Sunday, August 25, 2013

August AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Saul Zaik, FAIA
The August meeting of the American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon Chapter was a real treat for fans of the pioneers responsible for shaping the unique brand of architecture we now recognize as the Pacific Northwest Style. One of these pioneering architects—Saul Zaik, FAIA—graced us with his presence. Engaging in a “fireside chat” with AIA-SWO president-elect Scott Clarke, AIA, Saul presented a wide-ranging collection of his projects, providing ample evidence why he is held in such high regard by the generations of architects who have followed the trail he helped blaze. 
I first came to know the work of Saul Zaik when I purchased a book entitled Contemporary Homes of the Pacific Northwest while I was a student at the University of Oregon. The book—authored by Harry Martin with superb black & white photography by Dick Busher—features 32 homes by 22 architects that best exemplified the essential characteristics of a unique modernism shaped by the magnificent landscapes and soft light of the Pacific Northwest. Saul’s mastery of that distinctive and distinguished architectural genre was evident to me in the two projects Harry Martin selected for inclusion in his book. Both the weekend retreat for Bill Naito near the Salishan Resort and the Babler House on Lake Oswego clearly demonstrated a keen appreciation of site, climate, and culture, executed with a refreshing modesty and economy of means (even as his clients would lavish generous budgets on their projects). 
Cabin sketch by Saul Zaik
I won’t go into great detail to describe Saul’s career. Instead, check out the excellent feature story about Saul on the Portland Modern website penned by Portland Architecture blogger Brian Libby and Portland Modern LLC real estate broker Bob Zaikoski. The two deem Saul the “Dean of Portland Architects,” and chronicle the highlights of his illustrious career. 
What’s most striking about Saul’s entire oeuvre is how timeless it appears today. His architecture is the real thing, fundamentally grounded in sound design principles. In this regard, his residential work is eminently attractive, much more so than the efforts of some young practitioners today who fashionably retreat to a hollow aping of mid-20th century styling. Saul's modernist credentials are genuine, not affected. He was in the right place at the right time, a member of the generation of designers and artists that came of age during the dynamically creative and fruitful postwar period.
Babler House, Lake Oswego

Today, Saul holds his convictions steadfastly, even as he enters his seventh decade of professional practice. I imagine he would disclaim any notion that he is overly concerned with style or that he ever was, although he does regard northwest regionalism as a valid aesthetic. Instead, I’m certain he has always approached design from a completely integrative perspective, taking into account everything all good architects do when undertaking any challenging project. In the Pacific Northwest, with its often spectacular sites and prospects, it behooves architects to do nothing less. 
Saul may be best known for the many houses he designed but he also worked on other project types: numerous multifamily projects, resort developments (Salishan, Sun River, The Inn at the Seventh Mountain), assorted commercial and institutional projects, and restorations & additions to historic structures (including Timberline Lodge and the Vista House at Crown Point). Curiously, he never was chosen to design a project at the University of Oregon, his alma mater. Oregon State University did hire him for several jobs, so the Beavers win head-to-head against the Ducks in the Saul Zaik architecture sweepstakes.  
Naito House, Salishan
Bottom line, I find Saul and his work fascinating because he’s a living piece of Oregon’s architectural heritage. He’s Oregon-born, bred & educated, and a direct link to such seminal masters of northwest modernism as Pietro Belluschi and John Yeon. He’s designed projects on the Oregon coast, in Portland, throughout the Willamette Valley, in the Cascades, and on the High Desert. If anyone can be described as the quintessential Oregon architect, Saul Zaik is that person. 
One of the delightful aspects of Saul’s visit with us was to learn about his friendship with AIA-SWO’s own Paul Edlund, AIA, FCSI. The two grew up as youngsters together, from their time as Cub Scouts on. It was great to see the two men interact, two peas in a pod formed a lifetime ago. 
Now 86 years old, Saul still relishes every opportunity to exercise his craft. Saul’s newest clients sought his services after admiring the six Zaik homes featured on the Mid-Century Modern Home Tour hosted by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon this past May. This latest project, sure to be an instant classic, will be built in Philomath.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Case Study – Part 5: Sustainability

One of the two houses at the VA Roseburg Community Living Center Expansion under construction, August 2013 (my photo)
This is the fifth post of a series dedicated to a case study of a single project—the VA Roseburg Healthcare System Community Living Center (CLC) Expansion— designed by Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. Click on “A Case Study” in the Labels list at right for the full series.

