Sunday, November 21, 2010

November AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Don Stastny, FAIA

While technically not the last chapter event on the 2010 AIA-Southwestern Oregon calendar (that being our annual holiday party on December 15), the November AIA-SWO meeting served as a fitting culmination of the year’s focus on design excellence. Throughout his tenure as 2010 chapter president, Michael Fifield promoted the role of good design in our built environment. The November meeting was no exception: Michael invited key advocates for the Design Excellence|Oregon initiative to describe that program’s potential to raise the bar for architecture throughout our state.

Design excellence in the built environment benefits every Oregonian. We value our quality of life, plan for orderly development of land at the interface of rural and urban areas, and enact laws to protect our natural environment. Underlying Design Excellence|Oregon is the belief that design excellence is a basic right for all of us who are fortunate to live here.

Of course, these are statements of principles and values with which few would disagree. What are the specific plans for realizing the goals of the initiative?

AIA Oregon and The Center for Architecture (CFA) in Portland propose Design Excellence|Oregon as a methodology for ensuring that the best design talent possible is matched with client groups and their projects. Although it’s easiest to picture its widespread application at all levels of public sector design services procurement, the persons behind the program also believe it may find acceptance among private clients.

The principal author of Design Excellence|Oregon is Don Stastny, FAIA. Don is recognized as one of the nation’s preeminent design competition advisors. In 1980, he directed the seminal competition for Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, creating a process that would be published in the AIA Guidebook for Architectural Competitions. He later wrote the Government Services Administration’s Design Excellence Guide—Creating a Legacy, and contributed significantly to development of the federal Design Excellence Program (of which the Wayne L. Morse Federal Courthouse here in Eugene is a shining example). He has advanced design competition processes such that they protect the participants from exploitation and create opportunities for emerging talent.

Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland (photo from

Don presented our audience with an outline for the Design Excellence|Oregon program. On hand to assist Don were:
  • Stan Chessir, AIA – President, AIA Oregon
  • Chris Eberle, AIA – VP of Legislative Affairs, AIA Oregon
  • Steve Thomson, AIA – Co-chair, Oregon Design Conference
The goals of the Design Excellence|Oregon Initiative include:
  • Creating a statewide culture of design excellence in which citizens equate the quality of the built environment with quality of life and require the standard of environmental design in their communities to be commensurate with the extraordinary qualities of Oregon’s natural environment.
  • Creating a statewide program to enable design excellence that engages public and private resources in all Oregon communities and is accessible to the State, municipalities, counties, agencies, and the private sector.
  • Establishing a statewide model of a design excellence program that can respond to, and reflect, the unique cultures of communities throughout America.
The program suggests two different selection process formats, one involving two stages and the other three. The two-stage process would involve portfolio evaluations and A/E team interviews. The three-stage process adds a juried design vision competition (selected participants would be compensated). Both formats would be structured to result in the selection of the design firm and its lead designer, not the design.

The success of Design Excellence|Oregon is predicated upon a commitment to these processes and the consistent application of a high level of professionalism to ensure fairness and integrity. The draft program guidebook outlines the various steps that participating sponsors would be obliged to follow. These include appointment of an A/E Evaluation Board, and (in the instance of a three-stage process) hiring of a Professional Competition Advisor and selection of an independent jury of private-sector design professionals.

The Center for Architecture would furnish assistance to program sponsors by selecting and training Private-Sector Peers. During the procurement process, the Peers would confer with and advise the sponsor regarding proper execution of the Design Excellence|Oregon process. As highly respected professionals, the Peers’ advice and insights would be invaluable to those responsible for administering and designing the project. The CFA would provide a modest honorarium plus travel and per diem expenses to the Peers for each project.

Ultimately, Design Excellence|Oregon is about ensuring that the best and brightest of our profession are given equal opportunity to contribute to the excellence of Oregon’s built environment. It’s too often been the case that firms with the most substantial marketing resources and largest portfolios end up as the recipients of the significant design commissions, rather than those with the best approach to solving a given problem. The Design Excellence|Oregon process is intended to “level the playing field” by placing greater emphasis upon such factors as design philosophy, understanding of design issues associated with the proposed project, and commitment of the lead designer.

Some have their reservations about Design Excellence|Oregon. Several questions arose during the course of the 2010 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference, hosted by AIA-SWO here in Eugene last month. What would prevent Design Excellence|Oregon from becoming hostage to a cabal of self-appointed tastemakers? Won’t the program burden sponsors with layers of bureaucracy on top of the already onerous challenges that confront building projects? Isn’t design excellence expensive?

Don had ready answers to these questions and more. Design Excellence|Oregon isn’t about iconic architecture. It’s about the quality of life Oregonians can look forward to in the future. Design Excellence|Oregon will be community-centric. One size will not fit all. What works for Portland will not necessarily be applicable in Medford, or La Grande, or Eugene. The program will not be totally driven by metrics; there will be allowances for the un-measurable, for ingenuity, and for true creativity. Yes, there may be added expenses, but thoughtless design is exponentially more costly.

Chris Eberle pointed out that most of us tend to be legislatively reactive. Design Excellence|Oregon presents the architectural community with a chance to be proactive. All AIA Oregon members can advocate on behalf of the program when it is rolled out, encouraging its adoption at the state, county, and municipal levels, as well as by other institutional client groups and associations. All Oregonians will benefit if Design Excellence|Oregon is as widely implemented as it should be.

Don has already assembled an impressive roster of champions, alliances, and resources in support of Design Excellence|Oregon. The list includes the Architecture Foundation of Oregon, Oregon National Guard, Housing Authority of Portland, Energy Trust of Oregon, ASLA Oregon, APA Oregon, Metro, Tri-Met, Solar Energy Industries Association of Oregon, Portland State University, and the University of Oregon.

AIA Oregon and The Center for Architecture also have a focused set of activities planned for 2011 that are intended to promote the culture of design excellence. One goal is to capitalize upon the 100th anniversary of the chartering of AIA-Oregon, by introducing the definitive “toolkit” for Design Excellence|Oregon. Other proposed initiatives for 2011 include establishing the Private Sector Peer Program, engaging the Mayors’ Institutes on City Design, introducing design excellence curricula at Portland State University and the University of Oregon, and assembling an oral history of 100 years of Oregon architecture for the library at The Center for Architecture.

It’s Don’s opinion that only in Oregon could we introduce a program like this. What makes Oregon unique is the passion its residents have for their home state. The outdoors is an integral part of most Oregonian's lives. We have a deserved reputation for being on the vanguard of sustainable design. Our predominantly progressive political leanings offer less resistance to the introduction of paradigm-shifting initiatives (an example being the 1971 Oregon Bottle Bill, the first such container legislation passed in the United States).

It’s also a truism that no one in the country is better suited to produce an initiative like Design Excellence|Oregon than Don Stastny.

The Oregon Design Conference’s esteemed maharishi Bob Hastings, FAIA, once said the following of Don:

“He’s an architect and urban designer who seeks out opportunities to bring all people into the design process. The mark of his greatness is when his students, clients, colleagues and stakeholders become active participants and leaders for design excellence.”

With Don at the helm, I know that Design Excellence|Oregon will be a success.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Paul Dustrud, AIA-SWO President-Elect, has chosen to devote his presidency in 2011 to further the discussion of design excellence. The momentum generated for design excellence within our chapter by the 2010 Oregon Design Conference and the 2010 AIA Northwest &Pacific Region Conference will thus continue through next year and no doubt for many years to come.
Enhanced by Zemanta


Heidi Peschel said...

A great concept that will be interesting to watch as it evolves. I think some of the logistical, personal, and bureaucratic hurdles that need to be addressed will be one of the biggest challenges to Design Excellence. It's great to have the concept, the challenge will be conveying to the end user, or decision maker the value of it in their process. I'll be very interested to see how some of those specific challenges are addressed in practice. Great concept though. As always I very much enjoy reading your well thought out blog entry.

Architects for Home (London) said...

Sounds a fascinating project :)