Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bread and Butter

I’ve led a charmed professional life. When I eventually retire and reflect upon my career, I’ll enjoy recounting my involvement with some really significant and challenging projects. These include world’s fair pavilions (for Expo ’86 in Vancouver, during my time with Bing Thom Architects); a competition-winning civic center (for Oceanside, CA, while working with the Urban Innovations Group under the design leadership of Charles W. Moore); and the Eugene Public Library, the Springfield Justice Center, and Lane Community College’s Downtown Campus, among others (all since joining Robertson/Sherwood/Architects in 1988). All of these notable design commissions are ones any architect would have yearned for. 
As substantial as these important projects may be in my portfolio, my good fortune as an architect has also involved a lot of work that is far less prominent. These include minor renovations, facility assessments, accessibility improvements, building envelope repairs, and no-nonsense space planning exercises. These unassuming projects actually comprise a sizable share of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects’ work and annual billings. They’re our “bread-and-butter” assignments—prosaic, everyday problems to be solved, but no less important to us or our clients than any of our larger jobs. 
RSA is a small firm in a relatively small city, so we cannot afford to eschew routine work that may appear outwardly tedious or uninteresting to some architects. Our practice needs to be diverse. We avoid over-specialization simply because there aren’t enough jobs in any one project type to go around in our market. We embrace most every commission, no matter how modest, because each one helps to pay the bills and keep our doors open. These everyday projects also present us with opportunities to sharpen or expand our skills, learn through experience, and grow as professionals. We fundamentally approach all of our bread-and-butter work with the same enthusiasm we bring to our more conspicuous efforts. 
Application of the new exterior coating in progress on Olive Plaza. Western Partitions, Inc. was the contractor for the exterior improvements.
An excellent example of these mainstay jobs is our recently completed Olive Plaza Seismic Upgrade & Exterior Improvements project. Christian Church Homes of Oregon is the building’s owner, and Viridian Management is its operator. Olive Plaza is a 12-story tall, HUD-subsidized apartment building located in downtown Eugene. It accommodates low-income seniors and individuals with physical disabilities in one-bedroom, self-contained apartments. The project involved increasing the building’s capacity to withstand earthquakes, and also the application of a new elastomeric coating and replacement of sealants to secure its walls against water infiltration. RSA’s duties included bringing on board a structural design consultant familiar with the shortcomings and idiosyncrasies of Olive Plaza’s lift-slab construction, developing a prudent and cost-conscious solution to its problem with leaky walls, assisting with the selection of a construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC), and generally shepherding the project from beginning to end. 
The new exterior color scheme for Olive Plaza is meant to provide "disruptive" camouflage, breaking down the building so that it appears less massive.
We helped assemble an excellent project team: Miyamoto International (and particularly Miyamoto principal Bob Glasgow, SE) provided world-class structural engineering expertise; Carole Knapel of Knapel & Associates ensured the project successfully navigated HUD’s labyrinthine financing and approval processes; and Chambers Construction (led by project manager John Wright and site superintendent Mel Taylor) fulfilled the duties of the CM/GC in exemplary fashion. 
One of the hundreds of new column to slab connectors designed by Miyamoto International. The connector provides enhanced lateral force resistance.
Fiber-reinforced polymer strips tie different areas of the floor slabs together.
Undoubtedly, the biggest factor in the project’s success was our client. We’ve worked with Christian Church Homes and Olive Plaza for many years. Over those years, we’ve helped them address a variety of improvements and planning projects, in addition to the seismic upgrade and exterior repairs. A constant throughout every project has been how absolutely enjoyable it has been to work with the key people associated with Olive Plaza. To a person, they have been a delight. They’re appreciative of the skills and expertise we bring to their projects. They’re preternaturally good-natured. Their amiable ways rub off on everyone they interact with, not only the residents but also every vendor or contractor with whom they conduct business. 
We derive a great amount of satisfaction from working with good people. Good people make even the most challenging and seemingly banal projects a pleasure. If anything, our decision to accept a bread-and-butter project comes down to who it is we will be working with and for. 
Members of the Olive Plaza team gathered for an end-of-project celebration.
I remember when I first realized much of the work done by architects is anything but glamorous. It happened during the time I worked for the Office of Facilities & Campus Development at the British Columbia Institute of Technology between my sophomore and junior years of architecture school. My job involved interacting with the architects hired by BCIT to carry out exactly the same types of projects I now manage with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. I was taken aback by the realization architects had to deal with such lowly concerns as reconfiguring the access to a laboratory storage room or determining whether three employees could fit comfortably within an office initially intended to house only two. Really? Was this my future? I would soon learn the answer is, yes, it very much would be. I would also find that within the humblest of projects lies a kernel defining the architect’s role for any undertaking, large or small. 
In many respects, bread-and-butter projects are no different than the big, high-profile jobs coveted by every architect. After all, like any prestigious project, bread-and-butter jobs demand creative problem solving and an ability to see the big picture. They require a commitment to providing the best possible client service. They require translating real-world needs into functional, beautiful solutions. With every bread-and-butter project comes the opportunity for us to demonstrate our professionalism, talent, and ingenuity. 
At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I take pride in doing a job well, no matter what that job might entail. All of the ingredients necessary for my professional satisfaction are present in every project I am involved with. It’s a matter of bringing the correct perspective and a positive attitude to the table. Far from being tiresome, I find our “bread-and-butter” work truly meaningful and highly gratifying.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Architecture is Awesome #12: Ordered Complexity

