Saturday, July 13, 2019

CSI’s Digital Badges


I received email notifications last week from the Construction Specifications Institute that I earned two “badges,” digital credentials available to all recipients of the CDT, CCCA, CCS, and CCPR certifications. CSI announced the advent of the badges with considerable fanfare, so of course I accepted the invitation and learned as much as I could about the new digital credentials program.

A primary purpose of the credentialing is to enhance the visibility of CSI’s certification programs within and beyond the design and construction industry. A secondary purpose is to provide certificants with an effective means to share their web-enabled credentials using a simple, trusted, and verifiable platform—a useful tool for an ever-expanding online marketplace. The badges provide concrete evidence to employers and peers of what was required to earn a particular CSI certification. Additionally, the badges help employers quickly and easily identify qualified job applicants. By accessing the badge information, an employer can confirm the skills it represents, when it was issued, who issued it, and when it expires.

CSI partnered with the company Credly to use its Acclaim platform—a leading digital credentialing solution for recognizing skills, capabilities, and achievements—to manage the badging program. Beyond the verification of certification it provides badge-holders, the program offers labor market insights, based on the certificant’s specific skillset, a substantial benefit to job-seekers. After setting up an Acclaim account, badge holders have access to a wealth of information, including listings of current professional opportunities exclusively available to individuals with the desired certification.

"Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!" (unless it's a CSI digital badge!) 

Ultimately, the benefits of the digital badging program to CSI should include increased engagement and improved member satisfaction. Industry associations like CSI have experienced widespread declines in their membership in recent years. Emerging professionals simply do not interact directly and network as much as older generations once preferred to do, choosing instead to virtually network and access educational content online. To stay relevant, CSI is rethinking its role and positioning itself to occupy an essential niche within tomorrow’s construction industry. Certainly, aggressively promoting the value CSI’s certification programs is one avenue toward building and sustaining relevance.

As the chair of the Willamette Valley Chapter’s Certification Committee, I’m a big cheerleader for the CSI certification programs. I’m happy anytime the Institute chooses to underscore their value and importance. I truly believe the programs are a fundamental part of the bedrock for CSI’s position of authority on construction communication and documentation.

If you’ve already earned any of the credentials offered by CSI, check your email account’s inbox. You should have received a message as I did for each of your certifications. Take the time to claim your badge(s), promote your accomplishment(s), and expand your personal brand. Unlock the benefits available to you by taking full advantage of the digital badging program.

For more information, check out CSI’s digital badges web page: https://www.csiresources.org/certification/certification-digital-badges


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sculpture and Architecture

Shortest Distance – sculpture by Cris Bruch (my photo)
 
Disclaimer: This has been a busy weekend for me, and I haven’t had the time to write a particularly thoughtful blog post, let alone a piece with any pretense of academic rigor on a topic that clearly demands it. So, consider the following as merely an off-the-cuff musing on a topic fraught with much more substance than I’m prepared to engage: the proper relationship between sculpture and the architecture it is meant to enhance. 

It is Cris Bruch’s sculpture Shortest Distance, which sits in front of the Wayne Lyman Morse United States Courthouse here in Eugene, that got me thinking. Bruch described his work as follows: 

“An interest in turbulence and flow prompted the initial concept for this sculpture. Friction and stress cause eddies, vortexes, counter-movements, and reversals of direction—an apt metaphor for how human institutions, such as the courts, develop in a democracy. Though progress may appear to have occurred in a straight line, this sculpture reminds us that the path is not always so direct.” 

Fair enough. Considered though against the backdrop of the Morphosis-designed courthouse—like the sculpture, itself shaped from brushed stainless steel—Shortest Distance resembles nothing if not a giant coiled shaving, an industrial byproduct of the courthouse’s manufacture. At least that’s where my mind goes first whenever I view it. In this respect, I don’t find it to be a particularly successful piece of art. I don’t immediately recognize Bruch’s metaphoric intent. And viewed through a lens focused upon form and composition, the sculpture’s relationship to light and the space around it, its materiality, and its scale and geometry are much too akin to the architecture of the courthouse. Most fundamentally, the artwork and the building do not enhance my appreciation for either. No meaning is evoked by their juxtaposition. Shortest Distance is an ineffective foil for the courthouse, and vice-versa. 

