Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Filling the Pit

Lane Community College Downtown Center - 10th Avenue Elevation

The firm I work for, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc (RSA), led the team that recently completed the Feasibility Study and Conceptual Design for the proposed new Lane Community College Downtown Campus (DTC) project. The significance of this project to the future of downtown Eugene cannot be underestimated: the DTC might be the “tipping point” past which positive energy finally holds sway after years of disappointment.(1) The development would occupy the long-vacant half-block across 10th Avenue from the Eugene Public Library. Filling of that site and its notorious “Sears pit” would be a symbolic triumph for the City of Eugene, as LCC would finally succeed where so many others have previously failed.(2)

Lane Community College currently operates a Downtown Eugene Center on Willamette Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. In addition to providing a commodious new home for the programs it offers downtown, LCC envisions its proposed new facility being a signature building and a model of energy efficiency and green construction, with easy access to mass transit. It also foresees the DTC being a catalyst for the revitalization of the moribund downtown core. The College may include student housing in the mix (up to 196 beds), which would bolster the resident population downtown and add much-needed street activity that could jumpstart private-sector development in the vicinity.(3)

The specific educational programs and departments the College proposes to house in the new center include Continuing Education, Adult Basic & Secondary Education, English as a Second Language, Energy Management, the Successful Aging Institute, Senior Companion Project, Business Development Center, Enrollment & Student Financial Services, and the Center for Meeting & Learning. In addition to the LCC academic and support program spaces, the DTC would provide a presence for the Oregon Small Business Development Network, as well as a downtown Public Safety Station for the Eugene Police Department.

The Design Team
The College selected our office as the prime architect of a team that also included the SRG Partnership of Portland. SRG provided our team with the requisite design heft, particularly expertise with sustainability and higher education facilities. Some of SRG’s noteworthy projects in this regard include the University of Oregon’s Lillis Business Complex, Portland State University’s Shattuck Hall, and the Annunciation Academic Center at Mount Angel Abbey. SRG Principals Kent Duffy, FAIA, and Jon Weiner, AIA, and SRG Associate Tim Grinstead, AIA demonstrated amazing energy and design acumen in the formation of the LCC Downtown Campus design concept. For our part, RSA contributed hometown experience and familiarity with the city core (including design of the Eugene Public Library across the street from the proposed DTC site), as well as our own planning know-how. Jim Robertson, FAIA, FCSI, served as the overall principal-in-charge.

LCC directed our team and Gerding Edlen Development (the project manager retained by the College) to assemble a project budget, identify occupants, and prepare a concept-level design. All of this had to be accomplished within a very tight three-month time frame. We met this goal and, in my opinion, exceeded the College’s expectations. While the estimate for the overall project budget indicates a funding shortfall, the LCC Board of Education is determined to move forward as the College administration aggressively seeks additional support.(4)

Site Plan

Design Concept
The design concept we developed is guileless in its simplicity: the DTC design nests two “L” shaped buildings on the half-block site, one of which is devoted to academic and support functions, while the other provides convenient student housing. Thus, the plan itself is a symbol of the College’s desire to bring together living and learning to create a holistic educational environment, a balance of yin and yang.

The configuration of the buildings places active uses at the perimeter of the site and shelters a courtyard and community space within. The site plan features a plaza that would be shared by the DTC and the Library, facilitating daily “drop-off” functions and serving as a gathering area for special community events.

Aerial view looking northwest (this image and renderings below by Richard Hoyen)

As befits an academic building designed for the 21st Century, the classroom experience for students in the new DTC would be state-of-the-art. All of the proposed classrooms would feature generous daylighting and natural ventilation, as well as full Internet connectivity and incorporation of other technology as required for the academic mission. The design of the classrooms would be as flexible and adaptable as possible to accommodate current requirements for optimized facility scheduling while also meeting as yet unforeseen needs.

Learning in the classroom would be augmented by generous interaction spaces – hallways, student lounges, courtyards – where students and faculty come together in less-structured ways to exchange ideas and reinforce the DTC community. These spaces would be designed to be comfortable, enhance orientation, and encourage casual encounters.

Academic building entrance

The academic building would be four stories tall, roughly equal in height to the Library, and enclose about 85,000 gross square feet of program area. The residential building would be five stories tall (four floors of apartments over a podium occupied by the Public Safety Station and DTC support spaces) and include nineteen studio, twenty-four 2-bedroom, and thirty-two 4-bedroom apartment units. Including spaces for the City of Eugene’s Public Safety Station and the Oregon Small Business Development Network, the total building area would be 166,448 gross square feet.

