Saturday, September 27, 2008

Willamette Crossing

The "deck-arch" I-5 bridge scheme

The Local Affairs Committee of the American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon Chapter had historically seen its level of activity rise and fall as “hot-button” issues grabbed local headlines and then faded. The goal of the erstwhile committee had been to work with public agencies to review and participate on public planning initiatives, and to initiate or respond to architectural issues affecting the local community. Today, the role of a de facto Local Affairs Committee is fulfilled by the monthly assemblage of our past AIA-SWO presidents (aka the “Dead Presidents”). This august and capable group recently took a very public stance about the design process for the proposed new I-5 bridge that would span the Willamette River at Eugene.

Eric Gunderson, AIA-SWO president in 2007, championed the “Willamette Crossing” issue because of its once-in-a-generation aspect and the Oregon Department of Transportation’s own promise to construct a “signature” bridge that would be the beneficiary of input from community-minded and aesthetically inclined advisory groups. Eric was a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Group organized by ODOT and thus experienced ODOT’s design input process and the resultant frustration firsthand when the popular “through-arch” bridge configuration was passed over in favor of the less costly “deck-arch” design. Following a spirited exchange of e-mails among the Dead Presidents, Eric penned an opinion piece that was printed in The Register-Guard on September 24, 2008. The following is an excerpt:

“The I-5 Bridge over the Willamette River began with great promise. It was funded as part of Oregon’s goal to revitalize crumbling bridges. Most bridges built today are flat decks, rarely seen from below, and barely noticeable from above. The railings are often positioned so we cannot even see the water we are crossing. But out of many projects across the state, $10 million was added specifically to make Willamette Crossing a signature structure. This was the promise . . .

“Some feel spending money on 'design features' is frivolous. Yet we choose to live in the Northwest because of its beauty. As a community, that is our greatest common value. What we build should complement the rivers, mountains and valleys we are blessed with. Building structures we care about is among the most important investments we can make. We call upon ODOT to offer a vision that will re-energize the public and advisory committees. A hard look at the budget and images of a clear concept should be the next step. Let’s keep the promise.”

The ODOT decision was particularly galling not only because it appeared that budget once again had trumped other concerns, but also because ODOT chose to defend the selection of the deck-arch design as that favored by the most first and second choice votes. Note that the deck-arch scheme did not receive the most first place votes alone: the through-arch design was broadly preferred by a 2-to-1 margin over the deck-arch. AIA-SWO Executive Director Don Kahle weighed in with his own Register-Guard editorial about ODOT’s “new math” and its rationalization of the I-5 bridge selection. Don would pull no punches:

“State officials gave 'careful consideration' to public input. 'Careful' in this case means 'crafty,' 'contrived' and 'Orwellian.' The state tells us the deck arch received more votes for first or second choice than any of the others. It also had the fewest last-place votes. Corvallis may have more math majors, but come on — we can count! Adding first and second choices adds insult to injury. The state is giving us the bridge we hate the least. We were promised a 'signature bridge.' We were promised uncharacteristic transparency. In the end — if this is the end — we got neither.”

Of course, attention to the budget should be an important issue. As architects, we confront the challenge of balancing available project funds with functional requirements and aesthetic concerns everyday. We’re skilled at creatively planning and developing design ideas to maximize the full potential of a project within the limitations of its budget. The new I-5 Willamette Crossing bridge project is no different.

My sense is that ODOT’s announcement of the selection of the deck-arch design was premature and based reflexively upon very raw cost estimates, ones that the Community Advisory Group (CAG) and Project Delivery Team (PDT) were not given an opportunity to adequately review. I also doubt that the bridge design team was sufficiently challenged by ODOT to seek the most creative solutions for optimizing the project budget in light of the clear preference for a signature bridge. Indeed, ODOT Project Liaison Tim Dodson expressed his regret to Eric about ODOT’s failure to provide sufficient time for the CAG and PDT to ask the hard questions about the relative costs of the through-arch and deck-arch configurations. Upon reading Eric’s piece in The Register-Guard, Tim relayed his appreciation for AIA-SWO’s call for continued partnership with ODOT despite initial disappointment, and his belief that architects and the community can exert significant influence on the final visual character of the project. Rather than stubbornly retrench, or worse, ignore the criticism surrounding the selection process, ODOT appears willing to take a step back and further examine the design options.

