Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Social Media Community

I expanded my social media horizons last October by signing up for Twitter. Since then, I’ve been amazed by how active and vibrant the design and construction community is online. It isn’t just Twitter of course. I previously marveled at the huge number of blogs about architecture. There’s also LinkedIn. And AIA’s Knowledge Communities and CSI’s member forums are the places to go when you need to find others who share your interests or questions regarding professional practice.

The Construction Specifications Institute and many of its members have been particularly enthusiastic adopters of web- and mobile-based technologies which provide a medium for interactive and wide-ranging discourse. Much of the reason is attributable to CSI’s Communications/Community/Web Director, Joy Davis, CSI, CCPR (@CSIConstruction is Joy’s Twitter handle). I have yet to meet Joy in person, but it’s clear to me she is doing a terrific job of cultivating and expanding a pool of informative CSI members who are highly active online.

Some of the more prolific and notable CSI Twitterers and bloggers include:

Eric D. Lussier, CSI, CDT (@EricDLussier on Twitter) is Pennsylvania Regional Manager for Advantage Sport USA. His blog is

Tara Imani, AIA, CSI (@Parthenon1 on Twitter) is a registered architect and owner of Tara Imani Designs, LLC. Tara blogs at

John Guill, CSI, CCS, CCCA, AIA, SCIP (@SpecmonkeyNorth on Twitter) is a specifications writer and Associate of DTR Consulting Services in Santa Rosa, CA.

John W. O’Neil, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP (@specologist on Twitter) is a construction specifier at Larson & Darby Group in Rockford, Illinois. You can find John’s blog at

Liz O’Sullivan, AIA, CSI, CDT, CCS, CCCA (@LizOSullivanAIA on Twitter) is an architectural specifications writer in Denver, Colorado. The URL for Liz’s excellent blog is

David Stutzman, CSI, CCS (@dstutzman) practices as an independent specifications consultant with his company Conspectus. The Conspectus blog is SpecWords. Find it at

These are just a few of the individuals whose instructive blog posts and timely tweets I regularly look forward to reading. I know I’ve failed to list others who are equally deserving of mention; to them I apologize. 

With Joy’s tutelage and cajoling, this active group is quickly assuming a leadership mantle within CSI. There’s nothing “virtual” about its influence. Its effect is very real and illuminating one possible path toward the Institute’s future. CSI’s membership declined when the “Great Recession” struck back in 2008. It has yet to pick up appreciably. I predict the organization will rebound but it will be as a result of the exponential development of its social media ecosystem.  

One reason for the rapid growth of CSI’s online community may be found in the organization’s DNA: the founders of Construction Specifications Institute sought to improve the quality of construction specifications. Today, CSI’s mission is broader, including the advancement of building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance. The mission encompasses the advancement of construction communications in all forms.

Another reason is the relationships built upon platforms like Twitter and member forums. Networking within the social media universe is less time-consuming, more convenient, and (in my opinion) as effective as meeting people in the old-fashioned way. It is easier to leverage relationships, spread news, and share ideas. Social media do not replace the benefits of meeting face-to-face at gatherings like the upcoming CONSTRUCT taking place in Phoenix this September. Instead, they augment them and reinforce bonds among the active members. I’d love to meet each of the CSI social media mavens I list above in person. Thanks to their online personas, I already feel I know who they are. 

Joy Davis deserves kudos for broadening and enriching the online connections between CSI members. There are those who criticize the contribution of our digital culture to information over-saturation. The truth is CSI’s social media outlets are providing value-rich channels. The Institute’s prospects are rosy. Far from being an organization lost in a search for relevance, CSI is well-positioned to play its part in tomorrow’s hyper-connected and interactive world.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 People’s Choice Awards for Architecture

Last year's People's Choice Awards display

Each year, the American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO) in collaboration with the American Society of Landscape Architects, Willamette Valley Section of the Oregon Chapter (ASLA) produces the People’s Choice Awards for Architecture. The intent of these awards is to educate and inspire by showcasing architecture, interiors, and landscape architecture projects created by AIA-SWO and ASLA members. The public will vote for its favorite designs in several categories during the Eugene Celebration occurring August 24–26, 2012. The votes will be counted and winners recognized at the September AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting.

Thanks to the hospitality of Kaz Oveissi, the People’s Choice Awards had enjoyed for many years an absolutely central location in his showroom at 1 East Broadway. Having moved his rug store, Kaz regrettably will no longer be able to host the display at the northeast corner of Kesey Square. This year, the lobby of the Broadway Commerce Center will serve as PCA's new home. Not much of a move, but a big one at the same time!

