Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eugene City Hall Options

Eugene City Hall (photo credit: Oregon State Historic Preservation Office)
As I noted in my Whither City Hall blog post a few months back, the subject of where to locate Eugene City Hall now that the City has abandoned its previous home elicits strong opinions. There are those who advocate rebuilding on the current site and others like me who would rather see Eugene move city hall to EWEB's riverfront headquarters. 
Regardless of which option you favor, you may be interested in a special City Club of Eugene presentation entitled Options for City Hall. It will be a free program starting at 7 pm on Monday, December 3, 2012 at Cozmic Pizza.
City staff members will provide background on the options and costs. AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s own Otto Poticha, FAIA will point out some possibilities for the current site, while Eugene city councilor Mike Clark will discuss opportunities at the EWEB site. Both will outline the costs and benefits for each site, in terms of dollars and cents and the role of a city hall in establishing a community’s civic identity.
As usual at City Club programs, the speakers’ presentations will be followed by a Q & A session with the audience. All are welcome to join in the program.
What:               Options for City Hall (a City Club of Eugene presentation) 
When:              Monday, December 3, 2012 – 7:00 to 8:30 PM 
Where:             Cozmic Pizza, 199 West 8th Avenue, Eugene 
Cost:                Free

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The October 2012 issue of ARCHITECT magazine(1) included an opinion piece by Aaron Betsky(2) entitled Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect? In the article, Betsky contends architects seem more interested in protecting the status of their profession than in promoting the cause of good architecture. He questions the validity of professional licensure and whether restricting usage of the title “architect” makes sense when, in his words, “most buildings in this country are not designed by architects, and it is becoming easier and easier for laypeople to buy computer programs or to hire-in expertise that allows them to design buildings.” Fundamentally, he dismisses the need for title protection at all, suggesting instead that it is too difficult to define with exactitude and measure by examination what architects do. For him, both confining the practice of architecture to those who have secured licensure and the process by which it is achieved are anachronistic. 

Predictably, many architects took umbrage with Mr. Betsky’s essay. One online respondent characterized his position as “reprehensible” and “disgusting.” Others, including two of my favorite bloggers—Liz O’Sullivan and Lee Calisti—were more measured in rebuttal. 

Liz pointed out that title protection plays a vital, fundamental role in protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners. The use of certain protected titles and phrases informs consumers that the individual is regulated, has undergone a certain level of scrutiny, and is qualified to practice under state law. She averred that the basics must come first and that licensure is a basic requirement for the practice of architecture. 

Lee also cares about who is a licensed architect, undoubtedly for the same good reasons Liz and I do; however, he hinted at a bigger issue to be dealt with beyond titles, names and territories. I suspect the elephant in the room is the public’s absence of an appreciation for what architects bring to the table. In Lee’s mind, addressing this issue just might heal some of these other sores. 

The current president of the American Institute of Architects also weighed in. Jeff Potter, FAIA acknowledged that dedicated unlicensed individuals make positive contributions to the built environment; additionally though, he pointed out that everyone benefits from individuals who resolve and are willing to be fully accountable through a professional commitment reflected in licensure. Directly challenging Betsky’s stance, he made the case that the community of architects and design professionals would be better served by a focused discussion on how to encourage more people to become architects and to pursue licensure.

I’m guessing (hoping) that Aaron Betsky’s intentions are coming from the right place, which is that the profession should aspire to more than simply achieving minimal levels of competence. Too much bad design has been perpetrated under the banner of licensed architects. Regardless, the title of his piece and his general thesis are unfortunate. Our profession has been attacked from all corners in recent years and as a consequence has lost much of its authority and respect. Betsky’s column doesn’t help matters by suggesting that licensure (and the comprehensive education and training it entails) should be challenged as beside the point when the reality is it is more relevant to the complexities of modern practice than ever before. It’s bad enough the profession is under assault from non-architects who wish to break down its walls. That ARCHITECT chose to uncritically publish Betsky’s essay is even more regrettable. Erosion from within our ranks is hardly the remedy for what ails architecture today. 

I sit squarely in the camp of those who believe achieving stature as an architect through a strictly defined and demanding process of education, internship, and examination is essential to the identity of our profession. Professional licensure is necessary to help ensure the life, safety, and welfare of the public. However, I also have my own, somewhat selfish reason for believing the title of architect deserves protection. That reason was and is my need for self-actualization and fulfillment. 

