Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Library Chronicles – Part 1

This post is the first of three marking the 10th anniversary of the Eugene Public Library. Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc led the team responsible for its design. Find Part 2 of this series of posts here and Part 3 here

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been a full decade since the new main branch of the Eugene Public Library opened its doors. Library services director Connie Bennett recently sent me an invitation to attend the building’s 10-year birthday party on January 4. Time truly does fly. The library’s milestone celebration is the ideal occasion to reflect upon its design, construction, and impact on downtown Eugene since its completion. 

The project benefitted from favorable timing, a supportive community, an enlightened client, a very capable general contractor, and an outstanding team of architects and consultants led by Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (RSA). I had the good fortune to be involved with the commission from start to completion as project manager for RSA. My experience in that role would prove the most satisfying of my career. 

The $36.4 million project inspired broad community discussions about the role of the library and how it might contribute to the rejuvenation of Eugene’s moribund core. Many invested great hopes in the project, while others openly challenged the continuing relevancy of the public library as an institution. 

The Long and Winding Road
RSA assembled a team ideally suited to contend for the right to design the Eugene Public Library. It included the esteemed Boston firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott (SBRA), which (with TBG Architects & Planners) previously designed the expansion of the University of Oregon’s Knight Library. SBRA’s sizable portfolio included numerous academic libraries, but its experience with municipal facilities was comparatively limited. Regardless, our faith in SBRA’s design abilities would be richly rewarded, thanks in no small part to the skill and talent of the firm’s lead designer for the project, Alexander (Sandy) Howe.(1) 

The City of Eugene selected our team in the summer of 1998. We bested a who’s who of nationally and regionally prominent library designers to win the coveted commission. We immediately set to work, organizing and facilitating countless programming and design sessions with EPL staff, as well as a series of well-attended public meetings to solicit input from library patrons. Programming and design consumed two full years. Construction occupied an additional two years after the project broke ground in December 2000. 

The project's history actually dates back to the late-eighties, when our firm assisted the City of Eugene with identifying possible locations to site a replacement for the woefully undersized 1959 facility located at 13th Avenue and Olive Street. The City subsequently engaged RSA in 1989 to develop a conceptual library design utilizing the abandoned Sears department store building. However, voters repeatedly failed to pass ballot measures to authorize financing for the adaptive reuse of the Sears building.

Eugene Public Library (image: Eckert and Eckert Photography)

In the end, the City earmarked the half-block across 10th Avenue from the Sears site for the home of its new downtown library. Mostly given over to surface parking (with the exception of a small, concrete block building occupied by the “Rice & Spice” Asian food store), the location wasn’t even among those identified by the Library Site Selection Study. The City assembled a combination of urban renewal and reserve funds, plus contributions from the Eugene Public Library Foundation, to finance the design and construction.

The prolonged gestation resulted in the best possible outcome. Had construction proceeded ten or more years earlier, the new Eugene Public Library would certainly have been different and perhaps not as successful as it is today. 

Standing four stories high, the building emphatically marks the southwest corner of Eugene’s downtown and injects a welcome dose of density within predominantly low-rise environs. Across the street, Lane Transit District’s Downtown Station offers convenient access to the library for all Eugene residents. 

Four times the size of the outdated facility it replaced, the library houses 500,000 print volumes including children and young adult collections, as well as an impressive assortment of audio disks and DVDs. Additionally, it features conference rooms, Internet terminals, a used book store, a coffee shop, and 75 public parking spaces in a basement garage. Wireless access is available throughout the building. 

Double-height reading areas, a sky-lit spiral stair, and a glass-enclosed glass "entry garden" create open, light-filled spaces that contribute to the building's energy efficiency. Behind the scenes, an automated book return system eases the sorting and shelving of books. Ample green spaces around the building, including a walled children's reading garden, help to minimize heat islands and reduce storm water run-off. 

The library currently occupies three of the building’s four floors. The top level, presently occupied by the City of Eugene’s Finance Division, provides expansion space to accommodate future growth of the physical collection and patronage. The City’s expectation is for the library’s useful life to far exceed the 43 years in service of its predecessor. RSA principal Jim Robertson, FAIA, FCSI, hopes for no less than the project achieving historic landmark stature down the road. If we’re fortunate and wise enough, the new library will stand for many, many years to come, serve as our legacy to future generations, and become a sustainable piece of Eugene’s architectural heritage. 

