Sunday, November 29, 2009

Walnut Station Mixed Use Center

The City of Eugene, in cooperation with the University of Oregon and the State of Oregon, is nearing completion of its draft plan for the “Walnut Station” mixed-use center. Walnut Station is the name of an EmX transit stop located in the vicinity of the university’s Matthew Knight Arena, now under construction. It is also an area congruent with much of the Franklin Boulevard corridor that was a focus of AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s highly successful 2007 AIA150 Blueprint for America: Bridging Communities workshops.

The City invites everyone to attend a public open house to see the draft plan and provide feedback. Here are the meeting details:

Date: December 10, 2009
Time: 5:30 – 7:30 PM (presentation at 6 PM)
Location: Eugene Public Library, Bascom/Tykeson Room

The open house will be of particular interest to members of AIA-SWO because the City has asked our chapter to evaluate its proposed form-based code for Walnut Station. The City’s objective is to define an ideal urban form that reflects our community’s vision for a vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. At the same time, the City recognizes that the form-based code must respect property owners’ development rights and help them realize the area’s development potential.

AIA-SWO’s strategy is to conduct a design charrette that will task participants with challenging the limits of the form-based code. The goal will be to provide useful feedback as the City moves forward with rolling out the Walnut Station development plan. Look for more details about the Walnut Station charrette from AIA-SWO early in 2010.

Can’t make the open house? Presentation and comment forms will be available at

For more information please contact Lydia McKinney at or by phone at (541) 682-5485.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living - watercolor by Sam Rusek

As was the case in November 2008, the program for this month’s AIA-SWO chapter meeting featured the current research being conducted by members of the faculty of the School of Architecture & Allied Arts at the University of Oregon. An objective of the AIA-SWO chapter board is to sustain a mutually beneficial relationship between the School and local professionals. Showcasing the work of leading faculty at one of our chapter meetings each year is a means toward this end.

The November 2009 issue of Architectural Record includes a timely report about the ranking of the nation’s best architecture schools as compiled by DesignIntelligence (the bimonthly journal of the Design Futures Council). The University of Oregon is ranked seventh among undergraduate programs in architecture, and holds the top spot in the sustainable design practices and principles skills area. Oregon also scored highly for analysis and planning, ranking fifth among all schools of architecture.

Two of the up-and-coming faculty members who have contributed significantly to the high regard in which the School of Architecture & Allied Arts is held are Roxi Thoren, AIA, and Nico Larco, AIA. The research performed by Roxi and Nico exemplifies the interdisciplinary efforts that are increasingly prevalent on campus. Both are tackling “big picture” issues, such as ecology and urban development, in partnerships with environmentalists, public policy planners, and economists. Their work is largely freed from the political encumbrances that otherwise burden similar investigations performed by those outside of academia. This independence allows them to pursue research that is far-reaching, and will ultimately be of greater benefit to the architectural profession.

Roxi Thoren
Roxi holds a joint appointment in both landscape architecture and architecture at the University of Oregon. Her work addresses cultural identity and material production, sustainable design practices as they relate to post-industrial sites, and best practices research. She has spent considerable time conducting research in Iceland, particularly with respect to how the unique environment has shaped the island nation’s architecture. Her visits there lead her to believe that Iceland’s isolation, geology, geography, and history have all contributed to distinct landscape strategies in contemporary Icelandic architecture; the applicable lesson is that one must see any place honestly, without nostalgia or apology.

Example of contemporary Icelandic architecture

Much of Roxi’s work stateside has addressed the ethics of production and strategies for action. The prevalence of “drosscapes” – wasteful, waste, or wasted lands – has prompted her focus upon rehabilitation of post-industrial sites. She has led design studios that have explored emerging treatment processes, best practices for amelioration of contaminants and noxious waste, and the potential for revenue generation inherent in such best practices.

Roxi is also committed to greening the education of future leaders in architecture. In addition to teaching the Context of the Profession class, she is spearheading the development of the Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL). This is a real-world, design-build project that will provide students with hands-on technical experience. The goal of the project is to inspire ecologically and socially conscious living practices through experiential learning. The CASL project will:

  • Demonstrate low-impact life style choices and home design features
  • Offer experiential learning experiences
  • Function as a multi-faceted research facility
  • Minimize non-renewable energy consumption to nearly zero
  • Maximize materials efficiency and become water self-sufficient
  • Demonstrate how low-environmental impact can intersect with aesthetically pleasing design options and economic affordability

Nico Larco
Nico is one of the directors(1) of the Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI), which is an interdisciplinary research program within the School of Architecture & Allied Arts focused upon ecology and urban development, transportation, and the governance of green cities. The goals of the SCI include:

  • Conducting multidisciplinary research to meet local, regional, and national goals for sustainable city design and function
  • Providing service and technical assistance to Oregon and beyond
  • Attracting and training the nation’s best students interested in the design and policy of sustainable cities
  • Engaging national experts in a mutually beneficial discourse and exchange of ideas

The SCI brings students from complementary disciplines together to form an integrated and focused exploration of issues connected to the sustainable city. The goal is to encourage understanding of sustainability issues across multiple scales and disciplines.

Nico’s interests lie in medium to high density urban design, particularly as it relates to the sustainability of suburban development. His current SCI project focus is rethinking transportation options in suburbia – “low-hanging fruit” by his measure. How can suburban multifamily housing be built in a less auto-dominant way? Would better urban design yield a reduction of auto trips and an increase in pedestrian and bicycle usage? Are there strategies available to improve coordination between land use planners, architects, developers, and transportation planners in the design and construction of suburban areas?

Riviera Village, Eugene - A poorly connected multifamily housing development

Heron Meadows, Eugene - A better-connected multifamily housing development

The reality is that much of suburbia as is it constructed today is comprised of overlooked density. Nico and his research team have discovered that relatively minor changes to site planning for suburban multifamily housing and strip mall developments can have a dramatic impact upon how people choose to get from point A to point B. Yes, it is possible to walk in suburbia. All it takes is for developers to implement simple and inexpensive design strategies that improve pedestrian connectivity and build upon the latent potential for more walking and cycling already inherent in our current development patterns.

The substantial benefits of “active” travel include improved health (calories burned, obesity reduction) and lessened environmental impacts (fewer vehicle miles traveled and reduced greenhouse gas emissions). The young and the elderly are also less reliant upon others if walking is a viable transportation option. With only one additional trip per week per capita switched to active travel in the U.S., we could achieve a yearly reduction of ½ billion vehicle miles traveled, save 22 million gallons of fuel, and prevent the emission of 5.5 million pounds of CO2. The annual savings to American households would total $59.5 million. Active travelers would burn 21 billion calories more than if they chose to drive to their destinations instead.

A common sight: suburban multifamily housing and adjacent strip mall

I have no doubt that we will be hearing much more about the important research that both Roxi and Nico are engaged in. This is a propitious time for the University of Oregon, already well-positioned as a leader on sustainability. The efforts of faculty members within the School of Architecture & Allied Arts to more broadly address the complexities of the challenges that confront us will ensure that Oregon retains that mantle for the foreseeable future.

* * * * * *

Thank you to the AIA-SWO members in attendance at our November chapter meeting who unanimously approved amending our chapter bylaws to modify the composition of the AIA-SWO board. The change to Bylaws Article 6.02 increases the permissible number of at-large directors from one to three, as dictated by circumstances or desire. In addition, the director positions are now open to both full and Associate members. The addition of two at-large director positions that may be occupied by Associate members will never result in a majority of the board being non-licensed individuals (the other board members would be the past president, president, president-elect, treasurer, secretary, and intern director). The maximum allowable size of the board is nine, with no less than five members being licensed Architects.

We also conducted our board election at the meeting. Your 2010 AIA-SWO board is as follows:

President: Michael Fifield, AIA
President-Elect: Paul Dustrud, AIA
Secretary: Patricia Thomas, AIA
Treasurer: Linn West, AIA
Director 1: Richard Bryant, AIA
Director 2: Mark Gillem, AIA
Director 3: Mariko Blessing, Associate AIA
Intern Director: Shane McCloskey, Associate AIA
Past-President: me

Congratulations to all of our incoming board members!

* * * * * *

Much to my surprise, I was the winner of this month’s raffle prize drawing (no, I didn’t draw my own name; Roxi Thoren plucked my number out of the hat). I won a $25 gift certificate to The Green Store, which I will certainly put to good use. The Green Store was also our November program sponsor, so I am doubly grateful for their support of AIA-SWO. 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!

(1) The other SCI directors are Marc Schlossberg and Robert Young, both faculty members with the Department of Planning, Public Policy & Management in the School of Architecture & Allied Arts. Marc’s research emphasis is upon pedestrian-scaled urban form and community empowerment. Robert’s focus is green cities, and environmental and economic policy and planning. Robert was the speaker for our March 2009 AIA-SWO chapter meeting program.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LEED for Homes

The Sage, a LEED Platinum home in Eugene, designed by Arbor South Architecture (photo credit: Mike Dean Photography)

The Eugene Branch of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council is pleased to present Eli Volem of the Earth Advantage Institute, who will speak on the subject of LEED for Homes on Thursday, November 19, in Eugene.

LEED for Homes is a voluntary rating system that promotes the design and construction of high performance green homes. Green homes use less energy and water, fewer natural resources, create less waste, and are healthier and more comfortable for occupants. Benefits of a LEED home include lower energy and water bills, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and minimal exposure to mold, mildew, and other indoor toxins. LEED certification recognizes and rewards builders for meeting the highest performance standards, providing homeowners with confidence that their homes are durable, healthy, and environmentally friendly. In this presentation, participants will be introduced to the standards and principles required for LEED for Homes certification.

Eli Volem provides an Earth Advantage presence within the Energy Trust of Oregon's New Homes program. He is a certified RESNET HERS Rater, LEED for Homes Green Rater, and ENERGY STAR Homes Verifier, and primarily assists builders with building energy efficient, durable, healthier, and more environmentally responsible homes through Earth Advantage, ENERGY STAR Homes, and LEED for Homes certification programs. He provides technical training and support in the field from planning through construction, and sales and marketing support through the sales process.

If you'd like to attend the LEED for Homes lecture, please RSVP to Jenna Garmon, green building analyst at the City of Eugene by phone at (541) 682-5541 or by e-mail to The presentation will take place Thursday between 12 PM - 1 PM, in the Tykeson Room at the Eugene Public Library, downtown branch, 100 W. 10th Avenue. There is no charge to attend.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A River Runs Through (Eugene)

Aerial view of the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) riverfront site.

Based solely upon attendance at the November 10 EWEB Riverfront Master Plan Design Options presentation, it’s clear that a broad cross-section of Eugene’s citizens want a say in the future of the city’s downtown riverfront. Well over two hundred people attended the public event, filling the EWEB community room to capacity.

EWEB's urban design consultant, Rowell Brokaw Architects, and the Community Advisory Team (CAT) did not disappoint, presenting three thought-provoking, alternative visions. Each scheme involves the development of connections between downtown and the Willamette River, as well as improvements to the riparian environment. All would employ sustainable design strategies, and propose ways to teach about our river, our history and our city.

Option 1: City Green

  • Concentrated public open space
  • Pavilions in the park
  • Internal public space away from river’s edge
  • Extension of city grid at site’s urban edges
  • Double and single-loaded primary street

Option 2: Organic Plazas

  • Internal public plaza at heart
  • Green extensions into city
  • Character developed around existing buildings
  • Backs of buildings on river
  • Internal double-loaded primary street

Option 3: River Bow

  • Layers of open space and paths at river edge
  • Fronts of buildings on river
  • Most publicly accessible riverfront
  • Green reaches into city on 5th and Ferry
  • Multi-modal festival street along river

It’s important to note that the options are representative of broad concepts only; Rowell Brokaw’s intention was to generate discussions about the place rather than necessarily settling upon a specific design direction.

All three options found their advocates among the enthusiastic community members in attendance at the meeting. The common thread was a desire for a more urban experience at the river’s edge. Many waxed poetically over the prospect of public access to the riverfront – of enjoying a cup of coffee al fresco while watching people and the river roll by; of working and living in a pedestrian-scaled, walkable precinct that is a reflection of their ethos. They imagined vibrant, people-oriented spaces, where they might engage in the life of the city. They recalled their fond experiences in other communities that embrace the rivers that run through them(1).

Some spoke of the unmatched potential of the EWEB site to resurrect the primacy of the Willamette River in the collective Eugene psyche. As central as the river was to our city’s identity during its formative years, it was clear to everyone at the Design Options presentation that this is no longer the case. EWEB’s vacation of its 27-acre property presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revive the downtown core by intensely developing and connecting it to the riverfront. Restoring the historic and structural importance of the river would abet efforts to seek identity and orientation. It is a key to reinforcing Eugene’s genius loci: the spirit of the place, that which we find most unique, distinctive, and cherish about our city.

