Saturday, October 29, 2011

Design|Spring Charrette

The emerging professionals group, Design|Spring, is organizing its first design charrette! The event will bring together design professionals and active citizens to generate ideas for enhancing building facades and the corresponding streetscape in downtown Springfield, Oregon.

The target area is Main Street between Pioneer Parkway West and 8th Street in downtown. Teams will consider the existing conditions, the historic character of the street, and the goals of active community members. A possible outcome of the charrette might be specific design suggestions that Main Street merchants will find actionable and cost-effective.

Design|Spring encourages you to participate! The group will issue final details for the charrette soon, including facts and graphics related to Main Street.

To help the organizers better coordinate the event they ask that participants RSVP in advance. Please email if you’re interested in taking part.

What: Design|Spring Charrette for Springfield

When: Saturday, November 12 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Where: Springfield Academy of Arts & Academics, 615 Main Street, Springfield, OR

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

The October AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter meeting featured Mark Heizer of the State of Oregon Building Codes Division. Mark provided a comprehensive overview of the Oregon Reach Code, the latest evidence of Oregon’s nation-leading efforts to champion energy efficiency in the construction and operation of buildings.

Because I live and work in Oregon, I sometimes have to be reminded by outsiders about how far ahead of the curve we are compared with much of the nation when it comes to high performance building design. Our state can boast more LEED-certified buildings per capita than anywhere else. Designing with sustainable goals in mind is simply second nature to us now. We’re surprised when we encounter architects from other regions who continue to find buildings designed from a green perspective to be a novelty.

The fact is Oregon has been on the forefront of sustainability for many years. Visionary public policy has played a central role in this leadership. Oregon’s urban growth boundary legislation in the 1970s, carbon emissions limitations, and support for research and development of renewable energies are well-known examples. The most recent case in point is the Oregon State Legislature’s decision in 2009 to dramatically reduce energy consumption in buildings by directing the state Building Codes Division to implement the Oregon Reach Code.

The Reach Code (which became effective on July 1 of this year) is an optional set of criteria that reduces energy use in buildings well beyond the requirements of the state’s mandatory codes. The new code will act like a statewide alternate method: builders will have an optional "green" path and jurisdictions can be assured the state-of-the-art construction methods are sound.

Like its name implies, the Reach Code goes past current codes and provides an objective measurement of success for project teams who aspire to a higher standard. The Building Codes Division envisions continually ratcheting up the standard as the basic energy code becomes more stringent with every code renewal cycle. Preliminary modeling of the prescriptive path provisions of the Reach Code in their current form indicates a 15%-20% efficiency increase over the standard energy code. Ultimately, the BCD goal is set the Reach Code to achieve carbon-neutral, net-zero energy and water performance by 2030.

The Reach Code is an overlay on top of the existing Oregon Energy Efficiency Code and Oregon Structural Specialty Code; it does not supplant them. The commercial (non-residential) provisions of the code are based on the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and incorporate measures from the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), ASHRAE 90.1-2010, and IAPMO’s Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code.

The optional standards will result in more energy efficient construction by:
  • Reducing the size of the equipment needed to heat and cool a building by providing flexible paths for optimizing the building envelope
  • Ensuring code-related systems, such as HVAC, operate as intended by requiring functional testing
  • Verifying building performance with blower door testing
  • Making it easier and cheaper to install a solar array in the future by requiring that the building is renewable-ready
  • Maximizing efficiency through a variety of strategies, such as high-efficacy lighting, passive design, post-occupancy commissioning, and vegetative roofs
  • Providing better information to building owners and managers on energy use after the building is occupied through sub-metering of key systems
Compliance with the Reach Code will typically occur by prescriptive means for smaller buildings (less than 50,000 s.f.). Larger, more complicated projects will most often necessitate following a “performance path” to demonstrate compliance, which would entail more extensive computer modeling and performance monitoring.

One of the benefits of the Reach Code may prove to be how it helps projects qualify for federal, state, and local incentives for energy conservation. Because the issuance of a permit under the Reach Code is validation of the measures necessary to achieve the prescribed level of performance, it may expedite approval or disbursement of grants or loans sooner than might otherwise have been possible. For commercial projects in particular, the ability to secure assured financing early may be the difference between implementing a cutting-edge, innovative design or moving forward with a project that merely complies with the standard energy code.

