Friday, November 28, 2008

A Seat at the Table

Jon Ruiz, Eugene City Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Lawrence Hall studio - Photo by Erik Bishoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Have you considered joining AIA lately?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yes We Can!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Good Design Makes a Difference

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

Good Design Makes a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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