Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Facilities Vision for A&AA

The University of Oregon’s School of Architecture & Allied Arts (A&AA) is presently spread across 13 to 15 campus buildings, but its physical heart has always been Lawrence Hall. The consensus of school administrators and faculty is that Lawrence has ceased to meet the growing needs of the school. Accordingly, the University plans to develop a new home for A&AA. As an alumnus of the school, I am very interested in all aspects of its long-term future and its prospects for retaining the high national regard it currently enjoys.

I was aware that the University sought to retain an innovative and broad-thinking team to facilitate discussions about A&AA’s future. After all, I had seen the Request for Proposals issued last August. However, I had not paid attention as the selection process unfolded. I did not know who the University selected to shape a “bold and precise vision to guide the development of new facilities for A&AA.”

So, I was intrigued this last week when I happened to read an online Oregon Daily Emerald article about the A&AA visioning process. The article reported that the University had selected a team of design and engineering companies headed by design firm Bruce Mau Design (BMD) of Toronto and Chicago. Joining BMD is Los Angeles-based architecture laboratory Yazdani Studio, as well as the international engineering firm Arup.

It’s important to emphasize that the University has not charged the BMD team to design the proposed new facility. Instead, the goal is to describe the design principles and vision that will inform whoever is eventually entrusted with the design of a new home for A&AA.

A&AA encompasses a unique and diverse range of disciplines, including art, architecture, landscape architecture, art history, product design, arts administration, historic preservation, and planning, public policy & management. The school encourages diverse approaches to teaching, research, and service. These attributes were among those that attracted me to the University of Oregon when I considered where to pursue my education in architecture.

A&AA’s diversity and broad scope finds a parallel in the association of Bruce Mau Design, Yazdani Studio, and Arup. The University’s selection is evidence of its commitment to enlisting an “innovative and broad-thinking team,” one that is replete with impressive credentials: 

"Visionaries use design to effect positive change in the world."
Bruce Mau
  • Bruce Mau Design is a design studio centered on purpose and optimism. Since 1985, BMD has evolved from a graphic design studio to a leader in breakthrough design thinking, applying design methodologies to a wide range of business and cultural organizations with challenges in need of creative solutions. Creators of Massive Change, the internationally acclaimed traveling exhibition, book, website, and interview series, BMD is an interdisciplinary studio made up of artists, architects, graphic designers, filmmakers, brand strategists, biologists, publishers, curators, and technologists.
    The Price Center, UC San Diego, by Yazdani Studio 
  • The Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design is a laboratory for exploration and excellence in architecture. Established upon the reputation and leadership of award-winning designer Mehrdad Yazdani, the Yazdani Studio integrates the best attributes of a design studio with the resources and reach of an international practice. From its primary office in Los Angeles, the Yazdani Studio combines the talents of a diverse team of architects, designers, and 3-D artists, technical specialists, and other creative thinkers who share a commitment to pushing the boundaries of design, from refining concepts of sustainability to the application of new technologies and urban initiatives.  
  • An Arup project: The Watercube, Beijing (photo by Ben McMillan)
  • Arup is renowned for its technical innovation, creativity, and collaboration with many of the world’s greatest architects. Arup’s team of engineers, designers, and consulting professionals work in integrated design groups within which sustainability is an integral focus. Arup’s knowledge of issues surrounding sustainable design enables it to advise clients and collaborators about the opportunities to develop green solutions appropriate to each project.
Some might question why the A&AA visioning project’s selection committee felt compelled to choose a team comprised of designers and thinkers with no apparent ties to Eugene or the University of Oregon. Is this another case of indifferent, albeit tremendously qualified, “carpet baggers” swooping in to take work away from deserving local firms? I don’t think so. In this instance, an outsider’s perspective may be most appropriate. BMD, Yazdani Studio, and Arup arrive with no preconceptions about the School of Architecture & Allied Arts, which is precisely as it should be.

Bruce Mau wrote an Incomplete Manifesto in 1998, an articulation of statements exemplifying his beliefs, strategies, and motivations. One of his admonitions is to “be careful to take risks.” With its choice of consultants, the University has taken Bruce Mau’s words to heart.

The BMD team has been on working on the project since October. It orchestrated one of its on-site workshops this past Friday, December 3. The visioning process timeline is relatively brief, so we should see the results very soon. In the meantime, check out the A&AA’s informational blog about the project at

The visioning process will figure out which parts of the school should be merged into a new space and which need to stay where they are. Deliverables for the project will include a clearly articulated design brief to guide future development and an inspirational vision document/presentation designed to be shared with stakeholders.

The one-hundredth anniversary of the School of Architecture & Allied Arts occurs in 2014. Many within the A&AA community hope to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new home for the School during that year. Ideally, the new facility will be designed upon principles and aligned with a vision that will be valid for one hundred more years to come.
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