Saturday, January 29, 2011

Michael Fifield Elected to AIA College of Fellows

Michael Fifield, FAIA (photo by Erik Bishoff)

For the second consecutive year, AIA-Southwestern Oregon can proudly boast that one of its own, AIA-SWO Past-President Michael Fifield, has been elevated by the American Institute of Architects to its prestigious College of Fellows. Last February, I announced that Otto P. Poticha, FAIA, and James M. Robertson, FAIA both achieved that recognition. G.Z. (“Charlie”) Brown, FAIA, was previously the most recent AIA-SWO recipient of Fellowship status, in 2006.

Only a select few are elected to the College of Fellows each year. Fellowship is conferred on architects with at least 10 years of membership in the AIA who have made significant contributions in the following areas: the aesthetic, scientific, and practical efficiency of the profession; the standards of architectural education, training, and practice; the building industry through leadership in the AIA and other related professional organizations; advancement of living standards of people through an improved environment; and to society through significant public service.

I know Michael to be especially deserving of this honor. His recognition by the College of Fellows was in no small part based upon his contributions to architectural education. His long and distinguished career in academia began at the University of Idaho, where he would receive the University Alumni Award for Faculty Excellence in 1983 and 1984. He would go on to teach at Arizona State University (and also serve as director of the Joint Urban Design Program), and then at Penn State University (where he was head of the Department of Architecture). Michael came to the University of Oregon in 1997, serving as department head from 1998 to 2003. He continues to teach at the UO, at the same time researching and writing on the topics of housing, community development, and urban design.

In addition to his teaching accomplishments, Michael has served as a peer reviewer for the General Services Administration since 2000 and as a member of numerous design award juries for AIA and American Planning Association components across the country. Most notably, Michael was the chair of the design competition jury that selected the team led by Morphosis to design the Wayne L. Morse U.S. Federal Courthouse here in Eugene. He has been a consultant for the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, the Phoenix Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). He also served as an appointed member of the National AIA Housing Committee from 1988-1992. Michael was a charter member of the Congress for a New Urbanism (1994-2001).

The successes of Michael’s tenure last year as AIA-SWO president are a testament to his vision and leadership. In particular, he championed design excellence as a focus for AIA-Southwestern Oregon activities. AIA-SWO is helping to develop a Design Excellence program at the local level that might serve as a model for other entities throughout the state.(1) He also raised the bar for our monthly chapter meeting programs, bringing in a roster of remarkable speakers that attracted record levels of attendance.

Michael is now entitled to use the designation "FAIA" following his name. He will be invested in the College of Fellows at the 2011 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in New Orleans, May 12-14, 2011.

Please join me in congratulating Michael for his momentous achievement!

(1) Current AIA-SWO president Paul Dustrud has charged a newly formed AIA-SWO Design Excellence Committee with the task of implementing the Design Excellence|Oregon program in some form. Issues to be addressed by the committee include whether the methodology that is being crafted by Don Stastny, FAIA, FAICP of Portland can be implemented in our chapter area.

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Retrofitting Suburbia

This Thursday, February 3, 2011 features a free public lecture at the Baker Downtown Center in Eugene by Ellen Dunham-Jones, AIA, a world-renowned expert on urban and suburban design. Widely recognized as a leader in finding solutions for aging suburbs, she will speak about how the design of where we live is critical to some of the most pressing issues of our times: reducing our ecological footprint and energy consumption, improving our communities, and providing living options for all ages. In particular, she will explain why shifting demographics are impacting how and what we build.

With co-author June Williamson, Dunham-Jones wrote Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs (Wiley, January 2009). The book includes more than 50 case studies from across North America of “underperforming asphalt properties” that have been redesigned and redeveloped into walkable, sustainable vital centers of community. Retrofitting Suburbia received a 2009 PROSE award for scholarly and professional excellence from the Association of American Publishers, and was featured in Time Magazine’s March 23, 2009 cover story “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”

If you’d like a preview of Ellen Dunham-Jones’ presentation, check out her TED video, one of that series’ riveting talks by remarkable people:

Dunham-Jones’ talk in Eugene will be the latest in the City Design Lecture Series produced by the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts, the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, the University of Oregon Urban Design Lab, and AIA-Southwestern Oregon. The goal of the City Design Lecture series is to inform area professionals, students, and the broader public about transportation and land use strategies that improve livability, enhance safety, reduce congestion, offer mobility choices, and increase housing variety.

