Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Lessons for Oregon

Distant view of Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan (photo by Mitsukuni Sato via Wikipedia)

2011’s devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan provided both a wakeup call and wealth of information for seismologists, hydrologists, and engineers here in the Pacific Northwest. At this month’s Willamette Valley Chapter CSI meeting, Oregon State University professors Harry Yeh(1) and Ben Mason(2) described how we need to become far better prepared by investing more in earthquake and tsunami-resistant infrastructure and preparedness. 

The disaster along Honshu’s northeastern shore provided us with a glimpse of what is likely to occur along the Oregon coast. Both Harry and Ben pointed to how Oregon's geography resembles northeastern Japan, with isolated coastal communities separated by a mountain range from a heavily populated valley. Like Japan, Oregon faces an undersea subduction zone, in which an oceanic plate pushes beneath a continental plate. A mega-thrust earthquake caused by a rupturing of the colliding plates off our shore along the Cascadia subduction zone is long overdue (the last occurring in 1700). The next one could happen tomorrow; are we prepared? 

The challenges we would face when the unthinkable happens include how to deliver timely rescue and relief to affected coastal communities, especially if vital roads and other conduits through the Coast Range are severed. The likely scope a Cascadia mega-quake (which could rival the 9.0 Mw magnitude of the great Japan earthquake) would extend well beyond our beaches to involve and impact lives and property in the Willamette Valley as well. It’s only prudent for us to take heed of Japan’s experience and prepare accordingly. 

Harry has thoroughly studied the physics of tsunamis; regardless, he and other researchers were astounded by what they learned when they visited Japan in the aftermath of the Tohoku event. They understood morphological variability influenced the effects and magnitude of the run-up of water a tsunami pushes onto the shore; however, they did not foresee how significantly these variations contributed to the force of the run-up. 

The funneling and reflecting effects in narrow gulfs parallel to the tsunami propagation vector combined with narrow valleys onshore to generate peak run-up elevations of as much as 40 meters. The run-up devastated virtually everything in its path. Even buildings many stories tall failed those who believed height provided a sanctuary. Regardless, Harry asserts “vertical evacuation” within a reinforced concrete building is a valid survival strategy when people don’t have time to otherwise escape a tsunami and the predicted run-up does not exceed the structure’s height. 

On the other hand, vertical evacuation provides no refuge for victims if the building cannot withstand the force of a tsunami. The power of the surging water toppled a multistory reinforced concrete structure in Onagawa. Harry was stunned such a building could be tipped over by water alone. He analyzed the dynamics of the tsunami/structure interaction and the scouring effects in the wake of the run-up. With the data collected from this analysis, Harry now plans to research how to prevent strong, structurally rigid buildings from tipping over. 

Cascadia Subduction Zone

Ben’s current research interests include the seismic response of Oregon's native soils, effects of longduration earthquake motions on the built environment, soil liquefaction, soil‐fluid-structure interactions, seismic resiliency on a city-scale, cumulative damage caused by successive hazards, and coastal geotechnical engineering. He explained how our Willamette Valley silt possesses distinct properties that contribute to increased risk and the potential for destructive effects. 

The valley traps and amplifies the motions of the deposited sediments. During a subduction event, the duration and peak ground accelerations would be much greater than those of a more common crustal fault earthquake. It is these factors that would lead to soil liquefaction, which can be extremely damaging. Buildings whose foundations bear directly on soil which liquefies will experience a sudden loss of support, resulting in drastic and irregular settlement. The bottom line is the built environment of our cities in the Willamette Valley is vulnerable to significant devastation. 

Ben and his colleagues are utilizing LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to provide very precise, accurate, and high-resolution images of the surface of the earth, vegetation, and the built environment. Airborne LIDAR uses a laser range finder mounted in a precisely navigated aircraft to scan the earth's surface at very high rates and collect very dense clouds of X-Y-Z coordinates. He is using the collected data for landscape scarp modeling, which can identify and help predict zones of risk (i.e. for landslides) vulnerable to seismic activity. 

