Sunday, March 31, 2013

March AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Rudolf Schindler (1887-1953)
March 20 marked the spring equinox. Since then we’ve enjoyed a bounty of glorious weather. The 20th was also the occasion of AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s March chapter meeting at The Actors Cabaret. It featured an equally splendid presentation by Judith Sheine on the subject of the California modernist architect R.M. Schindler

I previously introduced Judith to readers of SW Oregon Architect as the new head of the Department of Architecture in the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Judith is regarded as the leading authority on Rudolf Schindler and his work, having spent much of her academic career researching and documenting his idiosyncratic brand of modernism. I found her presentation about Schindler to be a revelation, as my previous impressions about the architect were largely shaped by scant mentions of him in the staple architectural history texts of my college years.(1) 

Born in 1887 (and thus a direct contemporary of Le Corbusier, also born that year), Schindler had the good fortune to receive his education in what was perhaps the most artistically vibrant and stimulating city of the 20th century’s first decade: Vienna. He came to admire the work of Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, and their Secessionist and Modernist followers, respectively. In particular, Schindler appreciated the increased freedom to consider imaginative uses of new materials and methods. He developed a personal style incorporating new forms reflecting the fact that society itself was changing. His spatial conceptions were characterized by their focus upon complex development in section, as much, or more so than in plan. 

Judith contrasted Schindler’s perspective from that of Le Corbusier. Corbu was an advocate of the plan libre (“free plan”), wherein space and structure do not necessarily exist in support of one another. Schindler, on the other hand, more often shaped his spaces with structural elements such that they were coincident with one another. Schindler was not a doctrinaire modernist, and he would not be among those whose work would be featured in the highly influential International Style exhibit of 1932 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In this respect, Schindler found good company with another pioneering architect he long-admired: Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Schindler emigrated from Vienna to the United States in 1914, seeking employment with Wright after first being introduced to the master’s oeuvre through the Wasmuth Portfolio. Ultimately, he would work for Wright, moving to Los Angeles in 1920 to oversee the design of the Hollyhock House for Aline Barnsdall. During this period, Schindler was effectively left in charge of Wright’s office as Wright himself spent much of that time in Japan consumed by the demands of his design for the Imperial Hotel. 

It was also while working for Wright that Schindler would initiate or secure his own commissions, notably designing the Kings Road House and also the Lovell Beach House. Prior to Judith’s presentation, it was these two projects I was most familiar with. In particular, the Kings Road House has fascinated Judith, and with good reason. 

Kings Road House (photo via Wikipedia by Allan Ferguson, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.) 

The Kings Road House (also known as the Schindler House or the Schindler Chace House) must have appeared both radical and puzzling to observers at the time of its construction. First of all, it was comprised of two separate apartments, each containing two studios designed as live/work spaces for its residents (which included Schindler), while sharing kitchen and garage spaces. As Judith pointed out, its precedent-setting plan completely flipped the conventional figure-ground relationship, the outdoor spaces being as figurally and functionally significant as those enclosed by the building. The house also featured a ground-breaking use of tilt-up concrete panels in residential construction (Schindler was influenced by Irving Gill’s early use of tilt-slab techniques in non-residential projects). 

Kings Road House isometric view (image credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, CA-1939) 

Schindler’s career is often spoken of in the same breath as that of his life-long friend, Richard Neutra. Like Schindler, Neutra was born and raised in Vienna, and moved to the U.S. with the hope of working with Frank Lloyd Wright. Both would settle in Los Angeles, where their work would come to characterize a uniquely Californian strain of modern architecture. Both, along with their wives, would live and work together for a period at the Kings Road House. However, whereas Neutra would come to enjoy the patronage of wealthy industrialists and taste-makers, Schindler’s bohemian ways and attire consigned him to fewer high-profile commissions. 

Today, it’s Schindler’s distinctly personal approach to modernism that forms the basis of his legacy to architecture. His influence has been evident in the careers of those who followed him, including Frank Gehry and the late Frank Israel. We’re fortunate to have a scholar of Judith Sheine’s renown here in Eugene who can share with us that unique legacy and its contemporary lessons for all of us. 

Judith will present a more extensive talk on the subject of the Kings Road House on May 8 in support of her new book, Schindler, Kings Road, and Southern California Modernism (University of California Press), co-authored with Robert Sweeney. Look soon for details here about this upcoming presentation.  

(1)  This is particularly ironic since my Master’s thesis project during my mid-1980s studies at UCLA focused upon the life and architecture of a subsidized housing complex located directly across the street from Schindler’s Kings Road House, which many consider to be his finest building. At the time, I simply regarded the design to be underwhelming. I received my degree from UCLA in 1987, just as Judith began her nine-year tenure on the faculty there.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The City

Willamette Street looking north, March 1959 (image source: University of Oregon Libraries, photo by Marion Dean Ross)

Currently on display in the windows of the Octagon is “The City,” an exhibit of intriguing photographs contrasting “then and now” views of downtown Eugene. The exhibit is one of what is hoped by AIA-Southwestern Oregon and Architects Building Community to be an ongoing series devoted to topics of general interest to the public about architecture and urban design. 

Historic City Photography
What often fades quickly from memory is what physically existed before and what has changed. Eugene is not an old city but it already has many layers. Its urban form has been surprisingly dynamic. Stories and memories live on, and the locations of familiar streets remain the same, but individual buildings and the streetscapes they form have changed in remarkable ways. 

The images of “The City” allow us to observe the fourth dimension of city experience by focusing on a few of Eugene’s primary city streets at different points in history. AIA-SWO member firm Rowell Brokaw Architects assembled the exhibit by selecting historic photographs from the collections of the University of Oregon Libraries under a Creative Commons License. Rowell Brokaw’s motivation for the project is derived from the firm’s commitment to the betterment of cities and its fascination with their changes over time. 

“The City” is on public display at the Octagon, located at 92 East Broadway in downtown Eugene, through May 31, 2013.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grand Opening!

View within the atrium of Lane Community College's new Downtown Campus in Eugene (all photos by me)

The grand opening celebration for Lane Community College’s new Downtown Campus took place this past Friday. It was the culmination of three years of effort by many, many people who worked together to realize the fast-tracked project. It is an exemplary model for the power of collaboration, from visionary college administrators and city officials to the skilled workers who assembled it. I’m proud to have played my small part as one of the members of a very talented design team, serving as project manager for Robertson/Sherwood/Architects

Eugene mayor Kitty Piercy addresses the audience gathered at the Grand Opening celebration.
Lane Community College president Mary Spilde thanks the many people who helped make the new Downtown Campus a reality.

Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz and LCC president Mary Spilde deserve the biggest kudos for recognizing and seizing the opportunity to create a new downtown campus for Lane on the site of the former “Sears pit.” By choosing to reinvest in downtown, they provided a mighty boost to the revitalization of Eugene’s urban core. The energy and optimism these days is palpable, due in no small part to their foresight, imagination, and commitment to constructing the forward-looking project. 

The college's mascot Ty looks a little lost among the throng gathered to celebrate the opening of the new Downtown Campus.

Just a few finishing touches remain to be made: a large, sustainability themed graphic will be added to the north wall of the Student Interaction Area on the main level, and the enhanced commissioning process is ongoing. A LEED Platinum certification is the ultimate prize, which the Downtown Campus is well on its way to achieving. 

View looking down from the 4th level of the Central Stair.

It’s hard to believe our job is nearly done. The time elapsed since our team was awarded the project and now has gone by faster than I could ever have possibly imagined. Time truly does fly by when you’re having fun.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

HOPES [19]: Collaborative Futures

The 19th Annual HOPES Conference, organized by students and hosted by the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts, will take place this April 4-6. HOPES [19]: “Collaborative Futures” looks to re-articulate and direct the contemporary discourse of what it means to foster a sustainable city, region, and planet. The organizers have brought together professionals, academics, researchers, professors, and students in fields ranging from biomimicry to sociology for a truly collaborative conference this year. 

Dissonance. Synthesis. Initiation.
In past years the HOPES conferences focused around singular issues from a specific perspective of design. This year however there is a new approach: bringing together individuals from multiple disciplines to confront the pertinent issues of our time as a collective. This approach parallels the School’s history of challenging conventional ideas of conservation and sustainability. 

“Problems cannot be solved from within the same paradigm in which they were created” writes Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff. Many disciplines have become aware and are active in the pursuit of sustainability through the unique perspectives of their specific fields. However, discipline-specific efforts are fundamentally limited in responding to inherently interconnected and therefore interdisciplinary issues. To pursue innovative solutions we must challenge conventional reductionism, existing hierarchies, and complacent approaches. By fostering a collaborative dialectic and enabling access to a vast compilation of knowledge, philosophy, and appropriate application, what might be possible? 

