The biennial AIA Oregon Design Conference has always sought to bring together speakers in architecture, design, art and other creative fields to spark far-ranging discussions that stretch our thinking as architects and human beings. Held once again at the Salishan Resort on the central Oregon coast, the 2008 Conference was no exception. Adopting the theme of “THINK OUT/out think,” the conference brought together 190 Oregon AIA architects for a voyage to the outer edges of thought and practice in our time of extraordinary change and global challenges.
The organizers (most notably Bob Hastings, FAIA and Saundra Stevens, Hon. AIA) packed the 2½ day conference schedule full with a provocative lineup of keynote speeches and breakout presentations:
- Linda K. Johnson, artist-in-residence for the South Waterfront development in Portland, opened the conference by reminding us all of the delight that may be found by the body as it moves through urban spaces, something understood very well by dancers. In a rapidly changing world, Linda has engaged community through artful civitas.
- Leif Utne, the online managing editor of Utne Reader, cited the Dalai Lama’s declaration of the 21st Century as the century of peaceful dialog. It is through respectful dialog, thought and reflection that change for good may come to pass. To be successful, the process of dialog should be structured. Towards this end, Leif put forward the ancient tradition of the talking-stick circle, wherein rounds of speaking without interruption are employed to promote listening and reflection before lively conversation is allowed to occur.
- Trey Trahan, FAIA, inspired the audience with both the quality and originality of his firm’s architecture, as well as its efforts to help catalyze and redevelop New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Trahan Architects is one of a handful of firms selected by Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation to design affordable, environmentally-sound houses in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.
- Ultimate provocateurs, the Google SketchUp dynamic duo of John Bacus and Aidan Chopra entertained us while simultaneously evangelizing the everyday communication of concepts, ideas and places digitally in 3D. According to the gospel of Google, access to the 3D universe of SketchUp and Google Earth should be available to all, including our clients. While this may democratize the design process, such access also raises questions about intellectual property, the process of design, and what it is that distinguishes us as professionals.
- Gordon Feller, executive director for the Urban Age Institute, framed the really big picture for everyone. The year 2007 was a milestone because, for the first time in human history, more human beings lived in cities than in rural areas of the globe. The largest cities are coping with “hyper-growth” as the concept of the mega-city becomes a reality. As growth and change accelerates, the challenge is to determine how communities should develop in a sustainable way. Someone has to develop the vision, build the requisite teams, mobilize the community base, and implement the plans; architects are uniquely trained to assume this role. Gordon’s assertion is that if we humans fail to meet this challenge, Nature – the super architect – will ultimately decide our fate and the fate of our cities.
- Award-winning artist Greg Esser presented his efforts as an advocate for community development and the role of artists in the revitalization of blighted urban neighborhoods. Key to his presentation was the notion (expressed succinctly by Margaret Mead in the quotation at the head of this post) that a small group of committed, talented people can achieve whatever it is that they set their minds to.
- Our own Eric Gunderson, AIA and Art Paz, AIA (along with Amanda Hills, Associate AIA) presented a tangible and persuasive example of the power of collaborative planning and design in the form of the Franklin Corridor Riverfront Study. Conceived as part of the AIA150 “Blueprint for America” national initiative, the study involved public design workshops that attracted a broad spectrum of stakeholders, all of whom wished to envision a dynamic future for the Franklin Boulevard corridor that links downtown Eugene to downtown Springfield.
The conference organizers plan to post the full conference content to the AIA Oregon website. Look for it soon at http://www.aia-oregon.org/.
I have yet to be disappointed by any of the three Oregon Design Conferences I have attended (2004, 2006 and 2008). The quality has consistently been top-notch. I strongly encourage any of you who have not taken the opportunity to attend in the past to plan on doing so in 2010. Perhaps it’s merely the restorative effect of the bracing ocean winds and salt air; the bottom line is that I always come away reinvigorated and recommitted to the ideals of the architectural profession, and yearning to do the best architecture possible.