Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What are your favorite buildings in Oregon?

The American Institute of Architects-Oregon is celebrating its 100th year in 2011. As part of its anniversary celebrations, the organization is asking everyone to nominate their favorite buildings in Oregon. Your vote will contribute to the selection of 100 projects to be featured in an exhibition about the past century of Oregon architecture.

Click on the following link to participate. You may submit any architect-designed building or public space in Oregon, including structures that are no longer with us.

Hurry! You must vote online by July 8, 2011.

I’ll post information about the exhibition as soon as it’s available.

Here’s the list of my ten favorites:

Mount Angel Abbey Library (photo source: University of Oregon Libraries)

In my opinion, this is the quintessential Aalto building despite its location atop a hill in rural Oregon on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. I haven’t visited any of Aalto’s libraries in Finland but I can’t imagine any of them surpassing the Library at Mount Angel Abbey.

The Gordon House (photo by Andrew Parodi)

2. Gordon House (Silverton) – architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Completed after Wright’s death, the Gordon House nevertheless successfully betrays his hand in all of its details. It is a favorite of mine because it is a late representative of Wright’s Usonian houses, the compact homes he envisioned for a new American lifestyle.

Timberline Lodge (Image via Wikipedia)

3. Timberline Lodge (Mount Hood) – architects: W. I. Turner, Howard Griffin, Dean Wright, Linn A. Forrest, and Ward Ganno
A product of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, Timberline Lodge stands seven decades later as a monument to the workers who built it. The large framing timbers, locally quarried stone, and intricate carvings provide a singular experience for visitors to the Lodge and Mount Hood.

Gerlinger Hall (photo source: University of Oregon Libraries)

4. Gerlinger Hall (Eugene) – architect: Ellis F. Lawrence
Of the many buildings Ellis Lawrence designed in an assortment of eclectic styles for the University of Oregon, expressive Gerlinger Hall is a standout, my favorite building on the campus of my alma mater.

Equitable Building (image via Wikipedia)

5. Equitable Building (Portland) – architect: Pietro Belluschi
The Equitable Building wasn’t just the first modernist office tower in Oregon—it was also one of the first to be built anywhere (pre-dating SOM’s Lever House in New York). Belluschi’s achievement was remarkable, demonstrating a fully-formed mastery of the modern glass and metal vocabulary.

Christ the Teacher Chapel (photo source: University of Portland)

6. Christ the Teacher Chapel, University of Portland – architect: Pietro Belluschi
Another Belluschi masterwork, this one a late-career gem. In the architect’s own words, the small chapel is a building of “eloquent simplicity,” a trait I find particularly appealing.

Aubrey Watzek House (photo source: University of Oregon Libraries)

7. Watzek House (Portland) – architect: John Yeon
Selected by Portland Monthly magazine as “Portland’s Greatest Home,” the Aubrey Watzek house is a seminal example of Pacific Northwest modernism. John Yeon was only 26 years old and at the start of his career in architecture when he precociously designed the Watzek House. He lavished enormous effort (drafting 600 pages of details) to realize his refined, crisp design.

Pioneer Courthouse Square (image via Wikipedia)

8. Pioneer Courthouse Square (Portland) – architects: Will Martin, et al
The result of a widely publicized international design competition, Pioneer Courthouse Square has become Portland’s living room. It is perhaps only the most noteworthy of downtown Portland’s many fine public spaces.

bSIDE6 (photo by Stephen A. Miller)

9. bSIDE6 (Portland) – architect: Works Partnership Architecture
bSIDE6 is an audacious design. The daring of the 7-story office/retail building is balanced by the unmistakable control and skill displayed by its designers, Carrie Schilling and William Neburka.

Wayne L. Morse Federal Courthouse (photo source: University of Oregon Libraries)

I previously described Thom Mayne’s work as impenetrable, cryptic, and inscrutable. The Wayne L. Morse Federal Courthouse is uncharacteristically fluid, majestic, and legible—a shimmering, sculptural paean to the judiciary. It grows on me more and more each day.

Like the roster of individuals who have influenced my development as an architect, this list may at first strike you as an odd assortment. It does reflect my tendency to appreciate good work regardless of its particular aesthetic or philosophical underpinning. Diversity is good. The common thread is what I regard as design quality and the architects’ mastery of their craft as evidenced in the projects I have selected.