Aftnn Rooftops of Prague. Photo by Ben Godfrey [ source] {{cc-by-sa}} licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture. 

Architecture is nothing if not complex. Even the simplest of buildings is assembled from many thousands of interconnected and related parts that must work together to successfully address a myriad of concerns. A harmonious work of architecture is a system within which those many components correspond with and complement each other, generating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A harmonious work of architecture is furthermore inextricably part of the systems around it, which include its immediate environment and the world beyond. A great design is at once comprised of recognizable wholes, is whole itself, and connected and consonant with many others as well. 

At its best, architecture maintains a tantalizing balance between comforting order and bewilderingly artful chaos. Our finest buildings evince organization and elicit wonderment. They are dense with purpose and meaning, sublimely intricate and impeccably structured. They work well. They betray an undeniable complexity. This is true even when the architect harnesses that complexity to achieve works of transcendent simplicity, calm, and serenity. Whether sumptuously extravagant or austerely minimalist, architecture is fundamentally a manifestation of ordered complexity. Great buildings exist at the edge of chaos, just as life itself does. 

Complexity can arise from the simplest of design circumstances. These circumstances often pile upon one another and appear overwhelming (and often are). There’s so much to consider. Buildings need to shelter and protect their occupants from the elements. They need to stand up and resist the forces that would bring them down. They need to operate efficiently and economically. They must comply with a multiplicity of arcane codes and regulations. And they should be aesthetically pleasing too—of course! 

There can be a fine line between surrendering to the complexity of a design challenge or exploiting it in the service of architecture. It’s a line navigated with skill by the most gifted architects. These architects understand that design is not a simplistic, linear activity. They understand it to be a living process, wild and wooly, and complex in its behavior. These skilled architects are adept at recognizing the simple and beneficial patterns that underlie the complexity of successful buildings and places. 

The process of design is a means to manage the many variables at play at the outset of any project. It begins with a definition of the problem to be solved. Patterns emerge with each iteration. Most every building may be a prototype, but the iterative nature of the design process allows the architect to probe and test, to help make sure the design is headed in the right direction and to validate concepts before any earth is turned. The emergent properties of the design solution reveal themselves as the generative process unfolds, on occasion in surprising and sudden ways. The design seemingly arises in accordance with natural laws, its order resembling an evolving ecosystem rather than a crude machine whose plan the architect has willfully imposed. The architect’s task is to successfully manage complexity and the unfolding of the design process. If done properly, the result can be a profound and deeply adapted building full of life, one that is inextricably tied to the systems around it and healthful for the ones it contains. 

The issue of complexity is of increasing concern to architects. Change is happening so fast in our world it’s hard to keep up. The profession’s work is ever more challenging and difficult, and its responsibilities and duties to society increasingly crucial. Pressing issues like dwindling resources, climate change, social inequity, and accelerating advancements in technology are mounting exponentially. Nevertheless, the architect’s typical skillset is one eminently suited to the task. Assuming he or she is open to the possibilities, bringing order and meaning to complex design problems should come naturally. Exercising humility by embracing the power of emergent self-organization increases the likelihood of a project’s success. 

Looking at ordered complexity in this way, we begin to appreciate the possibility of a truly organic approach to architecture. Treated as complex, adaptive systems, more of our buildings would occupy the creative threshold between order and chaos. How AWESOME would that be?

Next Architecture is Awesome: #13: Teamwork

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Annual Picnic!

Mark your calendars now for the annual picnic hosted by the local design and construction community. What started years ago as separate summer outings for separate organizations (AIA, CSI, NAWIC, and others) has become a bigger, better, and much more enjoyable event for all. This year’s picnic will take place Wednesday evening, July 20 at the old Civic Stadium site and home of the future Eugene Civic Park. 
The 2016 picnic will feature live music (by Camino Marimba and Doug & Amey), family fun, games, wood fired pizza, local brews, and great company! The organizers have planned a lot of great activities, including foot golf (think putt-putt with soccer balls) and the annual tug-of-war. The picnic will also continue the emerging tradition of an annual group photo! 
Of course, Eugene Civic Stadium tragically burned to the ground a year ago. Many of you are aware that since then the Eugene Civic Alliance (ECA) has moved forward steadfastly with its plans to give our community a place where kids can enjoy playing their favorite sports, where adults can participate in recreational leagues and enjoy a lifetime of physical activity, and where families and friends can rally together to cheer on local sports teams. ECA wants to give people in the Eugene/Springfield area a place that will be home to the same happy, carefree memories that Civic Stadium once held. 
On a personal note, I’m proud to be a member of the project team helping realize this vision of a new Eugene Civic Park. Earlier this year, ECA selected the team of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and Skylab Architecture as its designers for the project. Along with our consultants (Cameron McCarthy and KPFF, among others), and also Chambers Construction (fulfilling the Construction Manager/General Contractor role), we’re busily moving forward. We’d hoped to have a completed Schematic Design to present at the picnic but we’re not quite there yet. So, while we won’t be able to share our finalized design with everyone, ECA will be on hand answer to questions and let everyone learn more about the project and how they can get involved. 
Merriment and frolicking will undoubtedly ensue at this year's picnic.
What more do you need to know? The mayor might stop by. You should come. Bring your friends and family. If you don't have a family, bring somebody else's family. Share the RSVP link with your friends and colleagues. The more the merrier! 
This could be the best picnic ever! 
When:  Wednesday, July 20, 2016 – 5:30pm to 8:00pm
Where: Civic Stadium site, 20th & Willamette, Eugene, OR 
  • $15.00 including dinner & dessert
  • $5.00 attendance only, no dinner
  • Free for children under 12
  • $5.00 surcharge for no RSVP
RSVP here:

Menu: Wood fired pizza, salad, and dessert (vegetarian/vegan options available) all from Oregon Wood Fired Pizza. Drinks (beer/cider) will be available for purchase from the vendor.

NOTE - If you make a reservation but do not attend, your dinner may be sold to a walk-up, but this is not always possible. The organizers may have to send you a bill for the meal in that case.

Parking: Plenty of parking will be available in the lot to the north of the site at no charge.