It’s been far too long (over a year to be precise) since I last posted an entry in my Case Study series. As I chronicled in Part 2, the Community Living Center Expansion project for the VA Roseburg Medical Center has endured more than its share of twists and turns. We completed construction documents in March 2012 but it would not be until last fall that the government solicited bids from a pool of disabled veteran-owned general contractors classified as small business enterprises. Ultimately, the VA awarded the contract to build the CLC Expansion to Glen/Mar Construction (headquartered in Clackamas, OR). Glen/Mar broke ground earlier this year, and construction of the new facility is now in full-swing. If everything continues to proceed smoothly as it has so far, the CLC Expansion will be ready to accept its first residents in March of 2014. 

The VA directed our team to design the CLC Expansion project to comply with the federal Sustainable Design and Energy Reduction Manual for New Construction and use LEED’s Healthcare Rating System as a guideline for documentation and compliance. The reasons include long-term operational savings for the VA, a healthier work and patient environment, and a desire to contribute toward the reduction of greenhouse gases generated by the manufacture and transport of construction products. We were pleased the VA embraced sustainability as an ethos and endorsed LEED HC certification for the project. 

The VA’s mandate to comply with the sustainable design standards only came after we completed an initial schematic-level design. Like the transformative shift toward patient-centered design (as opposed to a focus upon providing for staff efficiency first), our new pursuit of LEED certification for the project necessitated a complete reassessment of design objectives and processes. These included adopting an integrated design process, beginning with a full-team meeting to discuss the federal mandates and set realistic goals for the CLC given the site & project-specific parameters. 

We identified a list of LEED credits as either probable or possible for inclusion into the CLC. The number of targeted points totals more than 50, enough to secure LEED Silver certification. Highlights of the sustainable strategies we incorporated in our design include:

Sustainable Sites:
  • Restoration of the site area with native or adaptive vegetation
  • Convenient bicycle parking and preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles
  • No new parking on site, instead retaining existing parking and only introducing new passenger drop-off and loading zones constructed with pervious pavement
  • Limited exterior light pollution
  • Outdoor areas of respite for staff and residents
  • “Rain gardens” to detain and control all of the impervious stormwater runoff
Water Efficiency:
  • Overall reduction of water usage by more than 40%
  • Rainwater harvesting to provide water for irrigation and flushing of toilets
  • Low flow plumbing fixtures
  • Sub-metering to track water usage of various building systems  
Energy and Atmosphere:
  • Optimized energy performance 14% more efficient than required by ASHRAE 90.1-2007
  • No CFC-based refrigerants
  • Low-emitting boilers and water heaters
  • Solar hot water heating
Materials and Resources:
  • Materials (including furniture and medical furnishings) boasting high recycled content, third party green certification, or regional sourcing
  • Materials free of persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic (PBT) ingredients
  • A construction waste management plan
Indoor Environmental Quality:
  • Low-emitting materials (including adhesives, sealants, floor coverings, paints and other coatings) with no or low-VOC content
  • IAQ procedures during construction and prior to occupancy to maintain air quality
  • Acoustical privacy between spaces, especially around resident rooms
  • Ease of lighting and thermal systems control
  • Outdoor air delivery monitoring
  • Access to views and daylighting
The extent to which would could implement aggressive energy-conservation strategies was limited by VA Healthcare System standards for HVAC systems. Specifically, issues regarding infection control and patient thermal comfort trumped aggressive energy-conservation tactics (such as greater reliance upon passive ventilation).

The primary HVAC system is a single variable-volume air handling type providing space cooling, heating, and ventilation air for all spaces. Chilled water piping routed through existing tunnels from the campus’ chiller plant will provide mechanical cooling for the project. Two 500 MBH high-efficiency gas-fired condensing boilers will furnish heating.

The HVAC system groups core staff and common areas into common thermal zones to maintain comfort as appropriate for the space function. By contrast, each patient room will be a dedicated VAV zone.  Airflow to each space will modulate to meet thermal loads yet maintain minimum ventilation requirements set forth in the VA Design Guidelines. All supply, return, and exhaust air will be fully ducted. As a continuously staffed inpatient building, design space conditions for patient care areas will be capable of setpoints from 66-78 deg F but typically maintained in the following operating ranges during all hours: 
  • Heating:  68-72 deg F
  • Cooling:  72-76 deg F
Central fans at each of the two houses will handle necessary air exhaust; these will be located with convenient access above the ceiling, connected to gable-end louvers. Supply air filtration from the central air handling system will be MERV 14 (90-95%) cartridge media in accordance with VA Design Guidelines. 

