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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL) was actually "spearheaded" by Jo Rogers, a student at the University of Oregon, in 2004. It is largely student run.