I do believe the design of the courthouse is much more successful in conveying meaning through its manifestly sculptural form than Shortest Distance is. I wasn’t immediately a fan of the building upon its completion in 2006. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate what Thom Mayne was able to achieve while employing Morphosis’ signature vocabulary of dynamic, edgy forms. The building does reflect his and his client’s (former U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan) contemporary understanding of law as fluid, interpretive, open-ended and responsive, while maintaining visceral and emotional connections to the symbols that clearly differentiate an institution of justice from any other. 

Would an entirely different sculpture be successful in ways I believe Shortest Distance is not? Perhaps, but what characteristics would it possess? 

A few pairings of modern sculpture and architecture immediately come to mind. The first is the setting of Georg Kolbe’s Alba (“Dawn”) in the small pond framed by the Barcelona Pavilion, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lili Reich. Another is Flamingo, created by Alexander Calder and located in the plaza in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building, coincidentally also designed by Mies. And finally, there is Henry Moore’s monumental bronze Knife Edge Mirror Two that stands like a sentinel next to the entrance of the I. M. Pei’s East Building of the National Gallery. In all three instances, the sculptures serve as counterpoints to the buildings they accompany. Through form, scale, color, and materials, these sculptures contrast with and enliven the space around and between them and the architecture. In the case of Calder's Flamingo and Moore's Knife Edge Mirror Two, historical accounts testify to the dialogue between the sculptors and the architects in the creation of intentionally unified compositions. 


Barcelona Pavilion; sculpture entitled "Alba" is at back (photo by Alexandru Ene [CC BY-SA 3.0 es (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/es/deed.en)]) 

The power of Kolbe’s Alba derives from its figurative expression. The statue contrasts curves of the female form with the rectilinear purity of the pavilion. The water in the pond and the building’s marble and glass ethereally reflect, refract, and repeat views of the sculpture. The effect is synergistic and timeless. 

Like Alba, the success of both Flamingo and Knife Edge Mirror Two is derived from the high degree of contrast with the structures they enfront. Though large and abstract in expressionthe two sculptures' organic shapes appear animate and help us gauge the scale of the buildings. 


"Flamingo" by Alexander Calder, in front of the Federal Building in Chicago.



"Knife Edge Mirror Two" bronze by Henry Moore, at the entrance to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art [https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.56664.html]

I firmly believe artwork meant to enrich a sense of place must be thought of as early as possible during a building’s design process. Merely assembling a collection of disparate, unrelated pieces of art and then attempting to identify the most suitable locations within which to display them assures a mediocre outcome. I contend Shortest Distance is a textbook example of “plop art,” a piece that is poorly integrated with the architecture it is intended to enhance. 

Many throughout history have regarded architecture to be the “mother of all arts” because master builders significantly employed the contributions of painters, sculptors, and decorative artists in their projects. These contributions enhanced architecture through the use of imagery, color, pattern, texture, and symbolism. Contemporary buildings can provide a supportive and sympathetic framework for the incorporation of visual art such as sculpture, even while adhering to tenets that may eschew direct ornamentation.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Architecture is Awesome #18: Evanescent Ruins

The New Hayward Field under construction (photo by me)

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

There is a phase during the construction of new buildings when I imagine them being the ruins they might one day become, objects of venerable decay rather than new symbols of optimism and progress. The fleeting charm of this phase is only present as the naked structures rise, as transient as the blooming of cherry blossoms; however, rather than the ephemeral vitality of the blossoms, their charm resides in their resemblance to the enduring remains of ancient civilizations. Whether the new buildings ever actually become aesthetically pleasing and durable ruins is immaterial.