Sponsors: Many sponsors are contributing to make this a great event, including the Eugene Civic Alliance, Kidsports, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, Chambers Construction, and Buck’s Sanitary Services.

Help Wanted: Willing to help with setup/takedown? Contact

Sunday, July 3, 2016

2016 Willamette Valley Chapter CSI Awards Banquet

2015-2016 WVC-CSI president Marina Wrensch presents Linn West with one of this year's Certificates of Appreciation for all of his efforts on behalf of the chapter (all photos by me unless otherwise noted).
Every June, the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute marks the end of its annual calendar with a celebration to recognize those who contributed to the group’s success in the preceding year. This past year was particularly momentous, amongst other things having marked 50 years since the chapter first became chartered by the Institute. 2015-2016 WVC-CSI President Marina Wrensch, CSI, ASLA, LEED AP, bestowed a bevy of awards acknowledging those who helped make her year in office a memorable one. 

Marina was an outstanding chapter president. We owe her the biggest thanks for doing whatever it took to get things done when they needed to, and for cajoling and eliciting the best from her supporting cast of board members and committee chairs. Because of her efforts and energy, the chapter’s future fortunes look bright. Her successor, Jim Chaney, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, is certain to leave his mark as well; after all, he is among the most decorated of our chapter members—not only a previous WVC-CSI president (1990-91) but also a past Northwest Region director and CSI national president as well. Like Marina, Jim is a tireless advocate on behalf of the Institute and our chapter, and an innovative thinker. Under his leadership, I have no doubt the chapter will continue evolve in significant ways and become increasingly relevant to construction industry professionals here in the southern Willamette Valley. 
Tom Deines, FCSI, received a Certificate of Appreciation from Marina for his work organizing the Willamette Valley Chapter's 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Incoming WVC-CSI president Jim Chaney thanks Marina for her service as president during the chapter's 50th anniversary year.
I was honored to receive from Marina both a Chapter Service Award and also a Certificate of Merit & Appreciation.
Alan Harper of Ausland Group presented the evening's program.
Most every one of the annual awards banquets includes a program, and this year’s edition offered a particularly fascinating one: Alan Harper of Ausland Group presented 7 Lessons Learned from 150 Dutch Bros. Units

Prior to joining Ausland, Alan, a land use attorney and development specialist, spent six years working for Dutch Bros., the country’s largest privately-held, drive-thru coffee company. Founded in Grants Pass in 1992 by dairy farmer brothers Dane and Travis Boersma, Dutch Bros. grew from a single espresso pushcart to become enormously successful. There are now over 250 locations in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona, serving an assortment of specialty coffee drinks, smoothies, teas, and energy drinks. With an insider’s perspective, Alan described how the company developed a distinct, winning culture and applied it to the task of growing the brand and developing new outlets in disparate locales. 

 Dutch Bros. coffee stand in Hillsboro. Photo by M.O. Stevens, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
The seven lessons Alan took from his Dutch Bros. tenure were:
  1. Small doesn’t mean cheap, easy, or fast. Small projects still follow all the same steps as large ones. There are no short cuts. 
  2. It takes a great team. Together, people are collectively smarter and can achieve more than anyone one individual. 
  3. Operations and use will evolve. The evolution of the business will bring changes. The Dutch Bros. outlet prototype has changed over time and adapted to local needs. 
  4. Customer service is king. From the beginning, Dutch Bros. chose to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the baristas and their customers. Toward this end, they did away with cash registers and other point-of-sale technology that would get in the way of this relationship. The service windows are large so that any sense of barriers is removed. Baristas become familiar with their regular customers and vice-versa. 
  5. There is no barrier to entry. All Dutch Bros. franchises are locally owned and operated, so the owners have a personal investment in the communities they serve. They also know their communities best, including where the best opportunities are located. For example, understanding commuting patterns might reveal that siting two outlets within direct proximity to one another would not result in reducing traffic to either. Locations can be in underutilized corners of parking lots, otherwise unproductive and thus inexpensive sites, etc. 
  6. Every place likes to think of itself as different but they’re fundamentally all alike. A lot of it boils down to esoteric code work, and specific lease terms and land use requirements can sneak up on you, but the challenges are essentially similar. Again local knowledge is key. 
  7. Celebrate more. It doesn’t matter how challenging a project has been, being enthusiastic, looking at the sunny side of everything, loving life, and forgetting the mistakes of the past is the Dutch Bros. credo. Every new opening is marked by a party, free coffee, and good times.
Alan included “150 units” in the title of his presentation, which is the number of projects he was involved with. As I mentioned, Dutch Bros. can now point to more than 250 locations, so it has grown significantly in just the short time since Alan left to join Ausland Group. 

