Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ecopolis and the American Dream

Victory City

There are a lot of ideas being tossed about these days on the subject of how we might design the sustainable cities of the future. I’m finding these ideas not only in the professional literature, but also in the discourse of popular culture(1) and politics. Some urban visionaries have generated fantastical ideas, recalling the impractically idealistic proposals of previous generations but now fashioned in the service of saving humankind from itself. Typically, these futuristic designs mandate hyperdense development, employing revolutionary technologies to address the impacts of climate change, maximize efficiencies, and minimize the generation of greenhouse gases. The projects are presented as if powerful institutions with unlimited resources would somehow realize and control them, and citizens would willingly adapt to the loss of freedoms inherent in life within these utopian megastructures.

Therein lies the challenge. Resources are limited, and Americans in particular value their autonomy and property rights. As if taken from a post-apocalyptic movie, these enormous projects call to mind a dystopian future, one in which a comfortable life would be available to only a privileged few, cosseted from a world in which climate-induced famine and suffering are rampant. Realistically, a different solution is required, in which the necessary changes in human settlement at a global scale are achieved at far less cost, to the benefit of as many people as possible.

Hyperdensity vs. Complexity
Today’s sprawling, ever-growing metropolises consume resources like food, water, and energy as if they were limitless, while spewing pollution and waste. The reflexive responses by some architects and urbanists are proposals for hyperdense megastructures – highly integrated and compact forms that would be the antithesis of urban sprawl. These proposals are fascinating because of their sheer hubris: the Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid, planned for construction over Tokyo Bay, would be 12 times higher than the Great Pyramid at Giza, and house 750,000 people. It would be so huge that existing construction materials are incapable of supporting such a colossal mass; futuristic carbon nanofiber technology is viewed as necessary to the creation of a plausible structural frame. Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut’s Lilypad project is equally audacious: an “auto-sufficient amphibious city” that he has proposed as a tenable solution to rising sea levels and the flooding of low-lying cities and countries. Lilypad would be, in Callebaut’s words, an “Ecopolis for Climatic Refugees,” capable of floating about the planet to where ocean resources are most plentiful and escaping the foulest weather.

Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid

Two Lilypads floating in Monaco's harbor

It’s easy to trace the pedigree of both the Mega-City Pyramid and Lilypad projects to Paolo Soleri’s earlier “arcology” (architecture + ecology) concepts, which similarly proposed the miniaturization of the city to radically conserve land, energy, and resources. To a lesser extent, I also see the 1960s megastructure designs of the Japanese Metabolists and the British Archigram as inspirations, although the latter eschewed social and environmental concerns in favor of ironic, rhetorical, and purely hypothetical expression. There’s also a healthy dose of science fiction speculation in all of the hyperdense projects. The common thread is a faith in human ingenuity and technology to address the huge challenges facing humankind.(5)

Soleri's Hexahedron Arcology

The problem with the majority of the hyperdense city proposals is that they are curiously antiseptic – products of straight-line, reductionist thinking. Their apotheosis may be found in the musings of Orville Simpson II, a Midwestern utopian socialist, would-be urban planner, and designer of Victory City. Not only is Victory City his solution to the environmental degradation caused by traditional cities, it is also his cure for the many ills of conventional urban life. Unfortunately, Simpson’s world view is childlike and narrowly focused, the success of Victory City being predicated upon the implementation of draconian social controls, such as dictating when, what, where, and how people are fed.

Feeding 16,333 people at a time in the Victory City cafeteria

Urban geographer Ian Douglas observed that “the urban eco-system is the most elaborate geographical control-system or integrated resource-management system in human experience.” How we interact with the environment and each other cannot be reduced to narrowly focused engineering solutions; we’re all part of systems that interact in ways that are incomprehensibly complex. A city is not merely the sum of its parts, especially when so many of those parts are capable of exercising free will.

The American Dream
Many Americans equate selfhood with freedom and property ownership, and find it difficult to reconcile rights owed to the individual with duties owed to the collective. In this regard, the hyperdense blueprints for the cities of the future are fundamentally un-American and impractical. I can’t imagine the dramatic paradigm shift that would be necessary in this country, where generations have championed the ideal of the single nuclear-family detached house, set in its private surrounding yard, as a reward for pursuing one’s goals. Such a shift will not happen anytime soon. Nevertheless, unfettered growth cannot figure in the American Dream of the future. American cities and culture will become more locally and regionally focused, as conservation of resources becomes paramount.

The American Dream persists because of the belief that anyone who works hard can succeed and is entitled to the fruits of his or her labors. This has served the country well, but with a more interconnected and complex world than ever before, the American Dream will evolve. Americans do embrace trying new things, and succeeding or failing because of savvy, their level of dedication, and good or bad fortune. These traits will be the key to the development of a more sophisticated network of incremental solutions to the complex problem of transforming U.S. cities into more ecologically sound systems.

Urban Fractals
Paul Downton is an Australian architect and eco-city advocate who believes that adapting to global warming, as well as reducing social inequity and furthering sustainability, are fundamentally local. While he acknowledges that we will need global-scale changes in political structures, economic institutions, and the very foundations of society, he also argues that it is at the local level – in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods – where lasting models of the kind of world we wish to see will arise.

Downton believes that urban fractals(2) – small components of a larger ideal eco-city – are necessary to demonstrate the essential characteristics of a sustainable culture and environment. Each urban fractal would be an example of a cultural pattern that is sufficiently different from the norm to change the deeper pattern of the city. The overarching goal is to design and develop new urban systems with the intent of establishing the framework for an ecological culture. Thus, a typical urban fractal might take the form of a sustainable human ecological development at the scale of a single building or neighborhood. It would be a discrete unit or element of cultural ideas and practices that would serve as an imitable agent for change, like a self-replicating meme. For example, a particular building project might be so optimized that little in the way of resources outside of the development are necessary to sustain it. It could then serve as a model for similar, neighboring projects. Cumulatively, the urban fractals that contain the essential characteristics of the desired ecological culture would achieve the extent and depth of change necessary to shift complete cities toward ecological health and viability.

Fractal geometry: The Mandelbrot Set

The clear advantage of urban fractals is that they can be of a scale that is consistent with how the majority of real estate improvements are presently undertaken. This is a vision of the future that is grounded in reality and “bottom-up” processes, as opposed to the “top-down” utopias and the absolute social upheaval they would augur(3). The urban fractals model describes a path toward major change in a way that can be accepted as normal because it would happen at a relatively slow pace, in unnoticed increments. It does not preclude the right to private property ownership that so many Americans cherish, nor would it discourage individual initiative and creativity. It is a model that would be resilient and adaptive, radically interconnected and inventive, so much so that we may not fully predict its final emergent form. Ultimately, the result would be Ecopolis(4), a city locally adapted to an era of rapid climate change.

I’m guessing that the American Dream will endure as our cities confront the social, economic, and technological challenges posed by global climate change. The freedom to own and develop property will be balanced with a sense of civic responsibility to work together to create healthful, sustainable communities. Americans possess too much determination, ingenuity, and enterprise for me to believe otherwise.

(1) This post was prompted by my viewing the TV series ECOPOLIS, recently broadcast on the Science Channel, a case-in-point when it comes to my belief that the popular media have recognized the general public’s interest in sustainable design.

(2) Fractals are defined as displaying related characteristics at every magnification, are considered to be infinitely complex, and have connective structure at different scales.

(3) There will be plenty of social upheaval attributable to drastic climate change regardless of which path cities follow toward urban sustainability. In fact, independent scientist and futurist James Lovelock believes that the whole notion of sustainable development is wrongheaded and that sustainable retreat (in which patterns of resource used to meet human needs are achieved at dramatically lower levels and where migration of large portions of the human population occurs) is instead necessary.