Roman Forum (photo by Carla Tavares, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Internal View of the Atrium of the Portico of Octavia, from the Views of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Architects and historians since the Renaissance have romanticized the notion of ruins, so I suppose I follow in their footsteps. The 18th century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi was famous for his fantastical etchings, many of which depicted the ruins of Imperial Rome as metaphors for the imperfection and transience of human existence. Conversely, Louis Kahn contributed his notions of permanence, materiality, and memory to modern architecture. As architectural historian Vincent Scully wrote, Kahn wanted to “deal with beginnings—with the primeval reality of architecture as physical mass.

Acropolis, Athens - pastel sketch by Louis Kahn; 1951

Kahn believed that to create a work of architecture you need to picture it as a ruin. I suspect most architects today don’t always have this in mind, particularly imagining how similar to ancient remains their buildings might appear during construction. Nevertheless, I enjoy imagining works in progress as poetic ruins when I visit them at the right moment. With all the construction activity underway here in Eugene, there are plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Eugene Civic Park under construction (my photo)

The Market Expansion under construction (my photo)

I enjoy being an architect for many reasons. One of them is having an expansive capacity to engage in flights of fancy, which allows me to associate what is patently unfinished with the sublime, lasting, and AWESOME monuments of the past.

Next Architecture is Awesome:  #19 Every Day is Different

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Interviewing


My office (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc) recently participated in five interviews for potential clients—all inside a three-week span—and I personally was involved in four of the five. While not a remarkable number within such a short period to some firms, for a small one like ours it was unusual. Three of the five projects we pursued would be among the largest we might ever become involved with. In every instance, the interviews were part of formal, multi-step selection processes conducted by corporate clients or public agencies.

For each project, the process entailed an initial response to a Request for Qualifications, in which we described who we are, our relevant experience, and our proposed staffing and project approach. The interviews followed, which meant the selection committee for each client group ranked our team among the highest-scoring candidates for the job and worthy of further consideration.

Interviews are important for both us and our prospective clients. Meeting face-to-face gives everybody an opportunity to know each other better and judge whether the fit will be good for everyone proposed to be involved with the project. Communication style, experience, sense of flexibility, and chemistry all matter. I’m a firm believer in the value of an interview to clients when selecting their architects (and vice versa). More often than not, a project’s ultimate success comes down to relationships, which may be as complex and fraught as a marriage.  

Plenty of advice is available online or in books about how to deliver an effective presentation as part of an interview, so I won’t offer any of my own. What I will do is talk about our recent experiences from my perspective.

For me, the opportunity to put our best foot forward while competing for the most attractive projects is both exciting and satisfying. Exciting because the pursuit of the choicest jobs is exhilarating. Our office is energized by competition. Satisfying because each is a chance to hone our message and interview skills. This is particularly true as our younger staff assume leadership roles on our proposed project teams. Witnessing their professional growth and performance during the interviews is gratifying and bodes well for the future of RSA.

Part of the message we convey is what makes Robertson/Sherwood/Architects the right choice. The team we bring to the table is critical. This is why we welcome the opportunity to interview. We believe who we are is our strength. Pretty pictures of our past projects are helpful but what is absolutely necessary is gaining the confidence of the selection committee members by letting them know we have their interests in mind. This requires demonstrating an understanding of who they are and the unique concerns their projects raise, so it’s important the team members we present at interviews are well-versed on those points.  

We do sometimes need to partner with more substantial firms who bring the requisite portfolio of relevant projects and resources to our proposed teams for a project we’re interested in. This was the case in three of the five jobs we recently interviewed for. We’ve been very fortunate to team up with some outstanding offices over the years, among them Mahlum Architects, DLR Group, SRG Partnership, RDG Planning & Design, Rosser International, and Shepley Bulfinch. In every instance where we’ve done so, we first made sure the personalities of our firms were compatible and the approaches we bring to projects were complementary.