If we’re determined enough, the lessons learned from Tohoku and similar subduction mega-thrust earthquakes will lead to the implementation of specific seismic and tsunami resiliency plans. Prior to the disaster in Japan (and before it the 2010 Chile earthquake), state and regional governments paid little attention to the vulnerabilities of population centers in the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon legislature has since begun allocating money, a welcome development. The research Harry and Ben are engaged in today is broadening our knowledge about how our cities’ infrastructures will respond to the impending Cascadia earthquake and helping make Oregon a safer place. 

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This post is my first on the subject of the monthly programs produced by the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute. Ever since I started this blog, I’ve reported on AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s chapter events. I’ll attempt now to do the same for WVC-CSI meetings. 

As I wrote previously, the accomplishments of CSI include continuous development of construction documentation standards and the education of professionals to improve project delivery processes; however, it is perhaps the organization’s diversity that is its greatest achievement. 

Unlike the AIA, which primarily exists to serve the good of the architectural profession, CSI membership is open to anyone interested in the advancement of construction communication standards. In addition to architects, the institute welcomes the participation of engineers, contractors, facility mangers, product representatives, manufacturers, owners, and of course construction specifiers. The only qualification is a common desire to contribute to the improvement of communication in the construction industry. If you’re not already a member, I strongly encourage you to join the Construction Specifications Institute.

(1)   Harry Yeh is the Miles Lowell and Margaret Watt Edwards Distinguished Chair in Engineering at Oregon State University. Yeh received an AB in Economics from Keio Gijuku University (Japan), BS and MS degrees in Agricultural Engineering from Washington State University, and a PhD in Civil Engineering from University of California. He worked for Bechtel Inc. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, primarily analyzing hydrodynamics problems involved in electric power plants. Yeh began his academic career in 1983 at the University of Washington, and joined the faculty of School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University in 2003. Yeh's primary research interest is in the field of hydrodynamics of tsunamis, focusing on controlled laboratory experiments and theoretical development of nonlinear longwave theory.

(2)   Ben Mason is an assistant professor in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University. His current research interests include the multi-disciplinary field of urban earthquake engineering. This field combines the expertise of geotechnical and structural earthquake engineering, engineering seismologists, public policy experts, and decision-makers to improve the seismic resiliency of urban areas. Dr. Mason uses physical modeling techniques such as centrifuges, shaking tables, laminar soil boxes, and cyclic laboratory equipment, as well as numerical modeling tools including FLAC, OpenSees and PLAXIS. Additionally, Dr. Mason is interested in the fields of sustainable geotechnical engineering and geotechnical engineering education.

Monday, April 22, 2013

April AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Opportunity Village Budget Bungalows (images from the Opportunity Village Eugene website)
April’s AIA-SWO chapter meeting turned the light upon homelessness, a social problem that has resisted simple solutions for decades in America. Specifically, a panel of speakers described the valiant local effort to create Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE), a transitional village for homeless individuals and couples envisioned for west Eugene. 

Architects know how profoundly a living or work environment can shape the imaginations of the people inside them. “We shape buildings and then buildings shape us.” But what about those who are doing without? When people lack the security, the predictability, the comfort, and the definition of a “place to call their own,” what are we asking them to live without? 

Dan Bryant, pastor at First Christian Church and OVE board president, outlined the breadth of the challenge here in Eugene. A staggering 1,400 people may go without shelter on any given night. Caregivers like the Eugene Mission and ShelterCare have no choice but to turn away as many as 95% of those looking for a roof over their heads. The common stereotypes about the homeless—that they are predominantly drug addicts, winos, criminals, lazy, or mentally ill—are giving way to an understanding about how diverse their population really is. 

The homeless are often well-educated. Many are caring parents with children. Others are victims of domestic abuse, or burdened with physical disabilities, or unemployable for reasons beyond their control. The vast majority have roots in our community. Most are not transients; they are our neighbors. The reasons for homelessness are as different as each person is. 

