Sunday, January 25, 2015

Shared Vision

Bob Simmons, FCSI, CCPR speaking at the January 22, 2015 Willamette Valley Chapter CSI meeting (photo by Steven Leuck, CSI, CDT)
The first Willamette Valley Chapter CSI meeting of 2015 featured Robert W. Simmons, FCSI, CCPR, current president of the Construction Specifications Institute. A relatively small but dedicated gathering of members was on hand to hear Bob present a version of his “Shared Vision” speech, which he first delivered at the CONSTRUCT conference in Baltimore last September. 
What will CSI look like in five years? That was the question Bob posed and one he most resolutely believes the institute is ready to answer. Despite declining membership during the Great Recession, he is confident CSI will not only rebound but thrive in an era when other professional associations are struggling to survive and remain relevant. He explained how CSI is moving strategically toward value propositions that will position the organization as the preeminent educator of the construction industry. There is no doubt he trusts educational offerings will drive CSI’s membership and growth in the future. 
Bob cited a number of current and proposed programs as evidence of CSI’s commitment in this regard: 
  • The annual CONSTRUCT show, with its plethora of professional development courses supporting personal and professional growth.
  • The CSI Academies, which foster broader industry participation by teaching construction industry skills and sharing research and technology.
  • The Building Technology Education Task Team and its recommendation to create a Building Technology Education Program that would benefit the industry by raising the technical knowledge of participants.
  • BSD SpecLink, the most advanced master guide specification system available.
  • The Master Specifiers Retreat, which brings together senior specifiers from across the country for a focused weekend of education and group networking.
  • CSI’s popular certification programs, which are recognized throughout the industry as evidence of a proven level of education, knowledge, and experience in construction documents.
  • CSI’s various practice guides and workbooks, which are updated regularly to ensure they remain cutting-edge document tools.
  • Creative outreach to affiliated industry and allied organizations like Construction Specifications Canada, the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Professional Estimators, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, expanding mutual influences through education and certification.
Bob rhapsodized about how CSI has streamlined these and other programs to better serve our industry, focusing on those that best support CSI’s membership and mission. He spoke of “building for the future to make CSI a valuable resource in the 21st century to our membership, allied partners, and the construction industry.” He firmly believes CSI is fulfilling its promise of value to current and prospective members by emphasizing educational opportunities as its primary platform. 

I appreciated Bob’s rhetorical flourish and enthusiasm for the strategic initiatives he is championing; that being said, the institute must truly deliver on these promises of value lest we find ourselves regarding his words as mere platitudes. In my opinion the future success of CSI is entirely dependent upon embracing change and seizing a leadership role in a constantly evolving construction industry. Simply reacting to forces beyond our control will not turn the tide of membership loss. 

Is membership growth essential to CSI's future?
There’s no doubt education is the key to expanding professional opportunities. Part of the institute’s current educational strategy is to make many of its programs available online and otherwise to non-members. By providing valuable content this way, CSI’s hope is to broaden its reach. In turn, the institute would expand its base, attracting more people to the organization.

Like other common-interest groups or associations that formed in pre-Internet days, CSI is confronting the fact there are so many other ways for people to spend their diminishing discretionary time. Young professionals in particular seem to have limited time for or interest in volunteer and membership activities after work and family obligations. As Bob reported, CSI has in response been re-tooling its programs to offer more “value” to help recruit and retain members.

What previously served as a raison d’être for membership—access to an industry-specific body of knowledge that was otherwise hard to come by—has been thrown aside by universal Internet access. People don’t want to pay memberships fees for content they can easily get for little or no cost elsewhere. Why buy a cow when you can get the milk for free?

Membership is essential to the success of most professional associations; however, the pace and unpredictability of forces beyond their control brings into question the tenet that membership should be a principal measure of success. Perhaps Bob’s “build it and they will come” educational strategy is correct. Perhaps CSI’s membership growth should hinge upon first attracting young professionals to a broad menu of relevant and effective educational offerings. Perhaps these future industry leaders will become CSI members because they understand how CSI can help them.

