Saturday, February 23, 2013

February AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Kurt Albrecht, AIA presents the Ninkasi Campus project at the 2013 Professional PIN-Up (my photo)

For the second year in a row, the February AIA-SWO chapter meeting was a collaborative effort partnering AIA-SouthwesternOregon with Design|Spring and the University of Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) to produce the Professional PIN-Up. Like last year, the event took place at Lawrence Hall on the University of Oregon campus and drew a rapt (and hungry) audience of students from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts

PIN-Up featured four AIA-SWO member firms. Each firm showcased one of its current projects by discussing the design concept, design process, and dynamics of getting the job done. The latter aspect of the presentations was of particular interest to the students as it provided a glimpse into how “book learning” translates to the realities of professional practice. 

The following firms participated (their respective projects are listed in parentheses):
Additionally, students from Associate Professor Esther Hagenlocher’s Interior Construction Elements class presented a wide variety of design concepts for transforming the Octagon into a worthy center for architecture. With the help of Esther’s students and others, AIA-SWO 2013 president Will Dixon, AIA and the Octagon committee are quickly gathering a wealth of ideas. With luck and some fundraising, AIA-SWO will soon be able to implement the best of these. 

John Lawless, AIA (left) and Andika Murandi, AIA (right) of TBG Architeccts & Planners present their design of a new student apartment building (my photo)

If you missed the event, check out Lori Stephens’ exercise in cinéma vérité. Lori broadcast the meeting via Google+, streaming it live while also recording it for later viewing. Her goal is to develop a reliable means for AIA-SWO members who cannot always attend chapter events to remotely connect and participate. 

Big thanks to the sponsors for the Professional PIN-Up: Archiflash, Tracktown Pizza, and the Architecture Foundation of Oregon (AFO). 

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The February chapter meeting was also the first opportunity for many AIA-SWO members to meet Judith Sheine, the new head of the Department of Architecture in the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Judith comes to Eugene after serving as chair of the Department of Architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She is a practicing architect and an Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture distinguished professor. 

Judith Sheine

Notably, Judith is the author of several books about the pioneering California modernist architect R.M. Schindler. She co-edited, with Lionel March, R.M. Schindler: Composition and Construction (Academy Editions, 1993) and authored R.M.Schindler: Works and Projects (Editorial Gustavo Gili, 1998) and R.M. Schindler (Phaidon Press, 2001). Her most recent book, co-authored with Robert Sweeney, documents Schindler’s Kings Road house (University of California Press). 

The March AIA-SWO chapter meeting (at The Actors Cabaret, March 20) will feature a presentation by Judith about the work of Rudolf Schindler. I hope to see you all there. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Density Done Well

Downtown Vancouver at sunset (photo by MagnusL3D via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the many blogs about architecture and urban design I follow is Price Tags, written by Gordon Price. Price is a former Vancouver, British Columbia city councilor who now leads the City Program at Simon Fraser University. Invariably, Price’s ruminations on urbanism are excellent, representing some of the best current thinking I’ve found anywhere on the Web about the design of the public realm and the physical needs of urban society. The majority of his posts are Vancouver-centric but they include lessons applicable to cities everywhere.(1) 
A recent Price Tags entry featured a talk by Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former head of city planning and now president of his own urban design consulting firm TODERIAN UrbanWORKs. In his lecture, presented at Seattle’s 2013 Downtown Economic Forum, Toderian waxed lyrically about Vancouver’s land use and transportation planning triumphs, particularly those responsible for famously shaping the residential tower-dominated landscape of the downtown core. 
Toderian’s thesis is that density done well is good for the environment. He lauded the work of his predecessors in Vancouver’s planning department and city leadership for their foresight in aligning land use and transportation considerations. They applied a systems approach to their planning processes, agreeing the best transportation plan would be a great land use plan (as opposed to crafting plans separately). This approach yielded critical insights, including the power of nearness, the importance of a quality walking experience, and that other cities’ attempts to balance modes of transportation seldom worked.(2) 
Vancouver planners adopted a “living first” mantra during the 1980s and 1990s, having determined a diversity of housing options was missing from downtown. They corrected this by leveraging the marketplace to build a great city, extracting lavish subsidies from developers for public improvements and shared amenities such as downtown schools and parks. They emphasized the design of the public realm, particularly with an eye toward urban vitality, safety, and the needs of children. With time, the planners dispelled the myth that downtown is unfriendly to families. 
Today, there are almost as many who call Vancouver’s 560 hectare (roughly 2 square miles) downtown peninsula their home as reside within the entirety of Eugene’s urban growth boundary (an area totaling more than 40 square miles). Despite the huge population influx over the past few decades, the number of automobile trips to and from downtown Vancouver has actually dropped as more and more people live there and rely upon walking, cycling, or the metro area’s excellent public transit system. 
Gordon Price and Brent Toderian are unabashed apologists for the Vancouver urban planning model, evangelizing at talks around the globe about the benefits of density done well. The two believe these benefits are clearer than ever before as a convergence of issues—the rising cost of energy, climate change, shifting demographics, public health, and the loss of civic identity—prompt many cities to reevaluate business as usual. 
On the other hand, there are those who are less sanguine about promoting density as a panacea for our urban ills. They point to the loss of affordability that is the routine corollary to increased density and gentrification. Why pack more people into a city’s downtown core if the consequences are overcrowding and overpriced real estate? Others foresee the irrelevance of mass transit as telecommuting increasingly becomes the norm rather than the exception. Why invest in expensive transportation infrastructure when it’s increasingly possible to telecommute and reduce a community’s carbon footprint by moving work to the worker? 
What do you think? Watch Todarian’s presentation and come to your own conclusions. 
Vancouver's characteristic residential point tower typology (my photo)
Because I was born and raised in Vancouver, I have a keen interest in developments there. A lot has changed since I left Canada to settle in Eugene back in 1988. Opportunely, the 2013 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference will take place in Vancouver this October, a joint production with the Architectural Institute of British Columbia. The conference theme—Sea Change: Architecture on the Crest—calls attention to the dynamic, critical times in which we live. Undoubtedly, the host city will greatly influence responses to this theme. Attend the conference and judge for yourself whether the lessons of “Vancouverism” are applicable to communities everywhere.  

