Sunday, July 27, 2008

Edifice Complex

I toured the new Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend campus last weekend. The facility is huge and features the latest in healthcare technology, spacious patient rooms, and an attractive park-like setting along the banks of the McKenzie River in north Springfield. It will no doubt provide the region with access to superlative medical care for many years to come. Nevertheless, the project fell short of my expectations. Despite PeaceHealth’s investment of $567 million and the best efforts of its design team (led by the Seattle office of Anshen + Allen), I left with the impression that the new hospital should be devalued because of what I characterize as lost opportunities.

The most significant of these lost opportunities has been thoroughly debated since PeaceHealth first announced its intention to develop a new state-of-the-art medical campus: its location. As many have already argued, the siting of the project is at odds with compact growth strategies, located as it is on the outskirts of the urban area rather than at its core. Developers are inevitably following PeaceHealth by choosing to build related facilities near RiverBend. In addition, the Lane Transit District is finalizing plans for its EmX bus rapid transit line extension to RiverBend and the Gateway area of Springfield. Ultimately, this will spur “nodal development,” wherein there arises a concentration (as planned or otherwise) of housing and employment centered around RiverBend, all supported by good public transit service. Unfortunately, this significant investment and development of infrastructure at the fringe of the urban growth boundary is occurring at a time when the downtowns of both Eugene and Springfield are desperately seeking to attract money, jobs, and residents to ensure their continued vitality and relevance as the historic centers of the communities. RiverBend is symptomatic of the longstanding trend towards urban dispersal that is at odds with the cities’ attempts to reinvigorate their downtowns.

The second lost opportunity was the potential to develop the new project in a way that would fundamentally alter and improve upon the prevailing hospital paradigm. The guiding principles for facilities development adopted by PeaceHealth’s board of directors in 2000 laid the foundation for how RiverBend has been realized. There is an emphasis in those principles upon long-term optimization of the site; future expansion; facility flexibility; and the collection of diagnostic, treatment, and therapy services under one roof. Undoubtedly, this model has proven to be the most efficient and cost-effective; hence, its perpetuation in new hospital projects around the globe. The problem is that the talent and skills of the best healthcare architects and planners cannot overcome the fact that large, regional medical centers like RiverBend are overwhelming, intimidating, and just plain big. The bottom line is that the new hospital does not represent a significant rethinking about how facilities for healthcare should be developed or indeed about how healthcare is best delivered.

Typical patient room (photo by Bruce Forster)

PeaceHealth stresses the importance of another of its guiding principles upon the design of the RiverBend campus. The notion of a “healing environment” was used in part to justify the selection of the outlying river’s edge site. A healing environment is easy to work in, nurturing, and designed to reduce the stress of illness and care for the patient, family, staff, and visitors. In many respects, the administrative strategies and design of the new hospital have produced facilities that do adhere to this principle. For example, all of the patient rooms are private, large, and comfortable, and many feature scenic views. All are attractively furnished and have in-room sleeping accommodations for family members who wish to be with their loved ones as much as possible.

Main Lobby

The desire for a healing environment also prompted the national park lodge aesthetic, which presents an architectural vocabulary that is familiar, visually appealing, and intentionally nonthreatening in its connotations. I have no quarrel with the use of such a vocabulary for a hospital: the relaxed asymmetry of the buildings; the use of warm, human-scaled brick, stone, and wood; and the clearly identifiable entries all serve to mitigate the massiveness of the complex. A large regional hospital isn’t the kind of project that lends itself to explorations on the fringes of current architectural theory. Again, the issue for me is that the functional paradigm has not been challenged. Underneath the faux-rustic Arts & Crafts veneer, there is a byzantine maze of corridors typical of many large hospitals, arrayed across eight floors and connecting countless departments, specialty clinics, and institutes. This is the case regardless of the fact that another of PeaceHealth’s guiding principles was clarity of circulation. I simply do not believe that this principle was put into practice successfully. The hospital would have been well-served by providing more effective way-finding cues, perhaps through the introduction of more frequent views to the exterior for orientation along primary circulation spines. The multistory main lobby, which has been the target of some criticism for its ski-lodge ambience and large size, may actually be smaller than necessary to serve as the center of gravity for the vast medical center.

