Monday, March 7, 2011

Building It Together

US Senator Jeff Merkley, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, US Congressman Peter DeFazio, LCC President Mary Spilde, Governor's Office Education Policy Advisor Nancy Golden, and LCC Board of Education chair Tony McCown wield golden shovels at the March 4, 2011 groundbreaking for the Lane Community College Downtown Campus (photo by LCC)

Last Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new Lane Community College Downtown Campus (DTC) may prove to be a defining moment in the revitalization of downtown Eugene. Hundreds gathered for the event, signaling the project’s broad base of support and the shared optimism it has kindled. The DTC will be a landmark development for education, business, and the community. The hopes of a lot of people are pinned to its success.

Because so many have invested faith and capital in bringing the DTC to this point, Lane Community College adopted “Building It Together” as the project’s slogan. In addition to the college, the City of Eugene, the State of Oregon, and the Eugene Water & Electric Board committed funds and other resources to the project. So too has the U.S. Congress with its passage of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. “Building it Together” also reflects our citizens’ emotional investment in the project, much appreciated after the community endured the frustration of serial failed visions for this very same site.(1)

The slogan is an equally apt motto for the design, project management, and construction team charged by the college to make the DTC a reality. As project architect for Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, I’m a proud member of that large and diverse group.

Here’s the complete design team roster (with each company’s home base listed in parentheses):
The overall project team also includes the following companies retained separately by the college:
Our design team prepared the feasibility report and a design concept for the $53 million project, but those efforts did not guarantee a continuing role for us. We were thrilled when the college chose our team to finish what we had started. We regarded our selection as a vote of confidence not only for our design abilities but also for our collaborative methodology and ethos. We’re ready to build the DTC together with the college, the City of Eugene, and the other project partners.

The proposed Lane Community College Downtown Campus (rendering by Richard Hoyen)

The large number of design team members might surprise some laypersons whose understanding about how buildings are designed is influenced by quixotic depictions of hero architects (think Frank Lloyd Wright or the fictional Howard Roark). Such portrayals paint a picture of a solitary genius who alone is responsible for creating architectural masterworks.(2) The reality is that virtually every structure bigger than a bread box is the product of many hands. This is especially true for commercial or institutional projects, as the range of concerns we are expected to address today is exponentially greater than those confronted by previous generations. Technological advancements accelerate at a pace that is outstripping our ability to keep up. Regulatory compliance is increasingly complex, administered from assorted corners, constantly mutating, and sometimes overlapping and contradictory. Time pressures are chronic. It is altogether too overwhelming for an individual designer.

The myth (Gary Cooper as Howard Roark, The Fountainhead, 1949)

The reality (Lane Community College Downtown Campus "eco-slam," January 2010)

Robertson/Sherwood/Architects are veterans of collaboration with other architectural offices. We regularly team up with prominent firms so we can secure the larger, more complex projects we covet. Our collaborators bring to the table expertise and experience complementary to ours, thereby enhancing our prospects for obtaining these prominent commissions.

Some of our most noteworthy projects were the product of associations with highly-regarded firms of regional or national stature. These include the Eugene Public Library (with Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott of Boston), Thurston and Maple Elementary Schools (with Mahlum Architects ’ Portland office), the Springfield Justice Center (ROSSER International, Atlanta), and the Corvallis Clinic Surgery Center (with Boulder Associates, Boulder, CO). In each instance, we worked collaboratively to design the project. In the process, we learned about how our partner firm goes about its business, gaining valuable insights into its organizational structure, methodology, and culture.(3)

The DTC project has proven no exception. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with both the SRG Partnership and Pyatok Architects. There is no doubt in my mind that our office has benefitted by working with these two remarkable firms, as well as all the other members of our design team.

SRG’s commitment to sustainability and passive design strategies is especially outstanding. It has long partnered with the Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory (ESBL) at the University of Oregon to execute some of the most energy-efficient projects to be found anywhere.

Two such examples of SRG’s work with ESBL are the Annunciation Academic Center at Mount Angel Abbey near Silverton, OR, and the recently completed Health & Wellness Center on the main campus of Lane Community College. I greatly admire both of these projects, not only as demonstrations of SRG’s technical prowess but also because they’re simply well-designed and executed.

Mount Angel Abbey Annunciation Academic Center (SRG photo)

Classroom in the Mount Angel Abbey Annunciation Academic Center (my photo)

The Annunciation Academic Center couples the values of the 1500 year-old Benedictine Order (emphasizing stewardship of the earth, craftsmanship, beauty, and love of prayer) with a belief that natural light enhances academia. SRG employed a prototypical daylighting strategy in each classroom: a large central skylight with integrated louvers and a custom reflector evenly distributes enough light throughout the day such that no artificial illumination is necessary for 95% of the time the classroom is occupied.

Health & Wellness Center, Lane Community College (SRG photo)

Health & Wellness Center, Lane Community College (my photo)

The Health & Wellness Center is an exemplar of passive ventilation and cooling. SRG nestled a two-story “lung” between the building’s labs and their support spaces, to bring daylight and fresh air into the heart of the facility. The project is an analog for a healthy body: breathing, adaptive, and alive.

We have incorporated many of the same passive design strategies employed in the Annunciation Academic Center and the LCC Health & Wellness Center in our design for the new Downtown Campus. I previously blogged about the DTC project so I won’t spend too much time here further detailing the specifics of the design; suffice it to say that the DTC will become the benchmark for sustainable buildings in our community. In this regard, the DTC’s design is absolutely congruent with the college’s own goals for the project. LCC mandated, and the design team is delivering, a project that will achieve LEED ratings of Platinum for the academic component and Gold for the housing. The DTC will showcase the college’s Energy Management Program, a synergistic coupling of a highly sustainable design strategy with an ambitious and progressive curriculum. The result will be a “building that teaches.” The college’s mission, vision, core values, and strategic directions will be manifest in every aspect of the new facility.

Interior courtyard of the proposed Lane Community College Downtown Campus

After so many years of disappointment and frustration, the DTC is tangible evidence that real progress is underway in the city’s core. It is the bellwether for a whole flock of new downtown projects(4) and a monument to the power of collaboration. The campus will allow Lane to increase training and services at an accessible, convenient location while meeting sustainability goals. It will also help the city achieve much needed downtown revitalization. “Building It Together” is more than just rhetoric. Lane Community College, the City of Eugene, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and our design partners are working together to make this important project a reality.

(1) The half-block fronting 10th Avenue and bordered by Charnelton Street to the west and Olive Street to the east has been the object of numerous development proposals. In the last few years alone, the property has variously been proposed as the site of the Eugene Public Library (subsequently constructed across the street), as a new home for the Oregon Research Institute (now controversially proposed for a site in the Riverfront Research Park), and as a privately developed student apartment building.

(2) If not alone, then surrounded by worshipful acolytes.

(3) We often discover that our office functions as effectively as our highly successful partners. We find this reassuring because it suggests we are keeping pace with state-of-the-art practices in the architectural profession.

(4) Other downtown projects in the pipeline include the Inn at the Fifth, Beam Development’s rehabilitation of the Center Court Building, and Bennett Management’s new office building on the site of the other “pit” on Willamette Street. Together with the DTC, the total investment of these projects exceeds $83 million.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: