Saturday, November 30, 2013

2nd Annual Eugene Gingerbread Competition

Entries in last year's Eugene Gingerbread Competition (my office's submission is in the foreground)

Design|Spring is hosting the 2nd Annual Eugene Gingerbread Competition & Auction on Saturday, December 14 at Oakway Center. A jury of local celebrities will judge the entries and award prizes in several different categories. Judging will be based on the creativity of approach, quality of construction, and observation of the rules. The awards may include, but are not limited to: People’s Choice Award, Best in Show, Most Unusual, Most Economical, Most Innovative use of Materials, and Most Accurate Recreation of an Existing Building.

Here’s the schedule of events for December 14: 
  • 10:00-11:00 Entry Drop-Off
  • 10:00-5:00 Viewing, People’s Choice Voting, Silent Auction Bidding
  • 11:00-12:00 Official Judging
  • 12:00-4:00 Live Reindeer in the Heritage Courtyard
  • 1:00-2:00 Choir in the Heritage Courtyard
  • 4:00-4:30 Judging announcement and awarding of prizes
  • 5:00-6:00 Tastings
  • 5:30-6:00 Auction announcement and wrap up
  • 6:00-7:00 Entry Pick Up (entries may be claimed by appointment after the 14th at The Octagon, 92 East Broadway in downtown Eugene)
The competition isn’t limited to only those who are master builders or architects. Everyone is welcome to submit an entry!  Last year’s display featured eighteen colorful confections composed of candy, frosting, and gingerbread. My office—Robertson/Sherwood/Architects—assembled a sweet interpretation of a wintry Rockefeller Center in New York, complete with its iconic Christmas Tree. We had a great time conceiving and executing our design. This year, Design|Spring is hoping for and expecting even greater participation, so start making your plans now and register to enter. Don’t wait too long: you need to submit your completed registration form before the deadline on Friday, December 13. The first 50 entries will be given a space in the competition. To register, go to and fill out the registration form.

As added motivation to participate, the proceeds of this year’s silent auction (featuring those gingerbread creations donated for the cause) will benefit both Opportunity Village Eugene and Design|Spring.

If last year’s competition was any indication, the 2nd Annual Eugene Gingerbread Competition & Auction is sure to be a resounding success. Kudos to Design|Spring for directing its energy and enthusiasm toward the creation of what I am sure will become a lasting and delightful holiday tradition in Eugene.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life Space

The following is yet another excerpt from one of the many iterations of the late Bill Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. This selection dates back to 1970, and is perhaps his most unequivocal definition of experientially supportive design. Regardless, it only hints at the potential to create architecture that is stimulating, rich with diversity and choice, and full of opportunity. 

Bill struggled to successfully convey to his students the fundamental importance of how the buildings architects create are actually used and experienced; we were too easily distracted by the aesthetic and philosophical trends and fads of the period. Unfortunately, even today our profession is still too often beguiled by the latest shiny offerings from self-appointed taste makers. This is why returning to the basic principles that guide what architects do is important. Bill wanted us to always remember who it was we designed for and how the quality of the life spaces we designed for them support and enrich their lives. 

As a generative consideration frame for the design and analysis of the environment, LIFE SPACE is best defined as follows:

The precise network of facilities and spatial qualities needed to provide the opportunities and supports that people must continually have to be able to realize their full potential as alive human beings.

Each person's LIFE SPACE is a continuum and is part of a continuum. People's experience in the environment is continuous. Experientially at least, places do not exist as isolated units apart from other places; therefore, experiential support must exist in as much of the environment as possible, not just in some parts of it. Any specific LIFE SPACE must encompass at least some of the following scales:
  • Personal living spaces: These include the inside of places of habitation (the most personal and private parts), together with spaces immediately outside which extend to varying degrees into the surrounding spaces.
  • Intermediate places or rooms: These include all those frequently traveled paths, places, or sets of places that may not fit into the personal category but which are nevertheless important because people may usually spend much time there.
  • Territory: This includes all frequently visited or frequently used places. It changes with time and varies according to time. For example, a person’s territory for one week will probably include fewer places and less space that the same person’s territory for one month or one year, etc. Also, one’s territory for one period of time may not be the same for another period of time. 
LIFE SPACE includes much more than places of habitation. A fine house, if set in a desert, would be an impoverished life space for most people most of the time. On the other hand, a modest house together with a diverse, facility-rich, and accessible place would be a reasonably supportive life space for most people. It is clear any specific LIFE SPACE must include: 
  • The facilities, services, equipment, and dimensional relationships that may be needed for the physical, psychological, social, and cultural well-being of the people involved. This means that there must be a precise arrangement of transportation and communication support, medical care facilities, shops, places for meetings and social contact, play spaces, places for intellectual pursuit, places for wandering and solitude, places for wondering and contemplation, places for rest, places that are completely personal, places shared, etc. 
  • Inasmuch as this part of LIFE SPACE involves “what” and “where” (but not “how”) it is possible to diagram it. Any specific diagram would show: places of habitation, required facilities, frequency of facility use, required facility grouping, required maximum distance from facilities to place of habitation, and path systems used most frequently. The diagram would need to be changed as circumstances change. It could emphasize one scale or all LIFE SPACE scales. It would identify critical areas for design; that is, those places and paths that are of special importance because people will be there very often. A diagram could be for one individual, it could be a composite diagram (overlapping many individuals), or it could be a group diagram (showing requirements for groups rather than individuals).
While the facilities, services, and relational characteristics of LIFE SPACE provide certain kinds of support, they alone do not ensure an experientially supportive environment. Each specific LIFE SPACE must also embody many relatively intangible or immeasurable structural qualities if it is to be personally meaningful for those who inhabit it. An experientially supportive environment implies by definition a place (places) that people will find good and right in the broadest sense. An experientially supportive environment will be challenging and stimulating, understandable, meaningful on many levels over time, full of opportunities for spontaneous involvement and innovative use, full of diversity and choice. 

It is clear that LIFE SPACE for one person is not necessarily the same as that for someone else. Because of the many variables in life circumstances, the same place may be experientially supportive for one person and unsupportive for another; or supportive at one time and not at another. 

It is also clear that a person’s LIFE SPACE must change as that person’s circumstances change. As a person exists in time, that person will become a new person many times over and consequently will need many LIFE SPACES. If that person stays in one place, that place will have to provide many different LIFE SPACES. 

These last observations suggest the need for many LIFE SPACES that coexist and physically overlap. In other words, whether because of the simultaneous presence of many people or because of changes that occur constantly, an experientially supportive environment must be tightly packed with diversified opportunities and supports. 

Finally, it is clear that the description of LIFE SPACES for individuals and groups will identify both the particular and the shared experiential supports needed by those people. This description of needed supports constitutes a criteria base that can be useful in several ways: 
  • To make comprehensive and detailed analyses of existing environmental quality, identifying both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Such analyses will allow us to determine definitively when an existing place is superior to a proposed new one. 
  • To make comprehensive and detailed evaluations of proposed projects in advance of their construction. Evaluation of proposed developments using this criteria base will show up narrowly conceived and unsupportive characteristics. 
  • To generate new design proposals. The extensive criteria base which can be developed from analyses of LIFE SPACE will suggest not only many design ideas but areas for design and the need to be involved in many environmental scales simultaneously. At first, when little experience with this criteria base exists, design ideas will develop slowly but as experience accumulates the criteria base will become better understood and more ideas will come. These in turn will tend to both clarify the criteria base and expand it. Soon it will be possible to begin designing with a comprehensive and precious awareness of experiential considerations for any environmental situation. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

LEED v4 Launch Update

The US Green Building Council continuously engages in a process of revising and improving its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems. The USGBC will launch LEEDv4, its latest major overhaul of the system, this month at Greenbuild in Philadelphia. LEEDv4 represents the biggest change in the history of LEED. 

The Eugene Branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council invites everyone to a discussion about this latest iteration of LEED, and how it will affect the green building community. The event will take place on Tuesday, November 19 (in advance of Greenbuild) in the Tykeson Room at the Eugene Public Library, and is free to everyone. Gabe Cross, chair of the Eugene Branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council, will introduce the changes to LEED, which include updated technical content, an improved user interface, simplified LEED Online forms, and easier to read Reference Guides.

Gabe is a founding member and principal at New Axiom, LLC. He oversees LEED documentation for construction projects and acts as a sustainability consultant for business operations and building projects. In addition to his work for New Axiom, Gabe is an instructor for the Northwest Energy Education Institute, a program of Lane Community College, where he teaches courses on LEED, Energy Efficiency Methods, and Alternative Energy Technology. In addition to being Chair of the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Eugene Branch, Gabe is Facilitator of the Living Building Collaborative Eugene. Gabe also serves on the Board of Directors of BRING Recycling, sitting on the planning committee.