(4) It’s interesting how the name Ecopolis, which has become synonymous with a sustainable city or eco-city, has been adopted by so many who are involved in the field of urban sustainability. For example, the name of Paul Downton’s architectural firm in Adelaide is Ecopolis.

(5) Another supersized, hyperdense proposal is the Ultima Tower by architect Eugene Tsui.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

December AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Despite record-breaking cold weather and snow in the days that proceeded it, our annual holiday party was surprisingly well attended. Thirty AIA-SWO architects, associates, and family members braved the slippery trek to the Mid-Town Arts Center to share the season’s good cheer, a varied buffet menu (Xmas pizza and sushi, anyone?), and a selection of fine wine, beer, and soft drinks.

The poor weather and road conditions between Portland and Eugene did prevent AIA Oregon Executive Vice-President Saundra Stevens, Hon. AIA, from joining us. She had looked forward to reporting about AIA Oregon’s latest activities and how the organization is working to advance our profession at the state level. Saundra now plans to attend one our monthly chapter meetings sometime early in 2009; she’s a tremendous resource for Oregon architects, and our chapter is lucky to have her experience and insight. The adverse weather also kept our evening's entertainment from joining us; the woodwind quintet's presence would have undoubtedly added to the holiday atmosphere. Regardless, those who were at the party definitely enjoyed each others’ company, sharing thoughts about 2008, and looking forward to meeting the challenges of 2009.

With an eye toward next year, we posted sign-up sheets at the party for the various AIA-SWO committees that will be active during 2009. We’re seeking volunteers to staff the following committees:

2010 Northwest & Pacific Region Conference Committee
Our chapter plays host in 2010 to the AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference. The conference’s title is “An Emerald Vision,” and its focus will be how architecture and planning support and protect the natural beauty of Oregon. This is a huge undertaking, and will require the efforts of many AIA-SWO members.

Educational Seminars Committee
For 2009, we plan to produce two educational seminars with the goal of providing our members with convenient access to continuing education learning units. One of the seminars is likely to focus on the impacts of accelerating climate change upon settlement patterns and its implications for architects and urban designers. The other seminar may be more practice-oriented, but this is yet to be determined. Join this committee and help us organize these educational opportunities.

Design Awards Committee
Our chapter has not conducted the juried Design Awards program since 2005. We’re hoping to change that in 2009. This is especially important for 2010 when we host the Region Conference, because a prerequisite for receiving an AIA Region Design Award is being previously recognized for a design award at the chapter level. Members of this committee will work together to identify the jury, handle the logistics of the project evaluation process, and produce the Design Awards ceremony.

EWEB Riverfront Charrette Committee
The EWEB Riverfront Charrette Committee is working with the Eugene Water & Electric Board and the City of Eugene to conduct a workshop for the purpose of exploring possible futures for EWEB’s important riverfront property. The goal is to assist EWEB and its urban design consultants with a public process to solicit input from as broad a range of stakeholders as possible.

Willamette Crossing Charrette Committee
The Willamette Crossing Charrette Committee is working with the Oregon Department of Transportation and OBEC Engineers (designers of the bridge) to conduct a workshop for the purpose of advancing the design of a signature bridge at the crossing of I-5 and the Willamette River. It is believed that a collaboration of engineers, architects, landscape architects, and artists informed by public input and multiple focus groups would result in strong ideas and unified theme. The goal is to create a bridge which is memorable - a striking addition to the landscape and our communities. The effort should give physical presence to the theme Whilamut Passage.

AIA Fellowship Nomination Committee
It’s been too long since one of the AIA-SWO members has been recognized for his or her accomplishments by being elevated to AIA Fellowship. The Fellowship Nomination committee will seek to correct this lapse during 2009.

Monthly Programs Committee
Participation in the Programs Committee entails identifying program topics and speakers for each of the monthly AIA-SWO chapter meetings. The committee is also responsible for publicizing the meetings, and soliciting program sponsors.

People’s Choice Committee
The People’s Choice Awards program is one of AIA-SWO’s most successful ventures. If your firm has been a recipient of a People’s Choice award, consider giving back by volunteering for this committee. Help ensure that the program remains strong and continues to be a design showcase for the work of our members.

Register-Guard Insert Committee
The annual Register-Guard Insert is one of our chapter’s best opportunities to communicate to the public the role that architects play in the development of a beautiful, sustainable, and healthful community. The insert is also one our chapter’s primary generators of non-dues revenue, essential to maintaining and improving the value that AIA-SWO delivers to our members.

Residential Architecture Committee
The Congress of Residential Architecture (CORA) is an independent organization that in some AIA chapter jurisdictions operates as a chapter committee. CORA has become a major voice for the residential design community and is often relied upon by local officials and media for perspectives on residential development. One topic of interest to our local CORA committee will be the City of Eugene’s Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) program. It is the hope of the committee to assemble its recommendations for the City’s consideration.

If you are interested in participating in one of these committees, please feel free to contact me or any of the 2009 AIA-SWO board members.

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Our December AIA-SWO board meeting was the last presided over by Jody Heady, AIA as 2008 AIA-SWO president. Jody will soon be departing for a half-year sabbatical in Australia, where the weather is certainly balmier and more pleasant than the Willamette Valley has been this past week. The board presented Jody with a Certificate of Appreciation for his contributions during his tenure as president, which include initiating the planning for the 2010 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference.

Enjoy your time “Down Under” Jody! We'll expect a full report when you get back!

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This month's winner of our chapter meeting raffle prize, which is a $50.00 gift certificate courtesy of Down to Earth Home Garden & Gifts store, is our 2009 AIA-SWO secretary, Kari Turner of PIVOT Architecture. Remember, your first raffle ticket is free with your paid dinner and additional tickets are only $2 each. However, you can’t win if you don’t attend, so join us at our February 2009 meeting for your next opportunity to win!

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Our first chapter meeting of 2009 will be our annual joint event with the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). The subject of the meeting is the state of the economy and its ramifications for the design and construction industry in the coming year. Given the turmoil in the financial markets, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, and the deepening recession, there is no doubt that this is a program that will be well-attended. Join us on Thursday, January 29th at the Eugene Hilton to hear from a panel of local and regional experts about whether we can look forward to a light at the end of the tunnel in 2009.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Vision Thing

The AIA-SWO board of directors at the '08-'09 transition meeting. From left: Don Kahle, AIA-SWO executive director; Mariko Blessing, Associate Director; Kari Turner, 2009 Secretary; Paul Edlund, 2009 director; Jean Duffett, 2008 director; Jody Heady, 2008 president; Eric Gunderson, 2007 president; Kurt Albrecht, 2008 treasurer; Paul Dustrud, 2009 treasurer. Not shown: myself and Michael Fifield, 2009 President-Elect.

The 2008 and 2009 AIA-SWO board officers convened earlier this month to conduct the annual year-end transition meeting. We used the opportunity to reevaluate the mission of the AIA-SWO, and to bring clarity to the ideals, values, and principles that shape our approach to a broad range of issues of relevance to our members. Our hope was to get the “big picture” into focus by establishing a shared vision for AIA-Southwestern Oregon that will be the basis for long-term planning and thinking. For 2009, we envision moving forward on a number of initiatives that will emphasize providing tangible benefits to our membership. We plan to furnish these benefits as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The template for our transition meeting discussion was the 2008-2010 AIA National Component Strategic Plan and its missions, goals, and strategies. The Strategic Plan provided a convenient means to stimulate the generation of ideas, while simultaneously providing a structure within which to categorize them. At the center of the AIA Strategic Plan is the following mission statement:

“The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architectural profession and the resource to its members in service to society.”

This mission is supported by four separate goals: 1) Increasing Membership Value; 2) Being the Authoritative Source; 3) Optimizing Organizational Performance; and 4) Serving as the Credible Voice.

