Thursday, March 25, 2010

HOPES 16 – Closing the Loop

The University of Oregon’s Ecological Design Center (EDC) is hosting the 16th annual HOPES (Holistic Options for Planet Earth Sustainability) conference April 9 – 11. The HOPES conference works to promote a deeper understanding and broader application of sustainable design principles. Today, it remains the country’s only ecological design conference developed and managed entirely by students. Its roster of past keynote speakers has included such luminaries as Shigeru Ban, Clare Cooper Marcus, Angela Danadijieva, Paul Kephart, David Leatherbarrow, Nina Maritz, Ed Mazria, Samuel Mockbee, and Sam Van der Ryn.

This year’s conference will again feature nationally recognized keynote speakers, panel discussions, hands-on workshops, a “Green Business Expo,” a 24-hour design charrette, and more. Its theme is “Closing the Loop,” addressing the importance of learning from history while seeking new options for the future – not to start over, but to renew and evolve. The EDC expects hundreds of students, community members, and design professionals to participate in this fun and educational event.

The EDC has invited a diverse group of speakers, in order to tackle the questions posed by our post-industrial era. These speakers include:

Cinzia Abbate
An expert in the architectural integration of photovoltaic technology, Cinzia Abbate is Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Roman Studies Program at Rennseleaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy (New York). She served as Italy’s representative to the International Energy Agency for the architectural integration of photovoltaic technology. Abbate is also the principal of the architectural practice AeV Abbate & Vigevano, a professional studio specializing in the architectural integration of renewable energies.

Anna Dyson
Anna Dyson is an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechic Institute, and also the director of the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology, an interdisciplinary collaborative which develops and evaluates next-generation material technologies for the built environment.

Brad Guy
Brad Guy is a consultant on green building, deconstruction and materials reuse, and design for adaptability of buildings. Among his publications are Construction Ecology; Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses; and Design for Disassembly in the Built Environment.

Fritz Haeg
Fritz Haeg works between his practice Fritz Haeg Studio, the happenings and gatherings of Sundown Salon (now Sundown Schoolhouse), the ecology initiatives of Gardenlab (including Edible Estates), and other various combinations of building, curating, dancing, designing, exhibiting, gardening, organizing, talking, teaching, and writing. His home base since 2001 is a geodesic dome in the hills of Los Angeles.

The HOPES 16 website has more information about this year’s event. If you’re interested in attending, register online or mail in your registration form (download the pdf file). Registration fees range from FREE for UO students and faculty, to $65 for design professionals (an outstanding value!).

Additionally, the EDC is seeking businesses and organizations that promote environmental and socially responsible practices to exhibit at the HOPES Green Business Expo. The expo will take place throughout the day on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11. 10' x 10' exhibit spaces are available for $200 for both days and will include tables, tablecloths, power hookups, and complimentary conference admission for two. The first 10 exhibitors to sign up will get a 50% discount! 

If you or your organization would like to rent a booth at the Green Business Expo, volunteer, become a HOPES sponsor, or advertise in the conference program, contact HOPES 16 coordinator Jessica Dunlap by email at or by phone at (541) 510-4761.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Project X, by PATH Architecture

Perhaps it’s because I live and work in Eugene rather than Portland, but it seems as if the rising of a new generation of great architects and designers in the Rose City has occurred overnight. That’s almost certainly not the case, and the fact that I am only recently becoming aware of the work of such firms as Holst Architecture, Works Partnership, Seed Architecture Studio, William Kaven Architecture, and PATH Architecture merely suggests I haven’t been paying attention. These young firms (headed mostly by Gen-X’ers) are heralding a new thrift-minded, eco-conscious urbanism, one that builds upon the shifting paradigms of Portland’s creative and entrepreneurial community.

The March AIA-SWO chapter meeting program featured Corey Martin of PATH Architecture and Kevin Cavenaugh (variously of TENPOD, some knucklehead, LLC; Cavenaugh & Cavenaugh, LLC; and assorted other permutations). Both Corey and Kevin are members of Portland’s ascendant new wave. They’re also representative of an innovative movement whose core principles include eschewing passivity and championing design-driven development. Ironically, it has been in part the speculative lending freeze that has recently driven their design practices – how they work, what they take on as challenges, and how they accomplish what they do.