I still believe membership in the organization has other benefits. First and foremost is the social capital it confers. Before I became a CSI member, my contacts among the many non-architect participants involved with construction projects were most often limited to job-related exchanges. Seldom were my encounters of an informal or social nature with contractors or the others. My association with the Willamette Valley Chapter broke down the unspoken barriers I was accustomed to, allowing me to develop meaningful cross-disciplinary relationships. Today, these relationships have improved my effectiveness as an architect. There’s no substitute for mutual respect and friendship when it comes to working together to successfully complete complex and difficult projects.

Another huge reason why membership in CSI should be regarded as essential is precisely the tidal wave of information we all manage on a daily basis in order to be effective construction professionals. This holds true whether you’re an architect, a specifier, a contractor, a construction products representative, or a building owner.

I wrote a post a while back about how there exists an opportunity for CSI to seize the proverbial brass ring, one it may lose if it doesn’t act soon and decisively. I pointed out how construction is increasingly dependent upon the effective conveyance of design intent. Our world is only becoming more complex and litigious, not less, and achieving a desired end is commensurately more difficult. The bottom line is clear, concise, complete, and correct construction documents will always be critical to the success of projects. This is the message the institute needs to spread.

CSI should own the training ground for the digital information gatekeepers that everyone—architects, engineers, contractors, and facility managers—will rely upon during design, construction, and beyond. These “knowledge managers” will help realize the full potential of Building Information Modeling and perhaps tilt the project-control pendulum back toward architects, who have abdicated so much in recent decades to others more willing to assume the mantle of master builder (as Bob says, CSI should “own BIM”).

Should this scenario play itself out, society will regard those well-versed in construction communications as among the most valued members of the design and construction industry. Rather than fated for obsolescence as some in the industry are predicting, specification writing and construction information management may be the sector best poised for significant growth within the industry. In particular, specifiers are and will continue to be the indispensable managers of a project’s DNA—the information essential to its successful realization.

Emerging professionals should recognize that a career dedicated to the management of a project’s knowledge base can be both intellectually and professionally rewarding, not to mention lucrative. Being a member of the Construction Specifications Institute should be cool because real power and authority comes with being a knowledge manager. I contend this is essential to attracting and retaining those of the millennial generation all professional associations covet the most: the smart future leaders who will shape our industry for decades to come.

There needs to be a cachet that comes with CSI membership, and that should be the privilege to associate with like-minded thinkers who appreciate and promote excellence in construction documentation and communication. Like Bob, I think education is a key. I also happen to believe we shouldn’t undersell what comes with the full value of membership. If CSI doesn’t manage its message well, it will continue to “gray” and lose members to age and retirement. That would be a shame and a golden opportunity will have passed us by. If done well, the institute will buck trends by growing and thriving in an era when other professional associations are losing influence.

*    *     *     *     *     *
Thanks to Bob for visiting the Willamette Valley Chapter and describing for us his vision for the future of CSI. His tenure as CSI’s president lasts through June of this year. He is also the president/CEO of his own company, RW Simmons & Associates, an independent product representative firm located in Federal Way, Washington. Bob is a member of three Northwest chapters (Puget Sound, Mt Rainier, and Big Sky), and has served in leadership roles at all levels of CSI. You can reach him via e-mail at

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Professional Pin-Up

Carl Sherwood, AIA (light green shirt) presents the UO Student Recreation Center Expansion Project (all photos by Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA unless otherwise noted)
A regular fixture on the annual AIA-SWO calendar has been the “reverse crit,” an opportunity for University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts students to review the work of local professionals. The latest edition of this enjoyable event occurred last Wednesday. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend but by all accounts it was a success. With delectable and free pizza available (courtesy of Track Town Pizza, my favorite pizza joint!), plenty of students seized the opportunity to discuss real-life projects with the architects responsible for their design. 
The firms who participated this year and the projects they presented were: 
Mark Young, AIA describes Rowell Brokaw Architects' work in progress on the ATA Middle School.