(1)  I haven’t added Price Tags to my Blog List in the sidebar precisely because it is Vancouver-focused, whereas I’ve aimed SW Oregon Architect toward—surprise, surprise—subjects of general interest to those of us who live here in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon.

(2)  Vancouver assigns precedence to pedestrians, bicycles, and mass transit over the automobile; “balancing” their respective needs has only perpetuated the primacy of the car over other modes of transportation.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

UO Football Operations Center

7-28-13 update: I've uploaded more recent photos of the Operations Center as part of my post about "Zen North," the improvements to Autzen Stadium's north side.

UO Football Operations Center under construction 2-9-13; courtyard view (construction photos by me)

The new football operations center for the University of Oregon is nearing completion. I recently paid a visit to check on its progress; as both an architect and avid fan of Oregon’s high-octane football program, my interest was twofold in nature. 

The yet-to-be named facility is another in a remarkable string of lavish projects for the UO Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Like the others, the center is funded by the munificence of Phil Knight, Oregon’s uber-donor and best-known alumnus, and its construction managed by Knight’s development corporation, Phit LLC.(1) 

Totaling 130,000 square feet and set to open in time for the kickoff of the 2013 season, the six-story complex will extend the Ducks’ reign as custodian of some of the best facilities in the high-stakes world of college athletics. 

Brian Libby provided a first-rate summary of the project’s attributes on his Portland Architecture blog: 

Featured in the expansion, which will wrap around the north and west sides of the Casanova Center, will be a new 25,000-square-foot weight room, an enhanced grass football practice field as well as the addition of two new synthetic turf practice fields, and a full-service dining facility available to all University athletes, students and staff. 

The ground floor of the six-story center will feature a lobby and reception area celebrating Ducks football history, giving way to a centralized football operations center upstairs that will include nine dedicated football position meeting rooms, two team video theaters, offense and defense strategy rooms as well as a larger conference suite for the entire coaching staff. The centralized area will be flanked by office and locker facilities for coaches, staff, and student-athletes. Additional amenities will include a players' lounge, a recruiting center to host prospective student-athletes, dedicated areas to accommodate professional scouts, a media interview room, as well as an advanced video editing and distribution center. 

A new outdoor courtyard and plaza to the west of the Casanova Center is designed in the center of the complex, uniting the expansion with the existing Cas Center and Moshofsky Center

View from southwest overlooking new practice fields

Libby also posted excerpts from his interview with Eugene Sandoval of ZGF, the lead designer for the new building: 

"It’s not just about football. It’s about building a sports community. . . this building does represent Chip Kelly’s notion of football: we build our own future. We’re all about the best and the latest. We’re open to anything that makes us better. He’s an amazing man. And he’s also very savvy. Chip is really about changing and reinventing football, not only in terms of strategy with offense or defense but the way he trains people. And he needs a place for this. It’s really a pedagogy. The building is about supporting Chip Kelly and the mission of moving forward. And built into it is the flexibility to change over time." 