What are your favorite buildings in Oregon?

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Saturday, June 25, 2011


The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and Hewlett-Packard are pleased to announce the 4th Advanced Architecture Contest, on the theme of CITY-SENSE: Shaping our environment with real-time data.

The aim of the competition is to generate visions, ideas and proposals for the city of the 21st century. The competition is open to architects, engineers, planners, designers, and artists who want to contribute to making the world more habitable. The organizers encourage competition entrants to respond to emerging challenges in ecology, information technology, architecture, and urban planning.

The competition brief challenges entrants to design either of two options: 1) a self-sufficient building; or 2) a self-sufficient city. An overarching goal is to explore the potential of real-time data collection upon sensor-driven cities.

The competition jury will at its discretion distribute a series of prizes with a total value of €50,000.

The jury includes Aaron Betsky, Vicente Guallart, Juan Herreros, Michel Rojkind, Nader Tehrani, Neil Gershenfeld, and Willy Muller among other luminaries. The jurors will look for outstanding proposals at any scale, for any city in the world. Such proposals might illustrate the potential of “smart cities,” eco-neighborhoods, self-sufficient buildings, intelligent homes, or any other proposal that analyzes the phenomena of sensor-driven cities and intelligent behavioral systems.

Registration is FREE. The organizers will accept submissions (electronically as PDF files only) up to Monday, September 26th 2011. For more detailed information about the competition, click the link below:

The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia is a cutting edge education and research center dedicated to the development of an architecture capable of meeting the worldwide challenges confronting habitation in the 21st century. Based in Barcelona, one of the world’s capitals of architecture and urbanism, the IAAC is a platform for the exchange of knowledge with faculty and students from around the world. Students work simultaneously on multiple areas of expertise (ecology, energy, digital manufacturing, new technologies), pursuing their own lines of inquiry on the way to developing an integrated set of skills with which to act effectively in their home country or globally.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Sustainable American Dream

The following is a reprise of an earlier post of mine entitled Ecopolis and the American Dream. That piece was much longer because I devoted a substantial segment to utopian visions of the future. I’ve now abbreviated the post for republishing on My Green Palette’s Green Blog. This will be my second contribution to Green Blog.

I’ve also chosen to rework my earlier post because of the following: 1) the 4th of July is rapidly approaching, and the American Dream is a fitting theme; and 2) the June 19, 2010 edition of The Register-Guard newspaper ran an opinion piece written by Tom Giesen that likewise uses the American Dream to make a point.

Now retired, Tom was a professional acquaintance of mine. My firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, regularly retained Tom as a construction cost consultant. He is now an environmental activist—passionate, focused, and persistent—regularly sounding an alarm for change.

Tom’s column for The Register-Guard brings to light the folly of politicians paying lip service to the environment while relentlessly pursuing economic growth. It’s clear he is frustrated by our collective inability to confront what will surely be an apocalyptic environmental crisis.

I’m following another tack: The thesis of my post is that the seeds of change can be rooted in the American Dream. While I do share Tom’s belief that unlimited growth is unsustainable, I am optimistic, not frustrated. The American Dream needn’t become a nightmare. Read on:

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Many Americans equate selfhood with freedom and property ownership, and find it difficult to reconcile rights owed to the individual with duties owed to the collective. For them, the American Dream is a promise of abundance offered by the richest society on earth. It persists because of the belief that anyone who works hard can succeed and is entitled to the fruits of his or her labors.

Generations of Americans have upheld the ideal of the single-family detached house, set in its private surrounding yard, as a reward for pursuing one’s goals. However, unfettered growth cannot figure in the American Dream of the future. Our cities and culture must become more locally and regionally focused, as conservation of resources becomes paramount.

Americans increasingly believe the survival of the Dream is dependent upon widespread acceptance of the principles of sustainability. We’re learning that sustainability isn’t un-American or impractical, though it does require a measure of selflessness. It is a commitment to meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

The Dream has served the country well, but with a more interconnected and complex world than ever before, it will evolve. Americans do embrace trying new things, succeeding or failing because of their savvy, level of dedication, and good or bad fortune. These traits will be the key to the development of a more sophisticated network of incremental solutions to the complex problem of transforming U.S. cities into more ecologically sound systems.