As has been the case in recent years, the PCA program will pull extra duty as the Colleagues' Choice Awards and Mayor's Choice Awards programs.

The PCA Organizing Committee is pulling out all the stops to ensure the 2012 Awards programs and displays are the most successful ever. The committee has:
  • Set a target of receiving over 1,000 completed ballots by the end of the Celebration
  • Collaborated with Architects Building Community and the City of Eugene to augment the PCA display with an exhibition highlighting the part design excellence can play in the future of our communities
  • Decided to welcome submissions for un-built projects designed by students 
  • Solicited sponsorships and reward certificates (to tempt visitors with the promise of prizes for randomly chosen completed ballots)
  • Joined forces with City Club of Eugene to be the features of its September 7 program
  • Embarked on plans to take the boards "on tour" so AIA-SWO members outside Eugene can see them
The organizers deem everything new and improved in the ways listed above and more. They hope AIA-SWO and ASLA members will take the time to enter their best work. There will be plenty of public exposure, from the aforementioned City Club participation and touring exhibit to the posting of pictures and written descriptions of all the winners on the AIA-SWO website (not to mention here on the SW Oregon Architect blog!).

The committee has tentatively established the following award categories:
  • Single-Family Residential
  • Multi-Family Housing
  • Commercial
  • Public/Institutional
  • Interiors
  • Residential Landscape
  • Multi-Family Landscape
  • Commercial Landscape
  • Public/Institutional Landscape
  • Un-built Projects
The entry form for the 2012 People’s Choice Awards for Architecture program is available for downloading at the AIA-Southwestern Oregon website (AIA-SWO and ASLA members should already have received an email with the entry form as an attachment). Entry forms and payment are due on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. The final presentation boards are due on the following Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

For more details about the awards program(s) and submission requirements, contact People's Choice Awards committee chair Dave Guadagni at (541) 342-8077 or

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Symbolism in Architecture

The following is another excerpt dating to 1978 from Bill Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. With this passage he addressed the tendency toward willful form-making he feared was holding sway in architecture schools at the time. This tendency remains, particularly among self-appointed taste makers who seek to promote style over substance:


We should strive to make places that are so clear, so rich, and so right that they genuinely symbolize our most strongly felt concerns about architecture; but there is a great risk in this.

Positive symbolism in architecture springs from arduous efforts to make places that are inclusive in content, wise in definition, and eloquent in execution. It cannot come from willful conceptualizing that ignores much of the problem. And positive symbolism in architecture is rooted in the demands of situations that are real, ordinary, familiar, and concrete. It cannot come from esoteric that are beyond the comprehension (and the caring) of those who experience the built places most. Impatient, overly personal pursuits of symbolic architecture may result in places that are limited in use, or pompous, or ludicrous, or trite.

I am thinking of the users of some of Kahn’s and Le Corbusier’s buildings who were confused by the professional acclaim given the buildings when they knew from their own experience that the buildings didn’t work. I am thinking of the office workers in the national headquarters building of the American Institute of Architects who wondered why they were denied, because of an imposed decree about image and style, such obvious amenities as convenient storage space and the right to bring plants and flowers into their own rooms.

I am thinking of Mrs. Blonder in the award-winning Portland hi-rise whose environment was so impersonal and impoverished that she was compelled to ask “What on earth do architects think about if they don’t think about the well-being of those who live in the places they make?”

I am thinking of the people in Goose Hollow who were infuriated by the destruction of the supportive structure of their community by architects and developers who didn’t even know it existed.

I am thinking about the children in the architect-designed Roosevelt Junior High School in Eugene who must spend three thousand seven hundred thirty-odd hours of their lives in an environment that is nearly devoid of spaces that can be loved, cared for, used spontaneously, possessed, or remembered with real pleasure.

And I am thinking about ourselves in this school as we try again and again to make the best of space that seems to have been made without serious study of any of the activities that are supposed to go in them.

Of course, there is symbolism in the architecture mentioned above. The people who live or work in the spaces mentioned would be quick to tell you that their surroundings symbolize thoughtlessness, laziness, ignorance, and pretense—maybe all of these.

My advice is this: Work long and hard to understand the essential concerns of architecture. Balance them carefully within each design situation. Develop the resulting ideas to levels that are extraordinary. Polish the right things, both large and small, and as you gain experience and skill the symbolism will take care of itself.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

July AIA-SWO Intern Tours

The next two Tuesdays feature tours for AIA-Southwestern Oregon interns at a tandem of terrific projects nearing completion:

Tour 1: Pacific Northwest Publishing Remodel
The first of the two construction tours will be of the newly renovated Pacific Northwest Publishing Building. Located on 6th Avenue across from the Hilton in downtown Eugene, the 18,000 s.f. building previously housed an auto parts store and several failed nightclubs. It was virtually abandoned by its former occupants until it was bought by Pacific Northwest Publishing Company, a local educational book publisher. 2fORM Architecture’s design transforms the dilapidated structure into a sleek and completely rejuvenated building. It will now house offices, meeting spaces, a video-production studio, a printing shop, and a storage warehouse. Construction started last fall and is scheduled for completion next month.

