Saturday, June 16, 2018

2018 AIA-Southwestern Oregon Design Awards

The 2018 AIA-SWO Design Awards ceremony was held at the Ford Alumni Center on the University of Oregon campus. The pre-event, well-stocked cash-bar was very popular! (Photo by AIA-SWO)

The purpose of the AIA Southwestern Oregon Chapter Design Awards is to celebrate achievements in design excellence by member firms, generate greater public interest in architecture, and honor the architects, clients, and consultants who work together to enhance our built environment. Because the awards program only occurs every four years or so, each one is truly special. The 2018 edition was no exception. The breadth and quality of the entrants reflected the continued improvement in the fortunes of the architecture and construction marketplace since the last program, and certainly met expectations bred by long years of anticipation since the last AIA-SWO design awards program in 2014. 

Big thanks to the Design Awards Committee—led by Jenna Fribley, AIA—which assembled an outstanding group of jurors to evaluate the design submissions for this year’s awards program: 

Gary Aquilina, AIA – Principal, CAS Architects 
Ruth Baleiko, AIA – Partner, Miller Hull 
Robert Hastings, FAIA (jury chair) – Agency Architect, TriMet 
Cassandra Keller – Principal, Clark Keller 
Carrie Strickland, FAIA – Principal, Works Progress Architecture 

2018 AIASWO DA Juror Intros from frank visconti on Vimeo.

The jury selected a total of 11 projects to receive awards. Of these, two are student projects, four are Citation Award winners, two received Merit Awards, and three are Honor Award recipients (the AIA’s highest commendation). 

Speranza Architecture + Urban Design was the evening’s big winner. The jury bestowed three of the Citation Awards and one Honor Award on the young firm. Principal and founder Phil Speranza, AIA—also an assistant professor at the UO College of Design, and a relatively recent transplant from the east coast—is someone to keep an eye on as his firm leaves its mark on the local architectural scene in the years to come. 

Past AIA-SWO president (2016) Stan Honn, AIA emceed the event. Current president Frank Visconti, AIA presented the awards to the recipients, while jury chair Bob Hastings, FAIA shared some of the jury’s comments for all the winning entries. 

Here is the list of the 2018 AIA-SWO Design Awards Program recipients: 

Honor Awards:

UO Student Recreation Center
Poticha Architects 
Owner/Client: University of Oregon 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“A wonderful achievement in unifying a series of existing buildings. The design utilized creative strategies to connect a disparate set of buildings who were built at different times, and with different program, materials, and construction. In particular the ceiling treatments created both a sense of continuity, while also providing for individual program activities. Strong visual connections between spaces and activities improved the sense of the community. The jury was impressed how active and contemplative spaces could be accommodated without compromise. 

“Environmental performance of the buildings’ systems actually enhanced the interior activities, while providing access and exposure of the external environment. The building’s external elevations, materials, and lighting create strong connections to the University urban design and enhance its qualities.” 

Arts and Technology Academy 
Owner/Client:  4J Eugene School District 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“A fantastic renovation of an existing school that interprets a new pedagogy for STEM curriculum with a new organization for this middle school. The result feels like a completely new institution that embraces open and transparent spaces for learning. New relationships are skillfully organized both in plan and section by providing places of learning for classes and well as small groups and individual spaces. 

“The result is a unifying whole of existing spaces, materials, and structure with the new additions that create a complete translation for the school. Particular skill was demonstrated in the architectural treatments that unify existing structure, materials, and spaces with the new construction. The end result is both robust and delicate…elegant and durable.” 

Push Pull House 
Owner/Client: Jeff & Victoria Wilson-Charles 
Location: Veneta, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“While simple and elegant in plan the house’s sections create a vibrant juxtaposition. Careful attention to the use of volumes for lighting, heating, and cooling results in poetic special contrasts.  The use of common materials…wood, plaster, concrete, and glass…have been masterfully orchestrated to create un-common spaces. 