Since Sandoval’s comments, Kelly has traded his Oregon visor for one emblazoned with the logo of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. I fully expect his successor, Mark Helfrich, to extend the Ducks’ image-conscious, forward-thinking variety of football. The program is now larger than the figures most responsible for its success; likewise, the Oregon brand—cool, sleek, and state-of-the-art—is central to the design brief for every project. The new operations center furthers the advancement of this brand: like Oregon Football itself, the design is audacious and intimidating. It is also calculatingly sinister, cloaked within a darkly inscrutable suit of armor fit for Darth Vader. 

During his tenure at the helm, Kelly was notorious for his disdain of the press, his closure of practices to the public, and his sphinx-like silence on the subject of player injuries. Phit LLC and ZGF have followed suit, disclosing little about the new project, whether the subject under discussion is its exact cost or the full extent of players’ amenities. For now, we’re left to glean what we can from Sandoval’s comments and observations of the project under construction (Phit’s project documents are not accessible under Oregon Public Records law). 

View looking south from Martin Luther King Boulevard

This Death Star of a building may ultimately prove to be the zenith of an unsustainable college football arms race. Its completion is certain to stir the debate that pits seemingly unlimited support for athletics against spending devoted to academics. In the end, history may not judge the project by its architecture at all.

(1) Phit is leasing the property from the university, building the expansion, and will donate the completed project to the university.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Establishing Longevity

The following is a series of excerpts from T. William (“Bill”) Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. As I mentioned previously, Bill was one of the best teachers I ever had. Bill taught his students to understand the essential concerns of architecture, to design richly appropriate surroundings for people that measure up to the best we can imagine and hope for. Architects, he argued, should focus upon making beautiful places that invite people to be beautiful. He emphasized making places that are so clear, so rich, and so right that they genuinely symbolize our most strongly felt concerns about architecture. He urged us to work long and hard to develop ideas to levels that were extraordinary.(1)

Bill knew human purposes and circumstances would always be too diverse and unpredictable to be accommodated well by places that cannot be adjusted to suit peoples’ changing needs. With this selection of passages from various iterations of Synthesis, he addressed establishing longevity, the importance of places being able to accept and even invite change over time:

Opportunity-Rich Structure
The need for diversity and choice in the built environment comes from the inevitable collision between the relative permanence of what is built and changing circumstances. Activities, purposes, and people all change. Sometimes the changes are minor; sometimes they erode the very foundation of what has been built. Because of this, the built environment must be able to flex.

The best places do this without losing the ability to evoke and inspire. By providing open, opportunity-rich structure—structure that offers many possibilities and many suggestive cues—they sustain both their usefulness and their meaning over time.  (WK/1988)

Spatial qualities and opportunities that offer more than what is required by first users and first uses make places that will remain useful and meaningful over time by:
  • Providing generous support to activities and purposes. This will cause the place to be more than just basically useful.
  • Recognizing and supporting the full family of activities implicit in and brought to life by the building program and the needs/desires of first users (all places attract more uses than were initially anticipated but some activity families are especially active this way).
  • Developing spatial structure that is precisely-general; that is structure that is accommodating and evocative without being one-sided or limiting, open-ended in its possibilities without being barren or undeveloped.
  • Establishing spatial variety and ranges of spatial opportunity; for example: large/small, public/private, inside/outside, fixed-use/multi-use, edge/internal, stop-in/pass through, changeable/fixed, etc.
  • Developing the full potential of in-between, residual, or left-over spaces (they may join or separate adjacent spaces, provide necessary transition, define or clarify adjacent spaces, address or form a larger outside space, accommodate spontaneous use, provide opportunity for interaction, provide opportunity to pause without invading or intruding, provide opportunity for retreat, provide opportunity for detached participation)
  • Establishing opportunities for imprinting by:
    1. Establishing spatial choices and the opportunity to combine and recombine those choice
    2. Making an abundance of space—extra room (and equipment)
    3. Making spatial proportions that allow and suggest multiple use
    4. Making ample and varied storage space
    5. Making moveable parts
    6. Making thick walls, niches, corners, bays, deep sills
    7. Establishing control of visual connections
    8. Establishing control of sound, ventilation, temperature, and sunlight
    9. Providing soft, dark, tough surfaces (for nailing, tacking, gluing)
    10. Developing ways for people to participate in design and construction
  • Establishing opportunities for interaction with other people, with ideas, and with events by:
    1. Extending the public domain (making more facilities and places to share)
    2. Grouping facilities, services, institutions, and spaces so that they reinforce one another
    3. Providing physical conditions in spaces so that people will find it easy to pause and to stay there, especially in spaces they will be anyway (entries, stairways, intersections, courtyards, sunny places and shady places, edges and in-between spaces)
    4. Making paths that overlap
    5. Establishing opportunities for vicarious experience through detached participation
    6. Easing entry (reducing anticipated risk) by establishing preview, slow-reveal, messages about what is ahead. and stages in the entry transition to allow gradual commitment
  • Establishing opportunities for retreat by:
    1. Giving retreat spaces enough definition so that they can be recognized as such
    2. Giving them enough subtlety of definition so that they may be discovered, shaped, and reshaped by users
    3. Making small places that are bounded, that overlook, that are up-against, that are inside, etc. places that feel defensible and safe
    4. Making places that can be opened and closed, that are adjustable and controllable regarding the extent to which they are separated from  other places
    5. Making places that are well connected to surrounding phenomena (places that do not feel isolated and out of touch)
    6. Making places that are secure yet dramatically juxtaposed to what is around (aediculated places)
    7. Making many places for retreat; that is, a pervasive fabric of opportunities for retreat
  • Diagramming important longevity-related ideas so that they may be fully understood and not forgotten as other objectives are considered.  (WK/1983)