Bemoaning these lost opportunities now is, of course, no more likely to make a difference than crying over spilled milk. The Eugene Weekly argues that the lesson to be learned is that Eugene should welcome a more modest, compact, and community-centered hospital downtown. Community Health Systems (CHS) has yet to select a site for McKenzie Willamette Hospital's relocation, so perhaps RiverBend’s placement by PeaceHealth at the northern edge of Springfield will prompt CHS to construct its new McKenzie Willamette in Eugene’s core. We shall see. At an estimated cost of $234 million, CHS proposes a much smaller facility than Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend. Nevertheless, it would still be a very large hospital that conforms to the prevailing paradigm. It is reasonable to ask whether our metropolitan area really needs two enormously expensive full-service medical centers. The paradigm shift – the rethinking about how healthcare might best be delivered – may actually favor a greatly increased emphasis upon wellness and preventive medicine rather than critical care and the treatment of sicknesses. The mechanism for this paradigm shift would be a network of distributed, smaller, and relatively inexpensive health and wellness centers(1), as opposed to hospitals. The overall cost of medical care would theoretically be reduced if people were encouraged and could afford to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, our current medical system is antithetical to a healthcare delivery model based upon prevention and wellness; consequently, healthcare costs continue to rise and developments like RiverBend are considered a necessity.

(1) The 89,000 s.f. Wellspring Medical Center in Woodburn, Oregon (designed by Clark/Kjos Architects) is an example of a health and wellness center. The owner - Silverton Hospital - refers to it as a "lifestyle center" that promotes physical fitness, healthy lifestyles, and preventive care through integrative medicine, a spa, fitness center, health education center, immediate care, physical therapy/rehabilitation, a health retail store (featuring provider-recommended supplements, etc.) , and a "fresh & healthy" bistro.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

July AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Flavorsome food, perfect weather, and good company: What more could you ask for? The 2008 edition of our annual picnic on a warm, sunny evening at Armitage Park was a well-attended success, and included representatives from AIA-SWO, and the local chapters of CSI (The Construction Specifications Institute), NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction), and ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects). The menu was expanded this year to include kabobs (veggie, shrimp, and tofu), buffalo wings, and teriyaki chicken breasts, in addition to the traditional picnic fare of hot dogs, hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon, and potato salad. Yummy!

Our joint events with related professional organizations are a great way for AIA-SWO members to break out of our insular shell and navel-gazing ways. We should consider expanding the picnic’s invitation list even further in future years such that it includes other groups whose company we would enjoy.

Big thanks to AIA-SWO board members Jody Heady, Jean Duffett, and Becky Thomas for organizing the picnic, selecting the menu, preparing and purchasing the food. I’m especially grateful to Jim Robertson for sharing the grill-master duties and rescuing me from BBQ ignominy.

Next month’s meeting is our annual foray to Corvallis, so plan on joining us on August 20th as we tour the new Elements Building. MOA Architecture designed the LEED-Silver facility, which houses the 7stones Spa and Strega Restaurant & Bar (where we will dine while enjoying the panoramic views of Corvallis from the rooftop). The Elements Building is already widely known for its unique blend of sustainability and luxury, featuring superior craftsmanship in all of the building’s details. See you in Corvallis!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Highest and Best Use?

This Monday, July 14, 2008, the Eugene City Council and Urban Renewal Agency (URA) will act upon the recommendations of City staff and a citizen’s committee regarding the five proposals(1) submitted for proposed redevelopment of the “Sears pit” and parking lot north of the Eugene Public Library on 10th Avenue. The decision that the council and URA make will significantly impact the course and momentum of future downtown redevelopment.