Dan explained how Mayor Kitty Piercy charged the Opportunity Eugene Task Force with recommending “new and innovative” solutions to the issue of homelessness in Eugene. The group concluded establishing a safe and secure place for those currently without housing should be the first priority. Acting upon this recommendation, the City of Eugene approved OVE as a pilot project through October 1, 2014. 

Opportunity Village Illustrative Plan

After examining potential sites for several months, the City Council picked a vacant lot at 111 North Garfield Street near Roose­velt Boulevard as the future site for OVE. It was one five sites the council considered. The lot used to be a trailer park, so there are utilities on hand that can be repurposed. The immediate neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of residences, so the likelihood of resistance to establishing a transitional homeless community there is minimized. 

On the opposite side of the ledger, the lot is not conveniently located near basic services, such as a grocery store. However, in this regard it is nowhere as poorly sited as Dignity Village in Portland, which is located near the Portland International Airport, miles away from everything. Perhaps the North Garfield site’s biggest shortcoming is that the City of Eugene bought the property eight years ago with the intention of using it to construct a 40,000-square-foot maintenance garage for city vehicles. Ultimately, OVE’s days are numbered because the City will one day construct its garage. 

So what will Opportunity Village Eugene be? Dan described a transitional village of around 30 people who will collaborate with skilled architects and builders to construct simple, efficient micro-houses and shared common spaces. OVE’s vision includes providing its residents with opportunities to build a human-scaled community while developing skills and relationships that allow them to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. The vision rests upon the notion that self-governance will provide residents with autonomy, responsibility, and respect. 

The building blocks of the village will be compact, simple, safe, secure, and transportable dwelling structures, clustered together to encourage community cohesion and security. Panelists Alex Daniell and Andrew Heben described the various types of structures, which will include Conestoga huts, deluxe and budget bungalows, roundhouses, and conic shells. The dwellings, none larger than about 100 square feet, will provide basic shelter only. Kitchen and food storage, a dining area, bathrooms, bike parking, and personal storage lockers will be communal. 

OVE will also provide a gathering space for meetings, and opportunities for gardens and micro-businesses. Overall, the village will offer a stable, safe, and sanitary environment where basic needs— food, shelter, medical care, a sense of dignity and belonging in place and community— are met. 

Mark Hubble, himself a homeless member of our community, discussed how meaningful it is to him to have an alternative to being on the streets. For Mark, simply having a lockable front door is huge. He was the first person to move into a Conestoga hut as part of Eugene’s car camping program, which allows huts to be placed on sites around the city hosted by local churches or businesses. He is optimistic Opportunity Village Eugene will provide the stability and a foundation people without houses need, as well as a sense of purpose, place, and belonging. 

Mark Hubble and his Conestoga hut

Mark detailed how the success of OVE will be predicated upon several core values. These include a village committed to horizontal organization and self-governance. They require resident participation to the greatest extent possible in the assembly of the structures. Additionally, the core values dictate an application and intake process based upon relationship building, and adherence to five basic, non-negotiable rules listed in the Community Agreement. 

The five rules for the Village are: 
  1. No violence to yourselves or others
  2. No theft 
  3. No alcohol, illegal drugs, or drug paraphernalia 
  4. No constant, disruptive behavior 
  5. Everyone must contribute to the operation and maintenance of the Village.
Residents will self-manage the village with oversight provided by the non-profit, Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE). Residents will make decisions about how the village is managed and directly deal with minor disputes. The non-profit will ensure that the five basic rules are being upheld. OVE will also screen all potential residents and conduct criminal background checks. 

All of the evening’s panelists enriched our understanding of the struggles that accompany homelessness, and provided us with a little inspiration that can shape the work we do for clients who are much more fortunate. It’s all too easy for us to overlook how architects contribute powerfully to a larger, invisible structure that builds equity and compassion into our society. 

So what can we do to help? For one, we can volunteer our time and skills. We can also contribute construction materials to OVE’s building partner, Community Supported Shelters. CSS receives donations at the Tine Hive located at 1160 Grant Street in Eugene. And of course, OVE would welcome any monetary assistance. OVE is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so all contributions are tax-deductible.