What:  LEEDv4 Launch Update 

When:  Tuesday, November 19, 2013 – 12 PM noon 

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

RSVP: Please RSVP at Eventbrite – space is limited!

Cost:  Free of Charge

Please walk, bike, carpool or take a bus

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sea Change – Part 2: Transitions

One of downtown Vancouver's multimodal streets (photos by me). 

This is the second of two posts about the 2013 American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region Conference, which took place this past October 23-26 in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

A number of AIA-Southwestern Oregon members made the trek north to attend the 2013 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region conference in Vancouver. Of course, as one of the Region directors, Bill Seider, FAIA did much to ensure its success. AIA-SWO president Will Dixon and president-elect Scott Clarke represented the chapter as voting delegates at the Region board and general meetings. Jonathan Stafford, Paul Dustrud, Jyoti Naik, and Jim Robertson were among the others rounding out the AIA-SWO entourage. 

Outside of the convention center, spectacular October weather ensured everyone’s visit to Vancouver was exceedingly pleasant and kept my explorations of the city by foot dry and comfortable. I do make a point of taking stock of the latest developments every time I’m in the city. I found plenty of construction activity on the downtown peninsula, including more of the tall, glassy condominium towers for which Vancouver has become synonymous. 

I’ve said it before: Vancouver is a living case study for high-density, transit-oriented urban design. Vancouver is North America’s poster child in this regard, albeit the continent’s least affordable city to live in. Worldwide, only Hong Kong surpasses Vancouver when it comes to the cost of housing. Regardless, the tower-plus-podium morphology that is characteristic of Vancouver has proven an effective instrument for achieving compact city development. 

My parents live in the Buchanan tower atop the Madison Centre shopping mall in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, B.C.

Speaking of housing and transit-oriented development, my aging parents recently sold their house in Vancouver to take up residency in one of those tall condo towers. Their new home is actually located in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, right on top of the Madison Centre shopping mall and just a block away from the Brentwood Skytrain station. Skytrain is the Vancouver area’s heavily used rapid transit system, part of an extensive multimodal public transit network. More than once during my stay, my father made the short journey by elevator to the Sav-On-Foods supermarket downstairs to pick up groceries. Sure beats driving to do one’s shopping. 

I used Skytrain to commute to and from the Convention Centre on the downtown waterfront (I spent nights during my stay on my parents’ living room couch), much more quickly and at less cost than if I had traveled by car. It’s noteworthy that Vancouver’s investment in public transit and emphasis upon densification has resulted in a 10% decrease in vehicle trips and a 4% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions despite a 22% increase in population since 1990.  

I had the pleasure of speaking with numerous AIBC members who said how much they welcomed the opportunity to interact with their AIA counterparts. They expressed the hope we could enjoy further joint conferences in the future. Ironically, this first joint AIBC/AIA-NW&PR conference may also be the last. 

While I haven’t been a member of the NW&PR board since 2010, I attended both the Region board meeting and the general member meeting while in Vancouver. The Region has assumed primary responsibility for producing future NW&PR conferences, assisting local components who alone would find the burden overwhelming. Southwest Washington was scheduled to host the 2014 Region Conference in Tacoma, but the Region board elected to not proceed with a flow-blown event next year (there may be a reduced-scope leadership conference instead). Indeed, whether there is another NW&PR conference along the lines of those we’re familiar with in following years is an open question. 

Additionally, I was surprised to learn that AIA Washington Council will no longer handle administrative duties for the Region, a role it held for many years. The board discussed options for delivery of Region services but left the conference with no definitive plan in place. My understanding is the decision to part ways was a mutual one, considered to be in the best interest of both the Washington Council and the Region. 

Bill Seider and his fellow Region Director Greg Kessler, FAIA, did provide us with an update on AIA’s “repositioning,” the changes to the Institute’s overall governance structure. The Region director positions will remain but the directors will no longer hold fiduciary responsibilities. Those duties will fall to the members of the Institute board, who will be elected at large nationally. The new structure is analogous to the bicameral organization of the U.S. congress. 

The members in attendance at the Region Business Meeting did elect a new College of Fellows Region Representative (Butch Reifert, FAIA), and also a new Region Director (Donald King, FAIA, who will succeed Greg Kessler). Bill and Greg announced the new Young Architects Fellow (Shannon Peterson, AIA) and the new Region Associate Director (Lucas Gray, Assoc. AIA).  