Anita Van Esperdt (left) and Jenna Fribley, AIA point out the features of their Cat's Ear Savannah project.
Tricia Berg, AIA and Paul Harman, AIA explain PIVOT Architecture's initial concepts for the new Eugene YMCA.
The event was co-hosted by the University of Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students. New this year was the opportunity for the students to vote for what they believed to be the most deserving projects in several categories. The award winners were: 
  • Most Sustainable: University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion 
  • Best Response to Context: Cat’s Ear Savannah 
  • Most Creative Use of Materials: Peterson Residence 
  • Most Intriguing Presentation: University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion 
  • Best Overall Design: University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion
The AIAS presented awards in five different categories (photo by AIAS University of Oregon)
The Professional Pin-Up is an excellent example of the synergy between local professionals and the School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Both benefit by the opportunity to interact in creative and educational ways. Although I missed this year’s event, I look forward to attending again in the future, helping to continue what has become a welcome tradition.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Main Street Corridor Vision Plan Open House

The City of Springfield is hosting a public Open House for the Main Street Corridor Vision Plan on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 between 4:00 and 6:00 PM. It will take place at the Springfield City Hall Library Meeting Room and feature a drop-in session with members of the City’s project team. The team will present the results of the year-long community effort to create a vision for land use and transportation in the next 20 years. 
The City’s goals for the Vision Plan include anticipating both short-term and long-term changes along the entire length of the 7-mile long Main Street corridor. The study area includes the one-way couplet of Main Street and South A Street from 10th Street east to 20th Street and also Main Street from 20th Street east to 69th Street. The Plan will ultimately guide future planning and development in the area, identifying the community’s preferred future for the corridor. 
The Vision entails: 
  • Encouraging economic revitalization and land use redevelopment
  • Providing transportation choices to residents, businesses and commuters to encourage individual and community well-being and public safety
  • Improving transportation safety and access for walkers, cyclists, transit riders and drivers along and through the corridor
  • Improving aesthetics on Main Street, making it an attractive place to live, work and shop
  • Creating Main Street identities
Ultimately, the Main Street Corridor Vision Plan will inform future amendments to Springfield’s comprehensive plan and zoning for land in the corridor. 

The Plan’s implementation strategy includes sustaining community involvement, of which Tuesday’s open house is a part. Springfield is seriously thinking about the future. There’s no doubt that as the Main Street Corridor goes, so will Springfield. If you’re a Springfield resident, or simply someone who wishes to understand and contribute to the discussion, be sure not to miss learning more about the objectives of the Main Street Corridor Vision Plan.

What:    Main Street Vision Plan Open House 

When:   Tuesday, January 20, 2015 between 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM 

Where:  Springfield City Hall Library Meeting Room, 225 Fifth Street, Springfield, OR 97477

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Rec

The University of Oregon's completed Student Recreation Center Expansion (left in photo). Image from the UO Student Recreation Center's Facebook page)
With great fanfare, the University of Oregon celebrated the opening on January 5 of its newly expanded and renovated Student Recreation Center. Thousands of giddy students poured through the doors, awestruck by the shiny, feature-packed, state-of-the-art temple to fitness. No small number acknowledged the facility’s significance, having overwhelmingly chosen to finance $50 million in improvements by means of a substantial student fee levy. The joyous occasion served as vindication of the trust they invested in a design concept that now stands as their legacy to future generations of Ducks.
It was also a proud moment for the members of Robertson/Sherwood/ Architects (the firm I work for), especially so for Carl Sherwood, AIA and Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA. Carl provided leadership for the large, multidisciplinary design team (which included RDG Planning & Design of Des Moines, IA and Poticha Architects of Eugene), and Jenni served as Carl’s primary backup throughout the construction period. These two worked tirelessly, shedding blood, sweat, and tears to help ensure the project’s success. 
Likewise, the celebration marked a satisfying milestone for Howard S. Wright Construction (HSW) and its legions of skilled and dedicated subcontractors. They completed the enormously complex project on schedule, within a timeline for which the adjective “aggressive” is most definitely an understatement. Kudos to HSW for making the seemingly impossible a reality.