AIA National’s strategies to realize these goals are laudable, but lack specificity. For example, “creating positive member experiences” is listed as a strategy for increasing member value. This is all fine and good, but what exactly is a positive experience? How do we measure our success in this regard? The results of our transition meeting discussion do begin to point the way.

We utilized a classic brainstorming methodology during the meeting to capitalize on the collective wisdom and creativity of both the outgoing and incoming board members. Any and all ideas were welcomed without judgment, recorded on cards, and organized under the Strategic Plan goals. By the end of the session, certain clear patterns became evident. It was apparent that we should focus our future efforts upon Increasing Membership Value, Optimizing Organizational Performance, and Serving as the Credible Voice. This does not mean that we should consign Being the Authoritative Source to a lesser status; rather, we concluded that the national level of the Institute is better suited with all of the resources it has at hand to achieving this particular goal (that is, being the recognized leader for knowledge about the practice and profession of architecture).

Brainstormed ideas up on the wall.

Some of the ideas we came up with for increasing member value include:
  • Providing greater opportunities to acquire continuing education learning units
  • Taking fuller advantage of the University of Oregon Department of Architecture as a registered provider of learning units

  • Developing programs that would attract greater involvement by associate members, interns, and students

  • Creating online forums on topics of interest to AIA-SWO members

  • Exploring more affordable group health care options, perhaps in concert with AIA Portland

  • Expanding design awards possibilities, including recognition of unbuilt and conceptual projects

  • Attracting “star” speakers for monthly programs and seminars

A few of the thoughts regarding optimizing organization performance include:

  • Establishing objective standards for measuring chapter performance (such as the number of learning units available through chapter programs relative to the previous period)

  • Prioritizing the duties of the AIA-SWO executive director
  • Strengthening the structure of chapter committees

  • Pooling firm/practitioner resources

  • Focusing on issues during board meetings, rather than administrative duties

  • Collaborating with related organizations such as CSI, the Cascadia Green Building Council, the Eco-Building Guild, ASLA, and others

Ways the AIA-SWO could serve as the credible voice for quality design and the built environment involve:

  • Being leaders in our community

  • Commenting on urban design policy

  • Writing a monthly column in The Register-Guard

  • Using the 2010 Region Conference as an impetus for greater community interest in architecture

  • Making design a regular topic of discussion

Our brainstorming session provided the board with a clearer view of the future of AIA-SWO and the enhanced role our member architects can play in the shaping of our communities. We have already identified new programs and the strategies necessary for the AIA-SWO to meet or exceed the needs of our membership, including the formulation of a fiscally-responsible budget. We’re seeing and creating change in our organizational culture and structure that will be conducive to furthering our goals. Above all, we’re dedicated to moving beyond a passive relationship with our membership toward more assertively engaging everyone in an ongoing process of visioning. I’m looking forward as AIA-SWO president in 2009 to uniting the board, committee chairs, and our general membership around a shared vision. The more we focus on our vision of what the AIA-SWO should be, the clearer it will become.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

AIA Dues Waiver

The reality of a worldwide economic recession is indisputably obvious. Reports of its deleterious effects here in the Willamette Valley are distressingly more common, with news of company after company in a variety of industries forced to lay off employees or close their doors. We hear word of large staff reductions at some of the big Portland architectural firms, those whose portfolios were too heavily weighted toward project types dependent upon speculative financing. AIA-Southwestern Oregon architects are also not immune to the downturn in the economy. When it comes to coldly evaluating where limited dollars should be spent, it may be inevitable for some that the value of AIA membership must be questioned.

Personal circumstances may simply dictate that one cannot allocate funds toward membership dues. The financial hardship associated with losing a job is a most obvious case in point and one that will be confronted by more and more of our colleagues as the recession deepens. The AIA has received many requests from members regarding the possibilities of membership dues waivers. Dues waivers are indeed available, and it is through the local AIA components and chapters that such waivers are administered.

The AIA-Southwestern Oregon Chapter, in exceptional circumstances and after consultation with the AIA Institute Secretary, may waive all or any part of the dues owed by a member at any level of membership in the AIA. The Secretary may waive or defer payment of the Institute dues of any member for up to one year upon written presentation of satisfactory evidence of financial hardship, medical disability, sabbatical, family leave, unemployment or partial employment, or such other hardship as may reasonably justify a waiver. A minimum annual payment may be required in all cases to cover the cost of mailings. A waiver may not be granted in two consecutive years, except that medical disability, sabbatical, and family leave waivers are annual and renewable upon request for up to a total of three consecutive years.

If you are a member of AIA-SWO and would like to request a dues waiver for 2009, the five-step request process is as follows:

  1. The applicant completes the 2009 waiver form for submission to AIA-SWO. This form will soon be available electronically for downloading from the AIA-SWO web site. Note that the membership contact names, phone numbers, and email addresses of the local (AIA-SWO) and state (AIA Oregon) components required to fill in the waiver form are printed in the upper left hand corner of the 2009 AIA renewal invoice. Members will receive their 2009 membership invoices in the mail during the month of December.

  2. The AIA-SWO board reviews the request and either approves or denies it. If it is approved, the Institute bylaws require that AIA-SWO forward the request to AIA Oregon for review.

  3. AIA Oregon reviews the request and either approves or denies it. If AIA Oregon recommends approval of the request, it is forwarded to the AIA National Membership Strategy & Services Department.

  4. The National Membership Strategy & Services Department forwards the request to the Secretary of the Institute for final approval or denial.

  5. The applicant receives a letter from the Institute informing him/her of the outcome of the request.

The dues waiver program is offered to ensure that we retain as many members as possible during this difficult economic period. Do not underestimate the value of being a member of the leading professional membership association for architects. The AIA is the voice of the architectural profession and the resource for our members in service to society. If you are an individual member confronted with the difficult choice of whether you can justify the cost of AIA membership dues because of financial hardship, do consider the option of pursuing a dues waiver. Your continued membership in the organization strengthens our profession and offers you access to valuable resources and the support and encouragement of your fellow architects and associates when you might need it most.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Seat at the Table

Jon Ruiz, Eugene City Manager

For its November gathering, the AIA-SWO “Dead Presidents” broke bread at Davis’ Restaurant with Eugene’s new city manager, Jon Ruiz. Mr. Ruiz has been on the job since April 2008; too little time has passed since then to effectively gauge his impact as city manager upon issues of concern to Eugene’s design community. Nevertheless, his interest in matters of urban design, downtown renewal, and smart growth is apparent, and he clearly appreciated the opportunity to speak with local architects about these topics.

In Eugene’s form of government, the elected city council sets policy directions and the city manager carries them out. The city manager oversees the operations of dozens of city departments, more than 1,500 city employees, and a half-billion dollar annual budget. The position is arguably the most powerful in Eugene’s city government. Consequently, there are those who are wary of this authority. Critics of the “strong city manager” model of government contend that the manager is too often effectively empowered to establish city policy de facto without council direction. On the other hand, as someone who has the luxury of being able to think beyond the next election and the interests of individual constituencies, the city manager may be the key person in city government when the issues demand long-term, big-picture thinking. This is a person who needs to have a seat at the table when architects gather to discuss the future of our city.

AIA-SWO Executive Director Don Kahle recognized the opportunity that Jon Ruiz’s recent hiring as Eugene’s city manager presented to the local architectural community. Don encouraged Eric Gunderson to invite Mr. Ruiz to the monthly Dead Presidents lunch meeting to convey our agenda to the city manager. The ultimate goal is for the city manager to look first to local architectural professionals for insight and guidance about how design excellence in the built environment can be achieved within the context of Eugene’s development policies and sustainability initiatives.