Surrey City Centre Library, by Bing Thom Architects
Attending the conference provided me with a reunion of sorts with my former employer Bing Thom, AIA, FRAIC of Bing Thom Architects (BTA), and several of my BTA colleagues, including Arno Matis, MAIBC, Dean Paterson, MAIBC, and Scott Kemp, MAIBC, who happens to be the current AIBC Council President. It was great to reconnect with each of them. I will have more to say in a forthcoming blog post about Bing, who is arguably the most highly regarded Canadian architect in current practice. 
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I attend conferences because they’re energizing. This year, it was the AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference in Vancouver; next year, it may be the Oregon Design Conference at Salishan, the AIA National Convention in Chicago or CSI’s CONSTRUCT in Baltimore. It’s more than just continuing education and collegiality that draws me to these gatherings; it’s also the opportunities to address issues larger than those I regularly encounter in everyday practice. It’s the ability to see the big picture that sets architects apart, and it’s at conferences where that picture comes into focus.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sea Change – Part 1: Architecture on the Crest

Interior of the Vancouver Convention Center (all photos by me)
This is the first of two posts about the 2013 American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region Conference, which took place this past October 23-26 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It’d been a few years since I attended an American Institute of Architects region conference; in fact, the last one I did take in was the 2010 edition hosted by AIA-Southwestern Oregon here in Eugene. The fact this year’s conference took place in Vancouver, B.C.—the city in which I was born, raised, and spent the formative years of my professional career—made my decision to attend an easy one. 

Dubbed “Sea Change: Architecture on the Crest,” the conference reflected a unique, cross-border connection. It was the result of a joint effort between the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) and the AIA Northwest & Pacific Region, the first time the two organizations have collaborated in this way. With a geographic proximity that brings shared influences, familiar cultures, and common ground on so many levels, one has to wonder why this obvious partnership hadn’t previously been forged. 

“Sea Change” presented an opportunity for those on hand to reconsider the role of the architect as a wave of environmental change reshapes our planet and our profession. This change is taking place irrespective of borders such as the one that separates Canada and the United States. A joint conference for architects from both sides of this boundary was a logical outcome and a welcome occasion to come together and discuss issues of common concern. 

The conference featured a wide variety of continuing education offerings. Here are some of plenary sessions and programs I attended: 

The Personality of Architects
Dr. Brian Little – Distinguished Scholar, Department of Psychology, Cambridge University 

Our first plenary speaker, Dr. Brian Little, described how personality differences play a pivotal role in the profession of architecture. Some architects are highly creative architects, while others of us are less so. Why is this? What are the personality traits that are markers for creativity? Dr. Little expounded on the myth of the creative hero and the diverse personalities of real-world architects. 

He asked everyone in the audience ten questions. We assigned a score between one and ten to represent the extent to which the personality trait expressed in each question matched our perception of ourselves (the scores I gave myself are in parentheses): 
  1. Are you outgoing or reserved? (5) 
  2. Are you easily bored? (5) 
  3. Are you optimistic? (7) 
  4. Are you thick-skinned? (3) 
  5. Are you blunt and straightforward? (4) 
  6. Do have a high need for excitement? (3) 
  7. Are you fast-paced? (10) 
  8. Do you have a high need for social contact? (5) 
  9. Are you spontaneous? (3) 
  10. Are you extraverted?  (5)
My total score was 50, which according to Dr. Little means I’m an “ambivert,” someone who is essentially an introvert but can cross lines and become extraverted when I need to be (I have an “ambidextrous” personality). The scores for others revealed they were either more decidedly extraverts or introverts, or ambiverts like me. 

According to Dr. Little, being open to new experiences is the biggest differentiator of the creative class. You’d think creativity would favor extraverts, but the key is actually personality and the state of arousal required to perform creatively. Extraverts require a high degree of arousal (through new and exciting challenges), more than is necessary for introverts (who can find inspiration in reflection and quieter moments). The bottom line is that we shouldn’t act out of character, delight in our differences, and design in ways that are true to our first natures. 

Rising Tides
Moderator: Jean-Pierre Mahe, AIBC, AAA, MRAIC, LEED AP BD+C – Architect, Morrison Hershfield Ltd.
Gene Duvernoy, JD, MBA – President & CEO, Forterra
Nicole Faghin, JD, LEED AP
Sadhu Johnston, LEED AP 

As a coastal region, the Pacific Northwest is directly impacted by the threat of rising sea levels and related environmental impacts. This in turn has a significant impact on the way architects design buildings, including the need for future innovation that addresses issues of energy, sustainability, livability, and population growth. It touches upon how we build our communities, interact with our environment, and live in harmony with proper care and consideration for our natural resources. The Rising Tides panelists discussed the lead role architects can and should play in matters that are reshaping our communities and threatening our quality of life. 