Paul Downton is an architect and prominent eco-city advocate who believes that adapting to global warming, as well as reducing social inequity and furthering sustainability, are fundamentally local issues. While he acknowledges that we need global-scale changes in political structures, economic institutions, and the very foundations of society, he also argues that it is at the local level where lasting models of the kind of world we wish to see will arise.

Downton believes that urban fractals—small components of a larger ideal eco-city—are necessary to demonstrate the essential characteristics of a sustainable culture and environment. Each urban fractal would be an example of a cultural pattern that is sufficiently different from the norm to change the deeper pattern of the city. The overarching goal is to design and develop new urban systems with the intent of establishing the framework for an ecological culture.

A typical urban fractal might take the form of a sustainable development at the scale of a single building or neighborhood. It would be a discrete element that might serve as an imitable agent for change, like a self-replicating meme. For example, a project might be so optimized that little in the way of resources outside of the development are necessary to sustain it. It could serve as a model for similar, neighboring projects. Cumulatively, the urban fractals that contain the essential characteristics of the desired ecological culture would achieve the extent and depth of change necessary to shift complete cities toward ecological health and viability.

The clear advantage of urban fractals is that they can be of a scale that is consistent with how the majority of real estate improvements are presently undertaken. This is a vision of the future that is grounded in reality and “bottom-up” processes, as opposed to “top-down” utopias and the absolute social upheaval they would augur.

Urban fractals present a path toward major change that can be accepted as normal because it would occur at a relatively slow pace, in unnoticed increments. It would not preclude the right to private property ownership that so many Americans cherish, nor would it discourage individual initiative and creativity. It is a model that would be resilient and adaptive, radically interconnected and inventive, so much so that we may not fully predict its final emergent form. Ultimately, the result would be cities locally adapted to an era of rapid climate change.

I’m guessing that the American Dream will endure as our cities confront the social, economic, and technological challenges posed by global climate change. The freedom to own and develop property will be balanced with a sense of civic responsibility to work together to create healthful, sustainable communities. Americans possess too much determination, ingenuity, and enterprise for me to believe otherwise.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Architectural Record Collection

Me and my Record Collection

The venerable monthly magazine Architectural Record invites its subscribers to enter its Show Us Your Record Collection competition. To enter, subscribers simply photograph their collections and digitally upload them to Record’s online photo gallery. The magazine will select three winners, one in each of the following categories: 1) Oldest Collection; 2) Largest Collection; and 3) Most Creative Presentation. The prize for each winner will be an Apple iPad.

If you’re one of Record’s subscribers and want to show off your collection, click the following link to the magazine’s call for entries:

The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2011.

I look forward to receiving each month’s issue of Architectural Record. I find Record appealing because it expressly serves professional architects with news, commentary, criticism, and continuing education sections. It also features numerous articles exploring cutting edge designs by leading architects with photos and articles accessible to laypersons.

Record was one of the three “glossies” I subscribed to immediately once I decided while in high school to pursue a career in architecture. The others were Progressive Architecture and Architecture magazine. All three publications were slick, showcasing exemplary and provocative projects alike.

Progressive Architecture was arguably the most avant-garde of the three. Its annual January P/A Awards edition featured outstanding unbuilt projects selected by a jury of prominent practitioners and educators. You could reliably predict design trends by studying the winning projects. The juries would successively endorse and then invalidate styles such as Post-Modern Historicism and De-Constructivism. The fashions would subsequently flourish and wane, in no small part due to the magazine’s influence. P/A ceased publication in 1996.

Architecture magazine served as the official publication for the American Institute of Architects for many years before relinquishing this status to Architectural Record in 1997. Architecture eventually folded in 2006, a consequence of its declining reader base and advertising revenue. Its successor publication is Hanley-Wood’s Architect magazine, which initially sought to portray architecture from multiple perspectives, not just as a succession of high-profile projects, glowingly photographed and critiqued, but as a technical and creative process. Architect reclaimed the mantle of the AIA’s official publication in 2010 but in the process has regressed to the mean, fawning once again upon the works of star architects.

Architectural Record remains my favorite, though the reasons may seem trivial. I prefer Record’s design. Its typography and layout are cleaner, more consistent, and less frenetic than found in competing publications (the voluminous advertising notwithstanding). The quality of the printing is superior to that of Architect magazine. I appreciate the breadth of the articles about featured projects—the extent of the written critique, the inclusion of plan and section drawings, and the plentiful photography. The commentaries do tend toward the obsequious but that’s not unexpected for a magazine whose bread and butter is the vanity of architects. Reading Record is a guilty pleasure.

