof forms vault above the interior spaces. Daylight streams into each unit through plentiful windows. Each individual home features a complete set of living amenities, which will allow residents to gain confidence, independence, and dignity within safe, private spaces. 



Structurally, the design of the duplex units is “super simple,” featuring a reduced number of structural components, minimized geometric complexity, and simplified construction process. The wall panels were shop-fabricated, and then assembled rapidly in the field to reduce waste, cost, and site impact. The roofs are made of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), which provide excellent thermal performance and likewise expedited on-site construction. Efficient mini-split heat pumps provide HVAC in the units. An energy recovery ventilator is a feature in the Commons building, significantly conserving electricity while keeping the building comfortable year-round. 


Interior

Jeffrey Commons did have its share of challenges. Due to a very busy construction market, Essex Construction—who served as the general contractor—experienced difficulties locating subcontractors interested in bidding the niche project. On the heels of its completion earlier this year came the COVID-19-associated lockdown; as a consequence, tenants have not yet been allowed to move in. Sponsors has offered use of the units to the Lane County Public Health Department for potential use as quarantine housing for homeless persons. On the flip side, the project is debt-free. The fully furnished units will be ready to receive its tenants once the pandemic subsides. 

The Jeffrey Commons project proved fulfilling and meaningful for Aligned Architecture. Nir’s firm has established an enviable reputation for designing not-so-big, small, and tiny homes, and specializing in the creation of small spaces that feel expansive. Aligned Architecture’s work reflects a growing local, regional, national, and global trend toward small-footprint, stand-alone homes that preserve land, minimize resource use, and reduce energy consumption. Eugene has become a hotbed for the development of innovative affordable housing, of which Jeffrey Commons is only the latest example. Aligned Architecture’s expertise with imaginative, affordable, small housing has attracted interest from outside our area, leading to the firm’s present work for Woodland Opportunity Village in central California. 

Fundamentally, Jeffrey Commons is a groundbreaking quest to balance individuality with community, and modesty with abundance. In this place, people will live and interact within a democratic set of cooperative values, healing from the isolation and alienation of imprisonment. Big thanks to Paul and Nir for providing an excellent introduction to an important and welcome project. 


The Jeffrey Commons Team:

  • Owner: Sponsors, Inc.
  • Architect: Aligned Architecture
  • Land Use Planner: TBG Architects + Planners
  • Civil Engineer: KPFF
  • Landscape Architect: Dougherty Landscape Architecture
  • Structural Engineer: Pioneer Engineering
  • Electrical Engineer: Paradigm Engineering
  • General Contractor: Essex
  • Main construction subcontractor: Markus-Thompson

 


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Eugene and the Menace of the Black Swan

(Photo by Marvin Rozendal on Unsplash)

In his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb  addresses society’s “blindness with respect to randomness, particularly large deviations” in the face of the “unknown, the abstract, and imprecise uncertain.” The Sunday Times described The Black Swan as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II. It focuses on the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable outlier events—referred to as Black Swans—of which the current global pandemic is an example, at least for those of us who haven’t lived through such a crisis before and/or struggle to appreciate its implications. 

According to Taleb, a Black Swan possesses the following characteristics:
  1. The event is a surprise (to the observer).
  2. The event has a major effect.
  3. After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected; that is, the relevant data were available but unaccounted for in risk mitigation programs. The same is true for the personal perception by individuals.
Realistically, no amount of local planning can fully prepare us for a Black Swan, in part because people tend to ignore growing threats or only recognize opportunities after it is too late. So while Taleb does not deem the advent of COVID-19 as truly a Black Swan event—because experts have known for years such a pandemic was not only possible but highly probable—the fact remains it’s human nature to flout ample evidence such rare birds exist. We have all been surprised, shocked and have had our conception of the world turned on its head by a tiny virus. 

So, what does all this presage for Eugene’s future beyond 2020? How will our community have survived its encounter with a menacing Black Swan? 

First and foremost, my hope is we all regard what is happening now as a wakeup call. We must muster the will and build robustness so we are better prepared to confront future upheavals and catastrophes. There will be other pandemics, perhaps several more within my remaining lifetime. And of course, the cascading impacts of climate change are coming home to roost. Ever higher temperatures, droughts, wildfires, sea level rise, thawing of the permafrost, extreme weather events, receding glaciers, ocean acidification, and species extinctions are accelerating. In turn, food security, access to fresh water, and supply chains are threatened. Mounting famine, civil unrest, political instability, and vulnerability to disease may lead to many millions of deaths worldwide. 

But if planning for future Black Swans will be inadequate because we are fundamentally ill-equipped to grasp the magnitude and severity of what we know to be inevitable, what confidence do we have for the future of our community? 