. . . Next: Part 2: A Library for the 21st Century; Traditional or Cutting Edge?

(1)     Sadly, Sandy passed away too young at the age of sixty-three in 2009 after a courageous bout with cancer. The roots of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott date back to 1874, when Henry Hobson Richardson founded the firm. Today, it is known simply as Shepley Bulfinch. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

The Shelton McMurphey Johnson House (photo credit: unknown)
The 2012 AIA-SWO Holiday Party took place this past Wednesday at the historic Shelton McMurphey Johnson House, which has overlooked Eugene from its perch on the south flank of Skinner’s Butte since 1888. Dozens of chapter members and friends shunned the damp chill outside to instead share each others’ good company, enjoy tasty food and drink, and celebrate the holiday season within the warm confines of the venerable “Castle on the Hill.” 

It really is the most wonderful time of the year. We look forward to our seasonal traditions in part because they are comforting and strengthen the bonds we share. They celebrate peace and nostalgia. The rituals of our holidays are meaningful, reminding us of our past, of who we are, and where we came from. 

AIA-SWO Holiday Party revelers (my photo)

The Shelton McMurphey Johnson House is a symbol of Eugene’s past, a rare and authentic testament to times gone by in a community that too often has rushed to abandon its architectural legacy. We’re fortunate the City of Eugene now owns and maintains this landmark, preserving it for future generations to appreciate. Dedicated members of the non-profit Shelton McMurphey Johnson Associates serve as the facility’s caretakers. 

With its carved and turned exterior woodwork, polygonal tower, ornate open porches, and large bay windows, the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House is Eugene’s most elaborate and prominent example of late-Victorian Queen Anne Revival architecture. It offers visitors an opportunity to step back in time and learn about its architecture and the culture of the community within which Dr. T.W. Shelton chose to build a home for his family. 

The SMJ website features a comprehensive video history about the house, as well as informative essays about the families who called it home, its architectural features, and the gardens and landscape that surround it.

Highly detailed scale model of the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House on display in the home's attic (my photo)

I find the home’s scale deceptive, as its interior feels much bigger than you would expect to discover when approaching it from immediately outside (the house does appear imposing when viewed from an intermediate distance). Twelve-foot high ceilings contribute to this effect, as do the spacious rooms arranged throughout the structure’s three levels of living space (two stories and an attic). A fine collection of period furnishings and interpretive displays complements the interiors and further provide a glimpse of late-nineteenth century life in Eugene. 

The Shelton McMurphey Johnson House is open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and weekends 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children, with a discount for AAA members, seniors, and students. The house is located at 303 Willamette Street, with vehicular access behind Ya-Po-Ah Terrace off the intersection of Third and Pearl in Eugene. If you haven’t already done so, you owe yourself a visit to this exceptional piece of historic architecture.

*   *   *   *   *
2012 AIA-SWO president Kurt Albrecht, AIA (center left in red shirt) offers his holiday wishes and thanks chapter volunteers (my photo)

The 2012 AIA-SWO Holiday Party was an opportunity for 2012 AIA-SWO president Kurt Albrecht, AIA to recognize the many members, associate members, and affiliates who served on chapter committees, particularly those "super volunteers" who helped make this past year such a successful one. Kurt also handed the reins of the presidency to Will Dixon, AIA. Will has already made his mark as the driving force behind securing the Octagon as AIA-SWO's new headquarters. We'll all look forward to more great things to come in 2013.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


The Gingerscraper

The first annual Eugene Gingerbread Competition & Auction is now in the books. The competition drew eighteen delightful entries, each one a whimsical concoction of color, candy, frosting, and of course gingerbread. The display enchanted yuletide shoppers at the Fifth Street Market this past Saturday, attracted the attention of Eugene’s television stations, and raised funds for Design|Spring. In a fun way, it also reminded visitors about how design and architecture contribute to making our community a sweet place to live.