Don’t miss this important event. Here are the details:

WhatRetrofitting Suburbia, a lecture by Ellen Dunham-Jones, AIA

When:  Thursday, February 3, 2011, 7:30 PM

Where:  Baker Downtown Center, 975 High Street, Eugene, OR
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Department of Architecture Winter 2011 Lecture Series: Michael Pyatok, FAIA

The Orchards on Foothill, Oakland, CA - Pyatok Architects

It’s a surprisingly busy time for those of us who enjoy learning about all things related to architecture, construction, and urban design. My last blog post announced the Architectural Seminar Series at the Good Earth Home, Garden & Living Show; its three-day run at the Lane Events Center concludes today. The annual "Economic Forecast/Projects in the Pipeline" meeting produced by the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute and co-hosted by AIA-Southwestern Oregon takes place next Thursday, January 27. Coming in early February is an intriguing City Design Lecture by Ellen Dunham-Jones entitled “Retrofitting Suburbia.” And there’s more.

The University of Oregon Department of Architecture Winter 2011 Lecture Series is soon to be in full swing. The first presentation in the series is by Michael Pyatok, FAIA, and is entitled “Cozy Communities: Romancing Americans into Compact Living." The eponymous founder and principal of Pyatok Architects, Inc., Michael has been an architect and professor of architectural design for over forty years.

His practice serves nonprofit organizations, private developers, government agencies, and universities in building market-rate and affordable housing, mixed use developments, and community facilities. Since opening his office in 1984, Michael’s firm has designed over 35,000 units of affordable housing for lower-income households in the U.S., another 5,000 units in the Philippines, and 1,500 in Malaysia. Pyatok Architects, Inc. has won over 150 local and national design awards for its housing designs.

Michael Pyatok, FAIA

I have the great fortune to presently be working with Michael in a professional capacity. Along with the SRG Partnership, my office—Robertson/Sherwood/Architects—has teamed with Pyatok Architects to design the student housing component of the proposed Lane Community College Downtown Campus in Eugene. Michael’s breadth of knowledge and experience with housing of all types, and his ability to assess each community’s unique social and cultural needs, has proven invaluable to the College for its first-ever residential project.

Michael’s lecture at the University of Oregon will touch upon his belief that there is a political role to design. His message will emphasize doing good above all else when making a place and building a community. In an era of diminishing resources, reduced affordability, and limited capital, he asserts that architects and planners have the responsibility to design sustainable housing that is both respectful of the environment and the people being housed. Romancing Americans into compact living is a challenge that Michael Pyatok embraces.

Here are the details for the lecture:

Date: Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Time: 5:30 PM
Location: Pacific Hall Room 123, University of Oregon, Eugene

Future talks in the UO Department of Architecture Winter 2011 Lecture Series include a February 9 presentation by Dana Buntrock on the topic of “Materials & Meaning in Japanese Architecture,” and a February 16 lecture by Virginia San Fratello on entitled “Emerging Technology & Ecological Design.” For more information on these and rest of the Winter 2011 Lecture Series, visit the Department of Architecture’s website.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Good Earth Architectural Seminar Series

The 2011 Good Earth Home, Garden & Living Show takes place this coming weekend, January 21-23, at the Lane County Fairgrounds. The show is one of the largest consumer events held annually in Eugene, attracting 30,000-plus visitors over a three-day period.

This year's Good Earth Show includes over 250 earth-friendly, exciting, and informative exhibits grouped into seven “Pavilions of Sustainable Style.” The show will also feature 65 seminars presented by leading experts in architecture, green building, design, naturescaping, gardening, and sustainable living. Of note to AIA-Southwestern Oregon members is that several of our knowledgeable and talented colleagues will be showcased by the Good Earth Architectural Seminar Series, sponsored by local television station KVAL 13.

The line-up is as follows:

Friday 7:30 pm
Rethinking Scale: Appropriate Home Design for the New World Economy
Todd Miller, AIA ~ Todd Miller Architecture

Saturday 12:00 noon
Extreme Green! Passive House Construction Achieves Net-Zero Energy
Jan Fillinger, AIA, LEED AP ~ Studio-E Architecture
Win Swafford ~ Ecobuilding Collaborative of Oregon

Saturday 3:00 pm
Who Needs an Architect? Residential or Commercial
Nir Pearlson, AIA, LEED AP ~ Nir Pearlson Architect

Sunday 12:00 noon
Sustain + Connect + Inspire
Richard Shugar, AIA, LEED AP ~ 2form Architecture

Sunday 2:00 pm
Lifestyle of the Simple and Sustainable
William Randall, AIA, LEED AP, CSBA ~ Arbor South Architecture

Kudos to KVAL and the Good Earth Show for providing a forum for these AIA-SWO members to demonstrate how architects’ special education and skills can enhance the value of anyone’s home, in both measureable and unmeasureable ways.