“The jury commends the building’s craftsmanship, especially considering the modest construction cost, and how it accentuates the power of well design spaces. The overall effect creates a beautiful relationship between inner space and the surrounding forest environment.” 

Merit Awards:

Roosevelt Middle School 
Owner/Client: Eugene School District 4J 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“The plan of the school strongly reflects its mission to provide places of learning, social interaction, and teacher – student engagement. Transparency between small group, corridors, and vertical transition directly correlate with the school’s educational purpose. Throughout the interior, glazing and openings are arranged to promote both the sense of connectedness, and how people come together. 

“The jury commends how this school helps students transition from child to young adult, by encouraging exploration and discovery in a wonderful learning environment. In particular, the jury was impressed by the thoughtful use of glazing, color, lighting, and wall materials to create a sense of permanence and transition.” 

1203 Willamette 
Owner/Client: 1203 Willamette, LLC 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“The adaptive reuse of a 1940’s era furniture store with limited relationship to the life of downtown Eugene, is a terrific case study of urban revitalization. The design decision to use removal rather than insertion proved to be an excellent strategy. By engaging both levels of the original building, it completely transforms the streetscape and greatly contributes to the City’s livability. 

“The jury commends the use of the building’s elements of wood structure, open fenestrations, and authentic materials to create lively interior and exterior spaces. In particular, the jury recognizes the careful proportions, scale of spaces, use of elemental materials, interior and exterior lighting, vertical circulation and layering of movement.” 

Citation Awards: 

Roseburg Forest Products 
Owner/Client: Roseburg Forest Projects 
Location: Springfield, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“What could have been another example of treating large box buildings as part of our disposable society instead became a wonderful revitalization. The plan to organize the perimeter of the triangulated building into open offices, while enlivening the center with gathering and meeting spaces, resulted in a compete transformation. The clear use of materials, color, natural and artificial lighting, and furnishings is exemplary. What is especially powerful is the creation of a central space that promotes and engenders equity.” 

Eugene Public Food Market 
Owner/Client: Three Muses 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“This proposed adaptive reuse of the former EWEB building could be a significant part of the City’s downtown transformation. This project proposal includes the leveraging of the existing building’s significant elements (most notably the bow-string trusses), but equally important is the programmatic role of a year-round, and night & day, public food market. 

“The jury’s challenge is to incorporate the proposed new tower, complete with LED lighting, as an urban marker for the Market.  It should contribute greatly to the Market’s character, the downtown’s ‘Great Loop’ initiative, and linking to the City’s neighborhoods.” 

Birch Fircrest House 
Owner/Client: Philip Speranza 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“While bold in form, the strength of this house design derives from careful analysis of its site and environmental factors. In plan, section, and elevation the house’s design is consistent in its formal response. 

“The jury is still out on the proposed exterior siding material, window size and placements, and site material treatments. These need careful consideration to achieve a holistic expression of distant and internal relationships.” 

Hult Center for the Performing Arts Plaza Renovation Study 
Owner/Client: City of Eugene Cultural Services 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
“This proposal seeks to enliven the Center’s exterior public space by transforming it into a dynamic series of outdoor spaces, emulating the nature of the Center’s performance hall. However, in this instance the audience becomes the performers. Through careful analysis and gathering of real time data the Plaza would express the qualities of its users. 

“The Jury commends the passion and desire to transform this urban space into something truly ‘world class’, and for supporting and contributing to the City’s ‘Great Loop’ initiative.” 

Student Awards:

The Arch at Hayward Field 
Nicole Giustino, August Lehnert, & Max Moore 
Client: University of Oregon 
Location: Eugene, OR 

Jury Comments: 
  • Innovative use of material(wood) to develop an elegant solution to a functional problem. 
  • Very compelling idea which combines traditional with new state-of-the-art technology. 