I committed to and successfully navigated the gauntlet of architecture school, internship, and licensing examinations so that I could be sanctioned as an architect by the State of Oregon.(3) My entire life up to that point was directed toward that goal. Professional licensure conferred upon me a level of societal respect and a stature largely unavailable to non-architects. That respect and stature, diminished though it may be now, was important to me and my ego. To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, I wanted to become everything I was capable of becoming. That meant being a licensed architect. As an architect I would also enjoy room for continued growth and fulfillment that would grant me the desire and motivation to pursue further ambitions. 

Today, being able to claim professional status as an architect is central to my sense of self. I’m pretty sure I am not alone among my colleagues in this regard. I do not wish to see the title of architect further cheapened by those who fail to understand how important it is to ensure its good standing in the eyes of the public. Unfortunately, Aaron Betsky’s dismissive attitude toward professional licensure points in the wrong direction and only reinforces the belief of some that controlling entry into the profession is elitist and unnecessary. Worse yet, it brings into question what it means to be an architect. I’d hate to see a day come when a young person fails to even understand what architects are responsible for and why they are necessary, disqualifying by default the possibility of enjoying a rewarding career devoted to architecture. 

I knew I wanted to become an architect when I was eleven; the path toward self-actualization that was laid before me then was clear and I never wavered from it. I believe the architectural profession can regain a similar clarity of purpose but only if it preserves its identity. I’m hopeful that its ongoing existential crisis will be resolved by the expression and activation of all our profession’s capacities. When and if that happens, architects will once again realize their vast potential, secure the profession’s relevancy, and underscore the value of licensure.

(1)   ARCHITECT is the official publication of the American Institute of Architects.”Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect” appeared both in ARCHITECT's print and online versions.

(2)   Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the author of more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design. He is not a licensed architect (although his Wikipedia page stated he was until someone corrected the entry).

(3)   In point of fact, I first became a licensed architect in British Columbia, in 1985. It wasn’t until my move to Eugene in 1988 that I would become registered in Oregon.


Monday, November 19, 2012

CSI Certification Classes

On ten consecutive Tuesday evenings starting on January 8, 2013 the Willamette Valley Chapter of The Construction Specifications Institute (WVC/CSI) will present educational sessions intended to provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of construction contract documents. Additionally, on eight consecutive Monday evenings starting on January 14 WVC/CSI will offer a course of classes that will supply students with the basics of construction contract administration.(1) 

The courses are designed to help architects, engineers, design professional interns, general contractors, subcontractors, construction superintendents, material manufacturers & suppliers, cost estimators, purchasing agents, and their associated staff. The courses will be of particular value to those planning to take State licensing or CSI Certification examinations (CDT, CCS, CCCA). 

AIA Members can earn up to 20 HSW Learning Units, which WVC/CSI will report directly to AIA/CES. Others will receive a Certificate of Attendance. 

Scholarship funds to cover the cost of enrollment for those wishing to write an essay of 500 words, are available through the Robert W. Fritsch Memorial Scholarship Fund. Applicants must submit their essays no later than this coming Friday, November 23. 

For registration forms and scholarship information, contact Paul Edlund at (541) 4851941 or click the following link: 

(1)  I’ll be one of the Construction Contract Administration class instructors, leading three of the  eight sessions (Meetings & Quality, Observations & Inspections, and Project Completion).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Architects Building Community

The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architectural profession and the resource for its members in service to society. Through its culture of innovation, the institute’s Southwestern Oregon chapter (AIA-SWO) empowers local architects and inspires creation of a better built environment. During its sixty years of existence, AIA-SWO has also sponsored efforts to elevate discussion about architecture and urban design in the communities its members serve. 

AIA-SWO recently established Architects Building Community (ABC), a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to deploying architects and others committed to the betterment of the built environment. The non-profit’s mission is “to support public education, community outreach, and well-informed public involvement in planning design excellence for our communities and public spaces.” Fundamentally, the charge of the ABC board of directors, comprised of past presidents of AIA-Southwestern Oregon, is to identify and fund projects that support this mission. 

Of course, what constitutes design excellence to one person may not be the same for another. This is too often true when it comes to the perceptions of professional architects versus those of the general public.  Regardless, ABC believes there are objective criteria that can be agreed upon by everyone. The best examples of good design, whether at the scale of an individual residence or a city, follow universal, time-honored principles. 