Corey Martin
Corey and his business partner Ben Kaiser are at once their own clients and builders for many PATH Architecture projects. Simultaneously wearing the hats of developer, architects, and builders rewards them with the complete freedom and control to realize their visions of contemporary urban living. They recognize that staying inside the lines today is not a recipe for long-term success and have crafted a practice that capitalizes upon the realities of a shifting, new economy.

Corey presented several of his firm’s projects. The one I found most intriguing is Project X, a 78-unit WORK-live (as opposed to live-work) business incubator building currently under development by PATH Architecture and Zadeyan Family Investments in the Mississippi Avenue neighborhood of Portland. The mixed-use project will also include ground-floor retail spaces, a shared courtyard, indoor bicycle parking, and a community meeting space. The development team received a substantial grant targeting projects that help create livable communities from Metro, the Portland regional government body.

Corey characterized Project X as “a building for every economy in a location for every person.” What makes it unique are the tiny 200 square foot work-live units on the four upper floors, which are intended as flexible spaces for working and sleeping. Bathroom facilities (three per floor) are communal rather than private; kitchens (comprised of Ikea cabinet components and plugged into the units) are optional. The project’s intent is to provide a nest for fledgling businesses and local non-profit organizations that otherwise would not be able to afford their own spaces. The work-live model will minimize tenants’ dependence upon automobiles.

Project X, by PATH Architecture - Window patterns

Project X’s boxy design features floor-to-ceiling windows arrayed in random patterns, a design conceit that Corey rationalizes as being more logical than it is (the fa├žade is “expressive of the small unit module” and “transforms from a regular vertical orientation facing a nearby school and homes to a random configuration facing downtown”). His conviction is that windows are about bringing in light more than about framing views; thus, Project X’s windows wash ceilings and floors with light, reducing glare and creating a more seamless transition between outside and inside.(1)

PATH Architecture and its Project X are “development widgets,” models for future units of production in a new economy for which the watchwords are adaptability, flexibility, and locally-focused.

Kevin Cavenaugh
Kevin Cavenaugh is fearless. A determined proponent of design-driven development, he also is resolute in his contempt for the hegemony of bank financing. He crusades to overcome the archaic regulatory frameworks that dampen the acceptance of innovative ideas. He holds to his ideas tightly, unwilling to compromise or lose control. A natural outcome of his ambition and core belief system is his current focus upon developing novel, compact urban projects without relying upon bank loans: guerilla development.

Kevin’s projects include the Burnside Rocket and Ode to Rose’s (home of TENPOD, the creative services co-op founded by Kevin), idiosyncratic mixed-use urban buildings that are reflections of their unconventional author/developer. But among his projects, I was fascinated most by Kevin’s 14Parcels development, which will be a densely-built amalgam comprised of individually conceived and collaboratively realized homes.

14Parcels - Kevin Cavenaugh, developer

Located amidst the tangle of the Marquam Bridge, Hwy 405, 99W, and Ross Island Way interchanges between Downtown and South Waterfront in Portland, the 14Parcels site slopes steeply, suffers poor access, and backs against a busy on-ramp – not exactly prime real estate. But it’s exactly this kind of site – a found opportunity – that seems to intrigue Kevin most. Comprised of fourteen small parcels (surprise!) Kevin envisions each occupied by a single dwelling unit. The twist is that each unit will be the work of a different architect or designer (for the most part – Kevin will likely design homes for two or three of the parcels himself). About half will be designed by established talents, including Will Bruder & Partners of Phoenix, and Pugh + Scarpa of Santa Monica (winner of the 2010 AIA Firm of the Year Award); the other half will be the work of up-and-coming designers.(2)

14Parcels - Kevin Cavenaugh, developer

The 14Parcels manifesto characterizes the project as resistance to business as usual, with the designers expected to play "give and take” with one another. The implied proposition is that they are engaging in a communal urban experiment at a scale where taking risks can be the order of the day. Kevin’s argument is that density achieved through micro-development, forced variety, and emergent order is superior to that possible through conventional macro- and master-planned means. However, I’m not sure that there is an overarching concept that supports this thesis. What will hold this collection together such that whole is greater than the sum of its parts? (3)

Regardless of the outcome of the 14Parcels project, Kevin Cavenaugh’s zeal for urban experimentation and determination to reinvent the rules of real estate financing and construction will ensure that he continues to make a mark on the Portland development scene.