Yaquina Bay Bridge (1936) designed by Conde B. McCullough

So the key to moving forward will be to explore what can be incorporated into the I-5 span to truly ensure that it is a signature bridge, one that marks the southern entry to the Willamette Valley and the first crossing of its namesake river (1). As Eric pointed out in The Register-Guard on behalf of the Dead Presidents, there is danger in design by accessories. The addition of applied ornamentation, merely pasted on the surface, was strongly opposed by the Citizens’ Advisory Group. Ideally, the signature bridge would be born of an integrated concept in which art and engineering are one, a product of right- and left-brained thinking that would enhance its setting (2). This is the quality of the most memorable spans, such as the widely admired bridges designed by Conde B. McCullough and constructed across river estuaries along the Oregon Coast Highway during the 1920s and '30s. It is the same quality (albeit articulated with a very different vocabulary) for which Santiago Calatrava’s designs are so highly regarded. It is why creativity of the highest order is necessary now to ensure that the result is a beautiful Willamette Crossing that would be both elegant and economical of means. Let’s see how far ODOT’s renewed commitment to working with its community partners will go toward realizing a bridge that our community will wholeheartedly embrace.

It was important that architects weigh in on this topic (3). We rightly should be regarded by the public as leading voices on issues related to the built environment. The I-5 bridge project is too important for the AIA-SWO to not have formulated an opinion about; our silence would have been conspicuous. The Dead Presidents not only took a constructive stance on the issue, but also ensured that our profession presented a consensus view derived from the diversity of opinions that reflects the breadth of our membership. This has always been the goal of the Local Affairs Committee and (in Eric Gunderson’s view) stands as an example of the AIA-SWO at its best.

(1) Carl Sherwood (1990 AIA-SWO president) argues that the new bridge should be regarded as a landmark for the southern entrance to Willamette Valley as opposed to being a gateway to the Eugene/Springfield metro area, which it effectively would not be with no connection planned to Franklin Boulevard.

(2) Current AIA-SWO president Jody Heady takes the contrarian’s view with respect to the proposed bridge. His belief is that the deck-arch design is the most aesthetically (as well as fiscally) responsible because it would be less likely than a through-arch structure to self-consciously call attention to itself and possibly detract from the natural beauty of the river.

(3) UO professor emeritus of architecture and landscape architecture Jerry Diethelm also editorialized about the I-5 bridge project. Check out his May 15, 2008 article in the Eugene Weekly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Avast me hearties, September 19th was National Park(in’) Day!

National Park(in') Day (1) be an annual event t' celebrate parks by creatin' temporary parks in public parkin' spaces. Goals o' the event, accordin' t' organizers, be to make merry and promote t' need for parks in America's cities. T' fundamental elements o' a good outdoor public space be seatin', shade, a place t' watch landlubbers and view scenery, and a sense o' bein' in nature.

In downtown Eugene, t' fine crew o' Cameron McCarthy Gilbert and Scheibe Landscape Architects volunteered its time t’ transform a metered parkin' spot for a day into a park which be its own – Pearl Park – located at t' intersection o' Pearl Street & Broadway.

T' sprogs o' CMGS (from left to right: Matt Koehler, Justin Lanphear, Aaron Olsen, and Colin McArthur) be admirin' the fruits o' their labors.

And it weren’t about t’ pieces o’ eight: CMGS installed a mess o’ sod, trees, and shrubs donated by Nurserynet NW, Inc. and Rexius, with pavers by Willamette Graystone. Free coffee 'n pastries were furnished by Full City and Palace Bakery, respectively. Add in cafĂ© tables 'n chairs, and t’ effect be complete. Arrr! A fine time t' be had by all, mateys!

