Sunday, January 11, 2009

President’s Message - January 2009

Serving as the Credible Voice
For many of us, the turn of the calendar from one year to the next traditionally is accompanied not only by celebration, but also with a sense that we can start afresh. We reflect upon what has passed and earnestly make resolutions to improve ourselves in the year ahead. The AIA-SWO board is no different in this regard. We’ve resolved to move forward in 2009 on a number of initiatives that will emphasize providing tangible benefits to our membership. Our plan is to turn our chapter’s structure and resources toward furnishing these benefits effectively and efficiently.

One aspect of this plan is to promote the AIA-SWO as the credible voice for quality design and the built environment. The goal is to heighten awareness and understanding of the value of architects and our contribution to society. Ultimately, it’s our hope that these efforts will lead to the public mindset that, when it comes to seeking out expertise about the future of our built environment, AIA-SWO architects come to mind first.

Thinking strategically, AIA-SWO president-elect Michael Fifield recently presented a possible blueprint for enhancing this perception to the AIA-SWO board. With the objective of improving the built environment within the community and region, Michael believes that the AIA-SWO might:

  • Stress “smart growth” strategies as a method of achieving environmental sustainability (and ultimately, economic sustainability).
  • Work directly with the City of Eugene and other municipalities on policy issues as well as specific projects (e.g., nodes, corridors, downtown).
  • Assist our local municipalities in developing demonstration projects that advance meaningful and creative solutions to various issues (for example, housing affordability, or the development of a vibrant downtown).
  • Conduct “forums” (quarterly perhaps) on specific issues with presentations of case studies from other areas (with a discussion of how those projects may be appropriate for Eugene and other municipalities).
  • Provide a column in The Register-Guard each month on some issue of importance.
  • Conduct brainstorming sessions in a public community meeting on a regular basis to discuss critical issues.
  • Develop a yearly “white paper” addressing critical issues and recommendations for improvement/change and distribute this (perhaps as an insert in the R-G; it could be associated with the annual “People’s Choice” Awards insert).

Another vehicle for serving as the credible voice is to continue producing design workshops or “charrettes” on behalf of public agencies, tackling timely urban design issues. For 2009, we are planning two such charrettes. The first (actually two workshops on consecutive Saturdays) will provide AIA-SWO architects with the opportunity to weigh in on ODOT's controversial Willamette Crossing project. Our second charrette will assist the Eugene Water & Electric Board and its consultant team with exploring the future of its downtown riverfront property, potentially the most important piece of real estate in Eugene.

I believe that architecture and urban design are increasingly in the forefront of public discussions regarding the future of our communities. Part of this may be attributable to a greater civic awareness of the importance of sustainability and the prospect of significant federal investment in public infrastructure. However, I’m also sensing more interest in architecture on the part of the local media. It’s noteworthy that The Register-Guard recently picked up an AP newswire story about Frank Gehry. This is very good news. Although the article had no local content, it does help readers build their vocabulary so they can better talk and think about what constitutes good design. Indeed, I foresee our chapter further engaging The Register-Guard and other media outlets as our allies in expanding the dialogue about design and architecture as Michael Fifield has suggested.

AIA-SWO Chapter Committees
If you’re interested in helping to position our chapter in the forefront of public discussions about shaping the future of our communities, consider volunteering your time for one of the many AIA-SWO committees that will be active this year. Let me know what interests you and I’ll make sure that you’re notified of the appropriate committee meeting times and activities. My recap of the December AIA-SWO holiday party included a complete list of the currently active AIA-SWO committees. Click the link below:

January Chapter Meeting
The first chapter meeting of 2009 will be our annual joint event with the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). The meeting’s program will be “Building Projects in the Pipeline 2009,” a panel discussion regarding planned projects that constitute our own local “economic stimulus package.” A subtext underlying the discussion will be the state of the economy and its ramifications for the design and construction industry in the coming year. Given the turmoil in the financial markets, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, and the deepening recession, there is no doubt that this is a program that will be well-attended. The discussion panel will include:

Philip Farrington – Peacehealth
Dave Hauser – Eugene Chamber of Commerce
Jon Lauch – Eugene School District, 4J
Chris Ramey – University of Oregon
Mike Sullivan – City of Eugene
David Suchart – Lane County
John Tamulonis – City of Springfield

Professional associations represented at the meeting will include not only us and the Willamette Valley Chapter/CSI, but the local chapters of NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) and CFMA (Construction Financial Managers Association).

Note that we won’t be meeting on our regular date and location for this month’s meeting. The dinner and program will occur on Thursday, January 29, 2009 at the Eugene Hilton Hotel and Conference Center. The social hour and a product show begin at 5:30 PM; dinner will be served at 6:30, and the program begins at 7:00. CSI has really stepped up their game for this year’s program, and in addition to the evening’s program will be offering free educational workshops on a host of building issues from 2:00 – 4:30 PM. Topics include sustainability experts discussing green roofs and photovoltaics for roofs (AIA learning units will be available).

The cost of the January dinner and program is $25 and reservations are requested. To RSVP for this special joint meeting, contact Tana Baker at or 541-687-9445. See you there!

Randy Nishimura, AIA
2009 President, AIA-Southwestern Oregon

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