Surprisingly (for Eugene at least) there were only a few individuals who expressed the opinion that any development along the riverfront is undesirable. While there are certainly many more who strongly believe that the river should only be restored to as natural a state as possible (read: humans are not welcome), they chose not to speak up or did not attend the meeting.(2) Those that did attend would undoubtedly acknowledge that EWEB, Rowell Brokaw’s team, the CAT, and the City of Eugene are intent upon protecting and enhancing the complex river ecology rather than harming it. The project’s guiding principles include developing habitat for species on and near the site, aligning riparian restoration with the river and site hydrology, and recognizing that the property is a part of the greater Willamette River watershed.

The EWEB site today, looking west toward the 5th Street Market.

I was impressed by the depth of consideration evident in the presentation. As a design challenge, this is an immensely complex undertaking. The physical constraints are numerous: the parcel’s history, its irregular shape, the necessary easements, the presence of site contaminants, and the scouring river itself. The points of connection to the existing urban fabric are limited, a consequence of the looming viaduct and the rail line along the property’s south boundary that forms a no-man’s land. And what should be done with the existing buildings on the site, particularly the old steam plant, warehouse, and vehicle maintenance shops? Are these structures worthy of preservation and adaptive reuse?

Under the viaduct.

Other challenges for EWEB and the designers include determining the correct mix of uses and a desirable balance between density and open space. They must satisfactorily address the vexing problems of parking and vehicle access (and how cars, cyclists, and pedestrians might all coexist peacefully). The team must also model a successful financial pro forma that provides some assurance of economic viability to prospective developers.

EWEB could answer the question of project feasibility in part if it developed a networked, ground-coupled energy loop that would serve the entire development. This would be an infrastructural improvement that it could finance by issuing long-term, general obligation bonds, a financing mechanism that is less practical for separate building developers. If EWEB made such an investment, it would secure a new income stream while eliminating the developers’ need to construct dispersed, less economical heating and cooling plants – a win-win situation.

I left the meeting questioning whether the density of development suggested by the concept images might be less than necessary to attract developers. Afterward, Greg Brokaw pointed out that the total floor area depicted with each of the options actually represents the equivalent of several Crescent Villages. The real question may be whether the Eugene market is large enough to absorb so much new commercial and residential space in the city’s core.

My hope is that whatever shape the EWEB Riverfront Master Plan takes, it will provide a blueprint for reviving Eugene’s downtown by giving people a reason to go there.(3) Ultimately, this might suggest that downtown’s center of gravity should shift toward the river. If this occurred, the City’s ongoing efforts to resuscitate the current core area would warrant reassessment. At the least, a successful riverfront development could provide an impetus for a more deliberate reinforcement of Eugene’s urban identity.

Visit the EWEB Riverfront Master Plan website regularly for project updates. The next public input meeting will occur in February 2010, when Rowell Brokaw will present the draft master plan.

All images in this post courtesy of Rowell Brokaw Architects.

(1) Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch beat me to the punch with his November 15, 2009 column about the future of the EWEB property that also riffed on the “River Runs Through It” theme. Darn you Bob Welch!

(2) A true restoration of the river at this site to its previous, natural state is impossible. Before the Willamette was altered by human activity, it followed an altogether different and mutable course. Today, the south bank of the river as it flows past the EWEB property is armored to prevent erosion and to preserve its current alignment.

(3) I’m echoing Bob Welch’s words in this regard. He asserts in his column that people have reasons to go downtown now, but the critical mass necessary to make it a vibrant place does not exist. A river connection will attract more people and make downtown a destination worth going to.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

EWEB Riverfront Design Options Meeting

As I reported in my October President’s Message, AIA-SWO members participated in a design charrette to brainstorm ideas for the future development of the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s 27-acre riverfront property. The utility intends to solicit the interest of developers for the unparalleled and historic site after its new Roosevelt Operations Center is completed in 2010. Toward this end, EWEB hired Rowell Brokaw Architects to lead a master planning process, which included the masterful orchestration of the October design charrette.

EWEB, its Community Advisory Team, and Rowell Brokaw hosted a very successful public meeting on September 30 to gather public opinion. The AIA-SWO charrette followed on October 3. The next public event is scheduled for Tuesday, November 10 from 6:00-8:30pm at EWEB's headquarters (500 East 4th Avenue in Eugene). Based on the feedback gathered at the first public input session, the charrette, and from project research, Rowell Brokaw Architects will present site design options at the meeting. The design team will use the response to the options from those who attend to develop a rough draft of the riverfront master plan.

If you want a say in how it may be possible to create a vibrant, active, multi-use “people place” along Eugene’s downtown riverfront, do not miss this presentation. E-mail to register for the meeting. Light refreshments will be provided. Assisted listening, Spanish translation, and other accommodations are available with advance notice.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

President’s Message – November 2009

Most of you who are AIA-SWO members probably read the notice I sent out last month announcing a proposed amendment to our chapter bylaws. To reiterate, the intent of the proposed change to Article 6.02 is to increase the permissible number of at-large directors on the AIA-SWO Board of Directors from one to three, as circumstances or desire dictate. In addition, the director positions would be open to both full and Associate members. The addition of two at-large director positions that may be occupied by Associate members would not ever result in a majority of the board being non-licensed individuals (the other board members would be the past president, president, president-elect, treasurer, secretary, and intern director). The maximum allowable size of the board would be nine, with no less than five members being licensed Architects.

AIA-SWO members who attend this month’s chapter meeting on November 18 at The Actors Cabaret will vote upon the proposed bylaws amendment. The amendment will only pass with the approval of at least two-thirds of the members present at the meeting.

Our current board believes that creating opportunities for additional AIA-SWO members to participate at the board level would enhance chapter governance. A case in point: it’s imperative that we capitalize upon the enthusiasm and energy of our nascent emerging professionals group by offering additional opportunities for leadership on the chapter board. Another: increasing the number of board members would mean that there is a greater likelihood that the breadth of our membership is fully represented. For example, we could ensure that at least one of the at-large director positions is filled by a member from outside the Eugene-Springfield metro area, which is exactly what we have planned for 2010.

Speaking of 2010, our slate of board candidates (which we will also present for election at our November meeting) for the coming year is comprised of the following outstanding individuals:

President: Michael Fifield, AIA
President-Elect: Paul Dustrud, AIA
Secretary: Patricia Thomas, AIA
Treasurer: Linn West, AIA
Director 1: Richard Bryant, AIA
Director 2: Mark Gillem, AIA
Director 3: Mariko Blessing, Associate AIA
Intern Director: Shane McCloskey, Associate AIA

Oh yeah, there’s also:

Past-President: me

Admittedly, this is putting the cart before the horse. We’re proposing a slate inclusive of candidates for the two additional at-large director positions even before our wished-for bylaws amendment is passed (should it fail to pass, we will present an alternative ballot at the November meeting). However, we are confident that you will recognize the potential benefits for the chapter underlying our proposal. If you ratify the amendment, our board would:
  • Include an “outlying” representative (Dick Bryant – Corvallis)

  • Enhance our ties with the University of Oregon School of Architecture & Allied Arts (Professors Michael Fifield and Mark Gillem)

  • Establish a direct conduit between the board and the City of Eugene (Trish Thomas – Eugene Metro & Community Planning)

  • Boost our efforts to engage our emerging professionals (Associate members Shane McCloskey and Mariko Blessing)
Such diversity would not be possible without increasing the number of our board members. Our chapter is growing (during this down economy very few chapters nationwide can make this claim) and we’re determined to match this growth by delivering even greater value to every one of our chapter members. As our executive director Don Kahle is fond of saying, we’re “building capacity” for the future of AIA-SWO.

I look forward to seeing all of you on November 18 at The Actors Cabaret in downtown Eugene. In addition to our vote on the proposed bylaws amendment and board election, the meeting will also feature presentations by members of the University of Oregon School of Architecture & Allied Arts faculty about their current projects. It’s sure to be a tantalizing look at the cutting edge of architectural research.

We're also reinstating our monthly raffle prize drawing for a chance to win a $50.00 gift certificate courtesy of The Green Store. 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.

Don’t miss this meeting!

Randy Nishimura, AIA
2009 President, AIA-Southwestern Oregon

For ease of reference, the proposed amendment to Paragraph 6.02 of Article 6 of the AIA-SWO bylaws is hereby presented:


6.02 Members. The Members of the Board shall be the Chapter Officers, the Immediate past President, Director, and Intern Director. The President of a Chapter Section shall be a voting, ex officio member of the Board. Except for the Intern Director, who shall be an Associate Member, all members of the Board shall be Architect Members as defined in Article 2. The President of a Student Chapter and the Component Executive shall be non-voting ex officio members of the Board.


6.02 Members. The Members of the Board shall be the Chapter Officers, the Immediate Past President, up to three Directors, and Intern Director. The President of a Chapter Section shall be a voting, ex officio member of the Board. The Intern Director shall be an Associate Member. The Chapter Officers shall be Architect Members as defined in Article 2. The President of a Student Chapter and the Component Executive shall be non-voting ex officio members of the Board.