Sunday, April 20, 2008

The 2008 AIA Oregon Design Conference

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

The biennial AIA Oregon Design Conference has always sought to bring together speakers in architecture, design, art and other creative fields to spark far-ranging discussions that stretch our thinking as architects and human beings. Held once again at the Salishan Resort on the central Oregon coast, the 2008 Conference was no exception. Adopting the theme of “THINK OUT/out think,” the conference brought together 190 Oregon AIA architects for a voyage to the outer edges of thought and practice in our time of extraordinary change and global challenges.

The organizers (most notably Bob Hastings, FAIA and Saundra Stevens, Hon. AIA) packed the 2½ day conference schedule full with a provocative lineup of keynote speeches and breakout presentations:
  • Linda K. Johnson, artist-in-residence for the South Waterfront development in Portland, opened the conference by reminding us all of the delight that may be found by the body as it moves through urban spaces, something understood very well by dancers. In a rapidly changing world, Linda has engaged community through artful civitas.
  • Leif Utne, the online managing editor of Utne Reader, cited the Dalai Lama’s declaration of the 21st Century as the century of peaceful dialog. It is through respectful dialog, thought and reflection that change for good may come to pass. To be successful, the process of dialog should be structured. Towards this end, Leif put forward the ancient tradition of the talking-stick circle, wherein rounds of speaking without interruption are employed to promote listening and reflection before lively conversation is allowed to occur.
  • Trey Trahan, FAIA, inspired the audience with both the quality and originality of his firm’s architecture, as well as its efforts to help catalyze and redevelop New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Trahan Architects is one of a handful of firms selected by Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation to design affordable, environmentally-sound houses in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.

Sorry . . . no Brangelina sightings at Salishan.
  • Ultimate provocateurs, the Google SketchUp dynamic duo of John Bacus and Aidan Chopra entertained us while simultaneously evangelizing the everyday communication of concepts, ideas and places digitally in 3D. According to the gospel of Google, access to the 3D universe of SketchUp and Google Earth should be available to all, including our clients. While this may democratize the design process, such access also raises questions about intellectual property, the process of design, and what it is that distinguishes us as professionals.

  • Gordon Feller, executive director for the Urban Age Institute, framed the really big picture for everyone. The year 2007 was a milestone because, for the first time in human history, more human beings lived in cities than in rural areas of the globe. The largest cities are coping with “hyper-growth” as the concept of the mega-city becomes a reality. As growth and change accelerates, the challenge is to determine how communities should develop in a sustainable way. Someone has to develop the vision, build the requisite teams, mobilize the community base, and implement the plans; architects are uniquely trained to assume this role. Gordon’s assertion is that if we humans fail to meet this challenge, Nature – the super architect – will ultimately decide our fate and the fate of our cities.

  • Award-winning artist Greg Esser presented his efforts as an advocate for community development and the role of artists in the revitalization of blighted urban neighborhoods. Key to his presentation was the notion (expressed succinctly by Margaret Mead in the quotation at the head of this post) that a small group of committed, talented people can achieve whatever it is that they set their minds to.

  • Our own Eric Gunderson, AIA and Art Paz, AIA (along with Amanda Hills, Associate AIA) presented a tangible and persuasive example of the power of collaborative planning and design in the form of the Franklin Corridor Riverfront Study. Conceived as part of the AIA150 “Blueprint for America” national initiative, the study involved public design workshops that attracted a broad spectrum of stakeholders, all of whom wished to envision a dynamic future for the Franklin Boulevard corridor that links downtown Eugene to downtown Springfield.

The conference organizers plan to post the full conference content to the AIA Oregon website. Look for it soon at

I have yet to be disappointed by any of the three Oregon Design Conferences I have attended (2004, 2006 and 2008). The quality has consistently been top-notch. I strongly encourage any of you who have not taken the opportunity to attend in the past to plan on doing so in 2010. Perhaps it’s merely the restorative effect of the bracing ocean winds and salt air; the bottom line is that I always come away reinvigorated and recommitted to the ideals of the architectural profession, and yearning to do the best architecture possible.

New ARE Study Materials

I’m pleased to announce that at the April 17th AIA Oregon Board meeting, the board approved the award of a $500 grant for the purchase of new study materials for use by AIA associate members who reside in the southwestern Oregon chapter area. AIA Oregon’s generous grant will be matched by AIA-SWO and additionally funded by donations from local firms.

The cost of the study materials is not insignificant, amounting to $1,500 for the books, flash cards and collateral lending materials, but they are necessary because of pending changes to the licensing examinations. Most interns are now aware that the Architect Registration Examination is due for a significant revision in July of this year: NCARB will launch ARE 4.0, which updates and improves the current format by combining graphic and multiple-choice divisions. AIA-SWO currently maintains a library for interns who are in the process of preparing for their exams. When purchased, the new materials will be available to all AIA associate member interns within the chapter at no charge. Non-AIA associate members will be asked to make a donation of any size to help replenish the fund thus allowing expansion and/or ongoing replacement of the study guides in the future. When non-AIA interns borrow materials, they will be informed of the cost of AIA associate membership, along with the additional benefits that accrue with being an AIA associate member.

Details regarding the AIA-SWO Intern Library lending policy may be found on the AIA-SWO web site by clicking the following link:

Thanks to current Associate AIA interns Becky Thomas, AIA-SWO Associate Director and Alison Moore, and also to Don Kahle, AIA-SWO Executive Director, for developing the grant request for the new ARE study materials and refining the Intern Library lending policy. Great job!

April AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Royal Building, St. Vincent de Paul - Springfield

This month’s chapter meeting was one of the best attended in recent memory, as I counted 34 AIA-SWO members, associates and students on hand to listen to three outstanding local advocates for low-income and affordable housing discuss the work that their organizations do, the problems they face, and the funding sources and tax credits that make their work possible.

The three excellent speakers for our evening were:

The common theme throughout the discussion was the current shortfall in meeting the need for affordable housing. Rental vacancy rates are very low, while the percentage of households that are rent burdened – that is, those which must allocate more than 30% of household income to housing costs – is high. The past twenty years have been particularly rough, as the cost of market housing has inflated at twice the rate of workers’ wages. The availability of subsidies for affordable housing is very limited, and it is extremely difficult to make those funding sources that are available integrate well with each other. Tax credit strategies and bond financing can help meet some of the need, but are not always viable for smaller projects targeted at the lowest-income households or those with special needs.

West Town, Metro Affordable Housing Corp. - Eugene

Although the statistics may paint a discouraging picture, there are many success stories that can be pointed to by Metro, HACSA, and St. Vincent de Paul. The Eugene/Springfield community has been very willing to support the development of affordable housing. NIMBYism has not been the obstacle to the insertion of low-income or affordable housing into established neighborhoods that it has been in other areas. The high quality of the low or mixed-income housing projects that have been constructed in recent years is a big reason, and is a testament to the skills of the design teams that have been involved. It is also attributable to the creativity of developers like Metro and St. Vincent de Paul, which has resulted in projects like West Town (with its inclusion of live/work spaces) and the Aurora and Royal buildings (with their mixed-use programs) that are located on downtown sites, conveniently near public transportation, retail shops and services.

The large attendance for this meeting clearly signaled that the subject of affordable housing alternatives – and the political, financial and social mechanisms that can make them possible – was long overdue for discussion in our monthly meeting forum. Big props to Jody Heady, AIA-SWO President, for orchestrating the program and bringing to light the important work being done in our community to meet the increasing need for affordable and low-income housing.