This expanded context must be made accessible for the expansion of otherwise narrow understandings. Can one unified understanding of sustainability exist or instead an amalgamation of interdependent approaches to it? How might these differing approaches to sustainability find common understanding and realization? HOPES [19] intends to challenge contemporary accounts of what it means to be sustainable. The conference organizers invite dissonance, seek synthesis, and offer initiation into collaborative thinking, so that we may measure past efforts and define areas of newly shared approaches. 

For more information about HOPES [19], check out the conference’s website: 

What: HOPES [19]: Collaborative Futures

When: Thursday, April 4 through Saturday, April 6

Where: Lawrence Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Grain Elevators in Northern Oregon

“Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light. Our eyes are made to see forms in light; light and shade reveal these forms; cubes, cones, spheres, cylinders or pyramids are the great primary forms which light reveals to advantage; the image of these is distinct and tangible within us and without ambiguity. It is for a reason that these are beautiful forms, the most beautiful forms. Everybody is agreed to that, the child, the savage and the metaphysician. It is the very nature of the plastic arts.” 

Le Corbusier – Towards a New Architecture

Architects have long admired the inherently sculptural nature of grain elevators. They mutely dominate broad and lonely landscapes throughout rural America, marking our small towns in much the same way soaring Gothic cathedrals have done for many centuries across the European countryside. Like the pioneers of modern architecture (1) who rhapsodized about grain elevators, Eugene photographer Dennis Galloway admires their formal qualities, the way light plays upon their stark surfaces, and their unadorned practicality: 
“Grain elevators appeal to me as pragmatic, functional, vernacular, and sometime eccentric. They are monumental, some almost medieval in appearance. As the old ones are abandoned they become structural and fire hazards as well as targets for vandalism and are periodically demolished. There is still time to preserve this vanishing heritage in pictures.” 
I previously introduced Dennis to readers of this blog a while back. He possesses an obvious love for architecture, which he expresses through his photography by utilizing every tool at his disposal to deliberately affect the viewer’s perception of his images. The results are not necessarily “realistic” or idealized representations of buildings but rather his unique interpretation of the multi-dimensionality of architecture, space, and time. 
Dennis’ latest project is an evocative series of black & white photographs of grain elevators, mostly shot in northern Oregon. The collection opens this weekend as an exhibit at the O’Brien Photo Imaging Gallery in Eugene. It is documentary in nature but also serves as Dennis’ lament for a disappearing part of our built heritage. Don’t miss it. 
What:    Grain Elevators in Northern Oregon – Photography by Dennis Galloway 
When:   Opening Reception: Saturday, March 9, 2013    2:00 – 6:00 PM 
              Exhibit Showing: March 9 – April 11, 2013    M-F 9:00 – 11:00 AM &
              1:00 – 5:00 PM 
Where:  The O’Brien Photo Imaging Gallery
               2833 Willamette Street, Suite B, Eugene, OR  97405

(1)  Le Corbuiser, Erich Mendelsohn, and Adolf Loos are among the most noteworthy of those who praised the perfect, functional simplicity of grain elevators.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

AIA-SWO Construction Tour: Champ-a-tee Residence

Champ-a-tee Residence by 2form Architecture

The next in the ongoing series of AIA-SWO construction project tours features the Champ-a-tee Residence designed by an integrated project team led by 2form Architecture. On target to achieve LEED Gold certification, the expansive home combines sustainable design, state-of-the-art technology, and careful material selection. 

Located on the south side of Spencer Butte and overlooking a spring-fed pond, 2form designed the home to capture the views to the south and east. The kitchen is in the heart of the house and is adjacent to the open-plan family/music room that overlooks the pond. Upstairs are two guest rooms in addition to the master bedroom suite. 

The holistic design’s impressive inventory of green features and strategies includes:

DAYLIGHTING: The house achieves optimal daylighting through the careful positioning and sizing of windows, taking advantage of more than just the abundance of views. All windows are energy efficient, featuring LoE-366 glazing with argon. 

PASSIVE HEATING: A sunroom figures prominently in the design of the house. Two stories high, with operable clerestory windows, the sunroom passively heats a portion of the house in winter, using the direct gain from thermal mass. A movable, exterior sunscreen protects the sunroom from excessive heat gain during the height of summer. 

GEOSOURCE HEAT PUMP: Geosource heating and cooling systems use the earth as an energy source and heat sink. 

THERMAL COMFORT OPTIMIZED BY ZONING: The design achieves greater efficiency of the heating and cooling systems by creating seven distinct zones, all user-controlled. 

LANDSCAPING: Selecting only indigenous and drought-tolerant plants, water use for landscaping is greatly reduced. 