Sitka Sedge 
Benjamin Fuglevand 
Client: State of Oregon Visitors Center 
Location: Tillamook County, Oregon Coast 

Jury Comments: 
  • A modern, approach to farming, and teaching. Simple structure, formal response to climate, very believable in its execution and research. Energy modeling provides the designer with validation of design process and goals set for this work. 
  • A wonderfully developed scheme; well thought out and with a compelling brief. Excellent backup data and analysis too. 

*    *    *    *    *   

Design awards programs help us to celebrate what we do as architects. They are evidence our profession aspires to be the best it can be. They elevate the quality of our work by setting the bar high. I know I am not alone in looking forward to the next edition and once again recognizing and celebrating the best work of AIA-Southwestern Oregon member firms.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

We Shouldn’t Fear the Change Diverse Housing Types Herald

Aerial view of a typical, established R-1 neighborhood in Eugene (Imagery: © 2018 Google)

It's human nature to be wary of change. Change is perturbing and stressful. We instinctively cling to the few certainties we can count on. They constitute our comfort zone. It’s no surprise many of us want our neighborhoods to stay just the way they are now. We don’t want them to change, especially if we intend to stay in our current homes for a long time. 

The problem is, as much as we’d like to forestall change, no one can avoid it: We work for decades but eventually retire. Our children grow up and leave the nest. We may separate or divorce, dramatically altering our life’s equation. We’re not immune to the possibility of financial misfortune or encountering health problems. We certainly can’t escape becoming older and less capable of maintaining the lifestyle we may presently enjoy. Change is simply a fact of life. 

Leaving our comfort zone is unsettling but we’ll need to if we and our communities are to adapt and thrive. Today’s housing affordability crisis is a case in point. Resistance to the introduction of new and creative housing solutions responsive to our changing demographics and marketplace is symptomatic of our fear of change, but we ignore it at our own peril. We instinctively know this but many Eugeneans reflexively resist change rather than embracing the possibilities inherent in new opportunities. We do this even though we may one day directly benefit from the availability of a greater breadth of housing options, such as those that allow us to gracefully age in place. 

Those fortunate enough to be housing-secure can easily misjudge how the lack of affordable housing impacts our entire community. Rather than fearing the housing affordability challenge and the change it portends, we need to confront it to preserve the qualities we find most attractive about life in Eugene. 

Growth here has widened a disparity between the supply of housing and the tremendous demand for affordable options. Increasing the breadth and availability of a range of housing types is part of the solution to a problem that threatens Eugene’s resilience and everyone’s standard of living. For example, “missing middle” housing types—which include side-by-side and stacked duplexes, bungalow courts, carriage houses, fourplexes, townhouses, courtyard apartments, and accessory dwelling units—can provide a range of choices, a range that presently is conspicuously absent here. 

Done well, what missing middle housing looks like belies the density possible; higher densities do not necessarily translate to bigger buildings. Keeping individual units small is the secret; 600 to 700 square feet apiece is often enough. Side-by-side duplexes can achieve a density of 12-19 dwelling units per acre; townhouses, up to 29 units per acre. As many as 50 DU/acre are possible with courtyard apartment configurations. Densities of 16 DU/acre or more are sufficient to support a nearby main street with locally-focused businesses and public transportation. 

All well and good, but where can we provide expanded housing opportunities while fulfilling the affordability, compact urban development, and neighborhood livability pillars of Envision Eugene? The intractability of concerned residents within long-established R-1 districts has proven to be a considerable obstacle, and yet it’s clear overcoming that obstacle is necessary to responsibly address our community’s growth and change. If we do nothing we will effectively accept financially gated neighborhoods in our midst, contrary to our better natures. 

Clearly, the market is demanding change. We need to provide a critical mass of housing to support complete, diverse, and walkable neighborhoods, while reducing pressures for development on the urban periphery. Taking R-1 districts off the table is problematic because so much of our land within our growth boundary is presently locked up inside them. 