Shiver me timbers! That'd be me and Robertson/Sherwood/Architects lass Janelle Ashcraft hoistin’ grog while sittin' in Pearl Park.

Park(in') Day continues t' spread virally, through t' Internet and word o' mouth. Since its inception, Park(in') Day has become a global experiment in reprogrammin' vehicular space for social exchange, recreation and artistic expression. That thar be swashbucklin’ for a good cause!

(1) September 19th also happened to be Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

September AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

David's House Traumatic Brain Injury Residence by 2Form Architecture - 1st Place, Public/Institutional Architecture, 2008 People's Choice Awards

The September 2008 AIA-SWO chapter meeting featured our annual Awards Gala, showcasing the results of our Craftsmanship and People’s Choice awards programs. If you weren’t there, you missed a great event. Gerlinger Hall Lounge on the University of Oregon campus provided a decorous backdrop for the stately proceedings, enjoyed by the 50 AIA-SWO members and guests in attendance.

AIA150 Scholarships
The evening’s first point of order was to bestow the AIA150 Scholarship for Community Activism to two students nominated by faculty at the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The scholarships were established by our chapter’s AIA150 committee, part of the national celebration of the American Institute of Architects 150th anniversary in 2007. The committee was pleased to award the scholarships to two students destined to become leaders of our profession:
  • Erik Churchill, Graduate Student in Architecture and Business Administration, M. Arch. and M.B.A. Candidate (2010): Erik is one of the student founders and presently the elected Director of the DesignBridge, a student-run design-build organization. He has outstanding leadership abilities and excels in both the Architecture and Business Graduate Programs. In addition to Erik's service and academic achievements, his design studio work is outstanding. Professor Earl Moursund comments on Erik’s performance: “Thoughtful, inventive, searching; jumping over the obvious to explore possibilities, dramatic consequences, really plunged into the nature of each of the project components, with most interesting results…”
  • Daniele Cohen B.Arch. candidate (2011): Daniele is a member of the Robert D. Clark Honors College and holds a 3.67 GPA. His ARCH 383 Professor, Dee Etzwiller, comments in her review of his studio work: “You are a strong student who is passionate about architecture. You worked very hard on your design, developing it on all scales up to the end. Your design process is smooth and thoughtful. You have a strong design sense and keen interest in form, materials, structures, etc.” He is the newly elected Outreach Director for New Projects by the student-run DesignBridge Organization. The Outreach Director works with a team of students “incubating” projects, grant writing and finding professional sponsors who can mentor, provide materials and equipment, and recruits design/build firms to offer summer internships. It is unusual that a second-year undergraduate gains the confidence of so many students. In his short time at Oregon, Daniele has demonstrated great potential as a designer, scholar, and as a caring, contributing member of the community.
Congratulations Erik and Daniele!

AIA150 Committee Chair Eric Gunderson presents the AIA150 scholarships to Daniele Cohen and Erik Churchill

Craftsmanship Awards
We too often fail to publicly acknowledge the men and women in the construction industry that have demonstrated truly superior craftsmanship and execution of the buildings we design. The biennial AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards program is an excellent vehicle for demonstrating our appreciation for their efforts, without which our projects cannot succeed. For the September 2008 AIA-SWO chapter meeting, we were privileged to recognize nine worthy nominees:

  • Shadowbrook General Contracting
  • Gary Engle, Master Carpenter
  • Tofflemoyer Masonry
  • John Wright, Vik Construction
  • Mark Bruer
  • Jim Sutherland, J.B. Electric
  • Nick Russo, Renaissance Remodel & Restoration
  • Pat Shields, Shieldworks
  • Essex Construction

The following individuals were further singled out as the recipients of 2008 AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards for the outstanding displays of skill evident in their completed projects:

  • Nick Russo, Renaissance Remodel & Restoration
  • Pat Shields, Shieldworks
  • John Wright, Vik Construction
AIA-SWO President Jody Heady, AIA presents John Wright of Vik Construction with his 2008 Craftsmanship Award

Congratulations are due to all of the Craftsmanship Award nominees. More importantly, we thank them for the care, focus, and attention that are evident in their work, for doing their best to help realize the vision of our architectural dreams.

People’s Choice Awards
The AIA-SWO People’s Choice Awards is our annual public outreach event held at the Eugene Celebration. The purpose is to present the recent work of architects and landscape architects, and to encourage the public to critically engage the built environment. The emphasis is not on winning but on sharing and honoring all the work undertaken to make buildings and landscapes important and meaningful in our daily lives. Here is the list of the winners, who are also featured in the Wednesday, September 24, 2008 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard. Congratulations to this year's People's Choice selections!

  • Commercial Landscape 1st Place: Paradise Springs Wedding & Events Garden - Schirmer & Associates
  • Commercial Landscape 2nd Place: Sequential Biofuel Retail Fueling Station - Habitats Inc.

  • Multi-Family Housing 1st Place: The Watershed - Solarc Architecture & Engineering

  • Multi-Family Housing 2nd Place: Crescent Village East - Rowell Brokaw Architects
  • Public/Institutional 1st Place: David’s House Traumatic Brain Injury Residence - 2Form Architecture

  • Public/Institutional 2nd Place: A New Synagogue for Temple Beth Israel - TBG Architects & Planners

  • Residential Landscape 1st Place: Deep Shade to Dappled Light - Stangeland & Associates

  • Residential Landscape 2nd Place: Terraces at the Pavilion - Schlesinger & Associates
La Perla Pizzeria Napoletana - Nir Pearlson, Architect

  • Commercial 1st Place: La Perla Pizzeria Napoletana - Nir Pearlson
  • Commercial 2nd Place: Planet Improvement Center – Bring Recycling - TBG Architects & Planners

  • Residential 1 st Place: McKenzie River Residence - Nir Pearlson
  • Residential 2nd Place: Rogers Residence - Willard C. Dixon

The winner of out ballot raffle and the recipient of a $250 gift certificate to The Green Store is Esther Foss of Eugene. Congratulations Esther!

Colleague's Choice Results
The “Colleague’s Choice” vote is an ancillary event to the People’s Choice program and meant to be a fun way for our AIA-SWO and ASLA members to weigh in on the question of which of their peers’ projects were most worthy of recognition. In addition, the AIA-SWO and ASLA voters were encouraged to provide their comments about the projects. Accompanying the list below of the colleagues’ choices is a sampling of their comments:

  • Commercial Landscape: SeQuential Biofuel Retail Fueling Station
    Transforms a utilitarian, functional building into something more meaningful.
    The green roof appears to work! It is prominent because of the shed roof form.
    When I drive by I admire how good the roof looks
    Good demonstration piece for the public

  • Multi-Family Housing: The Royal
    Well styled urban building both inside and out
    Project’s scope and mixed-use in downtown setting is attractive
    Underserved need, well-designed space, simplicity of plan; though a little trendy
    Because it really changes Springfield

  • Public/Institutional: West Eugene Wetlands Environmental Education Center
    Ambitious project goals
    Right on!
    Nice integration into the site. Good use of a vegetated roof.
    Transparent and open.
    Clearly well-thought out. Beautiful board!

  • Residential Landscape: Brannock Garden
    Multiple layers with depth; opening the backyard to the front.
    Not ordinary in its approach to elements, such as fire pit, retaining wall, etc.
    Beautiful water feature, strong art component.
    Clean, efficient use of materials; built forms complement/integrate w/natural components.
    Elegant incorporation of built and natural landscapes.
    Art, simplicity, materiality.