What: Pacific Northwest Publishing Remodel AIA-SWO Construction Tour

When: July 17, 2012 – 12:00 - 1:00 SHARP

Where: 21 W. Sixth Avenue, Eugene

Architect: 2fORM Architecture

Tour 2: Planned Parenthood Regional Health Center
The second July tour will feature the new Planned Parenthood Southwestern Oregon Regional Health Center in Glenwood. Comfortable, spacious and designed for efficiency, the Center’s architecture emphasizes welcoming gardens, walkways, and seating areas while carefully considering safety and security for clients and staff. The Center also features a fully equipped community room capable of hosting seminars and small conferences.

Robertson/Sherwood/Architects designed the building to be healthier for Planned Parenthood’s clients, staff, and the environment. Green features include:
  • Geothermal heat pump system
  • Water efficient plumbing fixtures and rainwater harvesting
  • Bioswales and pervious pavement for storm water treatment
  • FSC certified wood
  • Vegetated roof
RSA expects the project to achieve LEED Silver certification.

What: Planned Parenthood Regional Health Center AIA-SWO Construction Tour

When: July 24, 2012 – 12:15pm - 1:15pm

Where: 3579 Franklin Boulevard in Glenwood. Take the EmX to the Glenwood Station. The site is located immediately to the right. Note that if you intend to arrive by car there is only limited parking along East 14th south of the site (drive to the intersection at Henderson Avenue, turn south and go one block to East 14th).

Architects: Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc

If you plan to attend one or both of the tours, please RSVP to Jenni Rogers at

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Commitment and Response

In the course of writing my previous blog entry (A Case Study – Part 4:Locus Amoenus) I had reason once more to think of what I learned from one of the best teachers I ever had: T. William (“Bill”) Kleinsasser. Doing so, I spent a lazy summer Sunday revisiting many of the essays and class notes Bill compiled to form the basis of his book Synthesis.


Bill defined the process of design as a search for the order of systems. He believed architects should avoid linear or additive decision-making processes and strive to study many levels of forces simultaneously. Above all, he understood that the act of designing required consideration of every objective as early as possible, followed by iterative design cycles based upon the organizational implications of those considerations.


Bill’s audience was primarily limited to his students. Synthesis would never be widely published. As far as I can tell, his legacy is virtually non-existent on the Internet. It would be a pity if his work simply became lost to time. Therefore, I will occasionally feature some of Bill’s writings here on my blog. I haven’t contacted his family for permission to do so but I trust they would not mind.


The following is an excerpt from Synthesis dating back to 1967 regarding design process. Bill’s words (with the notable exception of the gender bias which was characteristic of the day) remain as timely and applicable now as when he wrote them forty-five years ago:


When we make buildings we may be prevented, by the repeated and pressurized act of building-making, from remembering or realizing that our first responsibility is the reinterpretation and reintegration of human needs. In this act we make, or discover, the order of systems; the systems in our case being accommodations for people. Therefore, I think that design is best defined as the process we use in our never-ending search for the order of systems, that order which exists at all levels of systematic organization and which disciplines every system within our experience, man-made or natural.


The systems we are concerned with are those which respond to the needs and activities of people and which develop their capacities to respond, feel, and wonder. People are complex, their activities are complex, and their context is complex. Processes used to search for and manifest of this kind of system must be processes which recognize this complexity.


One process which is often successful in this search is one that balances anticipation and action, permits full capacity to judge, and allows the consideration of simultaneously interacting forces. It also recognizes that most decisive, generative experience must come to us as personal discovery, strengthening confidence and harnessing imagination. I call this the process of commitment and response. For an architect, presuming some knowledge about the problem and an open, searching, questioning mind, it begins with an idea (or ideas) naively conceived in response to as much of a problem as is understood at the time. If the idea is expressed, the expression becomes a commitment which will evoke response, illuminating mistakes, omissions, poorly understood parts, and organizational defects. It will also evoke feelings, the manifestation of its own power and importance outside of its rational basis.