Still very much in its nascent stage, ABC is now ready to request proposals from groups or individuals for projects that would advance the design excellence dialogue in our communities. Such projects might include production of a public lecture series presenting widely respected speakers in architecture and urban planning, or perhaps a community workshop focused upon a design challenge of common concern. ABC’s board of directors will vet all proposals and disburse funds to those projects it deems most deserving and consistent with its design excellence vision. 

ABC’s monetary support comes from corporate sponsors, charitable foundations, and individual donors. The organization is also a member the Oregon Cultural Trust. This means any Oregon donor can double his or her support (up to $500, $2500 for corporations) of Oregon culture—at no cost to the donor—by making a matching donation to the Trust and taking an Oregon tax credit for that match. Unlike tax deductions, tax credits reduce tax liabilities dollar for dollar, making the second donation completely free to the donor. Additionally, ABC is eligible to compete for the millions distributed each year by the Trust. 

What’s more, ABC is an eScrip member organization. eScrip is a fundraising program in which participating merchants contribute a percentage of your grocery loyalty cards, credit card, and debit/ATM card purchases to the organization of your choice at no additional cost to you. Participating merchants in the AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter area include Market of Choice and Safeway. The eScrip program brings an unprecedented ease of use and many other advantages to fundraising. Simply buy groceries at your favorite supermarket as you normally do and ABC is the winner. Sign up at

Is ABC the start of something big? The members of the ABC board certainly hope so. They welcome your support, either by means of your direct contributions or via eScrip. If you have a project you believe merits ABC’s backing, you’ll soon be able to find details at the organization’s website about how you can submit your proposal. 

Ultimately, ABC hopes its efforts will foster a culture of admiration and enthusiasm for design excellence amongst those who most influence and shape our communities. If ABC successfully instills public appreciation for the importance of good design, we'll all be the beneficiaries.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Style & Vernacular

Dick Williams (center) holds court in the Octagon, November 6, 2012 (photo by Will Dixon, AIA)
Some of the newer members and associates of AIA-Southwestern Oregon may not be aware of Style & Vernacular, a guide to the architecture of Lane County wholly produced by AIA-SWO and published in 1983 by Western Imprints (the press of the Oregon Historical Society). The book was the product of years of effort, carefully researched and written by a team of knowledgeable AIA-SWO architects and local historians. Today, nearly thirty years on since its publishing, Style & Vernacular remains perhaps the single best reference for laypersons, historians, and architects alike on buildings still standing (at the time of its publication) from all periods of Lane County’s history. 

This past Tuesday, Dick Williams, AIA Member Emeritus, proudly recounted the genesis of Style & Vernacular and the prospects for extending its legacy to a gathering of approximately twenty AIA members and associates at the Octagon. Dick served as the project’s director and driving force, but he was ably assisted by a dedicated group of AIA-SWO members, local historians, and academicians, including Michael McCulloch, Ed Waterbury, Doug Keep, Paul Hansen, Eric Gunderson, Bill Seider, Phil Dole, Jerry Finrow, and Glenn Mason. “It was easy to do because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Dick. The substantial effort was worth it and he is justly proud of what AIA-SWO accomplished by publishing the book.

Dick explained how Style & Vernacular was always intended to be more than a mere guidebook to Lane County architecture. A jury selected the numerous entries for the book for a variety of reasons and not always with unanimous agreement. Some examples typify the different types of buildings and structures to be found in Lane County. Most were chosen as representative of the architectural design values of their time. Not all buildings of historical importance could be included and the jury gave preference to those reasonably intact and without destructive changes. The selections included urban as well as rural examples: landmark buildings, covered bridges, coastal lighthouses, and humble barns. 

Western Imprints printed a single run totaling 3,000 copies. Dick made sure every public library in Lane County at the time received at least one copy; the Eugene Library acquired five. Several of these library-owned volumes would be replaced because of how well-worn and popular they would prove to be. At present, there is no remaining new stock of Style & Vernacular available; unfortunately, the Oregon Historical Society misplaced the original galleys, photographic prints, and negatives so printing more is out of the question. In any event, the original content is also now out-of-date, absent any of the noteworthy projects completed since its publication. 

Dick discussed possible futures for Style & Vernacular. He spoke with the Lane County Historical Society &Museum about the possibility of generating a digital version, and floated the idea of posting a scanned copy to the AIA-SWO website. But it’s his sincere hope that a chapter member or members with a passion for extending the book’s legacy will step up and produce an updated print edition. If you're interested in such a project, contact AIA-SWO executive director Don Kahle

Thanks to Willamette Architecture 360 for providing delicious lunches from Bon Mi Vietnamese French Cuisine Restaurant for all who attended Dick’s presentation. Of course, big thanks go to Dick for sharing the story of what proved to be a labor of love. Style & Vernacular was a singularly impressive achievement and a marvelous gift to Lane County history and architecture buffs.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Superstorm Sandy

NASA image of Sandy as it hits the east coast on October 29, 2012.