In Eugene’s case, there is some hope. Like other cities of similar size and providence, Eugene (and by extension the entire Eugene-Springfield metro area) may be better positioned to navigate turbulent future seas than larger urban centers: 
  • Mid-sized cities typically feature a (relatively) lower cost of living, easier commutes, and closer connections with family, but also a more approachable, neighborhood-oriented version of the metropolitan lifestyle. It is easier to feel a sense of a larger community in a smaller city. 
  • Smaller, more agile companies will be the ones that will flourish during the era of the “new normal.” Eugene may not be home to a Fortune 500 company, but it has proven to be fertile ground for disruptive, nimble innovators. Think of Arcimoto, R2B Microgrid Solutions, and Local Food Marketplace, three Eugene-based businesses on the cutting edge of industries poised for massive paradigm-shifts. Working remotely—as has occurred by necessity for many during the current emergency—allows the next generation of tech companies to be more geographically diverse. These companies no longer favor the traditional, larger cities. 
  • Eugene has an educated workforce and is home to the University of Oregon, a major research university. 
  • Eugene’s infrastructure is poised for growth, with an airport that offers connections to anywhere you need to go (though there are fears smaller airports served by regional carriers may fall victim to the current contraction in air travel, particularly if the volume of passengers never fully rebounds), convenient access to the I-5 transportation corridor, a comprehensive public transit system (which may also suffer if patronage fails to return to pre-pandemic levels), good schools and healthcare, cultural offerings rivaling those of larger cities, and opportunities for a wide range of outdoor recreation activities. 
  • Importantly, our city has a developed “sense of place,” an identity and character that we Eugeneans and many visitors feel. This is imparted by various natural, manmade, and cultural factors. Together, they comprise Eugene’s genius loci, the spirit of the place, that which is unique, distinctive, and cherished about our city.

Jane Jacobs postulated in her book Cities and the Wealth of Nations that cities—not nations—are the drivers of wealth. Jacobs believed healthy cities are the ones able to constantly evolve, able to replace imported goods with locally produced alternatives, and thus capable of sustaining cycles of vibrant economic growth. Mid-sized, second-tier cities like Eugene may be able to adapt and evolve more quickly in response to a rapidly changing reality than a larger urban system; think of the timeworn changing-course-while-piloting-a-small-boat-versus-a-supertanker metaphor. 

It helps if cities are proximate to resources and productive agricultural land, which Eugene is. This favors localization of economic activity and diminished reliance upon imported goods. The vulnerabilities of the global trade ecosystem exposed by the novel coronavirus will likely spur hyper-localization in the years to come. Eugene stands to benefit from this trend, becoming more self-sufficient and resilient in the process. 

As I said earlier, no amount of preparation will ensure Eugene is entirely ready for the next Black Swan. That said, what are the urban planning and design implications wrought by the coronavirus outbreak? What will Eugene’s new normal look like in the aftermath of the pandemic? The following is sheer guesswork on my part, and the order of the predictions does not indicate my ranking of their odds for becoming reality: 
  • The productivity of remote working will lead some companies to realize paying for unnecessary office space may not be the best use of their resources. Distributed workforces are likely to be much more common after this pandemic than before. The net result will be lessened demand for new office space and cancellation of some projects currently in the pipeline. Worse yet, a shift toward permanent remote working arrangements will lead to excess vacancies and shuttering of existing office buildings. Coupled with retail, restaurant, and entertainment sector casualties, this means hopes for the continued resurgence of downtown Eugene may be in jeopardy. 
  • Brick and mortar Eugene retailers, like their counterparts across the country, will increasingly struggle. More and more people are accustomed to purchasing things they need online. It may take a while, but the survivors who retain storefront presences will be those businesses whose value proposition is rooted in its hyper-localism. The survivors here in Eugene will be those who can adequately differentiate themselves and their products from their online competition. Coupled with the decline of national store brands, this trend will abet a renaissance in boutique retail. 
  • Within the next decade, both the Valley River Center and the Gateway Mall will fail, a consequence of our changing shopping habits and the aforementioned waning of high-volume retail chains. Stepping in to fill the vacuum will be neighborhood mixed-use centers featuring eclectic assortments of small stores, restaurants, food carts, grocery markets, live-work spaces, and houses over the shops. These centers will tend to evolve organically, with multiple local owners developing them incrementally, as opposed to large blockbuster projects by out-of-town investment interests. VRC and Gateway may ultimately become fertile ground for two future neighborhood centers. 
  • Hyper-localism will also emphasize the value of differentiated neighborhood centers. Our neighborhoods may assume a degree of preeminence over Eugene’s greater identity. People may come to regard Eugene primarily as a constellation of neighborhoods, each with its own unique character and attractions. 
  • How we gather will change. The need for greater resilience—including a continued limiting of especially large public events—suggests smaller venues will be favored. What does this mean for my beloved Oregon Ducks athletics teams? This question is being asked by fans across the country, and by professional sports organizations like the NBA, major league baseball, the NFL, NHL, and more. The implications for the multi-billion-dollar sports industry are huge. Eugene will be impacted as much or more by the fallout as any other city. Ultimately, our well-being is dependent upon fundamental social connections, so we will gather and interact as humans must do. We will just do so differently. 
  • The extent to which the University of Oregon confronts the new reality will have a ripple effect through the community. Out-of-state enrollment will surely drop, and demand for remote learning will persist, post-pandemic. The university will face a severe funding crisis, forcing it to rethink its mission. 
  • I don’t think our K-12 schools can practically change too much without stressing the system to its breaking point. Students, teachers, and parents will adapt their behaviors to minimize the prospect of schools becoming primary vectors for COVID-19 and future pathogens, but the rituals of attending school and the schools themselves will mostly remain the same as they were pre-lockdown. 
  • Some people cite population density as a contributing factor to the ease with which the coronavirus spread. As the epicenter of the pandemic in this country, they point to New York City as a case-in-point. But this claim is belied by the fact that cities of comparable or greater density, such as Seoul, Taipei, and Singapore, have not experienced anywhere near a similar rate of infection. So, there should not be calls to relax Eugene’s urban growth boundary to allow for expansion. Averting density will not be necessary; if anything, people should regard continuing to restrain sprawl as the more urgent health imperative. 
  • People will value Eugene’s parks and open spaces more than ever. Future improvements to our public spaces may include more hiking paths, widened sidewalks and the closure of select streets to vehicular traffic. 
  • What about Eugene’s architecture? To the degree the demand for new construction remains strong—and that will very much be in question—I don’t believe there will be a specific change in how we design our buildings. Instead, it’s how we live our lives that has changed and will continue to change. In time, these changes may influence our architecture, but it’s too soon to predict in what ways exactly. 
It is clear much of our future is uncertain and worrisome. The world has been forever altered and with it, Eugene has been as well. We should have been prepared for this pandemic, but we were not. If history is a guide, humans aren’t particularly good at learning from painful experience. We quickly forget and resume our “normal” lives. We also tend to underestimate the frequency of Black Swans and their effects upon our best laid plans. The difference—viewed from our current perspective—is we cannot afford to repeat this behavior. The next Black Swan may be the one that kills us all.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Virus Practicum