The process is cyclical. It begins with a na├»ve conjecture about the order of the system, which immediately suggests a better, more informed, more inclusive conjecture, which in turn evokes another and so on. Each restatement about the order of the system will include more information than the last and each response will be made on the strength of more understanding. The process stops when the conscience of the designer causes it to stop. If we learn to use other committing and responding devices which have greater memories, greater capacity for information storage, and are less fallible than the human mind, perhaps the process will not stop short of perfection. Or maybe we will find that perfection isn’t what we thought it was.


There are several things that make this process of commitment and response work:


First is the first commitment. Nothing is harder (especially for a serious and conscientious student who is unfamiliar with the design processes) than to make a commitment which seems to be premature. It seems exactly what he should not do. It seems reckless, superficial, even childish. But, in fact, because it is tentative and intended only to extend the designer’s power of insight, it cannot possibly be wrong. Its purpose is to evoke, to develop the designer’s point of view, to increase his expectations, to enlarge the scope of the problem. The response seeks to perfect, to eliminate redundancy; to achieve, with a minimum of means, maximum interaction and interdependence.


Second, the designer must strive to make commitments and responses which are based on the relationships among as many parts of the problem as possible; that is, they must be comprehensive.


Third, each commitment must be in a form appropriate to the status of the aspect of the problem being dealt with. Sometimes this may be a model, a word, sometimes a sentence, sometimes a sketch or diagram, sometimes a full-size mockup of spatial sequence.


The trick is to put the commitment in a shape that will allow the designer to use his powers of analysis and judgment, whether they be intuitive or intellectual, the result of experience or research. If the response is so committed, the designer will be inclined to respond again, continuing the process. Being aware of this, he will probably respond with greater freedom and self-assurance. The more he disciplines himself to do it, the better he will get.




Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Case Study – Part 4: Locus Amoenus

The Course of Empire: The Arcadian or Pastoral State, by Thomas Cole (1834)

This is the fourth post of a series dedicated to a case study of a single project—the VA Roseburg Healthcare System Community Living Center (CLC) Expansion— designed by Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. Click on “A Case Study” in the Labels list at right for the full series.

Serendipity kindles inspiration. Our misgivings for the Community Living Center Expansion site presented to us by the VA prompted the ad hoc search for an alternative. If it weren’t for the patent shortcomings of that initial prospect we might never have stumbled upon the fertile alternative we ultimately selected.

Abounding with potential and anchored by a remarkably large and exotic-looking Persian silk tree, the chosen site for the CLC Expansion offers the promise of paradise. We imagine it as a place of refuge from the processes of time and mortality, even as the depredations of dementia and memory loss exact their toll. It will be a pastoral haven for the aging veterans who will be consigned there, a languid and Arcadian setting for the denouement of their life stories.

Our desire to create a place of refuge (as well as very necessary practical considerations) prompted our principal design response. We arrayed the program components—two “houses” accommodating ten residents each, a gatehouse, and a support wing—around a secure courtyard centered upon the silk tree. As mentioned in Part 3 of this case study, one of our objectives is to symbolically acknowledge life’s trajectory. The silk tree figures prominently in this regard by representing the interconnectedness of all life, its cycles, and the passage of time. The well-defined courtyard likewise relates the earth beneath with the sky above, and earthly existence with cosmic reverence. 

Concept sketch

Throughout history, courtyards have functioned as moderators of climate and safe havens protecting their occupants. In dense, urban settings, enclosed residential courtyards offer direct contact with nature where no other connection is possible. Archetypal courtyards also evolved to stand in as analogs for the natural environment or as microcosms of the universe. In this latter respect they function as mandalas(1), replete with the spiritual and ritual significance traditionally associated with such geometric compositions.

Our courtyard for the CLC Expansion will fulfill these roles. Additionally, we have configured it to provide a hierarchy of places to be: a protective harbor nestled against the house; under the expansive, sheltering boughs of the silk tree; along trellised and open walks, etc. The hierarchy sets up a nested precinct at the hub of which is the magnificent tree. However, the courtyard will not be completely enclosed. Its southeast corner will open toward a vista of the main oval on the VA Roseburg Medical Center campus, providing a visual connection to the larger world.(2)

Fundamentally, we picture the courtyard as a manifestation of the utopian locus amoenus(3). It will be an idyllic landscape in the physical sense as well as a landscape for the mind (transporting one to remote places and times). It will conceptually be a realm for the blessed, an idealized garden with connotations of Eden before the fall. It will be a place where the aging residents feel the sun on their faces and the breeze in their thinning hair. It will be filled with chirping crickets and birds, and redolent with the fragrance of flowering plants. We want it to be regarded as an allegorical landscape and relished as an oasis of comfort and serenity.