Thanks to Alan for an entertaining and insightful presentation. We can take the lessons he presented and apply them to almost any endeavor. They’re not just applicable to the development and operation of a drive-thru coffee retailer. In many respects, they’re equally pertinent to the business of operating a volunteer-run membership organization like our CSI chapter. The success of Dutch Bros. can be a model for us to emulate. 

And big thanks to the generous sponsors for this year’s awards banquet: Ausland Group, Rodda Paint, and Twin Rivers Plumbing. Thank you sponsors!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Oregon BCD Certifications: OAR 918-098

The following is a letter written by Royal Mortier of Mortier Engineering. Like me, Royal is a member of the Emerald Executive Association (EEA). He recently brought to the attention of EEA members the radical changes proposed by the State of Oregon’s Building Codes Division to the administrative rules regulating the certification of building inspectors, plans examiners, and building officials. 
The BCD’s proposed rules make changes to the certification process that it asserts will support the division’s focus on providing Oregon-focused training for building officials, inspectors, and plans examiners. Specifically, these rules relate to changes to the Oregon Inspector Certification (OIC) and creating a transition path from International Code Council certifications to equivalent Oregon certifications, as well as ostensibly clarifying the conflict of interest requirements for certification holders. However, as Royal points out, OAR 918-098 will likely have an adverse impact upon the quality of the permitting and inspection processes, drive away prospective new inspectors and plans examiners (just when they’re needed most), unfairly penalize private entities, and effectively (and ironically) generate new conflicts of interest. 
OAR 918-098 becomes effective on July 1, less than a week from now. The deadline for written public comment was yesterday (June 24). Royal penned his letter this past Tuesday, addressing it to every member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, after also testifying in person at the BCD’s scheduled public hearing earlier that day. He is pushing for revocation of the new rules, a move I believe is warranted because the proposed changes do appear short-sighted and fundamentally flawed in their intent. Time will tell if the members of the legislature agree and take action.