  • Commercial Architecture: La Perla
    Great use of materials and color; daring and appropriate
    Great new identity and memorable image
    Fresh, simple, bold
    Excellent creation of an open dining area w/focus on the pizza oven!
    Visually energetic, draws you in from the street yet is connected & part of the streetscape

  • Single-Family Residential: McKenzie River Residence
    Beautifully tucked into the landscape
    A modern gem
    Ordered, minimal, rich materials
    A beautiful house on an awesome site
    Compact but appears very spacious
    Simplicity of form, honesty and articulation of materials

All AIA-SWO and ASLA members who submitted their Colleague’s Choice ballots were instantly eligible for a raffle prize drawing. The prize – a $150 gift certificate to The Green Store – was awarded to Lindsay Smith of Satre Associates. Congratulations Lindsay!

People’s Choice Exhibit Schedule
The boards of the winning 2008 entries will be on display at the Midtown Arts Center (1590 Willamette Street in Eugene) during the month of October. Following that, all of the 2008 People’s Choice boards will be moved to the Corvallis Public Library, where they will be viewable through November.

Register-Guard Special Insert
As mentioned above, look for the special Register-Guard insert inside the Wednesday, September 24th edition of the paper. Also, you will be able to find an expanded, full-color online version of the insert at the Register-Guard’s web site at

I would be remiss if I did not thank the members of the Craftsmanship Awards and People’s Choice Awards committees for generously offering their time and energies toward the success of both programs. We couldn’t have done it without them:

  • Craftsmanship Award Committee Members
    Jody Heady
    Jean Duffett
    Scott Stolarczyk

  • People’s Choice Committee Members
    Kurt Albrecht
    Janna Alley
    Sara Bergsund
    Jenna Fribley
    Shawn Jenkins
    Anita Van Asperdt
    Barbara Harris
    Matt Koehler
    Lana Sadler
    Paul Dustrud
    . . . plus all the AIA-SWO and ASLA members who staffed the exhibit (thank you!)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Design on Display

I’ve just returned home from this year’s AIA-SWO People’s Choice Awards display at the Eugene Celebration. From what I saw, it was an unqualified success. Not only did we showcase more entrants (36) than in any previous year, but from all accounts there was a steady flow of people very much interested in the exhibit throughout the entire weekend. As a means to deliver our message about the benefits of design excellence and what design professionals provide to enhance the built environment, the People’s Choice program is priceless and the very best kind of publicity. My thanks to everyone involved with the People’s Choice organizing committee: Kurt, Barbara, Jenna, Shawn, Sara, Anita, Janna, and Matt (did I forget anyone?). I’d also like to thank all of the AIA-SWO and ASLA members who volunteered their time to staff the exhibit during the Celebration. We couldn’t have done it without you.

The results of the public’s voting (as well as the “colleague’s choice” balloting) will be presented at the September chapter meeting, which is this year’s awards banquet (recognizing both the People’s Choice winners and the recipients of the 2008 AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards). All of the People’s Choice entrants will be on display at the banquet, so if you missed seeing the display during the Celebration at the Oveissi & Company store you can catch it at Gerlinger Hall on the University of Oregon campus this Wednesday evening. The People’s Choice boards will also be displayed at the Corvallis Public Library in November so that our neighbors up north in the heart of the valley get an opportunity to see the best work of our membership as well.

Speaking of Oveissi & Company, many thanks to Kaz Oveissi for his hospitality. His store is the perfect venue for the People’s Choice exhibit during the Eugene Celebration, ideally sited and commodious (with beautiful rugs as a backdrop for the projects). Thanks too, to all of our other People’s Choice display sponsors: Central Print & Reprographics, The Green Store, and The Eugene Weekly.

See you all at the AIA-SWO Awards Banquet this coming Wednesday, September 17th!