My Record collection spans from 1977 to the present-day.

I do find it fascinating now to look back at my decades-old collection, which serves to chronicle our aesthetic leanings and the issues that have shaped our profession. Doing so reminds me how far we’ve come during my time in architecture. The profession has truly evolved to positively respond to the complex social, environmental, and economic forces that have impacted everyone’s life during that span.

I’m going to submit photos to the Show Us Your Record Collection competition, not because I expect to win but rather because I think it would be fun. I’ve been a subscriber since 1977, which means I have more than 400 issues stuffed into my clothes closet. According to Record, its average reader has been a subscriber for 18 years. At 34 years and counting, I’m above average but there must be many others with more substantial collections.

My set of Architectural Record volumes deserves a better home than on the dusty floor of a dark closet. Someday I’ll undertake the renovation I’ve promised my wife and proudly display it within a library worthy of bibliophiles.

Friday, June 3, 2011

This Place Matters

The Cottage Grove Armory (photo from the City of Cottage Grove's Picasa online photo album)

Built in 1931, the 33,000-square-foot Cottage Grove Armory has been vacant since 2009 when the National Guard left for Springfield. The City of Cottage Grove recently purchased the building from the Oregon State Military Department for $395,000 with a 10-year, no-interest loan. The City plans to restore the structure as a center of community activity and is raising funds towards this goal.

The 80 year old building is an Art Deco standout. Its noble appearance inspires awe and respect. The broad stairs spilling out onto the street corner welcome people to enter. The Armory is one of the largest buildings in downtown Cottage Grove, prominent from blocks away. It sits as a monument to the skills of the local craftsmen who built it. The structure served for decades as a physical hub for both the Military Department and the community. People of all ages frequently used the building for kindergarten classes, Cub Scout meetings, roller skating, basketball games, service club meetings, dances, or concerts.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected the Armory to participate in the 2011 This Place Matters Community Challenge. The Trust received over 265 entries from around the country (the Cottage Grove Historical Society submitted the Armory), selecting 100 to compete in an online voting challenge. If the Armory gets more votes than the 99 other projects on the list during the month of June, the Trust will contribute $25,000 toward its renovation.

The Cottage Grove Historical Society needs your help. Every vote is important. Last year it took over 7,000 votes for a project in Austin, Texas to win. Vote for the Armory and encourage your friends and family members to vote too. Anyone from anywhere with an email address can register and participate.
You can vote by going to the City of Cottage Grove’s webpage at and follow the link to the Armory website. You can also go directly to the voting site at:

To preserve and restore the Cottage Grove Armory to its former glory is to preserve and honor a part of Cottage Grove's history. The fact that the building is also a wonderful and rare example of Art Deco architecture here in Lane County is an added bonus. Give it your support by voting today.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

2011 CSI Northwest Region Conference

The Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute invites you to participate in its 2011 Northwest Region Conference this coming June 15 - 18 right here in Eugene! This is an excellent opportunity to obtain continuing education units (up to 10.5 credits in AIA HSW), as well as a great chance to become inspired, be a better leader, and equip yourself to thrive in the diverse world we do business in every day.

The theme is “Diversity in the Workplace.” Explore the challenges and opportunities presented by our differences—cultural, ethnic, experiential, generational, and gender. There will be a rich collection of seminars covering leadership, practice, technical, and cultural topics. Over 30 product manufacturers and service firms will exhibit the latest construction systems. Plus, there’ll be tours of the new Matthew Knight Arena and Jaqua Center for Student Athletes, a Saturday wine tasting tour, region awards banquet, networking, and more.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Construction Specifications Institute, the organization’s mission is to advance building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance. It is a national association of more than 13,000 specifiers, architects, engineers, contractors, facility managers, product representatives, manufacturers, owners, and others dedicated to improving the communication of construction information.

As a CSI member and past-president of the Willamette Valley Chapter, I can personally attest to the many benefits that’ll accrue if you attend the CSI Northwest Region Conference. You don’t have to be a member of CSI to participate in the 2011 event. I guarantee you’ll be made to feel welcome by some of the friendliest folks in the construction industry you’ll find anywhere!

Visit to download a brochure with the latest registration forms, schedule, and program information.