Visitors to this coming weekend’s Good Earth Home, Garden & Living Show have the opportunity to learn what architects can do for them. They’ll hear about how architects are going past the rhetoric of sustainability to fulfill its promise. They’ll learn that good design is not easy but that it does make a difference. Architects are trained problem solvers. Architects don’t just design four walls and a roof—they create total environments, functional and exciting places in which to work and live. Architects are trained to help their clients get more out of their investments than they may have possibly imagined.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Modern Views

The Center for Architecture (CFA) is the home of the Portland chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is also an innovative Holst Architecture-designed LEED Platinum renovation project (located in what is now Portland's Pearl District, the building was originally constructed in the 1880s as a carriage house). The CFA is a venue for meaningful and effective dialogue between design professionals from Portland and beyond. AIA-Southwestern Oregon members are always welcome to visit the Center and attend events there.

The Center is hosting a special screening on Thursday, January 20 of Modern Views: A Conversation on Northwest Modern Architecture, a film produced by Studio 216 and the University of Washington Department of Architecture.

The producers describe Modern Views as "an insightful new documentary about mid-century northwest modern architecture." The film illustrates how designers today can learn from sustainable and economic choices made as many as 50 years ago. By focusing upon the personal histories and insights of five prominent Seattle-area architects, Modern Views offers a deeper understanding of a unique style of architecture that today is garnering renewed respect.

The featured architects Arne Bystrom, Wendell Lovett, Gene Zema, Ralph Anderson, and Fred Bassetti  discuss how the Pacific Northwest landscape and climate guided their design decisions and their choice of materials, leading to a richer palette of adaptive design aesthetics. These modest designers often worked under the premise that "less is more" in a period that shared some of the same economic challenges we face today. The work from this modern era depicts the importance of allowing a region to influence the design of buildings, while leaving behind a legacy of environmental responsibility.

The screening is free to AIA members and students.

Modern Views: A Conversation on Northwest Modern Architecture
Thursday, January 20
6:00 - 7:30 pm
The Center for Architecture
403 NW 11th Avenue, Portland, OR  97209

Sunday, January 9, 2011

AIA/SWO Intern Tour: The Donald Lamb Building

Donald Lamb Building by Bergsund DeLaney Architecture & Planning (photo by Marc Allen Mintz Photography)

The AIA-Southwestern Oregon Chapter regularly organizes tours of projects under construction for the benefit of intern architects. The intent is to allow interns (who may not otherwise regularly visit construction sites) to see firsthand a project in progress. This month, the AIA-SWO intern tour features the Donald Lamb Building by Bergsund DeLaney Architecture & Planning PC. Here are the details:

What: The Donald Lamb Building

When: Thursday, January 13th at 11:55 AM

Where: 1870 West 11th, Eugene. Meet outside the residential entrance on Hayes Street.

Architect: Bergsund DeLaney Architecture & Planning PC

Carpooling is strongly encouraged. Please meet at Bergsund DeLaney Architecture at 11:45 to carpool over to the site. Bergsund DeLaney's office is located at 1369 Olive Street in Eugene.

Project Description:
The Donald Lamb Building is a four-story mixed-use affordable housing project developed by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. The building is named for longtime St. Vincent de Paul volunteer and Board member D.L. Lamb.

The new building's site is the location of the first St. Vincent de Paul retail store in Eugene. The store was demolished after salvaging the steel structure for future use. The first floor of the Lamb Building consists of a large retail space, currently under construction. St. Vincent de Paul will use the retail space for a used bookstore and coffee bar.

The residential entrance is through a secured lobby behind the retail space. The upper three stories consist of 35 one-bedroom units, bike storage, manager offices, shared laundry facilities, and a community room with terrace and kitchen. The residential portion of the building was completed at the end of October 2010 and included St. Vincent de Paul’s 1,000th unit of affordable housing. The units of the Lamb Building filled quickly, setting a new St. Vincent de Paul record for time to full occupancy. The building meets Earth Advantage requirements for residential housing.

