Sunday, December 2, 2018

Getting my Hygge On

I learned a new word this past week—hygge—which is the Danish term for coziness and comfortable conviviality. Apparently, an appreciation for the hygge things in life and applying a stylish flair to the pursuit of everyday happiness is characteristically Danish. Many here in the U.S. would do well to likewise learn how to recognize warmth and comfort in simple things and activities. Living in and acknowledging the moment is something too few of us do well. Those who have taken notice are promoting hygge as a lifestyle trend.

The fact I hadn’t heard of hygge until just now isn’t particularly surprising: Most fads are past their “best by” date by the time I discover them. Case in point: The New York Times pronounced 2016 as “The Year of Hygge,” so here I am a full two years behind the curve. How does this happen? Numerous books, blogs, magazines, TV networks, and more have all extolled the virtues of hygge style, without my notice(1).  
While the popularity of the concept in this country may be fleeting as fashion-mavens look for the next craze, hygge has long been engrained in the Danish way of life and isn’t likely to ever disappear. Hygge places a high value on the sharing of life together, on rituals, and humility. Nordic cultures undoubtedly cultivated hygge because their cold and dark winters brought people close together, so shared experiences were necessarily a part of their lives. The fact the citizens of Denmark are said to be the happiest in the world is in part because hygge is central to their sense of well-being. 

The places we live, work, and play in can foster hygge, which is why the concept intrigues the architect in me. Is there a reason why any of our architecture shouldn’t be hyggelig? Why shouldn’t we strive to design places that are unapologetically pleasant and welcoming, places that make people feel sheltered, safe, and content? It’s human nature to seek comfort and protection, the togetherness of family and the company of good friends. We like snuggling up and getting cozy because it makes us feel good. Hyggelig buildings and places, which I imagine most everyone would instinctively recognize, are ones essentially attuned to human nature. 

The older I get, the more I am learning to appreciate the importance of happiness, living in the moment, and being at peace with my world even as the greater world around all of us becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Those who know me do know how much of a struggle it is for me to slow down and simply relax. I would be well-served to get my hygge on. 

If I can make hygge a part of my life, I will have metaphorically built myself a warm and cozy shelter because I will have learned to enjoy the present more simply and slowly. If I approach design with hygge in mind, I will contribute to architecture that equally helps others be centered, at-home, and comfortable in their surroundings.

(1)  Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been a trend-chaser. No one has ever accused me of being hip, stylish, or fashionable. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

CoLA: Review-Overview-Preview

The upcoming November meeting of the AIA-Southwestern Oregon Chapter, which will occur this coming Wednesday, November 28, will feature a presentation by the members of the AIA-SWO Eugene-Springfield Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA), along with special guest Will Dowdy, Urban Development Manager for the City of Eugene. 

The presentation’s objectives will include the following: 
  • Building awareness of AIA advocacy at the national, state, and local levels, the mechanisms for each, and the strength of professional associations in advocating for positive outcomes on issues that benefit from the expertise of design professionals.
  • Reviewing the adopted AIA federal policy agenda, released earlier this month. The policy agenda includes affordable housing and expanded tax credits, sustainability and tax incentives for retrofits, school safety design, student loan debt forgiveness for architectural graduates, resilience design and disaster response, and tax repeal on foreign entities.
  • Reviewing the history and mission of CoLA. The committee’s areas of emphasis have included various issues of local importance to AIA-SWO, and advocacy for positions of common professional interest. 
  • Introducing the current members of CoLA, who will be on hand to answer questions and lead the evening’s presentation. 
  • Calling for those who may be interested in being a member of CoLA during the coming year. 
  • Conducting an overview of selected CoLA issues during 2018. These have included the affordable housing crisis, the work of Better Housing Together (BHT) in moving toward solutions to that crisis, and support for and participation in the community forum BHT hosted; monitoring the River Road corridor planning work and City of Eugene efforts to increase density along that major transit corridor; and support for careful planning in the redesign of the Park Blocks as part of a newly imagined Town Square (including publishing an op-ed piece in The Register-Guard and another here on my blog). 
  • Previewing what CoLA plans to focus upon during 2019. 
The meeting will also feature a presentation by Will Dowdy on the subject of the City of Eugene’s proposed Town Square project (Park Blocks, year-round Farmers’ Market, and new City Hall) and how AIA-SWO members may contribute to its design. He’ll report on the status of the current RFQ/RFP selection process, the timeline for key decisions by City Council, and the goals for a proposed peer design review process. 