Two of the five proposals lead the pack: Portland developer Opus Northwest’s proposed six-story student-oriented apartment building, and Eugene-based WG Development’s five-story office/apartment mixed-use design. City staff favors the $40 million Opus scheme, citing the developer’s financial strength and readiness to proceed immediately as the decisive factors influencing the recommendation. The Eugene Redevelopment Advisory Committee endorsed the $28 million WG plan, primarily on the strength of its mixed-use program, which would include space for Pacific University’s Eugene presence in addition to a variety of market-rate apartments.

Setting aside for the moment the relative merits of these two proposals, it seems that no one has yet articulated an unassailable argument regarding what form of development is most desirable or appropriate for the half block north of the library. What is the highest and best use for this site? There is no shortage of opinions from armchair urbanists. Generally, the opinions reflect one of two opposing views: either preservation of the site as open space or intense development in pursuit of the larger goals of compact urban growth and downtown revitalization.

Preservation of the Site as Open Space
Those who believe that the half block should be preserved as open space generally favor its development as a green urban park. UO Assistant Professor of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Mark Gillem, AIA, contends that the City’s courting of developers with public subsidies such as tax abatements in the pursuit of downtown redevelopment is ill-advised. According to Mark, this is because public subsidies of private development skew the market, deterring competing projects or leading others to demand equal treatment.(2) By contrast, investment in public infrastructure, such as a park, may be a more effective and equitable catalyst for redevelopment. “Build it, and they will come” is Mark’s mantra, as long as the park is skillfully designed in accordance with a set of principles that he and his students have developed. A great urban park should be:
  • Located in the heart of downtown
  • Open to many uses
  • Surrounded by homes and shops
  • Shaded by tremendous trees
  • Bordered by streets with parking
  • Maintained and secured by the City

Ether Short Park in Vancouver, Washington, is an example of a successful downtown park whose design adheres to the listed principles and has sparked redevelopment in that city’s core.

Typical Saturday Market scene at the Eugene Park Blocks

My take on the concept of an urban park opposite the library is that a lack of open space is not what Eugene’s downtown suffers. For example, we have the more centrally located Park Blocks that sit astride Oak Street. The Park Blocks already abide by the majority of the principles (with the exception of being surrounded by homes, although the historic Tiffany Building with its upper-floor apartments borders part of one edge), supporting such diverse activities as the Farmer’s Market, Saturday Market, and political rallies. The Park Blocks are a well-used lunchtime destination for downtown office workers when the weather is nice. With further investment – perhaps including removal and redevelopment of the adjacent “butterfly” parking lot across 8th Street as additional green space – they have the potential to reinvigorate downtown in the way that Mark Gillem suggests is possible. However, in his January 24, 2008, essay in the Eugene Weekly, Mark dismissed the Park Blocks as “undersized and over-paved,” even though their aggregate area exceeds that of the Sears pit and its neighboring parking lot.(3) The Sears site also lacks mature shade trees, whereas the Park Blocks have a sizeable collection of them. I fail to see why the Park Blocks could not, with some improvement, exactly serve the role for downtown that advocates of developing the Sears site as an urban green have championed.

Eugene’s downtown largely lacks the cohesive fabric of buildings and outdoor rooms that is necessary to provide a supportive backdrop for the urban experience; indeed, there is an overabundance of single-story buildings that cannot adequately define a street wall, barren parking lots, and under-utilized public plazas. The perpetuation of the existing Sears site as open space isn’t likely to repair this loose fabric, nor is the success of the downtown or the library contingent upon its preservation as such. In fact, the library’s design team (of which I was a member) did not presuppose that such breathing room was necessary to complement the design of the building.