Along with four of my coworkers at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (RSA), I enjoyed my first-ever experience creating a gingerbread fantasy. Our submission to the competition was dubbed the "Gingerscraper." The design alludes to a wintry Rockerfeller Center in New York City, replete with a hallmark Art-Deco slab, open-air skating rink, and tall Christmas tree. The scene is populated by happy gingerbread people and gummy bears.

Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA and Mariko Blessing, AIA, LEED AP prepare the base to accept the Gingerscraper.

My contribution to the RSA project was modest at best, limited mostly to helping lay Andes Mints pavers on the building’s entry plaza, and fashioning cars from graham crackers, frosting, and Smarties (for wheels). The real heavy lifting was performed by Jenni Rogers, Assoc. AIA, Mariko Blessing, AIA, LEED AP, Scott Stolarczyk, AIA, LEED AP, and Becky Thomas, AIA.

Scott Stolarczyk, AIA, LEED AP and Becky Thomas, AIA assemble the tower.

Here are a few photos of Gingerbread Competition entries amid the Cafes at the Fifth Street Market. The first shows our Gingerscraper taking its place alongside colorful competitors:

Someone successfully bid for our Gingerscraper and is now the proud owner of our sugary architectural confection. We didn't win a prize from the jury, but our team had a great time assembling our submission.

Kudos to Rachel Auerbach and the other members of Design|Spring who conceived, organized, and executed the successful community event. Thanks to the many sponsors for their support, and also to the Fifth Street Market for hosting the display. I expect the Eugene Gingerbread Competition will truly become a mainstay of the holiday season for years to come.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Liebster Awards

Author and blogger Marny Copal included me among her nominees for a Liebster Award

The Liebster Blog Award is given to bloggers by bloggers. It’s for blogs like mine with fewer than 200 followers. Having been nominated for the award by Marny, I’m now supposed to post eleven random facts about myself and answer the eleven questions Marny posed to me. In turn, I’m supposed to nominate another eleven bloggers and ask them eleven questions, thereby perpetuating the program.

My first reaction to the nomination? The award seemed suspiciously like a manipulative chain letter with its attendant rules to be adhered to. Its origin is a mystery; it doesn’t appear there is a person named Liebster after whom the award is named. “Liebster” does mean “dearest” or “beloved” in German, so this may hint at its provenance. The more I learned about the Liebster Awards, the more I became assured that it is a genuine means for bloggers to earnestly promote the work of their favorite fellow bloggers. Consequently, I am honored Marny thought highly enough of SW Oregon Architect to have nominated me. 

So, I’m ready to play along and accept my Liebster Award. Let’s start with the eleven random facts about myself:
  1. I’m a morning person; conversely, my wife is most definitely a night owl. Because we share one computer at home, early weekend mornings have become my preferred time for blogging.
  2. I enjoy music. As a child, I progressed from playing the piano to the clarinet, then the alto saxophone, before settling upon the trombone. Since 1989, I’ve been a member of Eugene Taiko, a traditional Japanese drumming ensemble.
  3. I’m a terrible golfer.
  4. I’ve resided most of my adult life in the U.S. but I’m not yet an American citizen (I’m Canadian). Consequently, I’ve only enjoyed the privilege of voting in an election once since I became old enough.
  5. I’m a big fan of the University of Oregon athletic programs. Go Ducks!
  6. I purchased my first computer in 1985. It was a 512K Apple Macintosh. My second computer was also a Mac. I haven’t owned one since. Can’t stand them now.
  7. I dislocated my right shoulder while playing basketball; okay, full disclosure: it was Nerf basketball. In our bedroom. While in my underwear (perhaps this is TMI).
  8. Continuing the medical misadventures theme, my first and only encounter with a chainsaw resulted in yet another emergency room visit. My wife hasn’t let me near a chainsaw since.
  9. Despite my office’s relaxed dress code, I feel naked when I’m not wearing a tie at work.
  10. I like anchovies on my pizza.
  11. My father and his family endured the Second World War years in an internment camp along with thousands of other Japanese-Canadians. My mother and her family, also Canadian-born, suffered the misfortune of being stranded in Japan at the same time, denied reentry to Canada until after the war ended.
Here are my answers to Marny’s questions:
  1. When did you first realize you liked to write? A: Probably in high school. I found it gratifying to compose papers and stories in a way that was ordered, coherent, and carefully considered.
  2. Who is your favorite villain from a book or movie? A: Darth Vader. Do not underestimate the power of the Dark Side.
  3. Can you name one item from your bucket list? A: Visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater
  4. Do you have a muse? If so, what is it? A: No. Being a member of the creative class, perhaps I should have a muse for inspiration but I don’t. 
  5. What book excited you the most when you were a kid? A: It was a set of books that was most exciting: I loved learning about the fantastic variety of things I could find in every volume of the World Book Encyclopedia
  6. Do you write in a linear fashion, or do you jump around? A: I tend to jump around but I do so within the structure of an outline. 
  7. Do you live with animals? If so, can you read their expressions? A: Yes; ours is a feline household. I’ve come to learn the many moods and means of expression cats possess. 
  8. Do you have a personal motto? A: Nope. Can’t think of one either. 
  9. Are you dying to know the answer to any mysteries? A: Yes! Is Bigfoot real? Are we alone in the universe? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? 
  10. If you could witness any event in history, what would it be? A: Wow, tough one. Perhaps Orville Wright making the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. 
  11. Do you like dolls? If so, why? A: No, they’re creepy. 
Next, my eleven nominees: 
  1. Dave Amos – Towns & Cities 
  2. John Danes – 
  3. Lori Greene – I Dig Hardware 
  4. Charles Hendricks – The Gaines Group Harrisonburg 
  5. Tara Imani – Indigo Architect 
  6. Eric D. Lussier - EricDLussier 
  7. John O’Neil - Specology 
  8. Liz O’Sullivan – Comments from a Spec Writer 
  9. David Stutzman – SpecWords 
  10. Vivian Volz – VVAS 
  11. Sheldon Wolfe – Constructive Thoughts 
Note that I have no idea how many followers every one of my selected bloggers has. I mean no slight by implying with my nomination that they necessarily have fewer than 200 followers. I just want to do my part to broaden their audiences even further. 

And here are the eleven questions for my nominees: 
  1. Do you have ambitions for your blog? If so, what are they? 
  2. Where would you live if you could live anywhere you wanted on Earth? 
  3. Imagine you’ve won the lottery. If you had to nominate one charity to inherit your largesse, what would it be? 
  4. What is your favorite example of architecture? 
  5. What excites you most? 
  6. If you could change one thing about the city or town in which you live, what would it be? 
  7. Are you a glass half-full or half-empty person? 
  8. What advice do you have for the young people in your profession? 
  9. Has technology changed your life for better or worse? 
  10. What’s the first item on your wish list? 
  11. Do you make and keep New Year’s resolutions? 
If you’re one of my nominees, don’t feel duty-bound to answer my questions or fulfill the other obligations.(1) However, if you “accept” your Liebster Award, devote a future post to promoting the blogs of others you take pleasure in reading. 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing SW Oregon Architect ever since I started blogging in 2008. Without a doubt, one aspect of this hobby that is most rewarding is discovering the work of others who hold similar interests. The Liebster Award is a little cheesy but it as a fun way to highlight the work of bloggers who may not yet be well-known and deserve a wider following. 

Thanks again to Marny Copal for nominating me for a Liebster Award! 

(1)   There appear to be several variations of the rules for the Liebster Award. As passed along to me by Marny, you’re supposed to do the following when you accept your Liebster Award: 
  • Paste the award picture into your blog. Several different styles are available online. Use the one you like best.
  • Link back to the person who nominated you.
  • Post eleven random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the eleven questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Write eleven new questions for your nominees.
  • Pass the award on to eleven other blogs, and notify the bloggers that you nominated them.
One more thing: You cannot nominate the person who nominated you.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

1st Annual Eugene Gingerbread Competition

Design|Spring's(1) first annual Gingerbread Competition & Silent Auction is going to be amazing—especially if you participate by making one of the submitted gingerbread house creations! The contest display and auction will be at the FifthStreet Public Market from 10 am–8 pm on Saturday, December 15. 