View from Functional Training area. Photo by Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA

It was just last June that I blogged about how the project was taking shape. It was still very much a work in progress back then. Construction was perhaps only half complete, but it was easy to picture what it would look like when finished. Now that opening day has come, it’s clear our team has fulfilled the university’s vision of a modern, energy-efficient student recreation facility meeting both current and future needs.

The new natatorium. Photo by Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA

The university marked the achievement by affectionately rechristening the Student Recreation Center as “The Rec” on opening day.
Looking down on "Main Street." Photo by Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA

The photos I’ve posted here only hint at how massive the makeover is. What was previously cramped, dark, or simply obsolete is now spacious, bright, and high-tech. The facility boasts new group exercise and yoga studios, a new cycling studio, expanded fitness spaces, an extended rock climbing wall, a new natatorium, a new gymnasium, and generous social and lounge spaces, arrayed across 110,000 square feet of new space and 40,000 square feet of renovated area. The design exceeds State Energy Efficient Design (SEED) standards, having targeted the UO Model of Sustainable Development, which demands 35% more energy efficiency than Oregon Energy Code requirements. The project is on track to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
The Great Hall. Photo by Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA
The design incorporates expansive walls of glass, inside and out, allowing students to see and be seen at The Rec, drawing even more people into the building. The multilevel, spatially dynamic interior lets students visually shop the recreation programs and choose to participate actively or vicariously. Sections of the building have their own names: “Uptown,” for the cardio and weightlifting areas; “Midtown,” for the lobby, rock gym and rooms for fitness classes; and “Downtown,” for the aquatics facility. The student-centered ambiance is inviting, airy, and full of energy. 
The Rec also features integrated art, funded by Oregon’s 1% for Art in Public Places program.

Integrated art in the Great Hall. Image from the UO Student Recreation Center's Facebook page)
Radically transformed, The Rec is now unrivaled among the country’s campus recreation centers. Like the University of Oregon’s peerless athletic facilities, The Rec is top-notch, the standard against which others will be compared. 
More than ever before, the student recreation center is a focus of campus life, a de rigueur fixture on the college landscape. In today’s competitive world of higher education, the quality and amenities of the center are often key factors in the recruitment and retention of prospective students. A well-designed recreation facility is clearly important to both the university administration and those who attend the institution. We’re confident The Rec will reinforce the University of Oregon’s core academic mission by enhancing overall college satisfaction and success, and supporting happier, healthier, and more contented students.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Year-In-Review Blog Meme

Under the belt: Another trip around the sun.
Oh, yippee. I’m falling into the trap of one of those year-in-review memes. And look, the calendar has already turned, so I’m late to the party to boot. 
The rule of this meme is to only feature the first sentence of the first SW Oregon Architect post I published each month during 2014. So, let’s see what we’ve got: 
January: The fate of the Portland Building is in question. [link] (1) 
February: One of my favorite websites is 1000 Awesome Things, a Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. [link
March: The February 2014 issue of ARCHITECT, which is the magazine of the American Institute of Architects, includes a report by contributing editor Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson announcing the AIA’s decision to design an original typeface for its use. [link
April: Last month’s meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute’s Willamette Valley Chapter featured a presentation by Gabe Cross, LEED AP BD+C about the Living Building Challenge (LBC). [link
May: Last month’s meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute’s Willamette Valley Chapter featured a presentation by University of Oregon associate professor Virginia Cartwright about the development of luminous themes in the work of Alvar Aalto. [link
June: There’s more to paint than meets the eye. [link
July: 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. [link
August: As its appointment with the wrecking ball nears, Eugene’s vacated, mid-century modern city hall finds itself at the center of a fervent debate. [link
September: AIA-SWO chapter president Scott Clarke, AIA, recently emailed a momentous letter to chapter members. [link
October: The future of power transmission is here. [link
November: For its October 2014 meeting, the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute enjoyed having Cherise Schacter, CSI, CDT deliver an excellent presentation on social networking basics. [link
December: The Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute always endeavors to provide excellent continuing education opportunities to everyone in the local design and construction industry. [link
*    *    *    *    *   
Because the monthly CSI chapter meetings I attended occurred near the end of the proceeding month,  more of my first posts each month ended up being about the topic of those meetings. Perhaps I'll jump on a different meme next year to mix things up a bit.
Shameless plug: Standing alone, some of these first sentences actually sound intriguing, don’t they? Click on the links to read each month’s entire post.