There will be plenty of time during the chapter meeting for questions and discussion. As one of the current CoLA members, I encourage you to attend and let me and my fellow committee members know your thoughts. We’ve tried to be proactive and visible during 2018. Our hope is to carry our momentum into 2019, bring aboard new blood and energy, and continue to be relevant advocates for design excellence in the service of ensuring the Eugene-Springfield community enjoys a healthy, inclusive, and livable future. 

What:               AIA-Southwestern Oregon November Chapter Meeting 

When:              Wednesday, November 28, 2018; 5:30 – 7:30 PM 

Where:             The Loft at Turtles, 2690 Willamette St, Eugene (enter off 27th Ave) 

Cost:                No meeting charge. Food/beverages at cost from Turtles menu. 

CEU:                (1.00) AIA LU

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thankfulness for Work & Cats


Time spent with cats is never wasted - Sigmund Freud

An architect’s lot in life is inextricably tied to the boom and bust cycles of the construction industry, and in turn those of the broader economy. There’s an overabundance of work to be done right now—we’re definitely at the “boom” end of the busyness spectrum. I sense that most every architectural firm in Oregon has their hands full and more. My office is no exception; we’re as busy as we’ve ever been, and shorthanded to boot. It all adds up: a seemingly endless series of deadlines, constant pressure, and long hours. The toll paid, predictably, is an unhealthy level of stress. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m unbelievably fortunate to do what I do for a living, and the problems I have are definitely of the First World variety. I’m especially privileged because I’m blessed with a variety of ways for managing the stress in my life. These include being part of Eugene Taiko, cheering on University of Oregon athletics teams, immersing myself in nature, reading, scheduling regular therapeutic massage sessions, blogging, and being happily married. Certainly, another significant and singularly pleasant stress-buster is enjoying the company of our three cats. 

This really was the point of this blog post—I spent most of this weekend at the office, so I had far less time than usual to compose a thoughtful blog entry. What could I write about that wouldn’t tax too many of my brain cells, yet might still pass as topical? The answer was waiting for me at home. I stepped through the door and there they were: our feline companions—Jasper, Luna, and Grizzie—adorably furry, purring stress-busters, who genuinely enjoy (rather than merely tolerate) my company. 

My wife and I don’t have kids, so the kitties are our “children.” They repay the comfort, food, and care we give them many times over with loyalty, unconditional love, and affection. They provide us with a sense of purpose and distract us from our day-to-day problems. 

A significant and welcome byproduct is the health benefit of cat ownership. Medical researchers point to convincing evidence suggesting having cats reduces the risk of having a stroke or heart attack by as much as a third. Simply being around cats can alleviate depression, lower blood pressure, and improve mood. I know Jasper, Luna, and Grizzie help me cope with my job-related stress. I’m grateful for their companionship. Most importantly, I can always count on our cats to give me a reason to laugh and be happy. 

The glass is either half empty or half full. This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. I’m crazy busy at work right now, but I’m also appreciative of how meaningful my work is and everything else I have in my life. I wish all of you the best as well. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lowell Covered Bridge

The Lowell Covered Bridge (all photos by me)

Work has been keeping me busier lately than I prefer, but I did set aside a few hours this past weekend to soak in some bright fall sunshine and take a scenic drive through the countryside with my wife. The two of us headed south and east from Eugene along Highway 58 toward Oakridge. In addition to stopping by the Lowell Grange’s annual Holiday Craft Fair (yes, it’s already that time of year), we had to check out the Lowell Covered Bridge.

My wife and I enjoy visiting Lane County’s many historic covered bridges. I wrote a blog post a few years back chronicling our tour of six nearby, well-preserved examples: Centennial, Chambers Railroad, Currin, Dorena, Mosby Creek, and Stewart. The Lowell Covered Bridge is likewise well-maintained, and additionally features a picture-perfect wayside and informative interpretive center. The mirror-smooth surface of the Dexter Reservoir and mountainous backdrop provide postcard-ready views of the bridge. There is an information kiosk outside, and a series of panels along the gangway leading to the west end of the bridge documenting a timeline of Oregon's covered bridges. Within the bridge, additional information panels further document the history of the Lowell Covered Bridge.