If the Opportunity Village Eugene project is successful, the nonprofit hopes it will eventually see a network of several villages throughout the city. Everyone in our community benefits when those who are homeless are offered the opportunity afforded by needed shelter to renew their life goals and aspirations. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

AIA-SWO Construction Tour – CASL House

CASL House

The next AIA-SWO construction tour features the CASL House, a model for sustainable living under construction at 1801 Moss St. The project has two phases: Phase 1 is the retrofit, in progress now, of the original 1920's Bungalow into a state of the art space with living, dining, kitchen, bath, and storage capacity. Phase 2 will be a three bedroom addition that CASL co-directors will live in while conducting research, hosting tours, and facilitating on-going learning opportunities. CASL is working towards meeting the rigorous Passive House standard of home construction and is really close to achieving that goal. The house will provide a model green home for students and the community while also being used for demonstration, learning, and gathering. 

The Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL) is a student group at the University of Oregon dedicated to teaching people how to live more sustainably. CASL does this by 1) offering students opportunities for hands-on learning through design, construction, and experimentation at the CASL House; and 2) hosting workshops, lectures and social events that connect students and community members, and providing a venue for learning how to employ sustainable solutions in one’s home.

CASL began in 2003 as a byproduct of a senior thesis project by Jo Rodgers, a student at the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Rodgers designed an innovative, low-impact house integrating natural resources with modern living. With those design plans in mind, students established CASL to design and build the demonstration center near the UO campus. 

If you plan on attending the construction tour, RSVP by noon Tuesday, April 23rd to Julie Romig at or 541-683-8661 extension 3. Space is limited, so contact Julie right away.

What:  University of Oregon CASL House construction tour 

When:  Thursday, April 25th at 11:55 AM 

Where:  1801 Moss Street, Eugene, Oregon

Transportation:  Carpool - meet at Bergsund DeLaney Architecture & Planning at 11:40 AM to carpool over to the site. Please indicate in the RSVP if you will be meeting to carpool OR take the EmX—the project is a ten minute walk from the Walnut Street EmX station

Designer/Builder: Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL) student group 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse

The Pacific Northwest Publishing building by 2fORM Architecture: An excellent example of building reuse in lieu of demolition and new construction

The Eugene Branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council regularly offers free, lunchtime educational events promoting the design, construction, and operation of buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live, work, and learn. The presentations are open to the public and cover a broad range of topics related to sustainable design. 

This month’s event features Ralph DiNola, LEED Fellow and principal at Green Building Services, Inc. Ralph will describe a groundbreaking, whole-building, life cycle assessment study, for which Green Building Services was a major contributor, entitled The Green Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse. The study computes the environmental impacts related to materials manufacture, transport, construction, operation, and the demolition and disposal of common building types, and compares these impacts to those associated with building renovation and reuse. It is the most comprehensive analysis to date comparing the impacts of new and existing buildings. 

Before this study, specific data was scant about the climate change reductions inherent in the reuse and retrofitting of existing buildings. In his presentation, Ralph will detail how building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction. Moreover, he will describe how many decades may pass before a new energy-efficient building overcomes the carbon expended during the extraction and processing of its construction materials and assembly. The bottom line: building reuse almost always yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction when comparing buildings of similar size and functionality. 

Most climate scientists agree that action in the immediate timeframe is crucial to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. The reuse of existing buildings offers an important means of avoiding unnecessary carbon outlays and helps communities achieve their near term carbon reduction goals. 

Ralph’s philosophy is that adaptive reuse makes environmental sense, business sense, and cultural sense by maintaining tangible connections to our past while enhancing our communities for the future. He is actively involved in the ongoing evolution of the historic preservation and green building movements. It was my privilege to collaborate with Ralph and his firm on the design of the recently completed Lane Community College Downtown Campus project. I know him as an influential green building leader and researcher doing his part to teach by example, make less mean more, and shape a more resource-efficient design and construction industry. 