The facts associated with the coming crisis are sobering: 50% of the world’s population lives near a coastline. Scientists predict a 0.5 meter sea level rise by 2050, and a 1.0 meter rise by 2100. Accompanying this will be increasingly chaotic weather, and with it violent storms, flooding, and coastline erosion. Associated storm surges and high tides magnify the risk. The impact upon people around the world is almost unimaginable. 

What are our options? We can protect, accommodate, or retreat. We will have to adapt to climate change by changing our cultures and creating climate-resilient regions. The Pacific Northwest will inevitably experience significant in-migration as people abandon areas more severely impacted by rising temperatures and sea levels. Preserving our great landscapes, agricultural land, and communities will be the pressing challenges as we confront the rising tides. What would Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, or Fredrick Law Olmstead do to if they were here with us today? 

Toward a Culture of Wood Architecture
Jim Taggart, FRAIC 

With its availability throughout the Pacific Northwest, its adaptability to local circumstances, and the development of new applications, wood offers unique possibilities for dispersing social, economic, and environmental benefits. 

Today, the use of wood in architecture is fostering a revival of regional architecture in our region. Jim Taggart imagines a revitalized wood culture based on enterprise, innovation, and stewardship. The ethos of sustainability has invigorated regionalism, and architects are exploiting the aesthetic potential of a “constructive environmentalism.”  Additionally, the wood products industry is learning how to use wood fiber more efficiently. He believes wood can contribute significantly to mitigating climate change (greenhouse gas emissions associated with wood buildings are 6 to 8 times less than those involved with the production of non-wood buildings). Jim is optimistic about how the wood products industry can provide widespread decentralized economic and social benefits, and help reaffirm our regional and cultural identity. 

Return to Commonsense – A Cure for Confusion
Florian Maurer, Architect AIBC, MRAIC, LEED AP 

The architect’s role has always been to understand enough about a lot of things to bring them together in a product everybody can comprehend; to have the “big picture.” Unfortunately, fragmentation and the complexity of humanity’s body of knowledge have distracted us. We silo information and favor linear solutions. A system based on greed causes some to panic, concentrated power corrupts, and we tend to forget our strengths and duties. 

Florian Maurer believes architects need to redirect their perspective to find remedies. We tend to find comfort in detail and breaking down our problems into small fragments, but by doing so we silo information and settle for simplistic, linear solutions. He says the key lies in the commonsense, in an integrative view of the world. The whole may be inexplicable and intimidating, but it is the whole that we must seek and embrace. 

Interestingly, Florian does not like the manner in which sustainability is commonly practiced, believing it to be further evidence of our reflexive need to categorize, itemize, and compartmentalize architecture and our views of the world. Sustainable architecture misses the point if it fails to bring us joy. Ultimately, Florian wants us to design with comfort and love in mind. If we’re not doing this, are we really fulfilling our duty as architects? Are we truly seeing the big picture? 

Recently built condominium towers crowd downtown Vancouver's Coal Harbor neighborhood.

Non-Identical Twins: Seattle & Vancouver
Trevor Boddy, Hon. AIA, MRAIC 

I’ve always found Trevor Boddy’s architectural musings and criticisms spot on. His writing is flamboyant, opinionated, and provocative. Seattle and Vancouver are his most frequent haunts, and it’s clear he has a deep affection for both cities. Though the two Northwest metropolises are about the same age, share a similar climate and bio-region, and boast comparable social features, Trevor nonetheless can delineate their surprisingly different approaches to city building and architecture. 

In a nutshell, Trevor asserts that Vancouver is primarily a maker of memes whereas Seattle is a maker of corporations. 

Most people are likely unaware that such global ideas and movements as “Generation X,” Greenpeace, “cyberspace,” and the Occupy Movement originated in Vancouver. The city is a meme itself—“Vancouverism”—an urban planning and architectural technique characterized by mixed-use developments featuring a medium-height, commercial podium coupled with narrow, high-density residential towers designed to preserve view corridors. The residential population downtown has become so great that it may soon overtake the number of daytime employees who work there (with a net outflow of workers rather than an influx each morning). 

Seattle, on the other hand, is an economic powerhouse, a nexus for some of biggest names in the new economy: Costco, Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia among them. The presence of these corporations, and the wealth they’ve generated, stand in stark contrast to the virtual absence of comparable counterparts headquartered in Vancouver. Seattle is a city open for business whereas unaffordable Vancouver has (unwittingly) become an urban-scaled resort for the wealthy. 