I have consistently found it reassuring in those instances we do partner with large practices of regional or national reach to find we’re not behind the curve when it comes to interviewing and presentation methods. They don’t use advanced presentation technologies that are light years beyond what we’re familiar with. The tools they employ are tried-and-true: PowerPoint, boards mounted on easels, etc. How we produce a presentation for a particular interview boils down to what we believe may be most appropriate to the specifics of the project we’re pursuing and what we know about the selection committee.

While I still sometimes have butterflies in my stomach before an interview, this is now more the exception than the rule. Age and experience, and with it a modicum of wisdom, undoubtedly contribute to the greater ease I feel today during presentations or interviews. It helps to confidently know what I know, and also what I don’t know. I’ve also learned to be present, physically in control, and relaxed as possible. I now actually enjoy participating in interviews.

FYI, our scorecard for the five projects we recently interviewed for is as follows: 
  • Wins: Two 
  • Losses: One 
  • Pending notification: Two

“You win some, you lose some, but real winners know losses make them stronger,” or so goes the tired old cliché. It’s true though—we do learn from each interview experience whether we win the job or not. Vying respectfully with our rivals in the pursuit of commissions is fun because it’s challenging, elicits our best efforts, and prompts us to recognize both our strengths and weaknesses.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Airplanes and Architecture

TWA Terminal, Eero Saarinen, architect - Photo byRoland Arhelger [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Several sources inspired this blog post: First, I recently read an article in the Architectural Review entitled Life on the ocean wave: Why architects are drawn to boats by English architect Edwin Heathcote. Heathcote’s piece recounts how the early Modernists looked to ocean liners as default monuments of modernity—the designs of which were driven (supposedly) by function and not tradition—to escape the tethers and confines of history and place. The AR article in turn prompted me to pull out and reread my dusty copy of Towards a New Architecture. The book—a collection of essays first published in the magazine L’Esprit Nouveau—was Le Corbusier’s strident call for a fundamental change in the way architects designed buildings. Corb looked not only to ocean liners but also to cars and planes as works that embodied the spirit of the Machine Age. He saw in their forms an expression of needs properly determined and solved.

I coincidentally made a trip this past weekend north to McMinnville to visit the Evergreen Air & Space Museum and take in some airplane porn. I’ve been an aviation buff since I was a little kid, having attended many airshows over the years and seeking out aerospace museums wherever I travel.(1) The Evergreen museum (home to Howard Hughes mammoth H-4 Hercules flying boat, more famously known as the “Spruce Goose”) has fallen on hard times recently(2), but its collection generally remains excellent.

My guess is, like Le Corbusier then and me today, many architects are drawn to functionally and aesthetically beautiful aircraft, if not also beautiful automobiles, boats, or trains. This attraction is in part instinctual but also intellectually grounded. We appreciate well-designed objects of all types because we immediately sense and also recognize upon examination the skill, insight, and patience demanded by the processes necessary for their successful realization.

Aeronautical engineers generally cannot separate appearance from utility. They find beauty in the elegant resolution of problems, wherein the maximum effect is achieved with a minimum of means. We’re fittingly awed by the genius and talent displayed by the designers of great aircraft.

In the essay Eyes That Do Not See included in Towards a New Architecture, Corb argued why it is only after the “question” of need is properly posed that the suitable solution is determined:

The War was an insatiable “client,” never satisfied, always demanding better. The orders were to succeed at all costs and death followed a mistake remorselessly. We may then affirm that the airplane mobilized invention, intelligence, and daring: imagination and cold reason. It is the same spirit that built the Parthenon.

Let us look at things from the point of view of architecture, but in the state of mind of the inventor of airplanes.

The lesson of the airplane is not primarily in the forms it has created, and above all we must learn to see in an airplane not a bird or a dragonfly, but a machine for flying; the lesson of the airplane lies in the logic which governed the enunciation of the problem and which led to its successful realization. When a problem is properly stated, in our epoch, it inevitably finds its solution.

Le Corbusier reasoned the work of engineers (whether associated with the design of airplanes, ocean liners, automobiles, or other products of the Machine Age) was a more suitable design paradigm for architects to follow, as opposed to approaches primarily founded upon stylistic considerations; however, it is for more than “cold reason” alone that we find the Parthenon or certain airplanes beautiful. Aesthetics are a factor, bringing into play sentiments of subjective judgment and taste. Le Corbusier may have openly regarded such sentiments in 1927 as outdated and irrational but he would later become famous for designing some of the most enigmatic and emotive works of architecture to be found anywhere.  

So beyond utility and performance, what makes a particular airplane beautiful? Aesthetics is most definitely a factor. Regardless of how well it may fulfill its functional brief, our judgment of a plane’s beauty relies heavily upon the non-utilitarian pleasure it provides, in some instances more so than its history of objective performance (or lack thereof) would warrant. Robert Goyer, Editor-in-Chief for Flying Magazine, may have said it best: “Beauty in an airplane comes from a symmetry of components, a coherent identity, and a compelling presence.”

Many aviation enthusiasts have created lists of the planes they consider most beautiful (examples: https://newatlas.com/most-beautiful-airplanes/54548/ and https://www.aviationcv.com/aviation-blog/2017/top-beautiful-airplanes-all-times). Coming up with my own list was tough. While several of my favorites regularly appear on others’ “most beautiful” rolls, some of my selections betray a preference for idiosyncratic and less-than-classically gorgeous models. All of my selections are ones I have seen in person, either as static displays or in flight. Unfortunately, I cannot claim to have actually flown in any of them.

In no particular order, here is this architect’s list of the ten most beautiful airplanes to have ever flown:

Supermarine Spitfire - Photo by Bryan Fury75 at French Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Supermarine Spitfire
The Spitfire is famous not only for its role in helping win the Battle of Britain during World War II but also for its good looks, featuring its distinctive elliptically shaped wings. The smooth lines and elegant curves of the wings are central to our perception of the Spitfire’s beauty. It’s telling that its clipped-wing variants are hardly considered beautiful at all, but rather mutilated and ill-proportioned.

Douglas DC-3 - Photo by Towpilot [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Douglas DC-3
Beyond its principal role in revolutionizing the air transport business during the late 1930s and later serving with distinction as a military transport, the Douglas DC-3 is admired for how pleasant its proportions are, a perfectly formed expression of an all-metal, modern airliner. I particularly like the appearance of examples of the DC-3 without paint, in gleaming, polished aluminum.

North American P-51 Mustang - Photo by Arpingstone [Public domain] 

North American P-51 Mustang
To me, the P-51 Mustang is the definitive U.S. Army Air Force fighter aircraft of the Second World War. It’s hard to define, but there’s something characteristically American about its appearance. For its time, it just looked advanced: the rounded, clear bubble canopy; the sharp geometry of its wings and tail; its forceful stance. Its superior performance certainly added to the Mustang’s deserved reputation.

Lockheed Super Constellation - Photo by Mike Lehmann [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Lockheed Super Constellation
Commercial air travel in the years following World War II was glamorous. The beauty of the Lockheed Constellation aptly suited those halcyon years. Instantly recognizable, the “Connie” was famous for its sensuously curved and streamlined fuselage and triple-tailed design. During its time before the advent of the jet age, it was the embodiment of fast, futuristic, and exciting travel. My parents flew aboard a Constellation to and from their 1957 honeymoon in Hawaii.

Piaggio Aero Avanti - Photo by Tibboh at French Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Piaggio Aero Avanti
The Piaggio P.180 Avanti is to Italian aviation what the sexiest Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati models are to Italian sports cars. Even today, more than three decades after its genesis, the Avanti’s unusual twin-pusher engine and canard configuration appears futuristic. Like its beautiful motorcar cousins, the turboprop-powered Avanti’s performance is phenomenal, rivaling that of many small business jets.
de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver (my photo)

de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
This is one selection some of you might find odd, given its prosaic bearing, but I find the DHC-2 Beaver beautiful for reasons beyond appearance alone. The sight of Beavers taking off and landing in Burrard Inlet was commonplace during my years growing up in Vancouver, B.C. The sound of their Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. radial engines was unmistakable.

