Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Library Chronicles – Part 3

Eugene Public Library, central stair (all images by Eckert and Eckert Photography)

This post is the third of three marking the 10th anniversary of the Eugene Public Library. You can find the first two posts here and here. 

Sustainable Design
It was while we were designing the Eugene Public Library that the U.S.Green Building Council rolled out its Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) rating system. The program would not progress beyond the “beta” stage during this time; regardless, we registered our project with the USGBC to determine if the energy-conserving and sustainability strategies we incorporated would qualify it for eventual certification. Alas, despite being 30% more energy efficient than the levels mandated by the already stringent Oregon code, our design fell just short of basic certification. 

We did not pursue several strategies that might have resulted in additional LEED points. These include innovative wastewater technologies, exclusive use of certified wood products, limiting construction materials strictly to those locally sourced, and incorporating on-site renewable energy sources. Because LEED was so new and we were unfamiliar with the program, it wasn’t until we were well into design development that we chose to look into the possibility of certification. By then, our design was well-advanced and we could not adjust it adequately to address fundamental issues. For example, because of its broad cross-section the building does not provide daylight and views to more than 90% of all regularly occupied areas as required by LEED credits IEQc8.1 and IEQc8.2

Ironically, one of the points we failed to secure was LEED credit SSc2: Development Density & Community Connectivity. The intent of this credit is to channel development to urban areas with existing infrastructure, protect greenfields, and preserve habitat and natural resources. The criteria the USGBC used for SSc2 included requiring the site be developed within an area boasting a density in excess of 60,000 square feet per acre. Our site’s immediate context failed to meet this criterion, notwithstanding its location within the downtown core and a setting as urban as any available at the time in Eugene. Although well-intentioned, it’s clear the USGBC missed the mark with SSc2 because it failed to acknowledge the low-density reality of a smaller city like Eugene. We appealed to the USGBC but failed in that effort. 

On the positive side of the ledger, our project team implemented numerous strategies that combine to make the library an exemplar of sustainability. These include embracing alternative modes of transportation(3),managing construction waste, optimizing energy performance, incorporating sophisticated lighting controls, and specifying environmentally friendly and low-emitting materials. 

Main Lobby

Working With the Project’s Best Interest in Mind
No matter how large and complex a project may be, its success or lack thereof can usually be attributed to the efforts of a surprisingly small group of people. The Eugene Public Library’s main branch was no exception in this regard. This was particularly true during the project’s construction phase when I had the great fortune to be part of a fantastic Owner-Architect-Contractor team. 

The principal City of Eugene’s representative was its project manager, Brad Black. The general contractor, John Hyland Construction, assigned Jeff Durmaj as its project manager. Brad, Jeff, and I worked together as a team, embracing a partnering strategy wherein the best interests of the project were always paramount. None of us elevated our own welfare above that of the library, particularly when difficult construction or design-related issues inevitably arose. Under such circumstances, the reflexive default is to adopt a defensive stance rather than a cooperative one. With partnering, this was not the case: ahead of construction, we agreed to standards for communication, dispute resolution, and problem-solving. We addressed the thorniest of issues mutually, constructively, and well before they threatened to derail the work. 

The upshot is that during the course of constructing the library, the three of us truly came to like and respect one another. Brad is now happily retired but Jeff and I look forward to the possibility of working together again on another successful development. 

Because the project followed a conventional design-bid-build process, we did not enjoy the opportunity to share the planning process with Hyland and its key subcontractors. Today, collaborative, integrated design methods are increasingly prevalent.(4) Key advantages of integrated design include having the Contractor on hand during the design phase to conduct constructability and cost reviews. Hyland’s low bid for the library exceeded the budgeted figure by four million dollars, the cause of considerable consternation at the time. We consequently worked with Hyland to successfully identify savings without having to pare scope or compromise quality. It would surprise me now if anyone could point to where we chose to make the necessary cuts. 

Entry Garden

A Catalyst for Change
Optimists believed the advent of the new library was the tipping point beyond which downtown revival would be assured. However, the hoped-for revitalization has been slow to come. Across the street, the Lane Community College Downtown Campus is a welcome advance, but it comes after a series of stillborn plans and the ignominy of the “Sears pit” years. It’s probably unrealistic for anyone to have pinned hopes for a downtown renaissance on a single development, even one as significant as the library. 

So, has the library fulfilled its promise to help rejuvenate downtown? Ten years since its opening, the answer to this question remains open for debate. One thing is certain: downtown Eugene is better off than it would have been had the library been located outside the city’s core. It is an immensely popular amenity. It attracts a substantial population to downtown every day: both the numbers of card holders and library visits more than doubled after the new building opened. Ultimately, it may be best for us to regard the library as but one incremental, albeit important, step toward realizing the urban center we hope for. If allowed to evolve organically, downtown Eugene will eventually become the center of culture, commerce, and community it deserves to be. 

View looking east along 10th Avenue

Eugeneans love their library. As we hoped, it has become a centerpiece for Eugene: a vibrant place to learn, gather, have fun, and grow. Major civic landmarks of its scope and significance to the community are a rarity for a city of Eugene’s modest size.(5) Equally rare are the opportunities available to local architects to design such projects. With the benefit granted by ten years of perspective, I fully appreciate how privileged I am to have played a part in making the “new” Eugene Public Library a reality. 

(3)   Lane Transit District’s Eugene Station is located immediately to the east of the Library across Olive Street. It is the primary bus transfer station in Eugene and the western terminus of the Eugene-to-Springfield line of its EmX bus rapid transit system. 

(4)   Our Lane Community College Downtown Campus project is a case in point. 

(5)   The Hult Center for the Performing Arts (completed in 1982) is another civic project of comparable importance and prestige. If and when a new Eugene City Hall is designed and built, it will be smaller and perhaps more ordinary than it deserves to be because of limited funding. The window of opportunity for publicly funded, grand architectural gestures is closed for the foreseeable future.

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