The architectural vocabulary of the DTC would provide an aesthetic counterpoint to the Library. The elevations of the Library contrast mass and void, brick and glass, whereas the skin of the new DTC academic and residential buildings would be handled in a more consistent manner. Transparent and opaque surfaces alike would be servants to the definition of taut, cubic volumes. The Library’s 10th Avenue façade curves away in a broad arc from the corners of the half-block it occupies. By broadly enfronting 10th, the LCC design would provide a visual datum against which the arc of the Library’s façade is measured.

Interior courtyard

Sustainability Objectives
LCC’s sustainability objectives for the DTC include obtaining LEED Platinum certification for the academic building and LEED Gold for the residential building. Initially, the project team also explored the possibility of pursuing the Living Building Challenge; however, our study determined that balancing the requirements of the LBC against other objectives set by the College meant that Living Building status would be out of reach. We came to this conclusion because:
  • The LBC does not allow any type of combustion to be used in the building. A goal of the project is to house LCC’s Energy Management Program and use the building as a laboratory for the study of different types of heating and cooling systems. Because gas-fired equipment would be used, there would be a direct conflict with the Net-Zero Energy imperative.
  • The LBC requires that a project protects access to sunlight for adjacent properties, so that all development can strive to be a Living Building. This imperative is in conflict with the density and height needed to meet program requirements.
While the project may not meet the Living Building Challenge, it would still achieve very high levels of sustainability. The key strategies include the use of:
  • Passive cooling and ventilation for 75% of the academic building
  • Daylighting
  • Solar shading
  • Super insulation
  • Ground source heat pumps
  • Rainwater harvesting for toilet flushing
  • An “off the grid” demonstration restroom
  • Bioretention cells
  • Green roof
  • Photovoltaic arrays
The project would also actively demonstrate and teach sustainable building strategies. It would accomplish this by making the most of the presence of the Energy Management Program’s laboratory (which would expose students to a variety of high-efficiency systems), visible demonstration components (such as the green roof and “off the grid” public restroom), and sharing of data via extensive energy monitoring and controls.

View looking northeast from intersection of Charnelton Street and 10th Avenue

Moving Forward
A broad spectrum of Eugeneans (including the Eugene Downtown Neighborhood Association) have publicly expressed strong support for the project because they view its success as critical to downtown once again being our community’s vibrant, bustling, living room. They argue that a new LCC Downtown Center would encourage other investments in the neighborhood. There is optimism that it can be part of the cure to what has ailed downtown for so many years. For these supporters, the City of Eugene’s proposed use of urban renewal funds to help ensure the project’s success is a key to realizing the vision shared by many of a thriving downtown center. There are those who oppose the City’s use of tax-increment financing on the grounds that it diverts limited tax dollars from other needs, but proponents of the LCC project believe that its promise should trump those concerns.(5)

While the College’s Board of Education lauded our team for the quality of our Feasibility Report and Conceptual Design, there is no guarantee that we will be selected to move forward with the design of the new Downtown Campus. The College is committed to conducting an open selection process at each stage of the project; therefore, it intends to issue a Request for Qualifications for the next phase of work. My hope is that we will once again be selected to complete what we have started, which is to produce nothing less than a signature urban landmark for Lane Community College.

(1) In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, author Malcolm Gladwell explains how ideas, products, messages, and behaviors can “spread like viruses.” With the LTD station and Eugene Public Library already occupying this corner of downtown, a new LCC Downtown Campus might finally bring about the convergence necessary to trigger desirable, dramatic, and rapid changes to our urban fabric. The project might provide that necessary push to tip our citizenry toward believing that a genuine downtown is possible in Eugene.

(2) These failed attempts most recently include a 2005 scheme to locate offices for the Oregon Research Institute on the site (ORI instead opted to build in the University of Oregon’s Riverfront Research Park), and responses to a 2008 Request for Proposals issued by the City of Eugene to prospective developers seeking to maximize the potential of the “Sears Pit.” I previously blogged about the virtues of the 2008 RFP and the opinion voiced by some that the site should be left as a green open space.

(3) LCC commissioned a housing market study by a national consultant. The consultant determined that including apartments targeted at specific subsets of the student population could be economically viable.

(4) Including “soft” costs, the total project budget is estimated to be $35 million for the academic building, plus an additional $15.6 million for the residential building. Project manager Gerding Edlen and Portland contractor Lease Crutcher Lewis worked with the design team to assemble the budget.

(5) To use urban renewal funds for the LCC project, the City of Eugene must amend the Central Eugene Project Urban Renewal Plan to increase its maximum indebtedness. The current spending limit of $33 million has nearly been spent (the largest portion was spent on the Library). The City Council will vote on May 24, 2010 on the adoption of the ordinance; if approved by the Council, it would then be forwarded to the voters as a referendum.

1 comment:

Architect Santa Monica said...

It’s hard to define what architects are and what it is they do. Many of them find that it’s simply one who designs and one who builds. While these are simplistic definitions of being an architect, there is so much more.