*   *   *   *   *   *

AIA-SWO President Michael Fifield is batting 1.000 for 2010. He brought us Bill Leddy in February and for March, Corey Martin and Kevin Cavenaugh – all wonderful speakers. Continuing Michael’s emphasis on design-oriented meeting programs, our April AIA-SWO chapter meeting will feature Jonathan Segal, FAIA. Jonathan’s firm is well-known for the design and development of pioneering medium to high-density urban residential, mixed-use, and live/work units in downtown San Diego. Mark you calendars: the next meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 21 at The Actor’s Cabaret in downtown Eugene.

(1) Maybe it’s just me, but much of the architecture of the firms I mention in this post boasts a remarkably consistent aesthetic. In part, it may be a result of how close-knit a group these young architects are and the fact that houses, condos, and row homes are their common stock-in-trade. Corey Martin admitted a current “vogue” that favors planar or cubic expressions, and combinations of contrasting materials and textures to achieve a graphic effect. Superficially, the work of PATH Architecture, Works Partnership, or William Kaven Architecture is reminiscent of the designs of California modernists Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra, both of whom emigrated from Austria and established their careers in sunny Los Angeles during the 1920s. Whether this aesthetic is best suited to the Portland neighborhoods they populate is open to debate.

(2) According to the 14Parcels website, the current roster of designers includes Bruder, Pugh + Scarpa, Skylab Architecture, Works Partnership, Joachin & Linda, Architecture W, Paul McKean, Douglas Wu, JDS, ID Design, Mark Holmquist, SPBR, Jimi Kallaos, Single Speed Design, and Michael Etzel & Lyn Rice Architects.

(3) In some respects, 14Parcels reminds me of another project, albeit one that is a gated, suburban community comprised of luxury villas incongruously sited in the middle of the Mongolian desert. Designed by one hundred promising young architects (hand-picked by Pritzker Prize-winners Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron), the ORDOS 100 project is a spectacular exercise in catastrophic anti-urbanism. Granted, 14Parcels is different in so many ways but its parallel casting of individual homes designed by elite hipsters seems similarly self-indulgent.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Architecture and Civic Engagement

The "Sears Pit" in downtown Eugene, soon to be replaced (we hope) with a new mixed-use complex including Lane Community College's downtown campus and student housing

The AIA-SWO Past Presidents turned out in force last Thursday at Davis’ Restaurant for a lively discussion with Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz. They gathered to share their ideas, visions, dreams, and frustrations about the development, or lack thereof, of Eugene’s downtown, as well as the future possibilities of the Eugene Water & Electric Board site, the Courthouse District, Riverfront Research Park, and points further up river through Glenwood. In turn, Jon asked the Past Presidents the following question: What would it take to make each of these areas a special part of Eugene? There was no shortage of ideas and references to other successful examples. There is also no shortage of future development sites.

So in response to Jon Ruiz’s question, what did the Past Presidents think it would take to improve our city’s urban environment? Responses noted were:
  • Improve cooperation among city council members
  • Rebuild trust between developers and the general public
  • Focus on at least one winning (winnable?) project
  • Build on the momentum that would be generated by successful development of a new Lane Community College Downtown Center (1)
  • Fill the pits
  • Leverage small amounts of public money for large amounts of developer investment
  • Improve the physical connection between the University and Downtown Eugene
  • Get to the river
  • Look for a visionary leader in the new planning director (Susan Muir is leaving Eugene to become the City Administrator for Mount Angel)
It bodes well for the future of our community that the City of Eugene’s top administrator seeks input and leadership from local design professionals. This is the second time since Jon assumed the role of City Manager in 2008 that he has met with the AIA-SWO Past Presidents. We need to nurture and sustain our relationship with the City at its highest levels if we wish to influence and help shape its future.

The Past Presidents thanked Jon for asking for taking the time to meet with the group again. He also thanked those he met with for their time, and to contact him if AIA-SWO has additional ideas to share. We’re certain to do that.