The scope of damage wrought last week by Hurricane Sandy along the northeastern seaboard (and inland) is unprecedented. While the hit upon the most densely populated region in the country is largely incalculable in human terms, the measurable costs will be immense, likely in the many tens of billions of dollars.(1) These costs include not only those associated with property destruction but also the loss of business in Sandy's aftermath and economic productivity moving forward. 
Innumerable outlets have already chronicled Sandy and its impacts so I’ll focus my comments upon its significance to architects like me. How will Sandy and its consequences adjust our world views? It’s my belief that Sandy’s occurrence will come to mark the moment when a majority of American finally came to understand the severity of global warming and its consequences. It’s too difficult to escape the conclusion that Sandy is a precursor to a “new normal” wherein weather events of such violence and scope are progressively more common around the globe.(2) Business as usual is not a rational path forward. 
Weather trends point toward the increasing probability of superstorms. I blogged previously about why large-scale climate change is taking place and the likelihood that we’ve already crossed a critical threshold where exponential acceleration of rising temperatures and coastlines is inevitable. The bottom line is that our lives will be impacted in unimagined ways. We must envision a future world in which our existence is dramatically and irrevocably transformed by the effects of global warming and progressively more chaotic weather. Many will disagree with me, but I fear our laudable efforts to promote sustainability in design may in some respects be too little, too late.(3) 
It is reasonable to question whether we can afford to continue to put people and assets into harm’s way. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, levelheaded voices pointed out the tragedy that befell New Orleans was much more than a natural disaster; it was also a social, political, and engineering catastrophe. Our natural response is to rebuild communities and restore ways of life deeply rooted in tradition and rich with history. The strength of New Orleans’ cultural and physical identity suppressed the question of whether rebuilding made practical sense. Unfortunately, with sea levels forecast to rise by as much as three feet before the end of this century, the odds “The Big Easy” will confront another existential moment are exceedingly high. 
The same is likely true for all low-lying coastal communities around the world. If and when another Sandy comes around—and it will—the damage may be even more severe. Imagine if it was Bangladesh that suffered Sandy’s wrath. The suffering and loss of human life would have been staggering. Disaster risk managers will be unable to ignore the consequences of a failure to address the dangers. Insurance companies will reassess their coastal underwriting strategies, dramatically redesign their pricing, or suffer unsustainable losses. The risk to the bottom line may drive many to act by reassessing their commitment to emotional and financial investments in vulnerable locations. 
Perhaps Sandy’s ferocity will trigger development of practical climate change adaptation strategies for the built environment. Indeed, dynamically adaptive design may become a fixture in the curricula of schools for up-and-coming generations of architects. Buildings will be designed to move, react, and adapt in real-time conditions to changes in the environment around them. Out of necessity, human habitation within at-risk areas may lose its permanence and become transitory. A century from now, the United States and some of its most iconic cities may hardly resemble what they do today. 
Regarding how design professionals can immediately help in the wake of Sandy’s devastation, AIA National president Jeff Potter, FAIA reported that AIA’s Disaster Assistance Committee urges architects outside the areas affected to not yet rush in to volunteer services. As the recovery moves ahead, the AIA will share information about how members can assist following the immediate emergency response. There’s no doubt that architects can and will play a role; however, our greatest contribution will be helping to formulate long-term plans to mitigate and adapt to the impact of future superstorms. 
Lamentably, Sandy draws only belated attention to the extent to which climate change has been ignored during the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. What should have been a signature issue this election year instead has been relegated to insignificance in the chase for electoral votes. We’ll see if with Sandy came a silver lining, one that has meaningfully altered our relationship to our environment and our attitude towards it.  

(1)  According to Wikipedia, property damage alone for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 exceeded $81 billion. Sandy may end up being more costly due to the scope of its economic disruption.

(2)  Regrettably, it will have taken Sandy’s impacts upon the nation's centers of media control, political influence, and wealth to awaken leadership to the unavoidable realities of climate change.

(3)  I’m not suggesting that designing with sustainability in mind is futile; rather, I believe our predominantly narrow focus upon individual building performance fails to adequately place sustainable design within the overarching climate change context.