I love Vancouver but also fear its current trajectory is economically unsustainable. 

The Future of the Profession
Moderator: David Zach – Futurist, member of the AIA Board
Scott Kemp, Architect, AIBC
Daniel Friedman, PhD, FAIA
Anne Schopf, FAIA – Mahlum 

The Friday plenary session tackled the future of the profession as its subject matter. The distinguished panelists gamely attempted to answer the looming questions. Can architecture be vital again? What does the future hold for the next generation of practitioners? Might global trends and regional issues that are undermining the traditional role of architecture in our communities actually be opportunities for an architectural resurgence? 

The tenor of the session overall was introspective, as each panelist spoke candidly about their hopes and fears for architecture in the years to come. As moderator, futurist David Zach set the tone by shining a spotlight on what he suspects the years immediately ahead of us augur. We know the cost of complexity is dropping rapidly. Because 80% of what we used to do as architects is now better done by machines, it’s incumbent upon us to improve the 20% human beings continue to excel at. We cannot succumb to our fear of risk or failure, only seeking succor in the slow tyranny of comfortable fear. Why can’t we print buildings? Grow buildings? Redistribute manufacturing? Bypass our objections? 

The common thread connecting the thoughts of Scott Kemp, Daniel Friedman, and Anne Schopf was the role of architects as leaders and why we must demand a great deal from ourselves. Our work is no longer necessarily top-down or linear. We’re as apt to find ourselves having to lead from the center as well as from the front, a function of the increasing complexity of our projects and the roles we assume as architects. As a profession we’re in an adaptive phase, and our world feels slippery and unstable. A corollary to this is that our careers are no longer ladders; instead they’re more like jungle gyms. We’re apt to take unexpected twists and turns while hanging on for dear life. 

How do we remain relevant in such an uncertain world? The panelists seemed to agree thinking outside of the box wasn’t enough—we’ll need to think into other boxes as well. We’ll need to understand and exploit our skills but also recognize where the gaps in those skills are. 

Making Chaos Work for You: Strategies for Post-Recession Success
Rena Klein, FAIA 

A frequent speaker at AIA events, Rena Klein is both an architect and a practice management consultant to architectural firms nationwide. She firmly believes small firms have to find their position in the “new normal” of 21st century architectural practice in order to survive.

Even as they have the potential to maximize creativity and enthusiasm, small firms are challenged by unpredictable workloads, uneven productivity, a lack of resources, and constant change. Quoting United States Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki, Rena stressed the need for us to “learn to like change because if we don’t, we’ll like irrelevancy even less.” We need to identify our core competencies, do what we do best, and set ourselves apart from our competition. 

Rena offered examples of several small firms who have found what they are best at and are exploiting niches in the architectural marketplace. Finding a niche (such as becoming known as the go-to local partner for out-of-town firms on large, prestigious projects) is a clear strategy for post-recession success. Another is for individual architects to become more project-related, rather than firm-related, by offering contract services to larger, more established offices. 

Whole Life Sustainability
Dr. Ian Ellingham, PhD, OAA, FRAIC – Cambridge Architectural Research Ltd.

Dr. Ellingham’s goal is help architects become more effective, independent decision-makers. Toward this objective, he introduced the notion of utilizing qualitative and quantitative tools based on the concept of whole-life sustainability. The key concept is that of making decisions to achieve balance, neither overinvesting nor under-investing capital and physical resources toward achieving an optimal outcome. A classic example is spending lavishly on cutting-edge energy-conserving technologies that offer no net return on that investment during the useful life of the building. More often than not, the real cost of exotic systems (including embodied energy) exceeds their benefits. Understanding this fact is a prerequisite to informed decision-making. 

Dr. Ellingham pointed out traditional techniques for whole-life costing fail to take into account future uncertainty; thus, another key take-away from his presentation is the need for considering a diversity of possible futures. Ideally, architects would not design buildings that obstruct options for future decision-makers. 

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It would have been great to have taken in additional sessions but I could only be in one room at a time. Because our profession is constantly evolving, there is always so much to learn. It’s our professional duty to assure our professional competence and relevance, and continuing education is crucial in this regard. The need to cultivate our skill sets and knowledge is one reason I’ve found a career in architecture so rewarding. It is also why conferences and the wealth of education they typically provide are invaluable, convenient, and worthwhile for all of us. 

Next: Sea Change – Part 2: Transitions