(1) I hope to blog about this project in detail in the near future. My firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, along with the SRG Partnership of Portland, recently completed a conceptual design for the new LCC Downtown Center.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Design-Driven Development & Non-Traditional Practice

2010 AIA-SWO President Michael Fifield, AIA, has organized a stellar lineup of speakers this year for our monthly chapter meetings. The February meeting featured an outstanding presentation by Bill Leddy, FAIA, of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects from San Francisco. Continuing with the theme of “Design Excellence,” Michael has invited Corey Martin and Kevin Cavenaugh of Portland as our March co-presenters. These two young provocateurs will examine non-traditional practice with a specific focus upon design-driven development processes.

Corey Martin
Corey Martin is a partner in PATH Architecture, an award-winning design and development firm based in Portland, Oregon. Corey’s experience ranges from creating visionary development plans that reflect shifting economic and lifestyle trends, to detailing highly crafted homes, furniture, and sculpture. After graduation from the University of Oregon, he worked in the offices of Richard Potestio and Allied Works, leaving to open his own sculpture, furniture and design studio in 1999. He combined forces with his longtime friend and client Benjamin Kaiser to form PATH Architecture in 2005 and explore the potential of a design-driven development process.

Corey will discuss how he strives to connect urban developments with nature, and offer insight into the self-financed development process.

Burnside Rocket, Portland – by FBD Architecture (lead designer: Kevin Cavenaugh, some knucklehead, LLC)
Kevin Cavenaugh
Kevin Cavenaugh studied architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a 2-year stint building schools and homes for the Peace Corps in Gabon, Africa. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 1993 where he now designs and develops small commercial and residential buildings. He tends to use inexpensive materials and always attains high energy efficiency in his work. His last building, the Burnside Rocket, earned a LEED Platinum rating.

Kevin was a Loeb Fellow in 2007-2008 at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Currently, he is experimenting with ideas such as lender-free developments, micro housing, and temporary building skin systems.

Kevin’s presentation will focus on:
  • Banks – can't live with 'em, can't . . . wait, maybe we can live without 'em!
  • Micro is the new macro - from housing to restaurants
  • Why do we take our profession so seriously? Or at least our drawing sets . . .
*     *     *     *     *     *
Don't miss this meeting! It's certain to be another fantastic, design-focused chapter event. The March meeting will take place on Wednesday, March 17, at The Actors Cabaret at 10th & Willamette in downtown Eugene. Here are the details:
  • Social:  5:30 PM
  • Dinner:  6:30 PM
  • Program:  7:00 PM
Dinner, Program Cost, and Learning Units:
  • AIA members:  $18.00
  • Non-AIA members:  $20.00
  • Students & Associate AIA members:  $10.00
  • AIA members & associates from more than 35 miles away from Eugene and Springfield (Corvallis, Coos Bay, Roseburg, etc.):  free
  • Program with recorded credits (w/o Dinner) $5.00
  • 1.0 credits (HSW)
March Program Sponsor:
The March AIA-SWO chapter meeting is, like February's, 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.

Free Prize Raffle!
Attend the meeting for a chance to win a $25 Gift Certificate courtesy of The Green Store! Your first raffle ticket is free with paid dinner; additional tickets are $2 each.

Please RSVP by 11:00 AM, Monday, March 15, 2010 by clicking on the link below:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Where the City will meet the River

Could this be Eugene's downtown riverfront of the future?
(Rendering by Rowell Brokaw Architects)

I joined 300 fellow community members last Wednesday evening at the Eugene Hilton Conference Center to view and comment upon the draft master plan prepared by Rowell Brokaw Architects for the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s Willamette riverfront property. As was the case at each of the previous public events produced by EWEB as part of the master planning process, I was very impressed by the enthusiasm elicited by the project and Rowell Brokaw’s responsiveness to that interest.

Rowell Brokaw principal John Rowell, project manager Kaarin Knudson, and Margot Long of PWL Partnership Landscape Architects skillfully presented the outline of the master plan. They prefaced their description of the concept by characterizing it as a framework and not necessarily an exact representation of what the revitalized riverfront will look like. The master plan is a comprehensive document that will set out the overall strategy for future development and test its viability. It’s a vision of what might be.