The lunch conversation largely focused on the immediate future for downtown Eugene. Topics such as tax-increment financing, downtown’s role as an economic development engine, downtown green space, and the possibility of emulating the success of the Portland streetcar system(1) were considered in rapid succession. A key set of questions revolved around whether Eugene’s identity was contingent at all upon there being a “downtown” in the traditional sense.(2) Is Eugene a city with a downtown, or is it a city composed of many neighborhoods without a strong center? If Eugene is to resuscitate its downtown, what kinds of incentives should the city provide given the distrust of many Eugeneans toward taxpayer subsidy of private development? Should the city assume the role of the primary employer and tenant in downtown if private interests fail to fill the void? What about the downtown urban renewal district? How much more public money should be invested to achieve the intent of the Downtown Plan?

The time to act for downtown Eugene is now, according to Jon Ruiz and many others interested in capitalizing upon the city’s sustainability initiatives. In Mr. Ruiz’s words, Eugene “cannot afford to be late to the dance,” for if the city doesn’t move quickly, “it will not find partners to fill its dance card.” With the dramatic shift in political winds at the national level, the talk of reinvestment in the country’s infrastructure, and the economy’s descent into recession, Eugene is now competing with countless other suitors for the attention of the green companies that represent the vanguard of a new sustainable economy. To what extent is a vibrant, vital downtown essential to attracting these kinds of businesses and employers to Eugene? What can architects do to assist the city in this regard?

Over the years, the City of Eugene and AIA-SWO have partnered on several design charrettes that have drafted ideas for improving the city’s core. These successful events are well-attended by city residents, municipal officials, developers, University of Oregon students, and other stakeholders precisely because our group is perceived as having no political agenda or dog in the fight. For 2009, the AIA-SWO will partner with both the city and the Eugene Water & Electric Board to produce a charrette that will generate a vision for the future redevelopment of EWEB’s riverfront property and its potential impact upon downtown Eugene.(3) The city profits immeasurably from the volunteered time of dozens of architects at each of these intense design sessions. The charrettes we have orchestrated are proven, useful tools that have informed and complemented the city staff’s own urban design and planning efforts.

The City of Eugene already regards the AIA-SWO as an invaluable resource at the city’s disposal. We’d like to keep it this way. By inviting Jon Ruiz to join us to discuss our mutual interest in the future of urban design in Eugene, we hope to cultivate a relationship with a powerful ally whose views mirror our own. We’re likewise hopeful that Eugene’s new city manager will always bring us to the table whenever the conversation turns to the subject of what can be done to rejuvenate our city center.

(1) Lane Transit District’s bus rapid-transit system, combined with a frequent downtown shuttle comprising smaller buses that continuously loop through downtown, may be a less costly, more manageable alternative to a streetcar network.

(2) That is, as the social, civic, governmental, and economic hub of a city. Eugene’s downtown may be a governmental center for the city, but its status as the social and economic hub for the metro area has been tenuous, at best, for decades.

(3) Contact me at (541) 342-8077 or at if you're interested in participating in the EWEB charrette.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Lawrence Hall studio - Photo by Erik Bishoff

This month’s chapter meeting furthered the goal of strengthening ties between the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts (AAA) and local professionals. We had a great turn-out, which included not only AIA-SWO regulars, but also four representatives from the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), two new AIA-SWO members-to-be (Stan Honn and Rodd Hansen), and our guests from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

Christine Theodoropoulos, AIA, head of the UO Department of Architecture, led the evening’s presentation on the subject of faculty research. She discussed the “culture of research” at the university before introducing four young AAA faculty members, who in turn offered brief presentations about their respective research efforts.

In addition to teaching, a primary mission of the university is to conduct research, and the ultimate goal of research at the School of Architecture and Allied Arts is to raise design excellence. Reconciling the narrow focus of rigorous academic pursuit with the generalist nature and real-world demands of professional practice is the unique challenge faced by those members of the AAA faculty who are actively involved with research. According to Christine, the work is expected to go beyond what is considered normative, to seek new knowledge and explore new frontiers at the edges of architectural thinking and technologies.

Ironically, the focus upon future-oriented thinking and looking past current paradigms has sometimes meant that graduates are not necessarily best-equipped to satisfy current professional demands. Regardless, the university firmly believes that students need to be prepared for what lies decades ahead, not merely equipped with skills to be productive today. They're tomorrow's leaders and the new knowledge they introduce is the key to our future success and relevance as a profession. This is why the research being conducted at the University of Oregon and other schools is meaningful to active professionals.

Each of the four assistant professors introduced by Christine has established his or her own research agenda:

Mark Gillem
As a member of AIA-Southwestern Oregon, Mark is already a familiar face to many of us. He described his research efforts in the context of a typical pressure-packed work day, as fast-paced and complex as any plot for the TV series “24.” Much of Mark’s research work is associated with his study of the socio-cultural and physical impacts of American military bases, both in the U.S. and abroad.(1) Currently, this research has led the Department of Defense to retain Mark to assist it with reevaluating its land use models for U.S. military bases around the globe. He cited several of the DOD projects, including the possible redevelopment of Fort Lewis in Washington State, as well as a joint project with the Japanese government to seek ways to conserve land resources for US bases in Japan. Closer to home, Mark also described his investigations into the potential development of multi-way boulevards – tree-lined and with separate realms for through traffic and for slow-paced vehicular-pedestrian movement – as models for possible redevelopment of West 11th Avenue in Eugene and Main Street in Springfield.

Esther Hagenlocher
Originally from Stuttgart, Germany, Esther Hagenlocher’s research is related to small spaces and exhibition design. Her investigations range from tailor-made, built-in solutions to prefabricated multiple-use elements. Esther’s interest in the smaller-scale elements of architecture, including furniture, is representative of her unique background, which includes training as a cabinet maker in her native Germany. This focus on details extends to research regarding the impact of reflectivity and color upon our perception of architectural space.

Despite her career-long emphasis upon details, interior spaces, and transitory structures, Esther would love to be significantly involved with the design of a major building, such as an airport terminal. The relevance of her research certainly applies at all scales.

Kyuho Ahn
Coming to Oregon from South Korea (and after teaching stints at Fresno State University and Oklahoma State University), Kyuho Ahn’s primary research is focused upon the identification of objective metrics for evaluating the influence of architecture and interior design upon the success of retail sales. With credentials in industrial and retail design, Kyuho is well-suited to pursuing the question of whether there are common criteria that can be shared to evaluate consumers’ perception of the retail environment. The reality that social and cultural biases impact customers’ appreciation of space and their willingness to purchase goods is second-nature to Kyuho. He has witnessed that the characteristics of the most successful retail spaces in Seoul are not necessarily the same for their counterparts here in the U.S. For Kyuho, the key to research is the scholarship of discovery and integration, bringing scientific and statistical rigor to the process.

Erin Moore
Erin Moore is interested in the notions of time and materiality as they relate to architecture. More specifically, she sees parallels between the systems science concept of homeostasis and sustainability in architecture. Homeostasis is often associated with the property of living organisms that helps them maintain stable, constant conditions, even while being subjected to ecological flux. As applied to architecture, Erin foresees the development of building systems and strategies that take into account natural cycles of use and material or systems decay with the goal of achieving the highest efficiencies and goals of sustainability. She is currently involved with the construction of small projects that will test her theories regarding the nature of time and change. She is also assisting with concepts for housing to satisfy the needs of Bangladesh as that low-lying country confronts the reality of global warming and rising ocean levels.

* * * * * * *

This month's winner of our chapter meeting raffle prize, which is a $50.00 gift certificate courtesy of Down to Earth Home Garden & Gifts store, is 2008-09 AIAS co-president Nick Lopez, architecture student at the University of Oregon. Remember, your first raffle ticket is free with your paid dinner and additional tickets are only $2 each. However, you can’t win if you don’t attend, so join us at our next meeting!

Big thanks to our November program sponsor, IMAGINiT Technologies, the world's largest value added reseller and authorized training center for Autodesk. IMAGINiT Technologies ensures successful adoption of Autodesk software through training and assured implementation methodologies. Reduced down-time, improved workflow and a more productive team, IMAGINiT!

(1) Mark is the author of America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire (2007, University of Minnesota Press) and numerous papers and articles that explore the link between architecture and urban design.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Have you considered joining AIA lately?

The Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-SWO) is offering a special invitation to any architect who is not currently a member of the Institute. If you sign up before the end of December 2008, you will receive your dinner for free and obtain a recorded Continuing Education Learning Unit (CEU) at every monthly AIA-SWO Chapter program you attend during the 2009 calendar year.(1)

The AIA offers many cost-effective ways to obtain learning units through a wide array of local, regional, and national events. As a member, you receive notices of meetings, conferences, and other events of interest to architects in our community. Our chapter meetings typically take place on the third Wednesday of each month, usually at the Actor's Cabaret in Eugene.(2) For regular members dinner is optional and served before the monthly program gets under way at 7:00. Our chapter meetings are a time to catch up with colleagues, make new friends, broaden your professional horizons, and earn a learning unit while you are at it.

AIA-SWO also organizes other events. Each year we sponsor the People’s Choice at the Eugene Celebration and a Register Guard insert on architecture. Last year, we celebrated 150 years of AIA. As part of the national celebration, our chapter was one of a few components recognized for our AIA150 project, which was our successful Blueprint for America/Franklin Corridor study in Eugene.

Our state component, AIA-Oregon, lobbies on behalf of architects at the state and national levels regarding issues and laws pertaining to the practice of architecture. Our dues directly support lobbying efforts in Salem and Washington D.C. AIA-Oregon’s current efforts include the development of legislation requiring new State buildings to be sustainable. This proposed legislation will likely be presented for consideration by the State legislature during 2009.

Other benefits of an AIA membership include:
  • Professional networking
  • Marketing opportunities
  • Use of AIA documents, the standard of the construction industry
  • Tax deduction for your membership dues
  • Conferences and literature to keep you informed
  • Socializing with colleagues that speak your language
  • Learning what's abuzz in the market by what others are busy with
  • Monthly eMail updates of news you can use
  • Advancing and raising awareness about the profession locally
  • Collaborative efforts toward civic and community leadership
  • Promoting architecture at the local, state, regional, and national levels
  • National recognition of those all-important letters after your name - ‘AIA’ indicating your membership and commitment to your profession

Please feel free to contact any AIA-SWO Board member regarding any questions. More information can be found on the AIA-National web site at You can find our AIA-Chapter at

(1) Dinner is not free for the annual joint meeting with the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute, which occurs each January. Learning units are not offered for the annual AIA-SWO picnic (July) or holiday meeting (December).

(2) Unfortunately, The Actors Cabaret isn’t a particularly good location for our annual picnic. Armitage Park has served this purpose better for us.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yes We Can!

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
– Barack Obama

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States goes far beyond a simple rebuff of the outgoing Bush administration. While his victory may in large part be attributed to the recent dramatic downturn of the economy, coupled with the country’s fatigue with the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the result also heralds a profound change in Americans' perception of themselves. Obama is a transcendental figure. Many see in him a personification of the American dream. For the younger generation, he is an ultimate role model, affirming their potential. For immigrants, his election vindicates their belief in the United States as a land of opportunity. Internationally, Obama has signaled a new willingness to converse with the world instead of imposing America’s will upon it. He is inspirational, transformative, and appears to possess the leadership skills and temperament that will be necessary to help the country confront its greatest challenges.

Architects have already led the charge to confront some of these challenges. The profession has been in the forefront when it comes to promoting the concept of sustainability and what is necessary to achieve it. With a sympathetic administration in the White House, our profession must be ready to assume an even greater leadership role in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. If you have not already adopted sustainability as a fundamental precept of your work, do so now. Architects cannot wait to act. This is our time. We are the change that we seek. Like Obama(1), we must exhibit the leadership necessary to advance the changes that will be necessary to secure the future for generations to come. We must capitalize on the promise of hope that Obama’s election has delivered.

The leadership of architects will be crucial to the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ed Mazria, AIA, and his Architecture 2030 organization point out that buildings are responsible for almost half (48%) of all greenhouse gas emissions annually. According to Mazria, immediate action in the building sector is necessary if we are to avoid truly catastrophic climate change. Global heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions will undoubtedly be looked at in retrospect as the single most important issue of the 21st century. If we do not successfully deal with the manmade causes of climate change, all other issues – the economy, wars, health care, education, ecosystem health – will be even more challenging or nearly moot.

Obama’s proposed emissions reduction strategy will need to be strengthened if it is to be aggressive enough to minimize the effects of global heating. In addition, his new administration will need to develop strategies for adapting to climate change because it will happen regardless of future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (we’re almost certainly past a “tipping point” already).(2) These plans would address water shortages, agricultural challenges, energy conservation, and security. Mitigation alone will not be enough; we must prepare for the changes to come.

Time will tell if the Obama administration’s actions match the soaring rhetoric of the candidate’s election campaign. Time will also reveal whether architects rise to the sustainability challenge and make the most of the leadership mantle the new president will share with the profession.

(1) The new Obama administration will likely pump billions into the economy for energy-efficient and climate-friendly infrastructure, such as solar and wind technologies and mass transit. During the campaign, the Obama team wrote a position paper on urban policy, which included setting goals for the development of more livable and sustainable communities, the reevaluation of transportation funding with an eye toward smart growth, and the use of innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

(2) Among local voices, Alder Fuller, founder and dean of Euglena Academy, has most clearly articulated the threat of global heating and climate change. Based upon the writings of James Locklock and like-minded system scientists, Fuller examines the probability that we have already passed a critical threshold that is rapidly transforming our climate.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Good Design Makes a Difference

I submitted the following to the Corvallis Gazette-Times as a possible op-ed piece. The intent was to have it published to coincide with the display of the 2008 People's Choice Award winners at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library during the month of November. Unfortunately, the Opinion Editor chose not to send it to print.

Good Design Makes a Difference

Much of our world view is framed and shaped by the built environment that we inhabit. If the man-made spaces in which we live, work, and play are well-designed, we are more comfortable, more able to live life to the fullest, and better able to appreciate and understand the world around us. Society flourishes when its public spaces and buildings help people form connections with one another. Architecture that is widely admired is also regarded as artful. It blends harmoniously with the natural environment while promoting health and well-being; enriches lives aesthetically and spiritually; is functional, durable, and beautiful; and creates a lasting legacy that reflects and symbolizes culture and traditions.

Great architecture does not happen by accident. It is the result of a creative and collaborative process that engages everyone with an interest in the success of a project. It is also the product of professionals who have the specialized knowledge and skills acquired through a long and intensive education, internship, and examination process. Projects that are well-designed should be important to Corvallis because it is uniquely blessed with a marvelous natural setting, a well-scaled and historic downtown, a beautiful university campus, and a distinct sense of place, all worthy of preservation. Good design is necessary for Corvallis if it is to retain the qualities that have made it attractive to its residents, businesses, and visitors. It is essential if Corvallis is to avoid repeating the poor planning decisions other cities (including my own – Eugene) have made in the past. The prevalence of well-designed public spaces and buildings is the hallmark of a beloved and thriving community. Good design reflects the shared values of citizens and is a representation of their highest aspirations. Good design signals a dedication to creating healthy, sustainable, and livable communities. Good design makes a difference.