A built place may contain many places to be if it has large spaces as well as small, private spaces as well as public, edge spaces as well as internal, changeable spaces as well as fixed, dark spaces as well as light, low spaces as well as high, plain spaces as well as elaborate. Consideration of dualities such as these may be used as a way to generate ranges of opportunity in built places. Such considerations, along with normal ones, may lead to added richness in a spatial framework and thus added choice, adaptability, and meaning.  (WK/1985)

Once the designer has made a box or envelope, he must choose the clues to put in it, for the box offers little in itself except perhaps a boundary. A box is not a free place in which anyone can set up patterns of use and meaning, at least not easily. It is paralyzing because anything is possible: there are no points of reference, no ways to begin. Posts are needed—points of departure. Then there would be things to look around and beyond, to be next to and between. The imagination would thus be triggered and the act of possessing begun.

The architect’s responsibility then is to develop a good set of posts in the box—suggestions that can be considered or ignored, suggestions that hold many possibilities, suggestions that can be interpreted many ways. But they must be just that: suggestions. There must be a sort of mystery, a sense that something is not said. If all the answers are immediate, there can be no seeking. Let each person search for and find his own answers and patterns of use. Let the place be tantalizingly incomplete, even a little obscure. Leave multiplicity of meaning.  (WK/1980)

(1) Bill’s audience was primarily limited to his students and Synthesis would never be widely published. Bill passed away in 2010; my fear since then is that his legacy will be lost to time. Therefore, I’m making it a point to occasionally feature Bill’s writings here on my blog.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

2013 Block Kids Competition

The Eugene Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and the ScienceFactory are seeking judges for the 2013 Block Kids Competition, next Saturday, February 9 at the Gateway Mall in Springfield, OR.

Block Kids is an award-winning national program that introduces children to the construction industry in an effort to create an awareness of and to promote an interest in future careers in one of the many facets of the industry.

The program is open to all elementary school children in grades 1-6. The competition involves the construction of various structures with interlocking blocks and three of the following additional items: a small rock, string, foil, or poster board. The young competitors explore how and why a structure is built while building any structure of their choice.

Local winners advance to Regional competition and one semi-finalist from each region is entered in the National Program competition. National prizes are awarded to the top three projects.

NAWIC welcomes interested architects, engineers, contractors, and subcontractors to judge the competition. Judges evaluate the entries by asking each child the same set of questions and scoring the responses. The judges encourage the entrants to describe in their own words how they designed and constructed their projects.

It’s been a while since I participated as a judge for the Block Kids Competition. I do remember how much fun the experience was. It’s rewarding to see young interest and enthusiasm for the possibilities of a career in design and construction, if only for a day.

If you’re interested in participating as a judge in this year’s Block Kids Competition, contact Nancy Ograin at 541-935-7065 or by email at All you need to bring with you is your hard hat and a clip board!

And if you know of a youngster who would like to be a Block Kid, you’ll need to get him/her signed up fast because spaces are limited! Pre-register by either downloading a
registrationform (or stop by the Science Factory (2300 Leo Harris Parkway, next to Autzen Stadium in Eugene) to register. The event itself is free for participants and spectators.

Block Kids Competition at the Gateway Mall
Saturday, February 9, 2013

1:30 pm - 3:30 pm
Location: Gateway Mall

Competition for children in grades 1-6 only.
Check-in at 1:15 pm; competition begins at 1:30 pm.