The progression of this vision is clear to those of us who have followed its development since last September. From the establishment of the master plan’s guiding principles, through the refinement of three distinct design options, to the integration of public input, the EWEB team has continually added layers of consideration and depth to the concept. The result is very promising, a plan that those in attendance could be excited about.

Some of the key features of the draft master plan include:
  • Repairing the site and developing a sustainable future
  • Extension of downtown Eugene’s “great streets” – 5th Street, 8th Street, and Broadway – into the EWEB site to improve connections between downtown and its riverfront
  • Enhancement of the riparian edge along the river, with green fingers and view corridors that reach back into the city
  • A great looping arc of a street that roughly parallels the Willamette’s bow but traverses the site from its inland southeast corner northward to the existing EWEB headquarters
  • Quirky block shapes dictated by the overall configuration of the 27 acre site, existing utility easements, the proposed street pattern, and of course the river itself
  • A mix of building types and heights, with taller structures (as much as 120 feet high) located further from the river’s edge overlooking shorter buildings closer to the water
  • “Restaurant Row,” a string of relatively small buildings (height limit: 30 feet) that would face the river and front a pedestrian boardwalk – people places to see and be seen
  • Safe bicycle and pedestrian paths
  • A reinterpreted “millrace” that would filter storm water runoff before it enters the river
  • Development of a “cultural landscape” to ensure that what is new also remembers what came before
EWEB Riverfront Master Plan - Revised Design Concept, March 3, 2010

The master plan combines some of the best elements from each of the three design options (City Green, Organic Plazas, and River Bow) presented at the last public event in November. The plan has a legible structure that the community will understand. It’s easy to imagine it being the robust framework that is necessary to cohesively guide development over a period of many years. Its primary shortcoming may be the fact that it essentially stops at the boundaries of the EWEB property rather than extending beyond them. If it did encompass a greater area, the master plan would be of increased value. A plan of larger scope could inform future redevelopment of adjacent properties, perhaps even before the EWEB site itself is fully transformed.

Audience members wield their "clickers" in response to poll questions

Soliciting input from as many of the interested citizens in attendance as possible is a huge challenge. It’s important that those who take the time to participate believe that their opinions matter and that they have a hand in shaping the future of an important community asset. Fortunately, the EWEB team and its meeting planners took advantage of a computerized audience response system (ARS) at the master plan presentation (and last November’s design options meeting as well) that was an interactive and fun way to collect public feedback. EWEB provided individual wireless keypads (similar to TV “clickers”) to everyone so that each person could immediately submit their responses to multiple choice poll questions. These responses were instantaneously tabulated by a computer and the results projected on a screen for all to see.

The benefits of ARS include a reduced tendency for participants to answer based on crowd psychology because it is difficult to see which selection others are making. It’s all too often the case at similar public meetings where ARS is not used that a “herd mentality” evolves. People become influenced or intimidated by their most vocal peers; in Eugene, the result is that it is often a minority, rather than a representative cross-section of the community, that effectively dictates the course of discussions and public policy.

Some find fault with ARS because such polls can be ineffective proxies for more substantive discussions on issues of importance. I don’t think that was the case at this meeting. The questions posed by the EWEB team will be significant to the shaping of the final master plan recommendations. For example, audience members were asked to weigh in on the question of whether or not they found the prospect of buildings as tall as 20 stories acceptable. Another question posed was about which landscape treatment for the public open spaces they considered most appropriate. The responses to these questions and others are certain to be useful to the design team.

It’s now back to the drawing board for Rowell Brokaw Architects to incorporate this latest public feedback into a final master plan. EWEB will present this final plan to the Eugene City Council in June. If approved, EWEB would then apply for a change to the property’s land-use zoning, a process that could take up to a year to complete.

Ultimately, EWEB’s goal is to sell the land. In order to do this, it’s clear that Rowell Brokaw’s concept – this framework for achieving a riverfront our community will embrace – must hold the promise of a financial return that is attractive to developers. To be realistic, attaining this goal will likely require taxpayer backing for the construction of the necessary and expensive infrastructure (open spaces, streets, and utilities). Under any scenario, this community will be disinclined to relinquish total control of the river’s edge. Whether it will support the development of vital, vibrant commercial ventures along its urban waterfront remains to be seen.