Oregon’s continued leadership in the green building sector is essential for the state to maintain its competitiveness in the world market. Oregon will profit from exporting this leadership while reducing the energy consumed by buildings, and developing local, more sustainable communities at home. The State of Oregon Building Codes Division has done its part by raising the bar for those who choose to reach for it.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mark Heizer’s Reach Code presentation to AIA-SWO was the first to any of the AIA chapters in the state. We’re honored that Mark chose to offer us the initial opportunity to learn about code in its definitive form.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The October chapter meeting also featured brief presentations by Stuart Ramsing, Manager for the City of Eugene’s Building & Permit Services Division; Jenna Garmon, the City’s Green Building Analyst; and Eli Volem from the Earth Advantage Institute.

Stuart acknowledged that the increasing complexity of regulations and layers of bureaucracy is not abating. Part of this is a consequence of the City’s emphasis upon implementing its sustainability goals. In response, the City is working collaboratively with developers, builders, and architects toward a culture of “yes.” As part of this effort, Stuart described the new electronic documents review process the City hopes will expedite approvals and soon become standard operating procedure.

Jenna wants to render her position as Green Building Analyst obsolete: Her definition of success is to reach a point where green building is the norm. She described the City’s Guide2Green Program, which fosters sustainable waste prevention and green building in Eugene through education, technical assistance, and various incentives. For example, projects that achieve LEED or Earth Advantage certification are eligible for priority plan review and inspections, one-day permits, or system development charge reductions.

Eli spoke about the Energy Trust of Oregon’s Energy Performance Score (EPS) for new homes. The EPS provides a clear and quantitative way to compare a home's estimated energy use and costs. The lower the score, the better—with zero being the best. A low EPS identifies a home as energy efficient with a smaller carbon footprint and reduced utility costs. The EPS is directly analogous to the gas mileage ratings associated with cars.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conversation Project

Reiko Hillyer

On Thursday, October 20, at 6:30 p.m., the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House will welcome Reiko Hillyer, who will present her talk “Marking Our Territory: How to Read Local Landscapes.” The program is part of Oregon Humanities’ statewide Conversation Project, which brings humanities scholars to Oregon nonprofits.

One of the most persistent ways people exert power over others is to control access to space. Drawing upon the fields of architecture, environmental studies, urban design, and public policy, Reiko Hillyer’s presentation will pose the following questions: How do we mark our territory? How do the built environments we create reflect our values and aspirations? Whom do we include and exclude in the process?

Touching on gentrification, the decline of public space, historic preservation, residential segregation, and suburban sprawl, Hillyer will lead a conversation about how to read the history of our communities through the landscapes we build and consider how we can be more aware of, and more engaged in, the creation of our surroundings.

Hillyer is a visiting assistant professor of history at Lewis & Clark College, where she recently won the Teacher of the Year award. She teaches twentieth-century U.S. history, African American history, the Civil War, women’s history, and the history of the American landscape.

The program was very well-received earlier this year in Portland. Admission is free to Shelton McMurphey Johnson House members. Non-members are asked to make a $5 donation.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Research Assistance Please

Architects, designers, and interns!

Vapor retarders and air barriers in residential design - what's common practice in your climate? Help University of Oregon graduate student Emily McGlohn answer this question by filling out a short online survey. Completing the survey should only take 5 minutes for 17 questions. Please limit your answers to your knowledge of residential design.

Your responses will remain anonymous and you will not be asked your name or professional association. You must be 18 years or older to participate in this survey. If you have questions, would like more information about the survey, or would like a copy of the final report please contact Emily.

Emily McGlohn
University of Oregon

By participating in the survey, you can register to win a $25 gift certificate to Lowe's or Books-A-Million!

To access the 5-minute survey and help Emily with her research, click here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011

Vertical farm design by Gordon Graff

Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about an issue of global importance on the same day (Sunday, October 16). It’s an opportunity to witness the power of participatory journalism marshaled toward a common cause. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger a worldwide discussion.

This is my third Blog Action Day: For 2010 the issue was Water; in 2009 it was Climate Change.

This year Blog Action Day coincides with World Food Day, a time that focuses the world’s attention on food, something we all have in common. The charge to bloggers worldwide is to talk about food. I’ve chosen to address food and architecture.

The ties between food and architecture are rich and varied. For example, both are commonly associated with culture and place. They are equally coupled with aesthetics, presentation, and intention as forms of artistic expression. Both engage our senses and bring us together as communities. In their most glorious forms, they represent humanity at its best. That being said, I would miss the point of World Food Day by blogging contentedly about how analogous culinary flair is to design panache.

