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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tropical Modernism

This is my first blog post since returning from the 2008 American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region Conference, which took place in Honolulu, October 7-10, 2008.(1) I’ll have more to say about the conference proceedings themselves in my next blog entry; for the moment, my attention is directed to my impressions of the institutional and commercial architecture of Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii and by far the most populous urban center of the Hawaiian islands.

While a visit to Hawaii is always a treat, it also highlights how crucial climate and setting are to the shaping of architecture. This is immediately evident upon arrival at Honolulu International Airport, with its open-air terminals and public spaces. Designed by Russian-born architect Vladimir Ossipoff (1907-1998), Honolulu International utilizes the traditional Hawaiian lanai (an outdoor room with a roof but no walls) to maximize shade and breezes in the warm, humid climate. Raised in Japan and educated at UC Berkeley, Ossipoff is widely regarded as the master of Hawaiian “tropical modernism,” a vernacular idiom employed by an influential group of post-war designers that applied the principles of modern architecture and its connection to nature, an open plan, and structural expressionism to widely divergent building types throughout the islands. Another prime example is the Hawaii State Capitol Building, designed in the late 1960s by Belt, Lemon and Lo Architects in collaboration with John Carl Warnecke and Associates. Like the Honolulu Airport, the outstanding State Capitol Building is an open-air design that revels in the freedom afforded by the magnificently benign climate. Unlike other state capitol buildings that favor a classical vocabulary, the architects employed an expressionistic modernism with abstract architectural features that symbolize natural features of Hawaii. These include cone-shaped legislative chambers (resembling volcanoes), columns shaped liked palm trees, and a surrounding pool that symbolizes the islands isolation in the Pacific Ocean.(2) The best of Hawaiian tropical modernism synthesizes Eastern and Western influences while creating place-sensitive architecture appropriate to the lush landscape and microclimates of the islands.

Hawaii State Capitol Building (1969)

It is very easy for architects in Oregon to sometimes forget that the most appropriate responses to forces such as climate, geography, and cultural history should meaningfully lead to the evolution of a genuine architectural vernacular. There are certainly buildings in Oregon that are noteworthy examples of architecture that exhibits regionally specific qualities: the mid-20th century Pacific Northwest homes designed by Oregon luminaries such as John Yeon, Pietro Belluschi, and Saul Zaik come immediately to mind. On the other hand, the recognizably “northwest” attributes of these residential projects have not frequently found practical application in other building types. This is particularly the case for larger projects designed for Oregon’s urban centers. It’s as if our perception of what constitutes a contemporary architecture that might be deemed a homegrown “Willamette Valley Style” remains cramped by the seductive images of seminal northwest residences set against verdant backdrops that we have become familiar with by way of publications like Sunset magazine. The leap from an architectural language that relies upon a vocabulary of overhanging eaves, wood, and glass to one that is applicable to all building types may be greater than the language can withstand. Certainly, translation is required: a different, functionally appropriate vocabulary is the least that is necessary to preserve the essential syntax that characterizes the “northwest-style” residential projects we admire.

Even with a history of settlement in Oregon that extends well beyond a century, the larger-scale institutional and commercial work of our state’s best architectural firms has yet to coalesce into a recognizably regional style that is unmistakably of this place. Perhaps this is just as it should be. It may be that the diversity of our landscape, the unique morphology of each of our urban centers, and our temperate climate (3) have precluded the development of a set of site and culturally responsive design principles that can be applied universally to buildings designed in Portland, or Salem, or Eugene. Nevertheless, the lessons applied by the Hawaii modernists remain pertinent for those of us who largely work here in the Willamette Valley. These lessons seem even more relevant today as we focus on sustainable design strategies, which by their nature foster site-appropriate responses. The key may be to work as organically as possible, rather than impose notions about what “Willamette Valley Style” architecture might look like upon our designs. After all, Vladimir Ossipoff and the other tropical modernists employed such an approach. They allowed the influences of their projects' settings and functional requirements to determine the end results to great effect.

(1) I’d hoped to post more blog entries during my trip to Hawaii. Unfortunately, my brand-new laptop computer did not cooperate and thus my ability to work on the blog was severely curtailed.

(2) Much of the architecture in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki Beach that was the product of unbridled post-war development shares the salient features of “tropical modernism” but suffers from an overabundance of island kitsch. There is a risk in being too literal in allusions to recognizably Hawaiian features such as palm trees and volcanoes.

(3) The Willamette Valley occupies a “Goldilocks zone:” It isn’t so hot or so cold, or too wet or too dry, or the light too dim or too harsh as to demand a dramatic set of architectural adaptations to the design of shelter.