Saturday, July 18, 2009

Crescent Village

The Inkwell Building, by Rowell Brokaw Architects (my photo)

The July meeting of the Eugene Chapter of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council(1) was a very well-attended tour of Crescent Village, the new urban village rising in northeast Eugene. Crescent Village is being developed and managed by Arlie & Company, with buildings designed by Rowell Brokaw Architects. Mark Young, AIA, LEED AP, and Austin Bailey of Rowell Brokaw, and Mark Miksis of Arlie & Company, led the tour.

A focus of the tour was the recently completed four-story Inkwell office building. The USGBC has certified the Inkwell as LEED Gold for its core and shell. The building features an open loop ground-coupled heat pump, on-site storm water management, water-efficient fixtures and landscaping, daylighting, low-VOC materials, FSC-certified wood products, construction waste management, and operable windows. Arlie & Company’s own offices occupy the top floors of the Inkwell. This space received LEED Platinum certification for commercial interiors. As with the Inkwell’s core and shell, the Arlie office interiors use extensive controls for daylighting and ventilation, and an array of products and finishes made from recycled materials, renewable resources, regionally sourced materials, FSC wood, and low-VOC products. Arlie is encouraging prospective tenants for the remainder of the Inkwell’s spaces to likewise pursue sustainable design strategies and LEED certification.

Arlie & Company's new LEED Platinum office in The Inkwell Building (my photo)

I was impressed by how well Rowell Brokaw’s design for the Arlie & Company office achieved the Platinum rating while also providing its occupants with a stylish and functional workspace. The sustainable strategies employed by the architects have not resulted in design moves that one would immediately associate with an overtly “green” project. The design of Arlie’s office is a mature, sophisticated demonstration of how it is possible to seamlessly and modestly implement ambitious goals for sustainability. Kudos to Arlie & Company for walking the walk by committing to green design, and props to Rowell Brokaw for raising the bar.

Crescent Village Town Center (photo courtesy Rowell Brokaw Architects)

The ongoing design of the Crescent Village development is guided by the principles of New Urbanism. Arlie’s stated goals for the development include:

  • Designing a compact, well-planned village that utilizes land and resources efficiently and retains a sense of openness and livability.

  • Using fewer and more efficient roads and utilities to preserve open space and conserve resources.

  • Mixing housing, commercial, retail, and recreational uses to create a lively, socially diverse community in which residents and employees can take care of many daily activities within walking distance.

  • Creating a pedestrian-friendly site design with integrated bus stops and bike racks to reduce reliance on automobiles and promote the use of mass transit, thus reducing traffic congestion and emissions.

  • Designing and detailing buildings, streets, and open spaces at the human scale to enhance the pedestrian experience.

Crescent Village model by Rowell Brokaw Architects

Crescent Village is also a showcase for the City of Eugene’s efforts to encourage the development of mixed use centers consistent with its official growth management policy. The regional transportation master plan (TransPlan) identified dozens of potential mixed use centers or “nodes” throughout the Eugene and Springfield metro area, of which Crescent Village is one. The intent is that these centers will mature into quality neighborhoods that enjoy higher densities, a mix of activities, more transportation options, convenient shopping and services, and amenities. The City of Eugene’s 2000 Land Use Code Update included many changes directed at implementing the mixed-use, nodal development concept. It’s the City’s belief that mixed-use centers will reinforce rather than displace existing downtown areas by providing for complementary nodes of concentrated employment and retail activities.

Unfortunately, the City of Eugene’s efforts to revitalize the downtown have yet to bear fruit.(2) The irony of Crescent Village and the other future mixed-use centers is that each step they take toward realization may be further distancing our downtown from fulfilling its role as the civic, economic, cultural, and governmental heart of the city. The most common criticism of New Urbanist developments is that many are greenfield projects built on what was previously open space. This is true for Crescent Village. Its location on the outskirts of the Eugene urban area also begs the question of whether or not this “urban” village is simply another manifestation of sprawl cloaked in fashionable new garb.

Imagine if the skill, acumen, and resources amply on display at Crescent Village could instead have been invested downtown. I'm intrigued by what might occur if a vital mixed-use center of similar scope rose within our city’s core in the form of infill, redevelopment, and reuse of underdeveloped properties. It’s disheartening to realize that the odds have been stacked against our downtown. A complex convergence of adverse circumstances (not the least of which have been past planning missteps) has served for many years as a significant obstacle to a true revitalization of downtown Eugene. Regardless, I am hopeful that as Eugene continues to grow, the diffuse urban fabric will once again gravitate toward the city’s core. When it does, we would be most fortunate to find developments that pay as much attention to design quality, sustainability, and compact planning as Crescent Village.

(1) The American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon Chapter is fortunate to have an ongoing, collaborative relationship with the Eugene branch of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC). The council is one of three original chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council, serving Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and British Columbia (thereby being the only international chapter of the USGBC). The Eugene Branch is very active and effectively fills a niche for AIA architects and associates previously occupied by the AIA-SWO Committee on the Environment. CRGBC Branch meetings are an opportunity to learn and share information about green building and sustainable design, and foster interaction in the design community. Meetings are typically the second Tuesday of each month.

(2) The viability of both the WG Development (Sears pit) and Beam Development (Center Court Building) projects is in question.


Anonymous said...

what do you think of Crescent Village now, a year after? Given the recent bankruptcy of Arlie and Co., what do you think will be the ultimate fate of this greenfield development. Do you think it really even gets close to New Urbanist principles?

Randy Nishimura, AIA said...

I guess my views remain unchanged from what I wrote in the last few paragraphs of this blog post. As for Crescent Village's ultimate fate, that remains to be seen. Like many other speculative developments born during the "bubble," its future is dependent upon a resurgence in demand for such real estate. I would like to think that when and if it fills in, it will continue to be developed at the same high level displayed by the initial blocks.