My name is Royal Mortier and I serve as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Mortier Engineering, P.C., an employee-owned engineering and code consulting firm. A subsidiary of Mortier is The Building Department, LLC (TBD). TBD is a licensed Building Inspection & Plan Review Provider under ORS 455.457. TBD provides building department services to government entities that are too large for counties to provide adequate service to, too small to cover the expense of their own building department, or building departments that need staffing assistance.  We are currently contracted with approximately 30 jurisdictions in the state of Oregon to serve as inspectors, plans examiners, and/or building officials. Combined, we serve a population greater than Portland. I’m contacting you today because we have a nationwide shortage of building inspectors. How the State of Oregon Building Codes Division (BCD) is handling this issue is setting up our construction economy for failure. 
A significant need for qualified inspectors, plans examiners, and building officials currently exists because the average age within this workforce approaches sixty. This is an irrefutable fact, and something needs to be done to entice new inspectors, and retain or hire experienced personnel to properly train them. In decades past when a staffing crisis like this occurred, jurisdictions requiring certifications found ways to attract newer staff through bonuses, or turned to private industry for support. Unfortunately, the BCD has opted for a different path by pushing for, and getting passed, legislation that shuns out-of-state qualified people and private industry support. 
BCD was initially established to be a division of the state that assisted in the review and adoption of building codes. Over the years, BCD has added to and changed its roles many times. Beginning in the early 2000’s, BCD began taking over inspection and plan review duties from jurisdictions. It grew to a staff of over 110 employees with three offices across the state, per the BCD website. The BCD bankrolled these efforts using taxpayer dollars, a 12% surcharge on building permits, and taking 90-100% of permit fees from the jurisdictions that use them. 
In December of last year, BCD moved toward a rule change that requires inspectors to attain training and certifications performed and issued by BCD and ONLY recognized in Oregon, making Oregon the only state in the western U.S. to not require national certification. Prior to this rule change, most personnel came from the trades, and/or attended a two-year approved college program in preparation to take a national certification, which was then supplemented with additional training and certifications. Under the new rules from the BCD, incoming building inspectors will only be required to take a 4-hour per week, 14-week training (56-hours total) to become a certified residential structural and mechanical inspector. Additional changes eliminate the acceptance of past experience, nationally accepted certifications, and college degrees, essentially making the certification programs at Portland and Chemeketa Community Colleges obsolete. 
Oregon changed to a national inspector and plans examiner certification system in 2005 because BCD was unable to keep testing current, but still required the Oregon Inspector Certification (OIC) test to verify knowledge of statutes and administrative rules that apply to them. Being on a national testing program with state specific law testing is common for many professions (i.e. Engineering). The BCD is changing back to state testing without the benefit of input from existing code enforcers and professionals within Oregon, and without justifiable reasoning provided to professionals or noted in the legislation’s Statement of Need and Fiscal Impact
BCD’s changes to Building Official certifications are even worse. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a Building Official is in charge of a jurisdiction’s building safety program and its employees, including the inspectors and plan examiners. BCD again has chosen to eliminate requirements for past experience or education in building codes or construction and replace it with a 2-day training, given by BCD, to earn a certification recognized only in Oregon. 
If you’re skeptical that BCD would put someone with so little experience in charge of the public’s safety, please see the attached meeting minutes from June 6 of this year with comments from Tom Phillips, BCD Government Affairs, regarding hiring a recent high school graduate to be an inspector and comments on the new 2-day building official program. These changes will flood the industry with inexperienced and poorly trained inspectors, plans examiners, and building officials that will hinder the system and tarnish a reputation that many in the industry have worked extremely hard to maintain. These are the personnel the community relies on to ensure what is being constructed is safe and accessible. The public deserves better. 