  • Insulation: The walls and roof feature advanced insulation techniques, using rigid board closed-cell insulation on the exterior side of walls and roof, and open-cell insulation in the cavities. The addition of closed-cell insulation on the exterior of the envelope greatly reduces thermal bridging, air leakage, and moisture condensation in the wall cavity. The use of open-cell insulation was chosen because of its effectiveness and efficiency over traditional batt insulation. 
  • Weather Barrier: The fully adhered weather barrier provides up to 30% energy savings vs. traditional house-wraps by minimizing air infiltration and exfiltration. 
  • Rain Screen: A rain screen system on the exterior of the house provides extra protection against moisture intrusion, ensuring lasting durability of the house.
PHOTOVOLTAICS: PV panels, prominent on the roof of the garage, provide back-up energy for the house, and a charging station for an electric car.

  • Roofing: The standing seam metal roofing, durable and long lasting, contains high recycled content steel. 
  • Flooring: Hardwood flooring is of 100% recycled content, and is FSC and FloorScore certified. All tile flooring is likewise of a high recycled content, and all carpeting is GreenLabel Plus certified. 
Construction of the Champ-a-tee Residence is well-advanced, and will afford those who attend the tour the opportunity to inspect many of these sustainable features. 

If you plan on attending, please RSVP by noon Monday, March 4 to Mariko Blessing at (541) 342-8077 or

What: Champ-a-tee House construction tour

When: Wednesday, March 6, 12:00 pm

Where: Fox Hollow Road (carpooling is required, so email Mariko for more specific directions and carpooling information)

Architect: 2fORM Architecture

Saturday, March 2, 2013

R Street Design Charrette Report

Habitat for Humanity design charrette - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 (photos by Design|Spring)

Habitat for Humanity’s Springfield/Eugene affiliate and Design|Spring partnered last Tuesday to produce a design charrette. Charrette participants learned about the Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) home ownership model, and developed housing layout design options for a Habitat-owned property in Springfield. 

The property, located on R Street, is a .58 acre lot located adjacent to existing apartments and duplexes in north Springfield. The site presented numerous design challenges to the charrette teams, including its necessary setbacks, utility easements, fire department access, requirements for housing density, and storm water mitigation needs. Above all, Habitat’s model of individual home ownership (rather than multi-family dwellings) and affordability mandates would shape the teams’ responses. 

Habitat asked the workshop participants to suggest options for development of the site to accommodate between 6 and 8 homes. Their solutions needed to fit within HFHI standards of “simple, decent and affordable.” Typically, this means the homes’ living spaces (excluding stairways and exterior storage) do not exceed 900 SF for two bedroom houses, 1,070 SF for three bedroom houses, and 1,230 SF for four bedroom houses. Additionally, HFHI homes do not have garages or carports but are provided with a nearby parking space. 

Both Habitat for Humanity and Design|Spring are pleased by the outcome of the charrette. The event attracted a mix of architects, landscape architects, planners, interns, students, Habitat volunteers, and homebuilders. In the course of two short hours, the charrette teams created nine unique site plans. Their proposals included such site features as bioswales, community gardens, playgrounds, and common greens. 

What’s next for this project? The Habitat organizers plan to present the design ideas generated by the charrette to its Construction Committee for review. The committee will use the ideas to develop a final design layout for the property. Once it settles upon a design, the committee will submit them to the City of Springfield Planning Department for review. In the meantime, Habitat for Humanity will look for sponsors to help with development of the infrastructure and the construction of the individual homes for Habitat partner families. 

Springfield/Eugene Habitat for Humanity thanks Design|Spring for its assistance with facilitating the charrette, as well as all the participants who helped bring Habitat families a little closer to realizing the dream of home ownership: 

Mike and Cathy Olson, George Randle, Jerry Prud’homme, Adam Weis, Jackie Robertson, Roddy Toyota, Jim Brown, Katie Sciotto, Daniel Hill, Ryan Rojas, Mariko Blessing, Rachel Aurbach, David Dougherty, Daniel Abrahamson, Will Dixon, Christopher Deel, Yingying Lin, Jonathan Price, Jenni Rogers, Scott Stolarczyk, Lisa DeHaas, Aaron Buckman, Mark Metzger, and Peter Keyes. 

Visit the Springfield/Eugene Habitat for Humanity website, and “like” Habitat on Facebook.  If you’re interested, go to “Volunteer Up” and become a volunteer at the build site! Here are the links: 
Design|Spring is really hitting its stride. This is an active, energetic group of emerging professionals who know they can make a difference in our community, while simultaneously learning a thing or two along the way. Stay tuned for the next big Design|Spring thing!