Please RSVP by noon Tuesday, January 11th to Julie Romig at or 541-683-8661 extension 3. Indicate if you will be arriving at Bergsund DeLaney to carpool to the site. Also, please let Julie know if you would like IDP credit for the tour.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Memorial Tree for Brian McCarthy, ASLA

University of Oregon CampusImage by Erik R. Bishoff via Flickr
I previously eulogized about Brian McCarthy, ASLA and how a pulmonary aneurysm took him from us at far too young an age. Now, Arica Duhrkoop-Galas of Stangeland & Associates, Inc. Landscape Architecture & Design, Ann Bettman of the University of Oregon Department of Architecture, and Jane Brubaker of UO Campus Operations are working together to see that a tree in Brian’s memory is planted on the University of Oregon campus.

The exact species and location are still to be finalized, but the group has initiated fundraising for the cost of the memorial tree and its plaque. Arica will collect checks (made out to the University of Oregon Foundation) and track the donations. The estimated costs for the tree and plaque are $1,500 and $3,500 respectively. The tree may be planted before the plaque is made.

If you, or others you know, are interested in donating to honor our friend Brian, please contact Arica or pass along her contact information. You can reach Arica by e-mail at or by phone at 541-513-2059.
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Challenging the Cult of Speed

Every living being, event, process, or object has its own inherent time or pace – its own tempo giusto.                                                 
                                                        —Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slowness

A confession: I don’t read many books because I seldom have the necessary patience or frame of mind. When I do read I favor newspapers, or magazine articles, or online blogs. I ingest information quickly in bite-sized snippets, the written equivalent of fast food. I walk fast. I talk fast. I eat fast too, often failing to fully savor a fine meal. I know I should slow down, pace myself, and lead a more balanced life. But I haven’t learned how to do so.

I’m not alone. Many others are slaves to our hyperkinetic, 24/7 culture. Seemingly more and more has to be accomplished in fewer hours. Time is money, we are always told. Our clients demand ever greater speed, and we obligingly work long days at an increasingly frenetic pace to meet deadlines. We are forced to think and make decisions faster and faster. But faster isn’t necessarily better.

The costs of not slowing down are increasingly evident. In architecture, these costs include plans rife with errors and omissions, and designs absent of thoughtfulness or invention.

We needn’t be complicit in this veneration for speed. There is a growing backlash to the culture of acceleration, a response that suggests we live more patiently, at the right pace for each moment.

I actually read a genuine book over the Christmas holiday, In Praise of Slowness, written by award-winning Canadian journalist Carl Honoré. The book is his essay on the virtues of living a slower, more measured existence. He touches upon the benefits of working less; the increased acceptance of alternative medicine; the Slow Food movement—traditional, regional cuisine cooked with locally-sourced ingredients; even Tantric sex—love with a slow hand. Honoré asserts that energy and efficiency can be found where it is least expected: in slowing down.

The book appeals to the mounting nostalgia for a time when the cult of speed was less potent, when doing something well, and taking real pleasure from it, was more important than doing everything faster.

In Praise of Slowness struck a chord with me. I am more conscious than ever before of the need to switch gears, to be less impulsive, to slow down. Honoré filled his book with aphorisms so astute that I found myself enthusiastically bookmarking many of them for later reference. The insight conveyed by the following example is universal, but architects will immediately recognize how apt it is to the process of design:

Fast Thinking is rational, analytical, linear, logical. It is what we do under pressure, when the clock is ticking; it is the way computers think and the way the modern workplace operates; it delivers clear solutions to well-defined problems. Slow Thinking is intuitive, wooly, and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and we have the time to let ideas simmer at their own pace on the back burner. It yields rich and subtle insights.

I find it much better to engage design problems and conceive solutions at a gentle pace. There is real pleasure to be mined by considering issues deeply, acknowledging the connections between the myriad strands, and allowing for discovery. “Rich and subtle insights” are hardly ever the fruit of a hurried timetable.

Creation Is a Patient Search
The methodology by which architecture is created is typically iterative, a cyclic process of testing, analyzing, and refining. It begins with consideration of a project’s objectives. The architect probes carefully. Ideas emerge. Employing various media (diagrams, sketches, models), the architect illustrates design proposals at different scales and levels of concern. These are seen, felt, and analyzed. Each proposal stimulates feedback and evaluation. This prompts incremental changes and refinements. The architect repeats the cycle, and then repeats it again.

The goal of the iterative process is a true and full synthesis of ideas and responses. It demands nothing if not a devotion to the arduous search for elegant solutions.(1) The more opportunities we have to explore deeply, to make connections, the better able we are to make discoveries and reveal genius. Time is our ally in this pursuit; haste is not.