The VA investigated procedures for purchasing grid-furnished “green power” for the CLC, but VA standards currently suggest that it is not desirable to do this on a building-by-building basis. We also deemed the initial costs for a photovoltaic system for the project budget to be higher than affordable, but we designed the building structure and electrical system to easily incorporate photovoltaics at a future date. 

Already underway, full building commissioning and measurement of systems, including commissioning of the thermal envelope, will ensure the completed building achieves the projected levels of performance. 

I’m a strong proponent for absolutely minimizing the negative impacts of buildings upon the environment; that being said, perhaps we could have taken greater strides toward making the CLC Expansion a true paragon of sustainability. Objectively, the project will be a good but far from outstanding example of environmentally conscious design. Achieving LEED Silver certification will be an accomplishment but one most would hardly consider remarkable these days. 

I do tend to be wary of obsessively emphasizing green building principles to the exclusion of equally important design concerns. There is a risk of having the tail wag the dog. In the grand scheme of things, how successful is a technically spectacular net-zero energy facility if it otherwise utterly fails to be what all good architecture is? How lasting and significant—how life-affirming and enriching—is a building that is merely an efficient machine? Real architecture has a soul. Sometimes this fact is ignored in a zealous and narrow-minded pursuit of LEED points. 

When we look back several years from now, I’m hopeful our balanced approach to the problem of designing a facility centered upon optimizing the quality of life and respecting the dignity of the VA’s dementia and Alzheimer’s patients will be validated. It’s not my intention to detract from the immense value and importance of green building strategies. Instead, it is to view sustainability as but one of many essential concerns architects must confront on every project. We cannot forget or neglect any of them. 

Next in the Case Study series: Modesty

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Be There or Be Square

Erratum: The correct date for the 10square event is Friday, September 6.

Design|Spring is hosting its 6th 10square evening on September 6 in the Oregon Contemporary Theater’s new venue located at 194 W. Broadway in downtown Eugene. The design-focused event, which will start at 7:30 PM, is timed to coincide with the end of September’s First Friday Art Walk. 

You can be one of the ten presenters that evening. Each 10square participant individually takes the stage to present ten of his or her own slides. The ten slides are on screen for 30 seconds apiece in a predetermined order while the presenter discusses each slide as he or she sees fit. One of 10square’s appeals is its fast pace—there will only be the briefest of breaks between each presentation.

Any topic is fair game. The intent is to spark new ideas, connections, and conversations. 10square is also meant to be entertaining and informal—a great way to learn more about others in our design community. After the presentations, Design|Spring encourages everyone, speakers and audience alike, to stick around for follow-up discussion and fun.

I’ve attended three of the five 10square evenings produced so far by Design|Spring. I found each one thoroughly enjoyable and fully expect the 6th edition to be more of the same. I can't wait to see who the presenters are and what the topics they'll discuss will be. 

If you or anyone you know might be interested in being a presenter at this year’s 10square, contact Design|Spring at for more details. 

What: 10square

When: September 7, 2013 (at the end of the First Friday Art Walk)

Where: Oregon Contemporary Theater, 194 W. Broadway, Eugene

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Taiko & Architecture

Eugene Taiko on stage at the 2013 Obon Festival in Eugene (all photos by Jerry Gleason)
Some of you know that I am a member of Eugene Taiko, a community-based Japanese drumming ensemble. Since joining the group in 1989, taiko(1) has been a big part of my life and my sense of identity.(2) It’s the principal means by which I express my cultural heritage, something my family largely suppressed in the wake of their experiences during and immediately following the Second World War. Taiko drumming energizes my soul and body, connects me with the local Japanese-American community, and provides me with welcome relief from the stresses of my professional life. 

Eugene Taiko is one of the hundreds of modern kumi daiko ensembles located across the U.S. The term kumi daiko refers to the freestanding percussion ensemble style of taiko, which is distinct from the traditional drumming used in folk, Shinto, or Buddhist festivals in Japan. In fact, taiko drumming in the form most familiar to western audiences is largely an American art form of recent vintage, its origins only dating back to the 1960s when Seiichi Tanaka formed the first kumi daiko group in San Francisco. Today, kumi daiko is equally popular in Japan, which is home to several of the most renowned touring groups, among them Kodo and Ondekoza.(3) 

Most North American taiko groups are comprised of people like me who are anything but professional musicians. We play taiko for the reasons I stated above and also because the performances are such powerful experiences. The booming drums literally shake you to your core, drawing their energy from the earth itself.(4) Every piece is emotionally intense; each composition uniquely exciting. The tradition and rigor of taiko are held in common by all groups and yet each ensemble has its own personality. 

