Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ten Principles for Design Excellence

The 2011 AIA-Southwestern Oregon People's Choice Awards display (photo by me)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that the 2011 edition of the Eugene Celebration is underway this weekend. This marks the 22nd year that the American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon Chapter has presented its People’s Choice Awards as part of Eugene's supersized block party. AIA-SWO is proud once again to showcase the work of local architects, landscape architects, and related design professionals.

As always, the program shines a spotlight on design excellence and demonstrates how architects enhance and add value to our built environment. If you haven’t already checked out this year’s display, hurry now to the Oveissi & Co. showroom at Broadway & Willamette in downtown Eugene and cast your votes!

As long as we’re on the topic of design excellence, this year’s People’s Choice exhibit provided AIA-SWO's Design Excellence Committee the opportunity to roll out its Ten Principles for Design Excellence. The list is the foundation of the Design Excellence Committee’s efforts to raise public appreciation of the importance of good design. The committee (led by 2010 AIA-SWO president Michael Fifield) envisions municipalities, developers, builders, community groups—the entire spectrum of those who influence and shape our built environment—embracing and applying the ten principles in their work.

The Ten Principles for Design Excellence are:

1. START WITH THE ESSENCE - The purpose of the project is clearly defined with a thorough understanding of the essence and/or uniqueness of the project.

2. MEET THE UNIQUE NEEDS - Design intentions to address the uniqueness of the project are stated in a clear and concise manner and are intended to meet the needs of the client and building users.

3. SYNTHESIZE YOUR SOLUTIONS - Design solutions are translated appropriately and integrate building components/elements in a synthesized and comprehensive manner and not simply as a checklist of issues.

4. THINK BEYOND BORDERS - The design recognizes not only immediate site conditions, but also the context, both physical and social/cultural, now and in the future.

5. COUNT COSTS, CREATE COMMUNITY - The design is sustainable, both in terms of all energy-related issues, but also sustainability issues associated with community. It considers life-cycle costs of energy use, maintenance, and the embodied energy of materials and labor.

6. RESPOND TO NATURE - The design responds to natural conditions of sunlight, wind, noise, soils and slope, existing vegetation, animal and bird habitats, views, drainage and disposal of stormwater and sanitary sewage, site access, etc.

7. MULTIPLY ACCESS MODES - The design encourages and promotes alternative modes of transportation (e.g., bike, public transportation, walkability).

8. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE - The design considers issues of expansion, flexibility, change in use, alterations, deconstruction considerations and modernization.

9. KEEP YOUR PROMISES - The design has a well-considered budget and schedule.

10. ADD BEAUTY - The design is attractive in its overall appearance, and is considered a positive addition to the community, now and into the future.

The People's Choice display, hosted by Oveissi & Co. (photo by me)

By visiting the 2011 People’s Choice display you will not only view outstanding work produced by local architects and landscape architects but also receive a ready-made design toolkit. Take the Ten Principles for Design Excellence to heart. Apply them in your work and contribute to the betterment of our buildings, places, and communities.
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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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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Re-Energize your Practice for Growth & Sustainability


The second webinar of the INTEGRATED PROJECT DELIVERY: Virtual Design to Construction series produced by DESIGN[realized] takes place this coming Friday, August 26th from 9:00 - 11:30 at the Summit Bank conference room. Ted Corbin, Associate AIA, will once again serve as host and local facilitator for the event.

Entitled Re-Energize your Practice for Growth & Sustainability, the webinar will discuss integrating design and construction management tools, presenting ideas for identifying unmet needs in our market, and formulating plans to develop new product and service offerings. According to DESIGN[realized], the goals of the webinar include learning how to:
  • Differentiate yourself by offering products and services that set you apart from your competition
  • Identify unmet needs in the market place
  • Deliver projects as an Integrated Enterprise: a single source for all building services—development, architectural design, estimating, and construction management—with a shared purpose and bottom line
  • Combine sustainability, architecture, and sociology to create exceptionally valuable new service offerings
  • Formulate a plan to develop new product and service offerings.
Like the first webinar in the series, the format is unique: A one-hour webcast featuring leading industry experts kicks off the program at 9:00 a.m. followed by 30 minutes of local discussion among the Eugene attendees. The webcast resumes at10:30 a.m. with a follow-up local discussion to conclude the session.