Architects today are privileged to follow in the footsteps of outstanding designers who made a difference by creating buildings and public spaces that left a positive and lasting mark upon their communities. We have been trained to see the big picture when it comes to designing buildings. We help clients explore what appeals to them aesthetically and what they require functionally. We coordinate teams of design, engineering, and construction professionals; we sort through the maze of building codes and zoning requirements; we ensure the client’s project is built the way it was intended. Architects strive to create total environments, interior and exterior, that are pleasing and functional for the people who live, work, and do business within them. We add value to projects by monitoring the budget, by ensuring that the proposed design minimizes energy and maintenance costs, and by exploring new thinking on critical issues. This leads to better designs and the best possible realization of a client’s vision.

Good design occurs most readily if everyone with an interest in a project comes together with like-minded stakeholders to create a common vision, which is the first step in the process of developing a building or master plan. The process of creating a vision has benefits that extend beyond just the realization of an attractive school or an interesting commercial building; the process itself creates a community. The quid pro quo is that the community must be willing to invest in the process – the money, time, and commitment – which is necessary to realize the kind of built environment everyone hopes to live and work in. Buildings cost a lot of money and typically stand for many years. The bottom line is that cities like Corvallis cannot afford to scrimp when it comes to good design, because the expense of poor design is exponentially more costly. Everyone wins when the benefits of excellent environmental design are commonly understood and appreciated.

Presently on display in the public meeting room at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library are numerous examples of design excellence produced by members of the American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO), which includes architectural professionals practicing in Linn, Benton Deschutes, Douglas, and Lane counties, and members of the Willamette Valley Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). The projects are the winners of the 2008 AIA-SWO “People’s Choice Awards.” Member firms of AIA-SWO and ASLA prepared boards showcasing their recent projects for consideration by the public during this past September’s Eugene Celebration. Anyone who visited the exhibit was free to fill in a ballot, voting for his or her favorite designs in each of six categories: commercial buildings, single-family residences, multi-family housing, public and institutional architecture, residential landscape design, and commercial landscape projects. These projects are excellent examples of designs that met the needs of clients by creatively organizing spaces, building systems, and materials to achieve an end that is cost-effective, practical, and attractive. Each award winner is displayed on a presentation board that explains the architects’ approach to the design problem and how the resultant project makes a difference in people’s lives.

Please stop by the 2008 People’s Choice Awards display the next time you visit the Corvallis-Benton County Library. The winning designs will remain on exhibit through November 30, 2008.

Randy Nishimura, AIA, is president-elect of the American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon chapter, headquartered in Eugene. He blogs about architecture at

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Notes

Assorted items of note on the AIA-SWO calendar for the month of November:

AIA-SWO on Display in Corvallis
As part of our initiative to enhance the value of AIA membership to architects based in the Corvallis-Albany area, our chapter has arranged with the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library to exhibit the winners of this year’s People’s Choice Awards program, highlighting some of the excellent design work produced by AIA-SWO members. The winning designs in each of six categories – commercial buildings, single-family residences, multi-family housing, public & institutional architecture, residential landscape design, and commercial landscape projects – will be on display in the Library’s public meeting room through November 30, 2008. Each of the award winners is represented by a presentation board that explains the designers’ approach to the design problem and how the resultant project now makes a difference in the lives of those it impacts. Also on display are the “Colleagues’ Choice” winners, the projects selected by your AIA-SWO peers as the best or most interesting from this year’s People’s Choice entrants.

Many thanks to Dick Bryant, AIA for all his help in setting up the exhibit at the Library.

AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Program: A&AA Faculty Research
The University of Oregon is an extraordinary asset and a powerful resource for those of us in the design profession. Remarkable research work is being conducted by the outstanding faculty of the School of Architecture & Allied Arts. The November program will include presentations about some of these research efforts from several of the faculty members themselves, highlighting advances in architectural theory, technology and solutions to global challenges for the built environment.

November’s AIA-SWO meeting will occur on the third Wednesday of the month, November 19, 2008, with the social hour beginning at 5:30 PM. The Actors Cabaret at 996 Willamette Street in Eugene is once again the venue.

Our November AIA-SWO Program Sponsor
The November 2008 chapter meeting will be the second of our sponsored meetings, featuring IMAGINiT Technologies. IMAGINiT is a RAND Worldwide Company, the globally diversified engineering group and the world’s largest independent provider of enterprise solutions to the engineering industry. IMAGINiT was formed from a number of smaller companies that represented the best in the industry. As a leading provider of design and engineering solutions to the building, architecture, manufacturing, civil engineering, geospatial, and media and entertainment industries, IMAGINiT is a CAD software and technology expert that understands the design process. Look for more information about IMAGINiT on this blog and on the AIA-SWO web site when the November chapter meeting is announced.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Wayne L. Morse United States Courthouse (photo by Tim Griffith)

As an AIA component president-elect, I am sent a bi-weekly national media coverage report from AIA National. The latest report included an account of the AIA Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP) Knowledge Community 2008 BIM Awards. I took note of this report because Eugene’s own Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse, designed by Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis, won the award for Creating Stellar Architecture Using Building Information Modeling (BIM). The jury commented that “the courthouse moved into an aspect of fabrication that you couldn’t do without BIM.” The project team utilized BIM tools that enabled precise coordination of structure and building systems within the tight and geometrically complex architectural envelope of the courthouse.

BIM has been defined as the process of generating and managing building data during its life cycle.(1) BIM typically uses three-dimensional, real-time, dynamic building modeling software to increase productivity in building design and construction. BIM has been around for many years already, but its acceptance in the design and construction industry now appears to be accelerating. Proponents claim that BIM offers:
  • Improved visualization
  • Improved productivity due to easy retrieval of information
  • Increased coordination of construction documents
  • Embedding and linking of vital information such as vendors for specific materials, location of details and quantities required for estimation and bidding
  • Increased speed of delivery
  • Reduced costs
I’m no expert on the subject; however, my firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, experimented with an early version of Revit back in 2001 before concluding that its practical application to our projects was still years away. It’s now 2008 and it’s clear that BIM is quickly supplanting the use of orthodox two-dimensional CAD as the standard for building design and documentation. The move toward BIM is being hastened by institutional clients such as the General Services Administration. The GSA established the National 3D-4D-BIM Program in 2003, requiring that all major projects receiving funding starting in 2007 use these programs. Firms that work with the GSA have thus been motivated to acquire BIM software. However, it’s not only the impetus from large institutional and corporate clients that is now favoring the widespread adoption of BIM; the inherent advantages of the approach to design development, documentation, coordination, and fabrication are beginning to outweigh the natural resistance to a changing of the status quo. Autodesk’s purchase of Revit in 2002 was one bellwether indicator that BIM is the new paradigm; another is the willingness of students in schools of architecture, engineering, and construction to explore the potential of BIM technology.

For its part, the AIA has developed a new standard document – E202-2008 – as a tool to manage the use of BIM across an entire project. The document sets the requirements and authorized uses for BIM content and identifies BIM authors at five progressive levels of development. It also establishes protocols for model ownership, conflict resolution, storage, viewing, and archiving.

Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, like many small firms, sees the biggest potential benefit of BIM as enhancing project quality and the design process. The benefits of producing projects of higher quality through more accurate documents (resulting in fewer change orders during construction) and the sharing of digital models for ease of collaboration are very attractive to us. We will be moving towards the use of BIM as soon as we can.