Eugene Taiko performs "Hachijo." That's me on the right.

Architect-blogger extraordinaire Bob Borson recently tweeted the link to his 2011 post “Harmony,” in which he wrote about the significance of music in his life, particularly during his formative years, and its influence upon his becoming an architect. Music likewise played a big part during my youth. Besides the obligatory piano lessons, I was also a quintessential band geek, mastering in turn the clarinet, saxophone, and ultimately the trombone. Regrettably, I left this side of my life in the rearview mirror when I entered college and architecture school. However, like Bob, my appreciation for music—its structure, process, and power to move us—would never really wane even though it would be many years before I could again describe myself as a musician. 

Goethe famously described architecture as “frozen music.” Countless architects, musicians, philosophers, and theorists before and since his time have attempted to define the parallels and common structures of the two arts. A quick Internet search yields an equally vast set of results. Among the most articulate of these, the following quote from one of my favorite writers on architecture, Charles Jencks, stands out: 

“. . . music and architecture have been intimately joined by a cosmic connection, the idea that they both are generated by an underlying code. This order, revealed by mathematics and geometry, was first espoused by Pythagoras who lived in southern Italy, and it led to many Greek temples designed on proportional principles revealing not only supreme beauty but the music of the heavenly spheres—either God or nature. 

“As abstract art forms based on rhythm, proportion, and harmony, architecture and music share a clear cultural lineage.” 

The website provides another excellent essay on the congruities between music and architecture: 

“Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti said that the same characteristics that please the eye also please the ear. Musical terms such as rhythm, texture, harmony, proportion, dynamics, and articulation refer both to architecture and to music. Rhythm in music is patterns of sounds in relation to a beat; repetition of elements - openings, shapes, structural bays- establish regular or irregular rhythm in architecture. Musical texture refers to layers of sounds and rhythms produced by different instruments. Architectural texture appears in different materials. Harmony is balance of sound or composition and balance of parts together. Proportion is relationship between parts; in music it is distance between notes or intervals. Dynamics is the quality of action in music or in a building’s facade or mass.” 

Taiko drumming relies mostly upon rhythm alone to communicate subtle nuances and deep emotions. Additionally though, taiko is very much a visual art form and in this regard the parallels with architecture are reinforced. Choreography is an essential aspect of every taiko performance. So too are colors and patterns. As with every taiko group, Eugene Taiko rigorously emphasizes form or kata. We systematically practice to hone our technique. Our elusive goal is the attainment of formal perfection through outwardly smooth and simple means. Formal perfection, especially when achieved with seeming effortlessness, is also a Holy Grail for architects. 

Ever since taking up taiko, I’ve mulled over what is common between taiko drumming and my love for architecture. I do think both pursuits appeal to me in ways that are more alike than different. Fundamentally, the beauty of both is grounded upon the foundations of tradition, their play upon order and structure, and the joy they are so capable of generating. I can’t imagine my life now without either. 

If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to see a taiko performance. Better yet, you need to see Eugene Taiko perform! Check out our website at, follow us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. We almost always have an event on our calendar and most of our performances are free and open to everyone. 

(1)     Translated from Japanese, “taiko” literally means “great” or “wide drum.” 

(2)     Fellow architect Ken Nagao formed Eugene Taiko the year before. He invited me to one of the group’s practices and I was instantly hooked. I joined as one of the youngest members of ET; I’m somewhat astonished by the fact that I’m now the oldest of the bunch. Taiko can be strenuous; most of the original members retired from the group because assorted physical ailments took their toll. I hope to stick with taiko as long as my body will allow me to. 

(3)     Both Kodo and Ondekoza have performed in Eugene. True to the nature of the close-knit taiko community, both groups embraced Eugene Taiko upon their visits to Oregon: in 2001 ET warmed up the Hult Center audience for Kodo, and Ondekozo taught us the popular taiko standard “Hachijo” when they visited with us in 1990. 

(4)     Practitioners of taiko consider their drums living things, members of the greater natural world of which we’re all a part.. Eugene Taiko has christened each of its drums with names such as “Mizu” (water), “Kokoro” (feeling), and “Ume” (plum blossom).