Eugene will be one of many host venues around the country but the only one in Oregon.

Ted hopes to draw as wide a spectrum of participants to the webinar as possible. The involvement of more people, each bringing their unique perspective to the discussion, will enhance the educational value of the experience for everyone.

Email Ted at tcorbin@gmx.net with any questions you may have regarding the webinar. He hopes to see all of us on August 26 at Summit Bank.

What: Re-Energize your Practice for Growth & Sustainability (3.0 AIA CES credits)

When: Friday, August 26, 2011, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Where: Summit Bank boardroom, 96 East Broadway, Eugene, OR 97401

Registration: Online at http://www.designrealized.com/Tickets_Oregon

Cost: $55 ($45 for AIA members)
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

2011 AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards


crafts‧man‧ship , n.
  • The work of a craftsman.
  • Very detailed work that has been done using a lot of skill, so that the result is beautiful: The carving is a superb piece of craftsmanship.
  • The skills, knowledge, and dexterity involved in creating works of art. Generally refers to skill in producing expertly finished products; fine workmanship.
The Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects invites its members and associates to nominate construction tradesmen and women that have demonstrated outstanding skills in the execution of their work for the 2011 AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards program.

A jury comprised of AIA-SWO chapter architects, members of the construction industry, and past Craftsmanship Award winners will choose from those nominated. The awards ceremony to honor those selected will take place on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. I’ll post more details about the event as the date draws nearer.

The overarching purpose of the awards program is to ensure that the time-honored ideals of craftsmanship are sustained and passed along. Its success is dependent upon nominations of those individuals AIA-SWO members believe exemplify the highest standards of craftsmanship.

If you’re an AIA-SWO member, think of all the people you have worked with recently who have helped make your designs a reality. Does someone especially stand out? Was his or her contribution to your project worthy of recognition? If so, submit a nomination for consideration by this year’s Craftsmanship Awards jury.

Along with the name of your nominee, you’ll need to assist the jury by providing letters of reference, biographical data, and an accounting of his or her accomplishments. Photographs illustrating completed projects would also be helpful.

If you have questions regarding the program or require the official nomination form, contact Kurt Albrecht, AIA, president-elect for AIA-Southwestern Oregon either by email at Kurt@cba-aia.com or by phone at (541) 485-3315. Nominations are due no later than Tuesday, October 18.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sustainability, Silos, and Systems Thinking


I had the opportunity earlier this year to attend a screening of The Greenest Building, a new hour-long documentary by film producer and fellow University of Oregon graduate Jane Turville. The film presents a compelling overview of the important role building reuse plays in creating sustainable communities. Narrated by actor David Ogden Stiers, The Greenest Building delves into the myth that a “green” building is necessarily a new building. It demonstrates how renovation and reuse of existing structures fully contributes to the triple bottom line of economic, social, and ecological balance.

Following the screening, Jane recounted an epiphany which in part prompted her to produce The Greenest Building. During the course of conversations with historic preservationists on the one hand and green-minded designers on the others, she realized that the two groups did not frequent the same circles and rarely engaged in discussions of mutual interest or benefit. Historic preservation and sustainable design do not necessarily work at cross purposes; however, only infrequently had partnerships arisen to realize the synergistic potentials of an alliance between the two disciplines. Why?

As with other applied sciences, historic preservation is a specialized field. It developed as a focused concentration upon the theory and technology of preserving, conserving, and protecting buildings of historic significance. Historic preservation also entails cultural resource management, and resource identification and evaluation, but had not often been spoken of in the same breath as sustainability.

The green building movement was likewise rooted in specialization. Much of its emphasis had been implementation of new energy efficient systems and strategies to reduce environmental impacts. The underlying objectives were meant to be calculable and discrete. The goal-oriented focus favored traditional scientific processes—the gathering and measurement of empirical evidence—to achieve desired and reliable outcomes.