As a former construction superintendent and project manager, Oregon State graduate, and graduate of Chemeketa Community College’s two-year Building Inspection Technology program, I can say that nothing prepared me better for the career of inspection than the Chemeketa program. To consider 56-hours of online training as an acceptable alternative to past experience, college, and national testing is ludicrous. In addition, to issue code enforcement professionals an Oregon-only certification places an invisible leash on them. This will result in many qualified professionals leaving Oregon to explore opportunities in other states. In fact, Oregon currently has more government job openings for code professionals than California and Washington, combined. Code professionals and private industry do not want to come to Oregon because of the BCD. BCD’s regulation is not the solution—it’s the problem. 
With these changes, BCD has taken on the role of educator and certifier of all code professionals within the state of Oregon. Per ORS 455.117, BCD is the governing body for review and approval of code training programs, but per OAR 918-098, BCD’s training is now the only approved training. BCD is also an enforcer of the code and financially benefits from acquiring services from jurisdictions. So BCD is allowed to approve the training they provide, to issue the certifications that only they are allowed to issue, and are allowed to use these certifications to enforce the code for financial gain. This is not something that would be allowed in private industry, so why are we the public subject to this obvious conflict of interest? 
Researching how other states handle their adoption and oversite of building codes, I found no state that has anything comparable to the BCD. Our neighbor to the north, Washington, has the State Building Codes Council (SBCC). The SBCC staff provide assistance and information on building codes to the public, contractors, and jurisdictions—similar to what BCD’s initial intent was. For code development and review, the SBCC coordinates subject and code specific groups consisting of professionals from the respective areas to develop recommendations and implement local or state-wide building code changes. They perform these duties with a staff of 5, and rely on the professionals they serve for input (What a concept!!!). 
Over the past couple years, I’ve researched the cause for this surge by the BCD, and have been provided with the same reason by multiple building officials and state representatives. A prison that was being built with state funds in a remote area required a building permit. The governing jurisdiction’s building safety program was contracted with a private provider, as the jurisdiction historically did not produce enough annual permit fees to afford their own. Some in the state didn’t believe it was right for state funds to go to a private company to oversee a state-funded project. However, the state has engineers and architects on staff, but the design of the entire facility was contracted out to private engineering and architecture firms. The state owns heavy equipment and has workers, but the construction was contracted out to a private construction company. Yet the expense of a permit fee used to fund a private inspection company to review and provide oversight for a multi-year project could not be seen as justifiable. 
The prison project has been cited as a primary impetus for Senate Bill 421 (2005). SB 421 was expanded with the passing of SB 582 (2013) and both have resulted in the development of additional statutes, regulations, and administrative rules against private code providers. Note that when SB 421 & 582 were passed to allow BCD to assist remote jurisdictions, the BCD was not the certifying agency. 
The fallout from these legislative changes are having effects on many within the state. The first major change was slipped in under “definitions” in Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 455:

ORS 455.715 (3): “Inspector” means:

(c): A specialized building inspector certified under ORS 455.723 who is employed by a municipality or by the Department of Consumer and Business Services.

Note how this verbiage specifically negates “company,” and this wasn’t by accident. If you view the Specialized Electrical or Plumbing Inspector Training Course application, it specifies on the cover page:

Those who currently work for a company that provides inspection and plan reviews for a city or county may take the course, but may not use the certification while employed by the company. Only city, county and state employees may use a specialized certificate . . .  

Since this legislation passed, it has paved the way for additional statutes, regulations, and rules to be passed directed solely at private providers. For example, as a continuation to the legislation noted above, specialized certifications held by personnel of a company will expire in 2017. 
In addition to changes to education and certifications, BCD has opted to not recognize its own conflict of interest, but instead is throwing down a rule change that would cite others for an assumed conflict. Under OAR 918-098-1470 a proposed rule change is as follows:

(j) Avoiding management or performance of work regulated by the state building code for a company engaged in construction or property development in Oregon when employed as an inspector, plans examiner, or building official by the division, a municipality, or registered business . . .  For the purposes of this section, property development includes, but is not limited to engineering, designing, testing, or auditing of buildings or other structures, devices and equipment regulated by the state building code.

Currently, seventy-nine jurisdictions in Oregon rely on private industry for support of their building safety programs. This support ranges from peer review by an engineer, inspection and plan review support, or management of the entire program. The change proposed under item (j) is a blatant attack on private industry and will result in a population greater than Portland, Salem, and Eugene combined losing the experienced and affordable support of building safety programs currently provided/accessible to them. The vagueness of this rule change could implicate any employee of a jurisdiction’s building safety program for doing any work within their jurisdiction, even if performed on their own home. In addition, this rule change exceeds the authority of DCBS and BCD as stated in ORS 455.720 and has been developed without justification. 

As members of the Oregon Building Officials Association and multiple Home Builders Associations, members of our team and I have attended multiple events where the current director of BCD, Mr. Mark Long, has spoken. We have been continually amazed at how Mr. Long arrives at these events to tell, rather than discuss with, the very professionals that BCD serves about the changes that are coming. We have not attended an event in recent years where our input was requested or taken, and our verbal and written comments from public hearings have been continually neglected. It appears that BCD has no interest in making programs better and attracting qualified individuals, but instead are being led by their own agenda and special interest groups (i.e. public employee unions). 