People think more creatively when they are calm, unhurried, and free from stress. If there was ever an endeavor that should reward patience, it is architecture. Le Corbusier famously declared that “creation is a patient search.” The creative impulse is not automatic, nor does it necessarily follow a linear course. And yet the real world seldom affords us the luxury of patience or the opportunity to take the meandering path. Instead, we’re expected to solve increasingly complex design problems faster than ever before in the face of escalating time pressure.

Time pressure leads to tunnel vision, certainly not a desirable trait for an architect. Urgency can focus the mind—toward Fast Thinking—but this comes at the expense of intuitive, wooly, and creative Slow Thinking.

If our clients truly understood architecture, they would regard the time they allow us to do our jobs just like the money they leverage for future profit—as an investment. The bottom line is that without such an investment the likelihood of a profitable return is diminished. Our clients would realize that real benefits accrue when architects enjoy the luxury of schedules that are commensurate with the scope and complexity of their projects. The most obvious benefits include greater efficiencies in the completed buildings—improved productivity, lower life-cycle costs—as well as enhanced property values. Devoting more time to significant projects could also yield something less tangible: great architecture that possesses integrity, presence, and beauty.

My wish is that one day soon all our clients will be enlightened enough to realize the folly of their obsession for speed. Time may be money, but not spending enough of it well is a blueprint for mediocrity or failure.

Slow Architecture
There is a (slowly) growing movement toward a process of building design and construction that is more patient, more careful, more detailed, a process in which the pace required by human craft dictates how construction is carried out and the passage of time adds a sense of delight rather than decay. Dubbed “Slow Architecture” by its advocates, the movement loosely adheres to the following principles (as outlined by Irish architect Brian O’Brien):
  • patience
  • craft
  • sensuality and materiality
  • specificity
  • delight
  • contentment
Slow Architecture is about the creation, appreciation, and enjoyment of all that is careful, that is textured, and that stimulates the senses in buildings. Slow Architecture is an approach to design and construction, a philosophy of “how” rather than a manifesto of “what.”

Ireland appears to be a Slow Architecture nexus. An exhibition about Slow Architecture traveled throughout the Irish republic during the autumn of 2010. Ironically, Japan, a nation that worships at the altar of speed and efficiency, is another center for Slow Architecture. Italy (the birthplace of Slow Food and Cittaslow(2)) and Switzerland are also home to numerous proponents. The movement’s spiritual leaders include Juhani Pallasmaa, the noted Finnish architect and writer, and Peter Zumthor, the Swiss winner of the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Zumthor’s Therme Vals spa complex is often cited as a seminal work of Slow Architecture. Its defining characteristics include the process by which it was realized—a protracted six-year gestation period of reflection, analysis, and design by Zumthor—as well as the sensory aspects of the architectural experience. Therme Vals is perfectly harmonized with its natural surroundings, a product of Zumthor’s intimate familiarity with the site and commitment to the use of local materials.
The High Priest of Slow Architecture: Peter Zumthor (photo by Gary Ebner)

Slow Architecture has yet to make notable inroads in North America. Too many of us here are still in the thrall of speed. Architects too easily resign themselves to generating hastily conceived, fashionable, evanescent, and shallow architecture. This is a function of not being more aware of the alternative: architecture that is marked by longevity, presence, harmony, and delight—architecture that is the product of slow and mindful processes.

A New Year’s Resolution
January 1, 2011, is not the first New Year’s Day I have resolved to slow down and smell the roses. However, by blogging about how unhealthy and unfulfilling our “time sickness” is, I have already done more to keep this resolution than I ever have previously. I credit reading In Praise of Slowness for providing the motivation. Carl Honoré believes the cult of speed may still have the upper hand, but the pressure to change is building. The tipping point may not be as far away as we think. When it arrives, we will again all pursue our work at its natural, proper pace—at its tempo giusto. We will create lasting, beautiful architecture by taking the necessary time to enjoy balanced, healthy lives.(3)

(1) Here I am loosely quoting Bill Kleinsasser, my influential professor at the University of Oregon.

(2) The Cittaslow movement seeks to improve the quality of life in towns while resisting the fast-lane, homogenized world so often seen in other cities throughout the world.

(3) The French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote a classic verse about the virtues of being “drunk” if being sober meant a life as a martyred slave to time:

Be Drunk
You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking . . . ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk!” So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.

                                                           —Charles Baudelaire