Sunday, August 21, 2011

August AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Broadway Commerce Center (photo by me)

For a variety of reasons, I’ve missed the past few AIA-SWO chapter meetings. However, skipping the August meeting wasn’t an option. Half of last Wednesday’s program was devoted to my presentation comparing and contrasting the Eugene Public Library and Lane Community College Downtown Campus projects. The other half was a tour of PIVOT Architecture ’s future home in a revitalized Centre Court Building, now rechristened the Broadway Commerce Center.

Downtown Renaissance
The thread that loosely bound the two parts of the August AIA-SWO program together is the welcome burst of development in downtown Eugene. 2011 may prove to be a watershed year for the core of Oregon’s second largest city. Despite the economic recession, more construction on impactful projects is underway at one time than ever before. The development activity is a testament to the faith and capital invested by many today in the promise of a vibrant downtown Eugene tomorrow.

In addition to the LCC Downtown Campus and the Broadway Commerce Center, several other prominent projects will contribute to remaking the heart of the city.

Inn at the Fifth (photo by me)

I previously wrote a post about The Inn at the Fifth on the occasion of the unfurling of its imaginative “virtual fa├žade” last fall. The shroud is no longer required to visualize the new 68-room boutique hotel designed by Eugene’s own TBG Architects & Planners. Completion of the $11.7 million project is projected for October of this year.

Bennett Management Company's new building rising from the Woolworth pit (photo by me)

Rendering by Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects

The Bennett Management Company is filling one of downtown’s notorious “pits”(1) on the site of the former Woolworth Department Store. Quickly rising is a 5-story, $10.8 million commercial building designed by Portland’s Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects that will include 50,000 square feet of Class “A” offices on its upper levels, plus retail space and access to underground parking on the ground floor.

Broadway Lofts - Master Capital Management (rendering by Rowell Brokaw Architects)

Steve Master is another developer with plans for downtown. He recently announced his purchase of the empty office building at 858 Pearl Street (formerly occupied by the City of Eugene’s Public Works Department). He intends to fill the vacant structure with up to twenty apartments, which will add to the mix of uses downtown. Master also bought the former Taco Time building at the northwest corner of the intersection of Broadway and Willamette Street. He proposes to completely remake the shuttered facility as a mixed-use retail/residential development named Broadway Lofts.

Comparisons & Contrasts
I’m very fortunate to have been involved with two of downtown’s most significant projects: the main branch of the Eugene Public Library and the Lane Community College Downtown Campus (DTC). In both instances, my role was/is that of design team project manager. In that capacity, it was/is my responsibility to help coordinate the efforts of the numerous members of the architect and consultant teams, while also serving as a primary conduit for communications with the owners and general contractors. To simply say that the two projects have been important to my development as an architect would be a gross understatement.

Bird's eye perspective of the Lane Community College Downtown Campus looking northwest (Eugene Public Library is at left in image)

It is hard to believe that it was thirteen years ago that my firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, started working on the Library.(2) The architectural profession has advanced in significant ways since then. We’ve transitioned from 2-D CAD to the parametric 3-D world of Building Information Modeling (BIM). Sustainability is no longer simply a fashionable buzzword; instead, it is ingrained in everything we do. The range of concerns we’re expected to address is broader than ever before.

The more things change, however, the more they also stay the same. The application of sound urban design principles is a timeless prerequisite. In the case of the Library and the LCC DTC, this requirement is heightened by the fact that both are prominent, publicly-funded projects of comparable size and importance to downtown Eugene. Remarkably (to me at least), they’re also situated directly across the street from one another. Many regard both as essential to urban revitalization efforts. It’s inevitable that people want to compare and contrast the two projects.

Aerial view of Lane Community College Downtown Campus under construction (photo courtesy of Lease Crutcher Lewis, LLC)

I’m not going to go into great detail about the features of the new LCC Downtown Campus because I’ve described them before here and here. On the other hand, I’ve yet to draw specific attention to how much bearing the fast-tracked, accelerated process has had upon the project’s development.

The total elapsed time from start of design through construction to occupancy of the DTC will literally be half that of the Library. Is there a lesson buried in this fact? Yes. I truly believe that we are pushing the practical boundaries of how quickly human beings can deliver a large, complex project. Compressing the LCC DTC time-frame even more would undoubtedly result in unacceptable costs or compromises for the college. I cannot yet imagine future technological advancements in our profession that would enable us to further hasten the design and construction process.

Hole-ly Rollers
With its choice of the Broadway Commerce Center as the home of its future office space, PIVOT Architecture is once again demonstrating its commitment to downtown Eugene. The shell and core of the old building, designed by prominent Portland architect A.E. Doyle in 1927, is presently being renovated by John Hyland Construction following plans prepared by Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects for Beam Development. PIVOT’s team for the design of its office space includes firm principal Toby Barwood, AIA; associate Scott Clarke, AIA; interior designers Theresa Maurer and Liza Lewellen; and intern Scott Bishop. PIVOT hopes to move into its new digs by October of this year.

Toby Barwood, AIA (center) and Scott Clarke, AIA (right) lead the tour of PIVOT Architecture's future office (photo by me) 

According to Toby, the generative design parti is the contrast between the building’s old shell and a sculptural new insertion at the core of the 8,500 s.f. plan. Of equal import to the parti is PIVOT’s culture: the firm places a high premium upon collaboration, flexibility, and communication. I found it noteworthy that workstation assignments will be fluid; teams for significant projects will physically be grouped together to optimize group dynamics and later dissolved as staff are reassigned to other projects and corners of the office. The absence in the open plan of enclosed principals’ offices is also revealing: PIVOT is giving literal form to its egalitarian organizational structure.

PIVOT has exposed the original columns and floor structure as part of its renovation (photo by me)

Toby said his team struggled with the development of the core element (which will house enclosed meeting rooms, copy rooms, and the office’s entry lobby). What kind of material would best distinguish it from the historic encompassing shell? Ultimately, the team decided the cladding it would select for the core wasn’t critical. Instead, the answer would lie in the imaginative manipulation of a prosaic material: digital design and fabrication would be the way forward.

PIVOT is employing computer numerical control (CNC) milling to emboss a greatly enlarged and rasterized image of a 1982 pen and ink hand sketch by Eric Gunderson onto the cladding. Eric’s skilful sketch depicted the southern Willamette Valley from the air. PIVOT worked closely with Heartwood Carving of Eugene to drill thousands of holes of varying sizes into the medium density fiberboard (MDF) panels. The panels will be powder-coated and backed with acoustic batts after installation.

One of the many CNC panels that will clad the core element in PIVOT's new office (photo by me)

During the chapter meeting’s tour, we were able to view a full-scale mockup of one of the finished CNC panels. Up close, it looks like nothing if not a giant chartreuse piece of Swiss cheese. Will the genesis for the holes’ motif be apparent when all of the panels are installed and viewed from further away? Probably not but I don’t think that matters. What PIVOT’s employees will enjoy is a stunning abstract backdrop for their daily work, representative at once of traditional media and the latest technology, derived from the handiwork of one of the firm’s founding partners. Pure genius.

Thanks to Toby and Scott Clarke for leading the tour of PIVOT’s future office space. I’m looking forward to seeing it in completed form, just as I am all of the other exciting downtown projects currently in progress.

(1) Of course, the other ex-pit is the now-filled former Sears basement on the site of the Lane Community College Downtown Campus.

(2) RSA teamed up with the venerable Boston firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott to design the Library.
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