Interestingly, I don’t find the later turboprop-powered versions of the Beaver attractive at all, especially the Mk 3 model with its angular vertical stabilizer and tailplane. The original Beavers, with their stubby nose and curved control surfaces, are simply perfect. It was, and is, the quintessential bush plane, designed for flight in rugged and remote areas of the world.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (my photo)

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
I think the SR-71 Blackbird looks like the otherworldly airplane Darth Vader would fly if he did not live a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Like Vader, it’s sinisterly clad in black. Its imposing size, combination of angular and smoothly curved geometries, and air of mystery make it menacingly beautiful. The Blackbird’s spectacular ability to cruise at more than Mach 3 and service height of 85,000 feet are unmatched to this day, an astonishing 55 years since its first flight.

Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing - Photo by Ahunt [Public domain]

Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing
There’s just something about many of the planes designed during the years of the Great Depression that is undeniably classy and sophisticated. The aerodynamic design of some of the most interesting influenced the Streamline Moderne variation of the Art Deco style. In turn, airplane designers incorporated aspects of the Streamline Moderne aesthetic to enhance the impression of efficiency, dynamism, and speed. Many consider the rakish Beechcraft Model 17--a textbook example of vintage Art Deco aircraft design--to be the epitome of aviation beauty,

de Havilland Comet - Photo by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

de Havilland Comet
The Comet was the world’s first commercial jetliner. Despite its troubled history (which included several tragic accidents), the Comet is beloved for its sleek appearance, attributable in no small part to the incorporation of its four turbojet engines within the wing roots (as opposed to being mounted in pods).

Ironically, the Royal Air Force ordered a specialized maritime patrol variant of the Comet (the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod) that was notable for its ungainly protuberances and the consequent clumsiness of its proportions, as ugly as the Comet was beautiful.

Concorde - Photo by Eduard Marmet [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2]

Aerospatiale/BAC Concorde
With its ogival delta-wing, streamlined fuselage, and needle-nosed profile, the supersonic Concorde is instantly recognizable. Yes, it was wildly expensive to design and build, costly to operate (and thus accessible to only the wealthiest travelers), and noisy (limiting where it could actually operate), but it is undeniably beautiful. I saw one fly overhead one day and was awestruck by its alien appearance.

Concorde does raise the question of whether a plane’s beauty should be considered irrespective of its shortcomings. Framing it in architectural terms, is a building truly beautiful if it fails to perform as expected? Looks aside, should we honor designs that are dysfunctional, unsupportive, or unsympathetic to their inhabitants and surroundings? The answer to these questions is clearly “no.”

*    *    *    *    *    *

What do you think? Do you agree with my selections? Do you have your own favorite airplanes and if so, why are they your favorites? One of the great things about being architects is that we enjoy a heightened appreciation for beautiful things, whether they’re buildings or other marvels of design and engineering, such as aircraft.


(1)   In addition to the Evergreen Museum, I’ve visited the following (I know I’m forgetting others)
  • Canadian Museum of Flight, Langley, BC 
  • Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, Anchorage, AK
  • Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Merritt Island, FL
  • Pacific Aviation Museum, Pearl Harbor, HI
  • Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York, NY 
  • Oregon Air and Space Museum, Eugene 
  • Tillamook Air Museum, Tillamook 
  • Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA 
  • National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

(2)   The museum has struggled financially, and lamentably did sell off key pieces of its collection to help pay bills, including the Vought F4U Corsair, P-51 Mustang, B-17G Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, Messerschimitt Bf 109G, and Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI. https://www.oregonlive.com/business/2018/09/air_museum_landlord_crashes_to.html