All neighborhoods change over time. The recipe for success includes sustaining the patterns that make older neighborhoods unique, but also demands creative, inspired design. This may be the reason why it is elusive: the making of good, deferential architecture that respects its context isn’t always assured. Regardless, it’s clear our housing stock needs diversification to adequately address the myriad ways Eugene is changing. Certainly, managing change by densifying established neighborhoods will only work if it is the outcome of a community and neighbors-driven process that dives deeply into issues of structural form, market demand, affordability, and traffic impact. Lacking such a process, the inevitable results will be continued resistance. 

The housing affordability puzzle is enormously complex and certainly one a jiggering of our land use codes alone will not solve. Cities by themselves cannot attend to the deep structural issues responsible for a globally confounding problem. That said, we know fostering innovation in our housing rather than stifling it is necessary. The affordability crisis demands a ladder of housing opportunities.  Introducing new housing types within the fabric of R-1 districts won’t eliminate the problem but they can help address a range of issues beyond affordability. This is change we should not fear.

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Damon Carson of repurposedMATERIALS (webinar screenshot)

A cozy group gathered at the Eugene Builders Exchange this past Thursday for the May chapter meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute-Willamette Valley Chapter. The topic for the meeting was repurposedMATERIALS, the successful enterprise at the vanguard of the rapidly growing materials repurposing industry. 

CSI-WVC member Alorie Mayer, who has a background in energy and resource conservation management, organized the presentation of a webinar by repurposedMATERIALS president Damon Carson. Damon founded the company in 2011, and it has only grown by leaps and bounds since then. In Damon’s words, repurposing occupies the intersection of affordability and sustainability. The repurposedMATERIALS business model involves taking byproducts out of the waste stream and extending their maximum practical benefit while minimizing waste and the expenditure of new energy to ready them for new uses. 

Damon introduced the topic of repurposing materials by having us think about what many of us did naturally as preschoolers: taking an empty Quaker Oats canister and transforming it into a drum or a container for Lego blocks, or reimagining a Maytag refrigerator shipping box as a medieval fort or a space-age rocket. This, in his words, was our “substitutionary thinking” at work. Repurposing isn’t a new concept; fundamentally, it is an innately human behavior. 

The waste hierarchy pyramid, by Drstuey at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Damon cited the waste hierarchy pyramid and how reuse occupies a perch near its peak. Repurposing is not the same as recycling, which typically involves energy-intensive processing of the materials (e.g. chipping, shredding, grinding, or melting) before reuse is possible. Repurposing is a means to extract the maximum practical benefit from products while minimizing the cost to the environment. As a waste-management strategy, repurposing minimizes emissions of greenhouse gases, reduces pollutants, saves energy, conserves resources, creates jobs, and stimulates the development of green technologies. Repurposing rather than reprocessing previously-used items also saves time and money, making quality products available to people and organizations who may be of limited means. 

Of course, repurposing isn't a new concept. Artists (like my friend and former co-worker Rosie Nice) have long fashioned sculptures and other works out of what most people would consider junk. Habitat for Humanity ReStores and Eugene/Springfield’s own BRING Recycling sell salvaged materials but tend to emphasize reuse rather than repurposing. For example, salvaged doors or windows sold by Habitat for Humanity ReStores or BRING are typically used by the purchasers for the same ends they originally were originally intended for. What distinguishes repurposedMATERIALS is its procurement of large amounts of discarded products no longer suitable for their original purposes but are otherwise practical for altogether different uses. 

Damon cited the following mnemonic device to explain his company's criteria for selecting the materials it chooses to procure and resell: 
The materials should be Standardized, readily Available, Versatile, and well-Engineered (possessing desirable characteristics or attributes). 

At its core, repurposedMATERIALS is a thrift store on an industrial scale, with branch offices/warehouses in Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. The company conducts online auctions as well as selling products directly to customers at preestablished prices through its website. Recently, repurposedMATERIALS expanded its mission/concept to include the repurposing of things like chemicals and other ingredients (as opposed to finished products), and even real estate. Anything that is obsolete to its primary industry is of interest to the company. 