Each academic quarter, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (my firm) provides one student from the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture & Environment with an opportunity for a practicum experience. During a practicum, the student’s primary task is to learn from watching our staff. While the student does participate in the work in a limited way under our supervision, the practicum is first and foremost an observational learning experience. Concurrent with the practicum experience, the student enrolls in the practicum course, which outlines goals and expectations and confers academic credit. Our participation in this program stretches back decades, an almost unbroken string of students passing through our office since then.(1)

Fast forward to Spring 2020. The COVID-19 health crisis has profoundly impacted universities and colleges around the globe. Most are attempting to provide instruction remotely to comply with physical distancing orders. The University of Oregon is no exception.

Otto Poticha, FAIA

Otto Poticha, FAIA, has helmed the School of Architecture & Environment’s ARCH 409/609 practicum class for many years, but offering it this spring posed an entirely unique challenge for him. Like his fellow faculty members, Otto has reinvented the course, by necessity turning to video teleconferencing as the means to provide students live interactions with local practitioners. During this time of shelter-in-place and physical distancing, no practical alternative exists—especially since everyone among the participating firms is working from their homes.

As occurs with a conventional practicum experience, Otto’s goal for his students is for them to understand the scope and range of typical tasks a professional architectural practice routinely undertakes. Toward this objective, he arranged four virtual office visits via Zoom, one each with four Eugene-based firms: 1) GMA Architects; 2) Robertson/Sherwood/Architects; 3) PIVOT Architecture; and 4) TBG Architects + Planners. The visits are spread through the Spring quarter; RSA’s turn is this coming Thursday, April 30; as one of our firm's principals, I will serve as the host.

My task will be to present Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and the work we do. I’ll recount our firm’s history and our general approach to running our practice. I’ll describe the skill sets we look for when we need to add staff. I’ll touch upon how we secure new projects, and then the process of designing and developing appropriate solutions to a wide range of design problems. Additionally, I’ll discuss how we administer our internal fee/budget structure and also help manage our clients’ budgets.

Per Otto’s directions, my presentation will be limited to one hour, to be followed by a half-hour student question period. Otto asked his students to visit our website prior to the scheduled virtual visit and presentation. They are supposed to then prepare and submit prior to our Zoom session a set of three questions based on what they have learned about us; these will be the questions Otto will ask me to address during the visit. Afterwards, the students’ assignment is to prepare a report that summarizes their understanding of our firm and the methods we use in our everyday work

As out-of-the-ordinary as it may be, I am looking forward to hosting the “virus practicum” visit. My office has always regarded the practicum program as an important option for students who otherwise may have no exposure before they leave school to the genuine workings of an architectural practice. My own practicum experience in the Vancouver, B.C. office of Arthur Erickson Architects in 1978 was eye-opening and informative, one I am truly fortunate to have enjoyed.

Big props to Otto for maintaining the practicum program, albeit in abridged form, during this difficult time.


(1)    In fact, one of RSA’s senior partners—Carl Sherwood, AIA—was a practicum student with our predecessor firm, Lutes/Sanetel/Architects. Don Lutes and Ron Sanetel were so smitten with Carl they offered him a permanent position upon his graduation. He has not left the firm since.