Monthly Meeting Sponsorship

The American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO) offers a chapter meeting sponsorship program as a means for companies to feature their services and products of interest to our membership. For the sponsor, the benefits would include:
  • Recognition on all meeting notification materials distributed to every AIA-SWO professional, associate, and affiliate member in advance of the selected meeting.
  • Identification as a sponsor on the annual Program Calendar posted as a printable pdf file on the AIA-SWO chapter website.
  • Exclusive access to AIA-SWO members who attend the chapter meeting, including the opportunity to present products/services with a tabletop display during the social hour preceding the dinner and program.
  • The opportunity to address the assembled group for up to 5 minutes following dinner and prior to start of the evening’s program. Upon advance request, AIA-SWO can furnish a digital projector and screen for the sponsor’s presentation.
  • First rights to future chapter meeting sponsorship opportunities.
The cost of sponsorship would be proportionate to the number of members who attend the selected meeting, with a per capita rate of $17.00 or a maximum of $300, whichever is less. Typically, attendance at the chapter meetings has averaged between 20 and 30 persons. Unless noted otherwise, the AIA-SWO meetings take place at The Actors Cabaret, located in downtown Eugene at 996 Willamette Street, on the third Wednesday of each month. Social hour begins at 5:30, dinner at 6:30, and the program at 7:00.

If you are a vendor interested in sponsoring one of our chapter meetings, contact me via e-mail at or by phone at (541) 342-8077. Opportunities remain available for our chapter meetings throughout 2009.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

AIA-SWO Chapter Program Change

The October AIA-SWO chapter meeting program was originally scheduled to be a discussion about the Eugene riverfront and more specifically, the Eugene Water & Electric Board property that will be redeveloped once EWEB’s new facilities in west Eugene are completed. However, our chapter is presently working on plans with both EWEB and the City of Eugene to jointly conduct a public design charette early in 2009 that will factor prominently in how a new riverfront district might take shape. For this reason, we will defer this subject for a chapter meeting that will occur sometime shortly after the results of the charette are available for review. Instead, I’m pleased to announce that October’s meeting (10/15/08) will feature a presentation by City of Eugene planners Terri Harding and Patricia Thomas about the City’s Infill Compatibility Standards (ICS) and Opportunity Siting (OS) projects.

The purpose of the ICS and OS projects can be generally described as protecting existing neighborhood character while integrating infill development in a way that fosters a sense of community. OS specifically focuses on identifying sites and outlining the design parameters for infill multiple-family housing. Both projects were initiated by City Council to address concerns raised by residents about the kind of development occurring in their neighborhoods. These have become high profile projects with the Planning Commission and recommendations will be going forward to the Commission and the City Council in the next several months.

Two task teams have been at work since late last year to define these projects and propose solutions to what residents find to be ugly or invasive infill development that have negative impacts on existing neighborhoods. Toward that end, the ICS task team is working on identifying characteristics that define each neighborhood and the aspects of new development that have had a deleterious effect. The OS task team has been developing a process to work with neighborhoods to identify appropriate sites for denser development and a methodology to assure that developments are better designed to fit well into existing neighborhoods.

Why present this to our membership? AIA-SWO members will be interested in the integration of urban design issues into a conversation that involves residents and businesses and affects developers and their architects. The OS and ICS task teams and City staff welcome a discussion with AIA-SWO members to learn from architects' perspectives on these issues and ideas for solutions while the projects are in early-enough phases to benefit from the input.

Check out the following web links for more information about the Infill Compatibility Standards and Opportunity Siting projects:

While October’s program may be changing, this month’s program remains the same. Don’t miss our special Craftsmanship & People’s Choice Awards Gala on September 17th at Gerlinger Hall on the University of Oregon campus. Every few years, the AIA-SWO honors those builders who have contributed through their efforts to the realization of projects that exhibit an outstanding level craftsmanship or have otherwise have helped mightily to produce highly successful built spaces. The award winners are selected from among candidates nominated by AIA-SWO members. Mark your calendars for this very special event, which will also feature the announcement of the annual People’s Choice Design Awards winning projects. See you there!