Don’t miss Ralph’s presentation. See the event details below; RSVP soon as space is limited.

What:  Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, a presentation by Ralph DiNola of Green Building Services, Inc. GBCI approved for 1 CE hour, details available at event. 

When:  Tuesday, April 23, 2013  12:00 PM – 1:00 PM 

Where:  Bascom-Tykeson Room, Eugene Public Library, 100 West 10th Avenue 

Cost:  Free 


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eugene’s Carpenter

Lief's Dream, by Jim Carpenter (my photo)
Wally Larsen is a videographer and post-graduate student in the Cinema Studies/Advanced Digital Video Production/Advanced Video Editing class at the University of Oregon School of Journalism. Along with fellow students Joe Rosenthal and Chris Hernandez, Wally interviewed me as part of a video profiling local artist Jim Carpenter. Journalism instructor Rebecca Force taught the class that served as the project’s catalyst. 

Jim crafted two of the most memorable pieces of public art recently completed in Eugene, the life-sized sculpture of Eugene Skinner in front of the Eugene Public Library and Leif’s Dream, located in the Library’s lobby next to the entrance to the Children’s collection. As project manager with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects during the design and construction of the Library, I had the good fortune to work with Jim, learn about his process, and help ensure the successful installation of his two pieces. 

In addition to Jim and me, Wally interviewed retired Director of Library Services Carol Hildebrand, current director Connie Bennett, Library art consultant Douglas Beauchamp, and two of Jim’s children, Leif and Livia Carpenter. The consistent themes of Wally’s video are Jim’s unique persona and approach to his art. 
Eugene Skinner, by Jim Carpenter (my photo)

Jim purposefully cast his bronze Eugene Skinner as a deadpan character whose eyes are leveled for eternity toward Skinner’s pioneering homestead at the base of his namesake butte. The statue is an interactive piece, frequently attracting passersby to sit alongside the city’s founder, take a load off their feet, and share his basalt bench. People have snapped photographs with Eugene Skinner countless times since he first took his perch in 2002. Thanks to Jim, the Library’s entrance plaza is animated by a non-monumental monument to Eugene’s original citizen. 
Detail of Lief's Dream showing the troll lurking in the creek beneath the bridge (my photo)

Leif’s Dream is in part Jim’s illustration of the Norwegian fairytale Three Billy Goats Gruff but also his record of a dream his son Leif recalled as a youngster. The result is a beautifully charming and evocative wood and bronze sculpture. Like his Eugene Skinner statue, Leif’s Dream is people-friendly, attracting and welcoming interaction. Ten years on, the installation has acquired an attractive patina, evidence of the multitude of hands—young and old alike—that have admiringly patted and stroked its detailed forms. 

Check out Wally’s video about Jim and his two Library pieces by clicking the following link:

Like many other municipalities around the country, Eugene has institutionalized the funding and promulgation of public art throughout the city. The mission of the Public Art Program is to ensure the City of Eugene’s public art collection is of the highest quality and provide experiences which enrich and better the community’s social and physical environment. The commissioning of art works in public places, in addition to furthering the policy of fostering art and developing artists, enhances public perception of government buildings, parks, and other community spaces. 

The City of Eugene enacted its percent-for-art ordinance in 1981. Since then, the City always dedicates a percentage of capital improvement project budgets to the creation, collection, and display of public art. 

The Eugene Public Library was a direct beneficiary of the ordinance. City officials cite the consistently high quality and variety of the Library’s public art and its early integration during the building’s design. They note the high quality and diversity of the art, as well as its selection as a body of work as opposed to mere consideration as individual pieces. They also admire the number of artworks chosen to appeal to a younger audience. 

Jim Carpenter (screen capture from "Eugene's Carpenter" video)

I’m honored Wally asked me to participate in his video. I was happy to not only praise Jim Carpenter and his work but also to promote the value of public art in general. Both Eugene Skinner and Leif’s Dream really fit the Library and are, along with the other installed artwork, of a piece with the building. They’re integral to the overall design, contributing significantly to the experience of Library visitors.