(1)   FYI, my first entry of 2014 also happened to be my most widely read post of the entire year.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Case Study – Part 6: Modesty

The administration of the VA Roseburg Healthcare System has christened its new Community Living Center Expansion as “The Lodge.” (my photos)

This is the sixth post of a series dedicated to a case study of a single project—the VA Roseburg Healthcare System Community Living Center (CLC) Expansion— designed by Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. Click on “A Case Study” in the Labels list at right for the full series. 
Once again, far too much time has elapsed since the last entry in my Case Study series of posts about the Community Living Center Expansion project for the VA Roseburg Healthcare System. Since I wrote Part 5 in August of 2013, construction of the project has progressed in fits and starts (see the section below entitled “Reality Check”). The protracted process and its attendant frustrations have afforded me plenty of time to reflect on its design and how architecture will play a role in helping its future residents enjoy the best lives possible despite their circumstances. The bottom line is this project has reaffirmed my conviction that architects should, first and foremost, design places that embody human concerns and deeply connect with their users. 
Central to this conviction is a necessary dose of modesty. By nature, my colleagues at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and I shy away from architectural bravado. We believe audacity has its place in architecture but we’ve yet to be involved in a project that warranted self-important posturing or bluster. In part this is because the majority of our commissions are in the public sector, where we’re expected to act as stewards of a community’s trust and novelty for its own sake is frowned upon. Mostly though, we understand who it is we are designing for. 
Our office isn’t known for a signature style. We don’t attempt to emulate the recognizable work of others, nor do we subscribe to any of the passing “isms.” Instead, we focus upon creating physical conditions that are experientially supportive for people. We bear in mind all that should be considered in design and try to do that well. We avoid bringing preconceptions to our work, preferring instead to draw out good design ideas by determining how the individuals who will encounter, live with, or work in our projects see their world. We also make a point of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of existing places so that our design responses appear appropriate, connected, and in harmony with their historical and physical contexts. 
Modesty also presumes speaking in a language most people understand. We don’t see the point of designing in a way that fails to resonate with those our buildings are intended to serve. We choose not to follow the whims of fashion. We’re more than happy to leave the reinvention of the wheel to architects who are more proficient at creating seminal work. There may be occasions suitable for aesthetic and philosophical experimentation but the design of the CLC Expansion project wasn’t one of them. 
Accordingly, our design appears familiar and ordinary. We used sloping roofs and brick in conventional ways that echo those of the neighboring, older buildings. The roofs feature generous overhangs that shelter and protect the walls and windows beneath them. We complemented, defined, and captured the spirit of the place by emphasizing connections, respecting its structure, and unifying its parts. We allowed the natural landscape to play a role in the architecture. We treated our design as a participant in and contributor to the larger order of the campus. Inside, we created living spaces we hope will provide generous support for the needs of the users. We developed opportunities for interaction in varied types of spaces. We provided options for retreat by making places that feel defensible and safe, as well as edges and “in-between” spaces from which to observe and engage without necessitating full commitment. 
At the same time, we attempted to create an architecture that speaks to universal concerns, such as the arc of life, what it means to dwell upon this earth, and our connectedness with nature. Engaging in such weighty talk may seem pretentious or, dare I say, immodest. On the other hand, it is a means to enriching and adding to the experience of living. In the words of Sir John Summerson, it helps “bring out the values which are latent everywhere in the measured enclosure of space.”(1) 
It remains to be seen, but our hope for the CLC Expansion is that its residents and staff will find it to be a suitable response to the VA’s mandate to develop a supportive, patient-centered environment. If we did our job well, the completed project will enhance and most importantly dignify the ordinary lives of veterans burdened with the cruelest of afflictions. 
Living Room
Reality Check
The process of transforming design concepts into real-life brick and mortar is fraught with perils and pitfalls. Sometimes, it simply isn’t enough to produce a complete and coordinated set of construction documents—you need luck and favorable circumstances on your side as well. Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of public contracting and bidding often conspire against realizing the full promise of good intentions. 
Right out of the gate, the CLC Expansion suffered a gut punch: all of the competing bids came in over the project’s $8 million construction budget. Consequently, before awarding the contract for construction, the VA had no choice but to exercise all three of the deductive bid alternates we devised for such an outcome. Each one of the deductive alternates materially impacted the project: 