Damon described how his customers have imaginatively found new uses for old stuff. The products repurposedMATERIALS regularly procures and stocks include salvaged heavy timber beams, industrial storage tanks, and worn gymnasium floor boards. Some of the other used construction materials currently available include rubber playground tiles, salvaged wood from bleachers, 500-gallon propane tanks, concrete barrier blocks, and galvanized steel cable. The company also specializes in “all kinds of crazy” as well—offbeat industrial castoffs like aircraft wheel chocks, conveyor belts, used truck tires, and pool covers to name a few. 

Repurposing billboard vinyl

Repurposing military parachutes (images from repurposedMATERIALS website)

To Damon, much of the satisfaction he derives from his business comes from seeing how creative his customers can be. repurposedMATERIALS doesn’t always know how the materials it procures might be used. Street sweeper brushes enjoy a second life as backscratchers for horses and cattle. Old escalator handrails (which are made of thick rubber with reinforcing cables) become loading dock bumpers. Retired military cargo parachutes are used as wedding party tents. Used billboard vinyl (which is tremendously tough and intended to handle the worst Mother Nature can throw at it) is normally just thrown away, but Damon discovered the vinyl can be reused not only as drop cloths but also as hay covers, pond liners, and even slip n’ slides. He sold ten to a U.S. Army Ranger battalion for use as curtain walls in a training maze. 

Given that 40% of the materials in the nation’s landfills can be attributed to construction waste, the key takeaway from the presentation is how significant our attention toward managing the waste hierarchy can be when viewed from a holistic, green perspective. Construction should be defined by good engineering and efficiency. Many salvaged or recovered materials are heavy duty and are ready for the tough jobs. It behooves architects to consider the possibilities inherent in the significant resources available from repurposedMATERIALS, and other similar vendors. We should use our imagination and creativity to help the construction industry minimize its environmental impact through repurposing. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Downtown Riverfront Park

Downtown Riverfront Park Public Open House #1 - May 24, 2018

I attended the City of Eugene’s public meeting this past Thursday evening. Like everyone who attended, I was there to learn more about the proposed Downtown Riverfront Park project and express my preferences for what the park might be. I was pleasantly surprised by the well-attended event, which featured a room full of citizens who care about Eugene and wanted to have a say about how to make the new park an inclusive, active, and attractive place that truly connects downtown Eugene with the Willamette River. 

The project is perhaps one of the most extraordinary design opportunities ever available in Eugene. Our city can trace its origins to the banks along this stretch of the river. The Kalapuya peoples were the first to draw upon its resources. It’s where Eugene Skinner platted the city. “Skinner’s Mudhole” would be the locus of the settlement’s early industrial activity and central to its identity. The Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) controlled the riverfront property for most of the past century. 

Eugene has largely developed away from the significant river that flows through its core. The Downtown Riverfront Park and the contiguous redevelopment of the former EWEB property promise to reconnect the city to the waterway. Revitalizing, enhancing, and preserving the riverfront will restore its historic importance to the city. Done right, a new Downtown Riverfront Park would resurrect the primacy of the Willamette River in the collective Eugene psyche. It would contribute toward a cultural landscape that is uniquely Eugene’s—a special place that both teaches and inspires. 

The meeting featured brief presentations by Emily Proudfoot, Landscape Architect with the City of Eugene, and by members of the team led by Chelsea McCann of Walker Macy, the prime design consultant for the project. The presentations were followed by the public input segment, which solicited responses to a series of questions about the participants’ preferences for the future look and feel of the park, how it might be used, and how public art might be incorporated. The feedback from the audience was tabulated in real time, anonymously, using polling software by ParticiPoll (everyone voted via web browsers on their phones or tablets). The process was easy, quick, and fun. 

The Downtown Riverfront Park; the area of the park is highlighted in green.

I was pleased to learn Walker Macy has yet to put pencil to paper. The meeting truly represented a kickoff for the design team’s efforts. The cynic in me feared the public forum was merely window dressing, a token action the City could point to, to withstand questions regarding community engagement in the design process. It’s clear to me this was not the case. The City sincerely values what citizens have to say. 