Intense Development
Planners want to bolster downtown Eugene’s role as the region’s center for housing, employment, entertainment, recreation and cultural activities. Toward that end, the 2000 Vision for Downtown Eugene and the 2004 Downtown Plan outlined the preferred attributes of future projects in the downtown core. These include:

  • A diverse mix of uses that energize and enliven the streets
  • Active ground floors, such as retail and active office spaces
  • Dense residential development, preferably owner occupied
  • Employment centers offering high-quality jobs and extended hours of occupancy

Dense downtown development should also be consistent with the City’s goal of compact urban growth, countering pressures to expand the urban growth boundary by offering more opportunities for housing and employment within the center of the metropolitan area rather than at its periphery. Intense development of the downtown is necessary to realize the City’s vision. The construction of a significant, multi-story, mixed-use structure is, in my opinion, the highest and best use for the Sears pit and the adjacent parking lot. This is the appropriate response given the broader physical and historic context of downtown Eugene.(4)

The Opus Northwest Proposal

The RFP for the “10th & Charnelton Development Site,” as the City refers to the property, favored proposals that feature most, if not all, of the preferred attributes. Therefore, passing judgment upon the extent to which the Opus and WG proposals satisfy this criterion is fair game. In this regard, Opus Northwest’s student apartment building (designed by PIVOT Architecture) should be marked down as it lacks the desired diversity of uses. Although it would be an example of dense residential development, it would be targeted to a mono-culture of college students rather than a variety of household types with a varied demographic. The small retail component of the project would likewise be student-centric, and represents the extent of employment opportunities that would be generated by the project. Overall, the risk is that the development would be a segregated enclave, albeit comprised of a dynamic, young, and educated populace. On the plus side of the ledger, the proximity of the Lane Transit District Eugene Station would provide convenient public transportation to the UO campus from downtown so that the students’ reliance upon the use of automobiles is minimized.

The WG Development Proposal

By the measure of the City’s own goals for downtown, the WG proposal should rank higher than the Opus project: It does include the desired mix of housing (with a variety of unit types with the potential for ownership options), offices (an employment center offering high-quality jobs), and retail uses. WG’s design (by TBG Architects & Planners in association with RTKL of Dallas, Texas) respects the historic block structure of the city and also creates an active node across the street from the library. However, questions regarding the estimated cost (regarded as too low to be realistic by the consulting firm retained to help evaluate the proposals by the City) and WG’s financial capacities have conspired to relegate its proposal to second-place standing in the eyes of City planners. In a July 6, 2008, editorial, The Register-Guard basically echoed the staff position, suggesting that the City Council focus on the threshold question of which plan offers the most certain prospect of financial success, rather than aesthetic and planning considerations. Therefore, the die appears cast with the deciding factors being that Opus is more financially robust than WG and Opus Northwest’s preparedness to move forward immediately with its proposal.

This isn’t right. We should not allow expediency to trump solid planning and design objectives. Rather than jumping impulsively at the opportunity to build something – anything – on the 10th & Charnelton property, the City should ensure that whatever development does occur is consistent with its vision for that site and downtown in general. If WG Development cannot provide assurances that it has the wherewithal to realize its project and that its cost estimating is accurate, the City should resign itself to waiting longer rather than settling for a scheme that doesn’t conform to the City’s downtown vision. We’ve waited plenty long enough already, and the pit is an eyesore, but compromising design principles and planning goals just so the site is occupied isn’t worth it.

(1) Alan Pittman of the Eugene Weekly provides a nice rundown of all five proposals so I won’t go into detail about them here.

Mark Gillem’s criticism of public subsidies for private development is somewhat misleading because he implies that the incentives are not allocated equitably. The fact is that the downtown incentives apply to all properties within the designated zones. These overlay zones include the Downtown Urban Renewal District, the Transit Oriented Development Overlay Sub-district, the Vertical Housing Development Zone, and the Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption Boundary.

(3) The Sears development site totals 51,200 square feet, or approximately 1.2 acres. The Park Blocks presently total the same area on the two quarter blocks south of 8th Avenue that flank Oak Street. If the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza and a redeveloped portion of the “butterfly" lot are added to this area, the total park space would handily exceed the size of the Sears site.