With the proposed changes noted above, BCD will establish themselves as the only building codes trainer and the certifying agency for all new inspectors and building officials in Oregon. For BCD to even attempt this is outlandish, and to implement these changes would be illegal.  Additionally, BCD is overstepping its authority with the proposed changes to OAR 918-098-1470(j) granted them by ORS 455.720 and its attempting to impose rules on professionals (e.g. engineers and architects) that the BCD does not regulate. 

The public hearing for the rule changes noted above took place on June 21. It was attended by engineering and architecture professionals, building officials, and private parties—all in opposition to the proposed changes. Past history has shown us our opposition will likely go unrecognized, which is why we turn to you, our state representatives. We request that you contact the BCD and push for revocation of all proposed rules that remove Oregon from national certification of building inspectors and plans examiners; help ensure education and experience be requirements for building officials; and eliminate rules aimed against private industry. 

Thank you for your time. 

Royal Mortier, PE, LEED AP
Mortier Engineering PC
O: (541) 484-9080 ; C: (541) 521-1276 ; F: (541) 484-6859

OR#82283PE, CA#81480, WA#53059


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Spatial Variation

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, a place familiar to Bill Kleinsasser and one he used to illustrate his lectures on the subject of spatial variety (photo by Jeffrey M. Vinocur, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license).

It’s been more than three-and-a-half decades since I first met Bill Kleinsasser. If anything, my experience as an architect since then has only reinforced the fundamental rightness of what he espoused. The whims of fashion did not sway him one bit, and as the years passed the latest fads or “isms” would likewise lose their mesmeric hold over me. I realized what Bill attempted to instill in his students was something much more fundamental about the power of design. 
A good example of architecture (or landscape architecture) is a synthesis of many essential concerns, of which one is to provide a variety of places to be—places that are generously accommodating, lastingly useful, opportunity-rich, efficient, and strong. Good architecture also acknowledges our tendency as humans to favor ranges of spatial opportunity so that we have choices about how to use a place. We instinctively seek out supports within a setting and the freedom to control the degree to which we interact with that place; however, there is no choice if there is insufficient spatial variety. 
The following is another brief excerpt from Bill’s self-published textbook Synthesis, in which he succinctly describes how spatial variation contributes to the experience of powerful, meaningful, and poetic spaces.   

Choices of Places to Be, Precisely-General Places, Longevity of Support
During its lifetime, any built place will confront many different circumstances. These may be caused by different users, by different purposes, by the same users with different states of mind, or by a combination of these. At the same time, built places usually must be made relatively solidly and permanently, and in configurations that are not easy to change. They usually outlast their first purposes and their second, and sometimes even more. Under these circumstances it is very easy for the built environment to become obsolete. 
Built-in spatial variety and consequent choice can help to offset this problem in built places. When generous spatial variety exists in built places, many long-lasting opportunities exist as well. One can experience different kinds of space; one can find accommodation for different purposes; one can find places for things; one can make different spatial combinations and thus realize greater space-use; one can choose from among a variety of circulation paths; and, if incompleteness and changeability are made a part of the spatial variety, one will be able to participate in the configuration of the place. 
Spatially varied spaces support more purposes and needs than ordinary places and, therefore, are more meaningful to more people over time. 
Spatial variety can be achieved by establishing an overall space (making the overall sensible), by making sure that each of the subspaces that comprise the overall have their own distinctive identity and spatial autonomy, and by developing mini-spaces of a variety of types within each of the subspaces. If this spatial variety is established, even more variety will emerge as various sub-configurations of spaces are identified by users. 
If all these ranges of space-types are achieved, then many place opportunities will be sensible, felt by people in the spaces. These opportunities will be the means by which those people can find an appropriate place for any purpose, state of mind, etc. and therefore the means by which they can find personal-ness, fit, and meaning.