Early AIA-SWO adopters of BIM include PIVOT Architecture, and Dustrud Architecture (I think Berry Architects are also users of BIM). AIA-SWO secretary Paul Dustrud is one of the organizers of the new Eugene Revit Users Group (ERUG). This user group will provide ongoing opportunities to inform and educate about Revit (Architecture, MEP and Structure) BIM in particular. The first informational meeting of ERUG will take place at 5:00 – 6:00 PM on November 13, 2008, in the PIVOT Architecture conference room at 72 West Broadway in downtown Eugene. The goal of the meeting will be to bring together likeminded Revit users and potential users, to network and discuss what topics are of most interest for upcoming meetings, and to determine how best to make this user group of the strongest benefit to its members. For more information, e-mail

(1) The A/E firm Burt Hill, along with Cisco Systems, is pioneering the extension of BIM to focus on monitoring and managing building systems throughout a facility’s life cycle. They envision the “Building Information Network” (BIN) as an entirely new utility that would make the vision of “smart buildings” a reality. Rather than building systems operating independently on multiple, parallel networks, they would converge into a single BIN network, the framework of which would have its origin in the earliest design stages in the BIM model.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

The ICS task team meets

As previewed in an earlier post, October’s AIA-SWO chapter meeting featured a presentation led by Patricia Thomas, AIA, of the City of Eugene’s Planning & Development Department on the subjects of Opportunity Siting (OS) and Infill Compatibility Standards (ICS). These become natural points of discussion as Oregon’s metropolitan communities engage in debates regarding the impact of the urban growth boundaries upon the ability to develop affordable housing. The City of Eugene is being proactive by inviting citizens to participate in this discussion and help develop a planning process for finding specific sites that can feasibly accommodate high density residential development.

The OS task team, represented at our chapter meeting by Santa Clara resident Ann Vaughn, includes representatives from the development, real estate, construction, architecture and other design professions. The team also includes a representative from the Housing Policy Board, a transportation planner from LTD and an affordable housing planner. The group was formed from interested community members identified through public outreach and by the Eugene Planning Commission.

The OS task team identified ten tenets for Opportunity Siting:

  1. Help preserve and enhance existing neighborhoods.

  2. Proactively direct the pressure of development to appropriate sites.

  3. Identify process mechanisms for compatible urban growth.

  4. Support the urban growth boundary, limit urban sprawl and preserve farmland and rural parkland.

  5. Promote sustainable growth and conserve energy by: a) creating walkable neighborhoods near transit corridors; and b) reducing dependency on automobiles

  6. Support existing neighborhood schools by providing sufficient family homes nearby.

  7. Capitalize on city investment by building within existing infrastructure.

  8. Allow people to stay in their neighborhoods as their housing needs change throughout their lives.

  9. Encourage the creation of housing in proximity to neighborhood amenities including open space.

  10. Provide housing choice to a broader spectrum of the community by siting housing near jobs.
As the City of Eugene’s web site describes, the ICS project is aimed at addressing the impacts of residential infill development. The city’s neighborhoods differ in such characteristics as development pattern, street pattern, block and lot layout, topography, natural environment, distance from the urban core, access to transportation options, surrounding land uses, and predominant architectural style. However, infill in most neighborhoods is regulated by base zone standards (setbacks, height limits, lot coverage limits) that may not fully address the neighborhood’s defining characteristics. As a result, some projects have been built that are described by neighbors as having negative impacts. The ICS project includes describing, categorizing, and addressing those impacts in the most effective way possible while demonstrating positive infill examples and considering the impacts on the city’s growth pattern as a whole.

The ICS task team, represented at our meeting by developer Gordon Anslow of Anslow & DeGeneault Signature Homes, is comprised of representatives from each of the nineteen City-acknowledged neighborhood associations, has in turn adopted a project goals statement:

Create and adopt land use code standards and processes that:

  • Prevent residential infill that would significantly threaten or diminish the stability, quality, positive character, livability or natural resources of residential neighborhoods; and

  • Encourage residential infill that would enhance the stability, quality, positive character, livability or natural resources of residential neighborhoods; and

  • Allow for increased density, a variety of housing types, affordable housing, and mixed-use development; and

  • Improve the appearance of buildings and landscapes.
An issue arising from the efforts of the OS and ICS task teams is whether or not form-based codes, which may be an outcome of the ICS process, are the key to the development of successful infill development projects. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm primarily by controlling physical form, such as the relationship between building facades and the street, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. However, it is the predictability of outcomes and prescriptiveness of such codes that might be the Achilles’ heel of the ICS program if the possibility of creative, imaginative solutions to infill design problems is discouraged.

As our population ages and families get smaller, people will demand different types of housing. Outmoded zoning codes are an impediment to creative, new types of housing, often prohibiting solutions such as townhomes and smaller attached and detached single family homes. The City of Eugene’s efforts to adhere to the tenets of Opportunity Siting and the Infill Compatibility Standards will potentially help developers meet the demand for these housing types while at the same time relieving pressures to expand the Eugene Urban Growth Boundary.

Crossroads of Design & Diversity

The Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu

I’ve always returned from AIA conferences and conventions energized, informed, and eager to share what I’ve learned. The 2008 AIA Northwest and Pacific Regional Conference, held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village from October 7 – 10, 2008, was no exception.

The conference title – Crossroads of Design & Diversity – was intended in part to spotlight the increasing need to recognize how varied the backgrounds and cultures from which architectural professionals come from have become. It was also meant to emphasize that the clients and user groups for which we design built environments are likewise increasingly diverse. This diversity was on ample display in Honolulu, as over 400 conference registrants reflected the geographic and cultural expanse of the components of the AIA Northwest and Pacific Region (AIA-NWPR). Representatives were on hand from Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Guam, Japan, and Hong Kong. There is no other region of the American Institute of Architects that comes close to matching the sheer range of constituencies represented by the AIA-NWPR. That the conference took place in Hawaii –a microcosm of sorts for the entire region – simply underscored the fact that the AIA is increasingly representative of a profession that is comprised of people from many backgrounds that mirror the diversity of the society we serve.

As is the norm at virtually any professional conference, there was a wide assortment of talks and educational sessions from which to partake. Of those that I attended, I was most impressed by presentations by Ted Liu, Director of the State of Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism on the subject of energy independence; Dean Sakamoto, AIA about his firm’s design for the Botanical Research Center at the National Tropical Botanical Garden; and the Conference keynote address shared by the delightful Puanani Burgess and AIA National President Marshall Purnell, FAIA.(1)

Energy Independence for Hawaii
The impacts of global warming, environmental degradation, and energy demand are particularly acute for the isolated island archipelago of Hawaii. In a brief and eye-opening presentation, Ted Liu enumerated the challenges faced by the state. Hawaii is 92% reliant upon fuel oil for generation of its electrical power, and there is at most only a 14-day reserve of petroleum maintained on the islands. The cost of electrical power is by far the nation’s highest at $0.42/kilowatt hour. If the supply of oil is curtailed for any reason, Hawaii would almost literally grind to a halt. Consequently, Mr. Liu described how the state government is taking dramatic steps toward encouraging the broad implementation of sustainable technologies – wind, geothermal, solar, wave & tidal, and biofuel (algae) – with the goal of completely supplanting petroleum as the primary means for generating electricity on the islands. Hawaii has not previously been noted as being in the forefront of sustainability, but global circumstances have conspired to force it to act decisively. It will be interesting to see if Hawaii achieves its goal of energy independence in the near future.

The Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center
For Dean Sakamoto, AIA(2), the opportunity to design the Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center at the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) on Kauai must have seemed like a perfect fit. Long an admirer of the work of Vladimir Ossipoff, FAIA, Sakamoto curated and designed an exhibition on the work of the late “tropical modernist” following five years of research into Ossipoff’s life and architectural oeuvre (the exhibit appeared at the Honolulu Academy of Arts earlier this year and is now on display at the Yale Art + Architecture Gallery). It was Ossipoff who coincidentally master-planned the NTBG campus and designed its other buildings in his place-sensitive architectural style.

The Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center

Sakamoto’s design for the just-completed $12 million, 20,000 SF research center is a contemporary facility very much sympathetic to Ossipoff’s buildings on the campus. It is notably “green” and likely to achieve LEED gold status – the first building on Kauai to meet LEED building certification standards. The sustainable design features include a roof designed to capture rainwater for on-site use and a thirty kilowatt capacity photovoltaic system to provide for the center’s electrical load; recycled hardwoods; mechanical and electrical systems with a back-up generator for short and long-term operation during any emergency; and a reinforced concrete design that is built to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds. Equally noteworthy is the building’s accommodation of a temperature- and humidity-sensitive rare books collection; this library is handled architecturally like a glass jewel-box within the minimalist concrete and wood structure.

The merits of the building’s design aside, it was actually how Sakamoto’s firm procured the project and his decision to not follow Ossipoff’s site master plan that I found most fascinating. The National Tropical Botanical Garden did not issue a solicitation for interested architectural firms via a typical Request for Qualifications process. Even so, Dean Sakamoto Architects, LLC, was not the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s first choice for the firm to design its new research center, nor was it the second. The NTBG apparently did not find the right architect until Sakamoto was referred to the organization by a friend. It was no doubt his empathy for Ossipoff’s design approach and yet his willingness to reevaluate the campus master plan that appealed to the NTBG board. Ossipoff had proposed that the research center be located downhill relative to other campus buildings; however, this arrangement would have resulted in the new construction obstructing what were regarded as cherished views by the NTBG staff from their administrative office building. Sakamoto chose to site the new center above the other buildings, thereby preserving the extant views while at the same time fitting into the site as if Ossifpoff had planned it this way in the first place.

Kauai is my wife’s favorite Hawaiian destination, so we can no doubt look forward to someday visiting the Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center in person.

Sharing Viewpoints: Puanani Burgess & Marshall Purnell, FAIA
Puanani Burgess is not an architect, but she is a community-building facilitator, trainer, and consultant, as well as a poet, cultural translator, and lecturer at the University of Hawaii School of Regional and Urban Design. As evidenced by the conference-closing keynote session she shared with AIA National President Marshall Purnell, FAIA, Ms. Burgess is also most decidedly a story-teller. She conveyed personal anecdotes that relate to what she regards as the “structure of belonging” and the need to see things how others see things. There is also for her the process of “building the beloved community” and the exercise of “leaving your guts on the table.” Ultimately, she seeks to help communities identify their unique gifts by using these processes as illuminated by her story-telling.

Puanani Burgess & Marshall Purnell, FAIA

Puanani Burgess recounted several examples of learning how to see how others see things and the value of the “gift-based economy.” Perhaps the most poignant was her tale about a “guts on the table” discussion with a group of local 11th and 12th grade students. The process required that each student first tell the story of their names, because that is the way we introduce ourselves. The second request was that each tells a story about their communities, or their relationship with others. The third request was for each student to describe his or her gift, which Burgess regards as usually the most difficult story to tell. One boy grumbled about how he had no gift to offer. “What kind of gift do I have?” he said. “I’m in this special-ed class and you shame me for not being able to answer this kind of question.” Burgess felt badly about putting the boy on the spot in front of his fellow students and left the class worried about what she had done. Two weeks later, she bumped into him while shopping at the town’s grocery store. He happily told her about how he had been thinking about what she’d said, about how he needed to think about what his gift was. “I cannot read good and I can’t do that math stuff, but when I go in the water, I can call the fish and the fish come every time. Every time, I can put food on the table for my family.” So even though this boy could not at first identify his gift, he eventually realized that he indeed did have one once given the occasion to think about it. Puanani Burgess used this story as evidence of the value of questioning what the gift of each particular community might be. It is her asking of such questions that creates the opportunity for more open discussion with her clients.

Marshall Purnell spoke with equal eloquence about the need for our profession to diversify if it is to remain relevant. His assertion is that diversity is not a problem to be solved but rather a reason to celebrate. Diversity should be regarded as the future. He used two analogies to make this point: The first is that, as with the biological world, monocultures are unhealthy; biodiversity is an underpinning of a strong and healthy ecosystem. The second analogy relates to his lifelong passion for music of all types. There is an amazing variety of musical forms, precisely the outcome of the diversity of those who created them. Imagine if there was no jazz, or bluegrass, or rock & roll, or any of the other musical genres that have their origins in this country. Imagine if European classical music (as fine and rich as it is) was the only sanctioned form of music, the only type taught in the academies, performed only by artists of western European descent. The truth is that we cannot imagine such a possibility because we all have been enriched so much by the diversity of music we can enjoy today. Marshall Purnell foresees a golden age of architecture that is the beneficiary of a diversity of talent similar to that which led to the flowering of American musical forms. His personal goal has been to utilize his term as AIA president to ensure that our profession is as representative of our society’s diversity as it can be.

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As a NWPR board member and official representative of the AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter, I also attended the pre-conference region board meeting and workshop, and the last-day annual NWPR business meeting. The focus of the board workshop was leadership development and the challenge of encouraging the younger members of our profession to become more active in the Institute and its initiatives. Towards this end, the NWPR solicited input from leaders of the region’s architecture schools and proposed the creation of a “Leadership Institute” that would involve students and emerging professionals in AIA activities at region conferences. A primary function of the region business meeting was the election of a new Northwest & Pacific Region Director. I’m pleased to announce that Douglas Benson, AIA of Portland will serve as the NWPR 2009-2011 Director. Doug is current past-president of AIA Portland and will do a wonderful job succeeding outgoing Region Director Jim Suehiro, AIA of Seattle.

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Mahalo(3) to the NWPR Conference Committee Co-Chairs, Joe Ferraro, FAIA and David Bylund, AIA, and their many committee members and volunteers, for orchestrating such an agreeable conference. Thank you too, to AIA-NWPR Directors Jim Suehiro, AIA, and Pat Onishi, AIA; the AIA-Honolulu Board of Directors; and to the generous sponsors who helped make the conference a fabulous experience in a beautiful setting. I’m very much looking forward to next year’s NWPR conference in Anchorage, which I am certain will be an equally enjoyable and educational experience. Of course, after Alaska, AIA-Southwestern Oregon will host the 2010 AIA-Northwest and Pacific Region Conference in Eugene. The bar has been set high by AIA-Honolulu, but I believe that we will successfully meet the challenge of producing the 2010 conference and offer attendees as unique and expanding an experience as was offered by “The Crossroads of Design & Diversity” in Honolulu.

(1) Other noteworthy speakers I had the pleasure of hearing included Ed Mazria, Peter Bohlin, FAIA, Johnpaul Jones, FAIA, Katrina Shum-Miller, Associate AIA, and Hugh Hochberg. I had previously seen Mr. Mazria speak on two occasions about Architecture 2030 and the 2030 Challenge. I was familiar with much of the work of Peter Bohlin and his firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, but was reminded again about how thoughtful and unaffected his firm’s work is. Likewise, I was familiar with the projects designed by Johnpaul Jones that are representative of his Native American perspective: a respect and stewardship of the natural world, animal world, spirit world, and human world. Katrina Shum-Miller is a principal with Green Building Services in Portland. Her expertise lies in bio-climatic building and urban design strategies, ecologically sensitive planning and community design, space planning and project management. Hugh Hochberg described a mathematical algorithm for calculating excellence and identifying problems in architectural practice.

(2) Sakamoto is principal of the eponymously named firm Dean Sakamoto Architects and a 1986 graduate of the University of Oregon with a bachelor of architecture degree (he holds advanced degrees from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Yale University). He currently practices in New Haven, Connecticut, where he also teaches design at Yale and is the Director of Exhibitions at the School of Art + Architecture.

(3) Hawaiian for “thanks.”