(4) Eugene has done a poor job of understanding its urban morphology and sustaining its memory. The historic center of downtown is blocks away from the 10th & Charnelton development site, and is in fact closer to the current Park Blocks. There is an absence of legibility and coherence to Eugene’s downtown that is in part attributable to an ignorance of the past. Future developments should seek to reinforce rather than further erode what remains of the original urban structure.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The 2008 AIA-SWO Eugene Register-Guard Insert

When it comes to leadership on issues concerning the built environment, people look to architects. The annual AIA-SWO Eugene Register-Guard insert reaches the newspaper's 174,000 readers and has proven an excellent vehicle for promoting our profession’s design expertise. For 2008, our goal is to demonstrate how architects are helping to create sustainable communities. Accordingly, the AIA-SWO has adopted the theme of the 2030 Challenge for this year’s insert.

Support our chapter’s efforts to raise our profile in the community by purchasing space in the 2008 insert to highlight your firm’s sustainable design philosophies and “green” projects. The insert is the AIA-SWO’s most significant source of non-dues revenue each year; your participation will not only provide a tangible benefit for your practice but also help to support our chapter’s mission to make the profession of ever-increasing service to society.

The Register-Guard has agreed to provide the AIA-SWO with nearly 20 ads, which will run throughout August, reminding readers first about our annual People's Choice Awards program and then about the upcoming insert. As we have done previously, we will also encourage interest in the publication by offering a prize raffle at the People's Choice exhibit with the winner announced in the AIA Insert.

The following is pricing for space in this year’s insert:
  • Center Double-Truck (COLOR)* $4000 (1) available
  • Front & Back Cover (COLOR)* $2100 (1) each available
  • 4/5 Page (BLACK & WHITE)* $1150
  • 1/2 Page (BLACK & WHITE) $660
  • 1/4 Page (BLACK & WHITE) $380
  • Business Card (BLACK & WHITE) $220
  • Listing $65
* Page layout assistance provided by AIA Insert Committee members.
Firms that returned the survey from the 2007 AIA insert will enjoy last year’s lower prices for each business card-sized ad or larger. Eligible firms should contact John Stapleton for information about the 2007 prices (John’s contact information may be found at the end of this post).

A 5% discount for all pricing automatically applies to all who submit the ad content prior to the following important deadlines:
  • Color ads and 4/5 page ads: August 14, 2008
  • Camera-ready ads (those done by firms in-house): August 21, 2008
  • Business cards and listings: August 28, 2008
The AIA-SWO will also waive the People’s Choice Awards entry fee for those firms or individuals that purchase ad space in the insert. The offer is as follows and applies to a single entry:
  • Smaller firms (5 or fewer employees) who purchase an ad of $220 or more receive ONE free People's Choice Award entry ($75 fee is waived)
  • Larger firms (more than 5 employees) who purchase an ad of $380 or more receive ONE free People's Choice Award entry ($135 fee is waived)
Public judging for the People's Choice Awards will be held during the Eugene Celebration September 12, 13, and 14. Kurt Albrecht, AIA, is the interim chair for the People's Choice Awards this year. He can be contacted at

Don’t miss out. Reserve your space in the 2008 Register-Guard insert now!

Please direct your questions regarding the insert to:

John Stapleton
PIVOT Architecture

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The 6-Month Rule

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) recently voted at its annual conference to adopt Resolution 2008-7, more commonly referred to as the “6-month rule.” The resolution mandates that interns report their Intern Development Program (IDP) training units at least every six months. Any training that is not reported within six months expires in accordance with a “rolling clock.” The resolution is effective July 1, 2009, for new NCARB record holders, and July 1, 2010, or later for current record holders. It’s obvious that this resolution may significantly impact anyone currently pursuing or planning to pursue professional licensure as an architect for the first time and who is a participant in the IDP process.

What was NCARB’s motivation for introducing the resolution? The principal goal of the 6-month rule is to ensure that interns report their experience in a timely manner, as opposed to allowing individuals to attempt compiling a work history that may be many years old and difficult to substantiate. The intent is to make the reporting process more rigorous and systematized, to encourage more frequent reviews with supervisors and mentors, and ultimately to better prepare our future architects. On the other hand, the 6-month rule is controversial and has been widely debated by many stakeholders.