Interpretive panels inside the bridge.

The interpretive displays describe the construction of the Lowell Bridge and identify its builders. There's also a detailed scale model (built by history buff John McWade), which includes sections cut away to reveal the structure concealed inside. 

The following are excerpts from the displays:

Oregon’s Covered Bridges
Oregon’s covered bridge building tradition dates back to the 1850’s, and lasted well into the 20th century, long after these rustic structures were relics elsewhere. By 1925, there were approximately 450 covered bridges along Oregon’s highways and county roads, and the state’s highway department supplied covered bridge designs to local agencies until the 1950s. Currently, Oregon has more than 50 publicly accessible covered bridges, 45 of which are historic truss-type bridges. Today, new vehicular covered bridges area generally built to replace existing older covered bridges—thus ending a grand era.

Lane County was one of the most prolific bridge-building counties in Oregon, and today it has more covered bridges than any other county, sixteen of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the turn of the 20th century, wagonloads of settlers and supplies traveling along the Oregon Central Military Wagon Road stopped here to board Amos D. Hyland’s ferry to cross the Willamette River. As more and more settlers traveled the route, locals petitioned for a bridge to bypass Hyland’s expensive ferry. In 1907, Lane County officials hired Oregon bridge builder “Nels” Roney to construct a covered bridge.

Trained under A.S. Miller, Nels Roney utilized his carpentry skills and learned the art of Covered Bridges. After a near-fatal accident, he retired for a time, but later returned as a foreman. Roney eventually started his own business and constructed nearly 100 covered bridges throughout Oregon and California—including the 1907 Lowell Covered Bridge.

The original Lowell Bridge lasted over 30 years, until increased wear and damage from truck traffic prompted replacement. The old bridge was replaced in 1945 with a new bridge built by Lance County bridge foreman Walt Sorensen. It was covered two years later. The bridge’s size (a 165-foot span and 24-foot width) was designed the heavy logging-truck traffic of that era. Wood used to construct the bridge likely came from the nearby Willamette National Forest. Longtime area residents remember the days when trucks waited in line, three or four at a time, to haul their loads of Douglas-fir through the bridge toward Springfield.

Brothers Miller and Walt Sorensen were prolific Lane County bridge builders from the 1920s to the 1960s. Between them, they were responsible for the construction of 16 covered bridges. One or both of the brothers built or re-built many Lane County bridges.

In 1953, the Army Corps of Engineers was finishing construction of Dexter Dam, just downstream of the Lowell Bridge. When complete, the dam would create a reservoir that would threaten the bridge. Guided by engineers, Walt Sorensen supervised the raising of the bridge seven feet. Their calculations proved accurate, and the reservoir has never risen closer than two feet from the bottom of the bridge.

Immense Douglas fir members are the components for the two Howe trusses supporting the span.

Why is a covered bridge covered? The house of a covered bridge was originally designed to protect the bridge timbers from weather and thus extend its life. 

The truss is the bridge’s “backbone”—the primary structural component of a covered bridge. Truss designs were patentable, and bridge building firms owned licenses to use patented truss designs—sometimes paying handsome royalties by the foot. The original 1907 Lowell Bridge used a Howe Truss, as does the now-rehabilitated 1945 bridge that replaced it.

Covered bridge architecture is simple and functional. Concerns over light and visibility along the inside passage inspired designers to incorporate distinctively shaped windows to fit in the spaces between the trusses. The bridge designers’ creative efforts also affected the design of the bridge portals; a close study will discern subtle differences in style.

Bridge Maintenance
Covered bridges, like the Lowell Covered Bridge, must be maintained to protect their timbers and keep them functional. The green wood of the truss members and decking shrinks with age, and the abutment timbers shift and settle. Wind, ice, and water scour the siding and shingles. These problems, coupled with damage from high waters, vandals, constant traffic, and heavy loads can weaken the bridge. The result is broken or irreparably damaged members that must be replaced.
Valued by the foot.

*    *    *    *    *    *

As I stated in my previous blog post, I find the absolute lack of pretense, and the clear, unadorned, and unaffected forms of Lane County’s covered bridges tremendously appealing. We’re fortunate we still have these vestiges of a simpler time with us to visit and enjoy.