According to Wikipedia, the locus amoenus possesses three basic elements: trees, grass, and water. Accordingly, we’re incorporating these elements into our design. To realize our vision, we enlisted the knowledge and skill of Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning, in particular the services of Justin Lanphear, ASLA.

Justin extended the concept of the locus amoenus beyond the courtyard to include the entire setting of which the CLC Expansion will be a part. He dedicated as much attention to the design of the spaces surrounding the new facility as he did the central secure courtyard. 
View looking toward the Community Living Center Expansion project site. Note the mature landscaping (my photo).

Placing the project in the midst of existing buildings and mature trees will create a variety of distinct outdoor zones. Justin assigned names to each of these zones, hinting at their projected character. In addition to the “Secured Courtyard,” these include the “Entry Landscape” and two contemplation gardens:“Woodland Forest” and “Open Forest.”Justin described the specific features of each as part of a narrative which accompanied our Design Development presentation for the project:

The Entry Landscape will be formal in character, serving to integrate and accent the new facility. Small flowering accent trees will frame the covered entry walkway. Foundation plantings will consist of deciduous and evergreen natives and native-analogues. Flowering perennials will accent these plantings. 

Seat-walls will line the drop-off zone and entry walk. The landscape flanking the walk will be planted using a combination of flowering perennials, bulbs, and ornamental grasses. 

The central concept of the Secure Courtyard is to accommodate a variety of uses and activities (both passive and active) for people confronting the challenges of age, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Views out from communal living and dining areas are taken into account. Ample opportunities for seating will be included. 

The large existing silk tree in the central courtyard will be protected and preserved. Given the existing condition of the tree, this effort seems warranted. 

Raised vegetable garden planters will provide residents with the opportunity to exercise motor and dexterity skills while indulging in the pleasures of raising herbs and vegetables. 

Areas of lawn will permit supervised exercise or games. 

The walkway between the two houses will be covered by a continuous pergola. 

The underlying motivation for the contemplation gardens is that views out of the patient rooms may often be a patient’s only connection with the outdoor environment. As such, views out of the windows will be framed to provide changing interest through the seasons. 

The Open Forest Contemplation Garden, located at the southwestern corner of the site, will be planted with a variety of native shrubs (both deciduous and evergreen) tolerant to both wet winter and summer drought conditions. The character of this garden will be that of an understory, open forest swale. Basalt boulder accents will reinforce the sense of a wooded, outdoor room. New tree plantings will occur primarily on the opposite (south and west) side of this garden to allow the greatest view potential into the garden from patient room windows. 

The Woodland Forest Contemplation Garden will be located on the north side of the CLC Expansion. This garden will be akin to the Open Forest model but will simulate a shady woodland setting rather than an open swale. Native and adaptive deciduous and coniferous shrubs will be used throughout the area, with deciduous and coniferous trees planted more heavily at the perimeter. 

Site Plan by Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning (click to enlarge)

To this point, I’ve emphasized the site design moves which are most specific to the function and meaning of a Community Living Center devoted to the care of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. In particular, I’ve described how the Robertson/Sherwood/ Architects team melded an inspiring setting with a solution we believe will resonate on many levels. I should also point out that we looked beyond the immediate site to reinforce the larger order and geometry of the entire VA Roseburg Medical Center campus. The project will continue existing physical patterns and structures, and (we hope) embody the essential and unique spirit of the place.

Because memory care patients live in the moment, our job is to provide them with as many good moments as possible. A goal is to expand the possible range of their experiences by enlarging their frames of reference. If the outdoor spaces for the CLC Expansion project are successful, they will contribute significantly to the well-being of the residents by helping them sense the connections between themselves and all things. 

Inexperienced architects too often make the mistake of relegating design of the landscaping to the status of an afterthought. There was no way this would be the case for the CLC Expansion project. Once we had selected the site, the course the project would take was clear. To paraphrase my former professor, the late Bill Kleinsasser, the design of places for people should not only support use but also richly evoke human response and involvement; that is, provide meaning. Enlisting the power of a place vastly enriches the search for order and meaning among the many constituent systems of which any work of architecture is comprised. We were fortunate to have found inspiration in a providential confluence of program and site. We hope the corresponding design we have generated will be seen as a clear, rich, and meaningful expression of a locus amoenus.

Next in the Case Study Series: Sustainability

(1) A mandala is a concentric diagram that has spiritual and ritual significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism. According to the psychologist David Fontana, its symbolic nature can help one “to access progressively deeper levels of consciousness, ultimately assisting the mediator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises.”

(2) To protect the patients, the “open” portion of the courtyard will be secured with a fence which still allows views to the vista beyond.

(3)  Latin for“pleasant place.”