Prior to the NCARB vote on the resolution, AIA National President Marshall Purnell sent two letters to the NCARB member boards regarding AIA opposition to it. The key concerns had to do with the following:
  • Besides the intern, several people (the NCARB administrator, the employer, and the mentor) must review, sign, and submit forms, and can lose or misplace paperwork, or be late when responding. However, it is the intern who loses credits for processes left undone.
  • NCARB is developing a new electronic reporting system to facilitate the time-sensitive reporting. The AIA is concerned that the new electronic system may not be fully functional or immediately equipped to handle the reporting in an efficient and timely manner. This may lead to further delays in reporting, which could result in unforeseen consequences for interns. The AIA did acknowledge that there will be an increase in regular training unit submissions once a fully operational electronic reporting system is in place and expects that the use of this technology will virtually eliminate late reporting of IDP training units.
In response to the AIA input, the actual enforcement of the 6-month reporting period will be tied to the full and successful implementation of the electronic reporting system, the dates listed above notwithstanding.

For many, the biggest stumbling block posed by the resolution as it was originally presented is that it was perceived as discriminatory, particularly against younger women. This is because the 6-month rule effectively imposes a penalty upon those who choose to temporarily leave the profession or take on a part-time work schedule to start a family while in the middle of their internships. In response to this concern, NCARB has extended the 6-month reporting period for parents adopting or having a child during the preceding 6-month cycle by an additional six months. This extension also applies to circumstances that likewise could preclude timely reporting, such as a serious medical condition or active military service. However, the resolution appears to make no allowance for a failure to report required training units beyond the 6 + 6 time limit. It’s not difficult to imagine a parent making the personal choice to extend a recess from a professional career for more than a year in order to direct his or her energies towards raising a family. Should this individual effectively be punished for this decision?

Ironically, NCARB has been criticized for its frequent inability to review and respond to IDP submissions or inquiries promptly. Opponents of the resolution have argued that NCARB needs to get its own house in order first before mandating deadlines like the 6-month rule.

While the common perception may be that NCARB is monolithic, mired in bureaucracy, and indifferent to the real needs of interns, it is important to remember that it comprises all of the member registration boards in the US. The decision to implement the 6-month rule was made collectively and not imposed by fiat by a faceless, third-party entity. Each delegation at the NCARB annual meeting (including Oregon’s) carefully weighed the issue before voting for or against the resolution.

It will be interesting to see how successful the new online reporting system is, and to gauge whether the more structured reporting process imposed by the 6-month rule achieves NCARB’s desired goal of better preparing interns to be fully fledged architects. It will also be interesting to see if the shortcomings of the resolution are so significant that the member boards will be tasked with amending the reporting requirements again after the 6-month rule is fully implemented.

Click here to find the final resolution language as adopted by the NCARB member boards.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Region Dues Increase

AIA-SWO members may or may not realize that our chapter pays dues to support the activities of the AIA Northwest & Pacific Region component. The AIA-NWPR Executive Committee and Leadership Development Team (LDT) have asked the region board of representatives (of which I am a member) to consider a region dues increase. The purposes of this increase are to:

  • Augment funding for American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) attendance at AIAS Grassroots

  • Provide grants to components to fund leadership development

  • Offer a subsidy for region conference hosts to encourage inclusion of leadership development in the conference programs

The LDT already funds grants to promote attendance at AIA Grassroots, as well as financial support for the region associate director and region student director. The proposed dues increase includes $5 per associate member and $5 per architect member. Both Jody Heady (AIA-SWO president) and I support the goals of the LDT; however, we share the opinion of several of our region colleagues that a more detailed accounting of the true costs associated with the LDT initiatives would be helpful in advance of a vote by the region board. This vote will occur sometime during the next few months. If you have any questions or comments regarding the proposed region dues increase, don’t hesitate to contact either Jody ( or me (