If you’d like to see the Lowell Covered Bridge, travel south from Eugene on Interstate 5, and then take Highway 58 east to Lowell. Lowell is on the south side of Dexter Lake. The bridge is impossible to miss from the highway, where it serves as a prominent gateway to the town.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Portland Building Redux

Portland Building renovation in progress (photo courtesy of Carla Weinheimer, DLR Group)

It was only a few years ago that the fate of the Portland Building was in question. Primarily due to problems associated with its shoddy and cheap original construction, the City of Portland seriously contemplated razing the structure or otherwise disposing of it as surplus property after little more than 35 short years of life. I contributed to the debate then by advocating for its preservation on the grounds that it held historic significance as the first large-scale example of Postmodern architecture in the country. Notwithstanding what I and many others regarded as its “superficial and inelegant design . . . ill-proportioned and lacking in scale,” the fact is the Portland Building has become an iconic and inextricable part of Portland’s quirky charm. Additionally, in 2011 the design by the late Michael Graves was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its significance to the history of architecture. 

By 2015, Portland city councilors chose to move forward with a $195 million plan to reconstruct the Portland Building, its role as the civic government’s primary administrative office space thus being assured. In July of 2017, Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commission also voted to accept what proved to be a controversial renovation plan for the building. Strict preservationists had objected to the significant physical changes deemed necessary by the progressive design-build team led by the Portland office of architects DLR Group and construction manager Howard S. Wright. The plans include over-cladding with a new rainscreen enclosure, replacement of the original dark-tinted windows with clear glass, partial infilling of the street level loggias, repurposing of the underground vehicular parking with new uses, and a complete renovation of the tower’s interiors to provide brighter, more attractive spaces for the 1,700 city employees who will return to work there. 

Despite deeming the extent of the proposed renovation an “extreme measure,” the City’s Landmarks Commission recognized traditional methods of preservation or restoration would not adequately solve the chronic water infiltration and environmental quality issues afflicting the building. Additionally, the Commission cited the National Register of Historic Places’ listing of the project in 2011 primarily for its unique and groundbreaking design, articulated with color, symbolism, and decoration, rather than for the specifics of its construction. The Landmarks Commission acknowledged that while DLR’s solution will permanently alter the original materials of the Portland Building, the integrity of the overall design will remain. 

I’m likewise confident the completed project will be true to the essence of the original design. I actually believe the application of new materials will enhance its integrity and come closer in some respects to Michael Graves’ original aesthetic intentions. As I mentioned previously, Graves lamented the inadequacy of the project’s construction budget and how it forced his firm to make some painful design compromises. DLR’s senior associate in charge of the renovation’s design, Carla Weinheimer(1), AIA, DBIA, told me the members of Grave’s former office support the proposed modifications, believing their founder would have recommended similar improvements. 

There’s no doubt that when completed the Portland Building will not be the same. It will look different to many who may have not visited it since before its refurbishment, but they might have a hard time putting a finger on why it is seems so. When the reconstruction is done in 2020, the Portland Building will be a much-improved place to visit and work, absolutely weathertight, more energy efficient, and better able to resist seismic events. I’m looking forward to seeing it then and deciding for myself whether the changes to the building’s appearance have too dramatically altered its character. 

Rendering by DLR of the finished project.

A fundamental shortcoming of doctrinaire historic preservation is its inflexibility. Successful buildings are living things that evolve and adapt over time. Increased flexibility in preservation practices would allow for individual solutions—varying from case to case—that account for current needs while preserving cultural heritage. Despite the preservationists concerns about how much the planned changes would alter the Portland Building’s appearance, I think the Landmarks Commission exercised common sense and correctly assessed the nature of the challenges DLR confronted in the development of its design solution. 

A century from now, I expect the Portland Building will be standing, cherished and protected by generations of future Portlanders for the same idiosyncrasies that once drew scorn from legions of detractors. The recent controversies surrounding its fate will have been forgotten or judged a trivial footnote. What’s important is that the evocative design will still be there, contributing to the textured and meaningful layering of downtown Portland.

(1)  I presently enjoy the pleasure of collaborating with Carla on a scoping study for the proposed new Lane County Courthouse in Eugene. DLR and my firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects are working together on the study, with Carla and I serving as project managers for our respective firms.