Monday, April 30, 2012

The 2012 Oregon Design Conference

Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church by Sparano + Mooney Architecture (photo from the firm's website)

With its focus upon the NEW NOW, the 2012 OregonDesign Conference posed obvious questions and difficult ones too. How do we adapt to the new realities? What are the new models for thinking and doing? What opportunity does the future hold? How has the profession, architecture education, and the world of design changed over the last two years since we last convened at the Salishan Resort on the Oregon coast?

Every Oregon Design Conference I’ve attended has introduced me to extraordinary thinkers and thinking. The 2012 edition was no exception. The keynote speakers were outstanding, as was each of the breakout sessions I attended. The talent, genius, courage, and inspiration on display were truly awe-inspiring.

The conference organizers/AIA Oregon staff (led once again by the incomparable Bob Hastings, FAIA) took full advantage of social media by broadening the conversation online. They blogged, tweeted, and posted to Facebook throughout the 2½ day event. Their efforts are now archived on the conference website under the “LIVE” tab. The conference blog features the complete Powerpoint presentations by several of the keynote speakers (although at the time of this writing the link to Carlos Jimenez’s file appears to be broken).

Following are snippets from the conference blog, posted shortly after each of the keynote presentations:

Anne Mooney, LEED AP & John Sparano, AIA (all conference speaker photos by me)

The Undiminished Character of the American West – Anne Mooney & John Sparano
The new now for this husband and wife architect team is characterized by rigorous research of materiality, history, and regionalism of each project. Committed to green design, they apply aesthetic and technical innovation and a heuristic process. Several California and Utah institutional and residential examples bring these concepts to life. The results are beautiful, sensitive and emotional.

Carlos Jimenez

The Act of Remembering – Carlos Jimenez
Houston-based Carlos Jimenez shared his inspiration and reflections on the important of context – between memory and the new and the now. Coming from Costa Rica, where color is a celebration of the intensity of the local environment, Jimenez considers trees as a metaphor for design possibilities. His presentation touched on the cycles of nature and included a project his office created for Rice University, where he is a professor. It was Rice’s first green building, in more ways than one. International work includes projects in France and Spain. Jimenez is a former University of Oregon Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Design Professor.

Walter Hood

Getting Lost in the Forest of Speculation – Walter Hood
When does conventional thinking need to be challenged? If you’re Walter Hood, that’s every day. A provocative artist and landscape architect, Hood and his Hood Studio are based in Oakland.

From a strong viewpoint that people matter, Hood is breaking new ground in urban design, turning cross-walks into parks, blowing up creeks, and maximizing the public realm to better serve those it’s created for.

His inspirational presentation covered projects large and small from all over the country, including Powell Street Promenade and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Check out the Hood Studio portfolio for examples of their work, which aptly characterize the new normal.

Mark Frohnmayer

Sustainability is a Social Networking Exercise – Mark Frohnmayer
After blazing a trail in the computer games world, Mark Frohnmayer became a sustainable business entrepreneur, helping Oregon reshape its vision for new opportunities. He founded Arcimoto, a manufacturer of affordable, sustainable vehicles that aims to be a driver in the green transportation space. The Arcimoto platform consists of a three-wheeled chassis, motor, control electronics, and chemistry-agnostic energy storage bay. Arcimoto will be opening up its platform for other designers in true open-source style so others can build on and from that foundation.

Thomas Kosbau

The Science Fiction Writer/Architect – Thomas Kosbau
How are we adapting? For Thomas Kosbau and ORE design + technology, it’s based on the premise that creative potentials in current scientific research and the natural world can be synthesized into architectural and industrial design solutions.

Their current projects range from the DeKalb Market, a pop-up retail concept constructed of salvaged shipping containers, to the Riverpark Farm, New York City’s first portable rooftop farm, to a bio-mimetic cactus that harvests drinking water from the air.

VENA water condensers by ORE design + technology (rendering from the firm website)

I was unfamiliar with the work of Sparano + Mooney Architecture and ORE design + technology; their portfolios were profoundly impressive and inspiring. One of the reasons I’m a big fan of every Oregon Design Conference is being introduced to new and emerging voices that herald innovation and promise. If the keynote presentations were any indication, the NEW NOW is rich, varied, complex, and meaningful.

Jonah Cohen, AIA, LEED AP

Speaking of emerging voices, Thursday evening’s Pecha Kucha presentations were likewise wide-ranging and expressive. In particular, THA principal Jonah Cohen stole the show with his passionate, poetry slam-inspired performance.

I found noteworthy all the breakout sessions I attended. University of Oregon professor Kevin Nute intrigued with his ruminations on weather-generated indoor animation, while Mary Coolidge of the Portland Audubon Society alerted the audience to the hazards posed to bird populations by the extensive use of glass in architecture. Don Rood of the Felt Hat and Tyler Whisnand of Wieden + Kennedy correlated branding and the power of storytelling to how buildings once reflected the values of those who built them. Van Evera Bailey Fellows James McGrath and Rick Browning shared the results of their research, projects that allowed them to reflect on professional issues and challenges of personal interest and professional value.

* * * * * *

I've now attended every Oregon Design Conference since 2004. The quality has consistently been top-notch. I strongly encourage any of you who have not taken the opportunity to attend in the past to do so in 2014. Perhaps it's merely the restorative effect of the bracing ocean winds and salt air; the bottom line is that I always come away reinvigorated and recommitted to the ideals of the architectural profession, and yearning to do the best architecture possible.

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