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

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