AIA-Southwestern Oregon or CSI Willamette Valley chapter members can enter a gingerbread creation into the Professional Category, vote for their favorite entry, buy a house during the silent auction, and enjoy the festive atmosphere. The Professional Category is for teams or individuals that include architects, landscape architects, bakers, contractors, or designers. Entry forms are due on Monday, December 10, so don’t wait and sign up now! You can find all the details at All submissions must be complete when they arrive.

The members of Design|Spring who organized the event hope it will foster design thinking, encourage people to interact with architecture in a fun way, and celebrate the role great architecture and design play in creating a sweet place to live! 

Here’s the event schedule: 

10:00-11:00      Entry drop off
10:30-12:00      Official Judging
10:00-5:00        Open viewing, People’s Choice voting
5:00-6:00          Announcement of award winners
5:00-7:00          Silent auction
7:00-8:00          Auction announcement and wrap up

Design|Spring has received a lot of support from the local community, with prizes from Smith Family Bookstore, David Minor Theater, Modern, Urban Lumber, Crumb Together, Voodoo Donuts, Prince Pucklers, the Green Store, as well as food and drink from Provisions, McKenzie Brewing/Steelhead, and The Kiva, with a special display from King Estate Winery. Architects Rob Thallon and Will Dixon (AIA-SWO president-elect), and Catherine Reinhart of Sweet Life Bakery will be the members of the contest jury.

The silent auction is a benefit for Design|Spring. Money raised will be devoted to the group’s efforts to assist the next generation of architects and designers with their professional development, and fund its various community-focused activities. Design|Spring will donate any funds raised in excess of its $750 goal to organizations working to end hunger and homelessness in our community.

(1) Design|Spring helps students of architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering develop into professionals. The group represents the next generation of designers working toward an excellent built environment in our community. Design|Spring is a part of the American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon chapter (AIA-SWO), and works in collaboration with Architects Building Community (ABC).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

November AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

AIA-SWO Octagon Charrette - 11-28-12 (panoramic photo by Will Dixon, AIA)

A good time was had by all at November’s AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter meeting. The festive setting (courtesy of The Actors Cabaret production of Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year) provided a seasonably apt backdrop for a members-only design charrette devoted to identifying ways to physically improve the Octagon, AIA-SWO’s new office, conference, and display space in downtown Eugene. 

Divided into five different teams, the charrette participants thought outside the box (or, in this case, the octagon) to come up with a variety of ideas, some practical and others more fanciful. Highlights included vibrant ceiling treatments, multi-layered lighting ideas, interlocking flexible furnishings, and eye-catching site signage. 

Ultimately, the goal is to create a showcase for architecture AIA-SWO members will be proud of. Much like recently formed centers for architecture in Portland, New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, AIA-SWO and Architects Building Community (ABC) envision the Octagon as a destination for anyone interested in learning about the built environment and how it impacts their health and quality of life. 

With its tall glass walls, the Octagon has already proven to be a wonderful means to exhibit the work of architects and carry out ABC’s mission "to support public education, community outreach, and well-informed public involvement in planning design excellence for our communities and public spaces." ABC recently replaced the display of the 2012 People’s Choice Award winners with the 100 Years of Design Excellence exhibit produced by AIA Oregon. Future displays will attempt to bring citizens in touch with their physical environment by helping them understand the importance of design excellence, beautiful public spaces, good civic architecture, and sustainable, family-friendly neighborhoods. 

Nir Pearlson, AIA describes his team's concepts for the Octagon (my photo)

The Octagon’s chief limitation is its tiny size and the modest resources of its two resident organizations. The charrette may prove useful by inspiring a suite of cost-effective improvements that help realize AIA-SWO’s and ABC’s shared vision of a nexus for discussions about architecture in southwestern Oregon. 

The chapter is assembling an Octagon Committee, which will convene in 2013 to review the full range of ideas proposed during the charrette, identify those worthy of further development and implement them. If you’re interested in being a member of this committee, be sure to sign up when the call comes for you to identify which AIA-SWO volunteering opportunity appeals to you most.