  • Alternate No. 1Delete the Pergola: Topped with a clear polycarbonate roof, the pergola would have sheltered residents and staff from rain or snow as they moved between the separate buildings that form the courtyard. Meaningfully, it would also have provided a visible tie to the classical details of the Georgian Revival porticos found on the neighboring WPA-era buildings, and also heightened the courtyard’s allusions to an idyllic arcadia
  • Alternate No. 2Substitute French Door Pairs for the Folding Glass Walls: During periods of favorable weather, the folding glass walls would have erased the barrier between the central courtyard and the living room of each house. The pairs of French doors in their place are much less effective at bringing the outside in and the inside out.
  • Alternate No. 3Substitute Plastic Laminate for Quartz at Countertops: Nuff said.
Together, the impact of the three alternates wasn’t so acute that they irretrievably compromise our overall design concept. Nevertheless, we grieve for each of them and lament what might have been. 
The CLC Expansion viewed from the south through a veil of existing, mature plantings. The medical center's circa 1932 main hospital building is visible on the right-hand side of the photo.

Part 5 of this case study optimistically projected completion of the CLC Expansion last March. It’s now late December, so it’s been nearly two years since it first broke ground in February of 2013. There’s no good reason why a project of this size and type should take so long to build. Workmanship issues have been the biggest factor (necessitating deconstruction and reconstruction of significant building components, such as the siding, soffits, and HVAC ductwork). Inadequate crews during key periods of the construction schedule also played a part. Additionally, frequent turnover of the contractor’s key supervisory personnel throughout the project did not help. The drawn out construction phase has cost Robertson/Sherwood/Architects dearly; there was no way we could anticipate the extra work nor could the VA’s mandated fee limitation assure us adequate compensation. 
What are the things I would change if we could do it all over again? The exterior color scheme for one: the gray we used at the courtyard walls is too cool and alien to the surrounding campus. In retrospect, a warmer and brighter scheme would be preferable. Other changes? A shift to a set of more neutral interior color palettes. Additional maneuvering space in the bariatric suites.  A simpler, more direct solution to the problem of routing the patient lift rails from the bedrooms to the bathrooms. Use of newer LED lighting technology. Overall though I’m satisfied with how completely we followed through and realized our original design concept. 
*    *    *    *    *   
The VA Roseburg Healthcare System will officially celebrate acceptance of the project, which it has dubbed “The Lodge,” at a formal ribbon-cutting on February 3, 2015. I’ll compose one final post in the Case Study series sometime following the ribbon-cutting event. I hope to feature better photographs of the completed project and possibly some initial feedback from the VA staff. Ultimately, it’s their opinion that will matter the most and be the true gauge of the project’s success. 
Next in the Case Study Series: Denouement
(1)   From Summerson’s book Heavenly Mansions.