Historic preservation and green design followed separate paths, evolving in parallel as distinct interests with little or no cross-pollination. Consequently, one discipline was too often presumed to venerate only the old while the other was supposedly in the thrall of only the new.

Jane had discovered the conventional bias of simplified, linear thinking, wherein everything is neatly categorized. Our natural tendency is to reduce and compartmentalize a complex, multidimensional issue into isolated, more easily comprehended packets. This is scientific reductionism—silo thinking.

By breaking down complex interactions and entities into the sum of their constituent parts, the silo mentality effectively isolates disciplines. Those ensconced within their silos too often fail to see the promise inherent in a bigger picture. Such was the case for preservationists and green designers. Each field’s practitioners had largely overlooked the potential of their combined efforts joined for greater effect.

Achieving true sustainability requires a more holistic approach. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another. It emphasizes the interconnections between disciplines rather than what distinguishes them. In so doing, it more adequately addresses the infinite complexity of the problems at hand. Systems thinking leaps the barriers erected by specialization. The systems perspective is the antithesis of the silo mentality.

Integrated processes and multidisciplinary collaboration are now principal tenets of sustainable design. Those dedicated to the development of sustainable communities increasingly recognize that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with other systems, rather than in isolation.

Why shouldn’t architects and developers first consider reuse and preservation when weighing sustainable design options? Americans are on track to demolish one third of this country’s existing building stock over the next 20 years to replace seemingly inefficient buildings with energy efficient “green” structures. Is demolition in the name of sustainability really the best use of natural, social, and economic resources?

By evaluating the question of sustainability from a systems thinking perspective, Jane explains in The Greenest Building how reuse and reinvestment in the existing built environment can lead to stronger local economies that can thrive in a global context. She asserts that sense of place and collective memory, while intangible, are critical components of strong sustainable communities. She also points to a direct correlation between reuse of existing buildings and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, degradation of the natural environment, and overuse of precious natural resources.

By documenting the value inherent in our existing building stock, Jane Turville’s implicit message is to see the big picture—to look beyond the walls of the silos we too easily fall into. If you have not yet seen The Greenest Building, check to see if a screening or televised broadcast of the film is available in your community.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Close, but no Cigar (or iPad)


I previously mentioned Architectural Record magazine’s Show Us Your Record Collection contest, which I entered because I thought it would be fun. I knew I had no chance winning a prize in the Oldest Issue or Largest Collection categories(1). On the other hand, I figured I had an outside shot at winning the Most Creative Presentation category. The prize if I won? An Apple iPad, something I’ve coveted. I know I would put an iPad to good use.

The editors of Architectural Record announced the winners of the contest earlier this week. And the winner of the Most Creative Presentation category was . . . not me. I was selected first runner-up.

The Most Creative Presentation prize was awarded to James R. Kirkpatrick, FAIA, of the eponymously named Kirkpatrick Architecture Studio of Denton, Texas. He photographed his collection of Architectural Record issues dating back to October 1972 surrounded by all of the members of his firm born since then. I have to admit, that’s pretty clever.

To be honest, I actually was pleasantly surprised that I was even in the running. I expected tough competition.

Regarding my entry, the editors wrote “First Runner Up: Randy Nishimura, AIA, of Eugene, Oregon took his collection out for some fresh air and then wrote a blog post about our contest: My Architectural Record Collection.”


I think having written a blog post about the contest contributed to my submission’s high ranking. The incongruous setting and decidedly geometric composition (note how my crossed leg neatly parallels the ranked formation of magazine holders) may have also played their parts.

Like the old saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. All the glory (and the iPad) goes to the winner and James Kirkpatrick deserved to win. On the other hand, I managed to have a little fun, which is priceless.

(1) The Oldest Issue category was won by Milan Liptak of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Milan submitted a photo of 395 issues from his collection, including an edition from 1891. His image also featured copies of RECORD from 1918 and 1956 as well as 1991’s centennial issue (my oldest issue dates from 1976). The Largest Collection prize went to Jonathan Haas of Birmingham, Alabama’s Davis Architects. Jonathan submitted an image of firm president Neil Davis with the office collection of every Architectural Record issue going back to 1939 (my collection is somewhere north of 400 issues strong).