For much of the world’s population, simply having enough food to eat is a desperate struggle. Famine in the Horn of Africa has reached catastrophic proportions. Drought-induced and compounded by war, corruption, and problems with food distribution, the crisis threatens the lives of more than 13 million people in the region.

Hunger is also a reality for huge numbers in developed countries, including the United States. Food insecurity for the vulnerable segments of our citizenry is universally regarded as a major threat to social stability and prosperity. Eradicating hunger is and will increasingly be a fundamental challenge as our future unfolds.

This challenge is incomprehensibly complex. Population growth, peak-oil, the industrialization of agriculture, and the wild weather that is a byproduct of global warming have all contributed to the problem. Viewed from the peak-oil perspective alone, dystopian seers like James Howard Kunstler believe today’s petroleum-fueled agribusiness is on the precipice of collapse and that our society is destined for violent upheaval. Food that must travel thousands of miles to reach our dinner tables simply isn’t sustainable.

Is there a solution? Can architecture and design make a difference?

I don’t have an immediate answer. Clearly, the means by which food is produced and distributed must change. I do agree with Kunstler and others like the organization Food First that the future lies with local agri-food systems rather than with industrialized agriculture. Sufficient production and equitable distribution of food will be the key, but how will this be achieved in a world of dwindling resources?

According to Food First every country on earth (with the possible minor exceptions of some city-states) has sufficient agricultural capacity to feed its own people.(1) Certainly, this must be true in the U.S. if Food First believes it is possible everywhere else. Its claim is based upon a “bottom up” approach to solving world hunger wherein subsistence farming is the focus.

Keeping food production local minimizes reliance upon factory farming and the embodied energy inherent in processing and transporting food vast distances. Keeping things local is also consistent with the locavore movement’s interest in purchasing food close to where it is grown and keeping the environment as clean as possible. Organic, community farms that raise varied crops for local sale are tremendously popular here in Eugene.

However, it’s hard to imagine that small, local farms will produce enough food to sustain the huge population of the world’s larger cities. Vertical farming in skyscrapers as envisioned by some also seems a stretch because of the additional energy needed for artificial lighting, heating, and irrigation. This could outweigh the benefit of positioning vertical farms close to where the food is to be eaten. Regardless, architects and engineers may prove creative enough to overcome the challenges associated with cost-effective vertical farming.(2)

By itself, keeping it local is not the panacea. Local farming will not eliminate drought or erase intractable tribal disputes. The problem cannot be distilled as discrete issues accompanied by simple solutions. As is the case with so many of the other problems we are confronting, the answers will not be found by following the straight line of reductionist thinking. Rather, multivalent and integrated ideas are necessary.

How architects contribute to assuring access to food for all may ultimately boil down to how the design community deals with the daunting suite of issues surrounding the problem. Architects are on the vanguard of sustainability. We’re eco-conscious advocates for energy-efficient buildings, compact communities, and reduced reliance upon the automobile. Architects are also adept at collaboration, coordinating diverse project teams, looking at the big picture, and thinking outside the box. These skills will be the key to how architects play a part in feeding humanity.

The relationship between food and architecture is destined to become even more multifaceted. Architects will move to the frontline of the battle against world hunger. I predict that if the battle is to be won, design will have played a part.

(1) Food First believes the "free trade" economic order associated with such institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank prevent this from happening. At the other end of the spectrum, the World Bank itself claims to be part of the solution to hunger, claiming that the best way for countries to succeed in breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger is to build export-led economies that will give them the financial means to buy foodstuffs on the world market.

(2) Proponents argue that “vertical farming” is legitimate because the cultivation of plant and animal life within skyscrapers will produce less embedded energy and toxicity than plant and animal life produced on natural landscapes. Moreover, they claim that natural landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production, despite the ecological and environmental costs of extracting materials to build skyscrapers for the purpose of agricultural production.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


EmX Agate Station (photo by Diderot's dreams via Wikipedia)

I’ve pretty much steered clear of the rancorous debate surrounding Lane Transit District’s proposed west Eugene extension of the EmX bus rapid transit system. It’s my natural tendency to avoid confrontation and conflict. The issues surrounding the project are complex, divisive, and not without costs. Not surprisingly, groups on all sides have politicized the West Eugene EmX Extension (WEEE) discussion. My comfort realm most definitely does not include politics.(1)

As a profession, architects are far from a predictable, homogenous bloc. We don’t always share the same opinions. On the other hand, we are by definition visionaries and as such are inclined toward imagining the future consequences of our decisions. We tend to be progressive rather than reactionary.

Most local design professionals believe resolution of the WEEE question will be a decisive turning point in efforts to improve our community’s livability. It’s clear that Eugene is at a watershed moment. Many of us feel we can no longer sit idly by.

AIA-Southwestern Oregon president Paul Dustrud, AIA, recently expressed his support for the West Eugene EmX Extension in a letter to the Register-Guard editor’s mailbag:

EmX line would help west Eugene
The recent news of a potential U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital with an option for a site in west Eugene brings a little hope.

The Willow Creek area has for years been a planned location for bio-tech, high-tech and clean industry. Along that line of thinking, a modern, efficient transportation system to service the area would be far superior to the notion of more gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing buses.

The opposition to Lane Transit District’s west Eugene EmX extension is odd. It seems to come from a very small but vocal minority who presume to speak for the rest of Eugene.

They appear to oppose growth, which would actually benefit them. There is no logic to their position — but hey, I live here, too.

As a citizen of Eugene I would like to see more jobs in Eugene. I would welcome almost any mechanism that would entice some new businesses to locate in west Eugene, especially if it meant people could get there and back each day with minimal time and trouble.

All the EmX projects built so far have improved the traffic corridors they serve; therefore, the effort to keep West 11th Avenue a clogged, aesthetically challenged gantlet seems medieval.

Paul Dustrud

Paul spoke on behalf of himself, not AIA-SWO, doing so in his characteristically plain-spoken way. As he concisely argued, Eugene’s continued growth and economic vitality will in part rely upon mitigation of worsening traffic congestion.(2)

Eric Gunderson, AIA also sees the economic benefit of adding the west Eugene EmX extension:

"Development thrives on transit. Property values are higher, restaurant seats fuller and rentals are occupied when near bus and train routes. Transit serves the corner grocery store, the café and the school. If we value vibrant neighborhoods, then EmX is a worthy investment."

Eric is a principal with PIVOT Architecture, which stands to directly benefit from the ongoing expansion of EmX.(3) Nevertheless, his assertion that an investment in rapid transit spurs development rings true. Transit advocates cite examples in many other cities of desirable outcomes nurtured by a public investment in light rail or BRT. It will only be a matter of time before Eugene/Springfield experiences a similar effect.

For the record, I too support Lane Transit District’s goal of a comprehensive bus rapid transit system within its service area. The WEEE is a necessary part of this system and essential to its expansion into the metro region’s main transportation arteries. Each new segment incrementally raises the effectiveness of the entire network.
Transit "cred:" my LTD annual pass

The Brazilian city of Curitba provided the blueprint for bus rapid transit systems worldwide. Like EmX, Curitiba’s pioneering BRT offers many of the same benefits as light rail at a fraction of the cost. It is made up of sections of dedicated bus lanes for most of the route, with normal roads in between. The vehicles are given signal priority via ground-loop signaling to the traffic control system, with special traffic signals at intersections. LTD ultimately hopes to emulate Curitba’s success and build numerous extensions to EmX in the years to come. The WEEE is a logical next step and the funding is all but assured.

The reasons to support investment in mass public transit are well-documented but are worth repeating here:
  • Public transportation provides personal mobility and freedom for people from every walk of life.
  • Access to public transportation gives people transportation options to get to work, go to school, visit friends, or go to a doctor’s office.
  • Public transportation provides access to job opportunities for millions of Americans.
  • The average household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, and 94% of this goes to buying, maintaining, and operating cars, the largest expenditure after housing.
  • Public transportation provides an affordable, and for many, necessary, alternative to driving.
  • Households that are likely to use public transportation on a given day save more than $10,000 every year.
  • A single commuter switching his or her commute to public transportation can reduce a household’s carbon emissions by 10%, or up to 30% if he or she eliminates a second car. When compared to other household actions that limit CO, taking public transportation can be 10 times greater in reducing this harmful greenhouse gas.
Source: American Public Transit Association

LTD’s creation of a comprehensive EmX system is also central to the Eugene and Springfield city governments’ broader strategy of managing future growth and fostering transit-oriented development (TOD). The hoped-for results are decreased vehicle miles traveled, greater use of public transit, improved environmental quality, reduced sprawl, preserved open space, and development of mixed-use nodes where people live, work, shop, and play.

"No Build" sign in front of a West 11th Avenue business (photo from the website Our Money Our Transit)

A “No Build” movement to kill the West Eugene EmX Extension project emerged once it was clear that LTD intended to develop it as the system’s next segment. Initially, the resistance to the project was founded upon understandable fears about destructive impacts to businesses along the route. These include disruptions during construction and permanently dedicating parts of the roadway and adjoining private property to the EmX right-of-way. The concerns about adverse effects upon businesses remain; however, they have been co-opted by Tea Party acolytes, who regard the No Build campaign as part of their greater anti-government and property rights crusade. The WEEE is a convenient rallying point for those already predisposed to distrust of central planning in any form.

The No Build supporters can recite a litany of grievances. These include the aforementioned adverse impacts upon affected property owners. Others are that the earmarked federal funds should be dedicated to more worthy projects, greater numbers of conventional buses are less expensive to operate, and increased reliance upon EmX will result in cuts to existing system routes. Eugene Weekly reporter Alan Pittman fact-checked these negative claims in a feature article last November. The bottom line is that the validity of several assertions by the No Build campaign is open to question.(4)

WEEE alternatives; the 6th & 7th Avenue alignment (left) is the plan that will move forward (source: LTD)

A true BRT system is most efficient using dedicated lanes throughout. In its attempt to mitigate the project’s impacts and mollify its critics, LTD is proposing an ad-hoc arrangement of dedicated and mixed-traffic lanes. My fear is that LTD will be unable to construct a truly effective WEEE route in the face of determined opposition by the No Build campaign. If that is the outcome, nobody will have “won.” Ultimately, it all boils down to whether LTD can overcome the stridency of the NIMBY and No Build factions and secure the popular and political support necessary to ensure the success of the project.

I want to see a perfect EmX system, one that is wildly successful, with fast and frequent service throughout the metro area. A 21st century transit network would greatly enhance the prospects for achieving the utopian vision of compact, less car-reliant, sustainable cities. It’s easy for me to wish for an unencumbered WEEE—I don’t operate a business along one of the impacted corridors. I want our community to share this vision but I’m not so naive to think that all of us are alike or confront the same problems. Life just isn’t that simple.

What comes simply is the decision to be proactive. I need to step out of my comfort realm and become an advocate. I can throw my support behind the West Eugene EmX Extension project. If you are like-minded, I encourage you to do the same. Let’s not look back twenty years from now and lament missing an opportunity to demonstrate much-needed leadership.

(1) I did attend one of the public hearings regarding the project last winter to register my support for the west Eugene extension.

(2) Paul’s letter to the R-G prompted this blog post.

(3) PIVOT designed the majority of the stations along the first two legs of EmX.

(4) I am not a huge fan of Alan Pittman’s reporting. I believe he’s betrayed a tendency to confabulate and twist facts in the service of his personal agenda. In this instance though it’s difficult to imagine he has misrepresented LTD’s response to the No Build claims.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I find Web-based social networking appealing because of its ability to connect me with others who share interests similar to my own. I want to broaden and enrich those connections, so it makes sense to ramp up my online presence.

Beyond Facebook and LinkedIn (I have accounts with these services with post feeds to both) the next logical step is joining the Twitterverse. Leah Archual, social strategist for My Green Palette, encouraged me to sign up for a Twitter account. Why? Leah believes tweeting will drive readers to my blog (and to My Green Palette) as I develop different kinds of content in different Web formats. According to Leah, Twitter will broaden my reach by engaging a format that is increasingly popular and easy to use.

Despite Leah’s enthusiasm, I think it’s going to take me a while to find my voice on Twitter. I tend to be very careful and deliberate when I write. Tidbits and quips of 140 characters or less don’t come easily to me. The fierce urgency of now(1) operates at a different pace in my blogosphere. Twitter’s immediacy—real-time updates and instantaneous communication—isn’t essential to the delivery of my blog posts.

On the other hand, I’ll be able to offer more timely news via Twitter to readers of SW Oregon Architect than I might have otherwise. For example, I can announce events of shared interest as soon as I am aware of them (Flash mob of #architects now at #Kesey Plaza!). My blog was never the best vehicle for delivering news bulletins.

The bottom line is I want to figure how best to use Twitter in a way that complements and enhances my blogging experience. I expect discovering how to do so will be thoroughly enjoyable.

I’ve added the Twitter “badge” to SW Oregon Architect in the right sidebar between Labels and My Blog List. Follow me on Twitter @sworegonarch.

(1) I hope my use of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous words do not come across as disrespectful to the spirit of his 1967 sermon Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.