As the polling unfolded during the meeting, a partiality toward certain features became clear. People want access to the river for everything from recreation to simply enjoying the views. They don’t want those views obscured by an impenetrable wall of trees. Most expressed a desire for a more active kind of space, an urban park at the river’s edge, as opposed to a completely naturalized environment. I’m pretty sure there are many who weren’t present who strongly believe the river should only be restored to as natural a state as possible (read: humans are not welcome). They might be reassured to know the project’s guiding principles include developing habitat for species on and near the site, aligning riparian restoration with the river and site hydrology, and recognizing the property is a part of the greater Willamette River watershed. I fully expect the City and Walker Macy will strike the right balance and provide a park that is at once both an active, people place and an exemplary model of environmental stewardship. 

For those of you who weren’t at the meeting, a link to an online survey is available on the City of Eugene’s Riverfront Park webpage. The survey, which includes the same questions administered during the public session, should only take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The survey will be open until June 14. 

It’s important to point out the meeting’s focus was exclusively upon the narrow, 3-acre portion of the redevelopment site that will be the dedicated public park. It is the remainder of the 16-acre parcel that will be owned and redeveloped by Williams/Dame &Associates, the Portland company with whom the City of Eugene has signed an exclusive negotiating agreement for the property. This distinction wasn’t entirely clear to me before the meeting. If I have any reservations about separating the design process for the park from that of the Williams/Dame development, it would be the risk that plans for the park might get too far out in front of the Williams/Dame work. Ideally, the designs for both would take cues from one another with a synergistic intentionality. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. 

The next steps for the Downtown Riverfront Park project will witness Walker Macy incorporating the public input into the development of conceptual design options. Walker Macy will present its initial design concepts at another public meeting on Thursday, July 19. They will ask attendees at that meeting to provide feedback. The conceptual design phase will conclude in the fall; the City is planning a September 27 celebration unveiling Walker Macy’s final design concept. The overall goal is to have the park ready when Eugene hosts the 2021 IAAF World Track and Field Championships

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on news about the Downtown Riverfront Park project, follow the City’s efforts on Facebook or Instagram. You can also join the emaillist for project updates.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Update: BCD Delegation Ruling

Unsealed pipe penetration in 2-hour concrete block wall: Smaller Oregon communities require timely inspections of the kind private, third-party inspectors can provide to identify code violations like this.

Royal Mortier sent me an update regarding the proposed program delegation rule governing local municipalities’ use of third parties to provide the services of a building department. In a fit of uncommon good sense, the Oregon Building Codes Division has decided to rescind the emergency rule, choosing instead to give the matter more consideration and analysis before determining exactly how to proceed, if at all, with its application. This stay is a definite win for the numerous smaller jurisdictions who were subject to the ruling.

The League of Oregon Cities, which represents many of the affected communities, reports work remains. When all is said and done, it’s conceivable the BCD may reassert its authority based on the Oregon Department of Justice interpretation. The Oregon Administrative Rules make a distinction between “ministerial” and “discretionary” actions. BCD’s interpretation, affirmed by the DOJ, views the assignment of discretionary powers to private contractors as unlawful. Interpreted most narrowly, this means the current practice wherein private third-party building officials, plans examiners, building inspectors, and electrical inspectors render decisions may be unconstitutional. As I suggested in my previous post on this topic, the arguments posed by the BCD in support of the delegation rule appear specious and motivated by reasons other than constitutional fidelity.

Everyone is interested in reaching a considered and legally defensible solution. I believe it would behoove the BCD and the DOJ if such a solution would continue to allow cash-strapped small communities to contract with third-party “building departments” for services these smaller cities and counties cannot otherwise provide for themselves in a cost-effective manner.

The League, as well as the Association of Oregon Counties, thanks all interested stakeholders for their efforts in keeping this issue in the news and in front of state policymakers. I’m happy to do my small part by reporting this news here on my blog.