Saturday, February 20, 2010

February AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

The Plaza Apartments, San Francisco, by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (2008). Photo by Tim Griffith.

2010 AIA-SWO Chapter President Michael Fifield’s goal during his term is to promote a greater discussion about the role of good design in our built environment. Toward this end, he has assembled an impressive series of monthly programs highlighting well-known and accomplished architects (all from outside our chapter area). As Michael wrote in his February’s President’s Message, the emphasis in 2010 will be on design issues, from larger urban and community design, to building design at various scales.

Our February chapter meeting featured William Leddy, FAIA. Mr. Leddy is one of the three principals of the eponymously named San Francisco firm Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (the others being Marsha Maytum, FAIA, and Richard Stacy, FAIA). He is a 1975 graduate of the University of Oregon, so this was a homecoming visit for him.

While I knew of LMSA, I must admit that I was not especially familiar with the firm’s designs (having previously only seen their AIA Honor Award-winning Plaza Apartments project in person when I visited San Francisco last year). I was pleasantly surprised throughout Leddy’s talk by the remarkable quality of LMSA’s body of work and perhaps even more so by its philosophical underpinnings.

The title of the presentation – Mission-Driven Design – fundamentally speaks to how LMSA addresses issues of environmental sustainability, social justice and cultural preservation with each of its projects. It is the firm’s belief that design in the 21st century must make the most with the least. The reality is that we must radically change the way our society lives, works, and builds to meet the pressing realities of global climate change and resource depletion. As Bill Leddy explained, architects have a critical role to play in this historic effort, utilizing the transformational power of design to help lead the way toward a sustainable and just future for all.

I was impressed by the modest, formally restrained, and yet richly detailed character of LMSA’s work that shined through on every PowerPoint slide. This is not an architecture of bravado or ego. It doesn’t posture or cry for attention. Instead, it luxuriates in craft, materiality, light, and the making of useful spaces. LMSA’s portfolio is also sensible and resource-efficient: a truly integrated approach to environmental sustainability is a hallmark of every LMSA project.

Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (2008). Photo by Tim Griffith.

An excellent example is the Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex, part of an established private K-8 school located in Hillsborough, CA. The project provides a variety of innovative educational environments that connects students and faculty to the natural world around them, including a green roof that replicates a native California grassland.(1) Its design promotes environmental stewardship and lifelong learning on a daily basis. The project was able to exceed the 2030 Challenge and reduces site energy use by at least 65% below the national average for schools.

However, the Nueva School project is not “in your face” with its greenness. Bill Leddy laments the bifurcation that is all too common in architecture today: there are brilliantly green yet ugly buildings on the one hand, and “cool-looking” buildings that pay lip-service at best to sustainability on the other. Achieving LEED certification is great but does that mean we should excuse designs that are deficient in most other respects? Designing architecture sustainably is about more than simply racking up LEED points. Good architecture transcends the list.

Michael J. Homer Science & Student Life Center, by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (2009). Photo by Tim Griffith.

I was not alone in being impressed with William Leddy’s program. Another AIA-SWO past-president, Art Paz, AIA remarked afterward that:

“. . . The mission-driven design presentation by William Leddy was truly special and first class. Leddy's project variety illustrated the importance of the floor plan and how its clear expression of integrity may be found in the elements of the envelope and their spatial arrangement. He also championed the huge importance in a post-carbon world of integrating a (sustainable) design approach into all phases of design and construction and that the 2030 Challenge will demand extraordinary focus to achieve. It was a good night for architecture.”

It was a joy to hear from a talented architect whose work is a reflection of a design philosophy that is as congruent as I can imagine with my own. My hope is that I can likewise participate in projects that attain the level of overall excellence displayed in so many respects by those designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects. This was a great program.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

William Leddy set a high bar for presenters at our monthly chapter meetings. Don’t miss any of the other speakers lined up for this year by Michael Fifield. Still to come are Corey Martin of PATH Architecture, Kevin Cavanaugh of TENPOD Development, Architect/developer Jonathan Segal, FAIA, James Timberlake, FAIA, of Kieren Timberlake, and ZGF’s Gene Sandoval, Assoc. AIA (who will host a tour of the new Jaqua Center on the UO campus).

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

February Program Sponsor
This month's AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting was proudly sponsored by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC). OTREC supports innovations in sustainable transportation through Advanced Technology, Integration of Land Use and Transportation, and Healthy Communities. OTREC is a National University Transportation Center created by Congress in 2005 and is a partnership between Portland State University, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and the Oregon Institute of Technology.

(1) The 10,000 s.f. green roof provides habitat for native birds and insects, including the endangered Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly.

No comments: