Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Case Study – Part 6: Modesty

The administration of the VA Roseburg Healthcare System has christened its new Community Living Center Expansion as “The Lodge.” (my photos)

This is the sixth 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. 
Once again, far too much time has elapsed since the last entry in my Case Study series of posts about the Community Living Center Expansion project for the VA Roseburg Healthcare System. Since I wrote Part 5 in August of 2013, construction of the project has progressed in fits and starts (see the section below entitled “Reality Check”). The protracted process and its attendant frustrations have afforded me plenty of time to reflect on its design and how architecture will play a role in helping its future residents enjoy the best lives possible despite their circumstances. The bottom line is this project has reaffirmed my conviction that architects should, first and foremost, design places that embody human concerns and deeply connect with their users. 
Central to this conviction is a necessary dose of modesty. By nature, my colleagues at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and I shy away from architectural bravado. We believe audacity has its place in architecture but we’ve yet to be involved in a project that warranted self-important posturing or bluster. In part this is because the majority of our commissions are in the public sector, where we’re expected to act as stewards of a community’s trust and novelty for its own sake is frowned upon. Mostly though, we understand who it is we are designing for. 
Our office isn’t known for a signature style. We don’t attempt to emulate the recognizable work of others, nor do we subscribe to any of the passing “isms.” Instead, we focus upon creating physical conditions that are experientially supportive for people. We bear in mind all that should be considered in design and try to do that well. We avoid bringing preconceptions to our work, preferring instead to draw out good design ideas by determining how the individuals who will encounter, live with, or work in our projects see their world. We also make a point of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of existing places so that our design responses appear appropriate, connected, and in harmony with their historical and physical contexts. 
Modesty also presumes speaking in a language most people understand. We don’t see the point of designing in a way that fails to resonate with those our buildings are intended to serve. We choose not to follow the whims of fashion. We’re more than happy to leave the reinvention of the wheel to architects who are more proficient at creating seminal work. There may be occasions suitable for aesthetic and philosophical experimentation but the design of the CLC Expansion project wasn’t one of them. 
Accordingly, our design appears familiar and ordinary. We used sloping roofs and brick in conventional ways that echo those of the neighboring, older buildings. The roofs feature generous overhangs that shelter and protect the walls and windows beneath them. We complemented, defined, and captured the spirit of the place by emphasizing connections, respecting its structure, and unifying its parts. We allowed the natural landscape to play a role in the architecture. We treated our design as a participant in and contributor to the larger order of the campus. Inside, we created living spaces we hope will provide generous support for the needs of the users. We developed opportunities for interaction in varied types of spaces. We provided options for retreat by making places that feel defensible and safe, as well as edges and “in-between” spaces from which to observe and engage without necessitating full commitment. 
At the same time, we attempted to create an architecture that speaks to universal concerns, such as the arc of life, what it means to dwell upon this earth, and our connectedness with nature. Engaging in such weighty talk may seem pretentious or, dare I say, immodest. On the other hand, it is a means to enriching and adding to the experience of living. In the words of Sir John Summerson, it helps “bring out the values which are latent everywhere in the measured enclosure of space.”(1) 
It remains to be seen, but our hope for the CLC Expansion is that its residents and staff will find it to be a suitable response to the VA’s mandate to develop a supportive, patient-centered environment. If we did our job well, the completed project will enhance and most importantly dignify the ordinary lives of veterans burdened with the cruelest of afflictions. 
Living Room
Reality Check
The process of transforming design concepts into real-life brick and mortar is fraught with perils and pitfalls. Sometimes, it simply isn’t enough to produce a complete and coordinated set of construction documents—you need luck and favorable circumstances on your side as well. Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of public contracting and bidding often conspire against realizing the full promise of good intentions. 
Right out of the gate, the CLC Expansion suffered a gut punch: all of the competing bids came in over the project’s $8 million construction budget. Consequently, before awarding the contract for construction, the VA had no choice but to exercise all three of the deductive bid alternates we devised for such an outcome. Each one of the deductive alternates materially impacted the project: 

  • Alternate No. 1Delete the Pergola: Topped with a clear polycarbonate roof, the pergola would have sheltered residents and staff from rain or snow as they moved between the separate buildings that form the courtyard. Meaningfully, it would also have provided a visible tie to the classical details of the Georgian Revival porticos found on the neighboring WPA-era buildings, and also heightened the courtyard’s allusions to an idyllic arcadia
  • Alternate No. 2Substitute French Door Pairs for the Folding Glass Walls: During periods of favorable weather, the folding glass walls would have erased the barrier between the central courtyard and the living room of each house. The pairs of French doors in their place are much less effective at bringing the outside in and the inside out.
  • Alternate No. 3Substitute Plastic Laminate for Quartz at Countertops: Nuff said.
Together, the impact of the three alternates wasn’t so acute that they irretrievably compromise our overall design concept. Nevertheless, we grieve for each of them and lament what might have been. 
The CLC Expansion viewed from the south through a veil of existing, mature plantings. The medical center's circa 1932 main hospital building is visible on the right-hand side of the photo.

Part 5 of this case study optimistically projected completion of the CLC Expansion last March. It’s now late December, so it’s been nearly two years since it first broke ground in February of 2013. There’s no good reason why a project of this size and type should take so long to build. Workmanship issues have been the biggest factor (necessitating deconstruction and reconstruction of significant building components, such as the siding, soffits, and HVAC ductwork). Inadequate crews during key periods of the construction schedule also played a part. Additionally, frequent turnover of the contractor’s key supervisory personnel throughout the project did not help. The drawn out construction phase has cost Robertson/Sherwood/Architects dearly; there was no way we could anticipate the extra work nor could the VA’s mandated fee limitation assure us adequate compensation. 
What are the things I would change if we could do it all over again? The exterior color scheme for one: the gray we used at the courtyard walls is too cool and alien to the surrounding campus. In retrospect, a warmer and brighter scheme would be preferable. Other changes? A shift to a set of more neutral interior color palettes. Additional maneuvering space in the bariatric suites.  A simpler, more direct solution to the problem of routing the patient lift rails from the bedrooms to the bathrooms. Use of newer LED lighting technology. Overall though I’m satisfied with how completely we followed through and realized our original design concept. 
*    *    *    *    *   
The VA Roseburg Healthcare System will officially celebrate acceptance of the project, which it has dubbed “The Lodge,” at a formal ribbon-cutting on February 3, 2015. I’ll compose one final post in the Case Study series sometime following the ribbon-cutting event. I hope to feature better photographs of the completed project and possibly some initial feedback from the VA staff. Ultimately, it’s their opinion that will matter the most and be the true gauge of the project’s success. 
Next in the Case Study Series: Denouement
(1)   From Summerson’s book Heavenly Mansions.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best People

The inimitable Rosie Nice.
Any primer on running a successful business will tell you it is axiomatic that the best companies employ the best people. Assembling the right mix of talent and more importantly staff members who enjoy each other’s company is critical. This is particularly true for small companies since each employee figures so prominently in determining business success or failure. 
The overwhelming majority of architectural practices are small companies. With a current staff of fourteen, the firm I work for (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects) is no exception. To say we’re like a family is not hyperbole. Many of us have worked together for decades. We’ve shared our professional triumphs and failures, and our personal ones too. I attribute the good fortune we’ve enjoyed for so many years to our genuine affection for and ease with one another. It’s because of the people I work with that walking through our office door each day is as comfortable as slipping on an old shoe. 
Because we employ the right people, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects has a distinct personality. Definitely first among equals in this regard is our soon-to-be retired, longtime office manager Rosie Nice. More than anyone else (aside from principals Jim Robertson and Carl Sherwood), Rosie has been synonymous with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. By force of her character—and she is nothing if not a character—Rosie has shaped our office culture in immeasurably positive ways. 
Rosie came with the office when Jim and Carl purchased it from founders Don Lutes and Ron Sanetel in 1986. In fact, with the exception of a brief time away in the mid-seventies, Rosie has been the firm’s office manager, receptionist, bookkeeper, gadfly, chief cook and bottle washer for nearly forty years. During her time with us, she has provided our clients and visitors with their always memorable first impression of our office. She’s kept the ancillary aspects of our operation running smoothly so that we’ve been able to focus on service to our clients and creating the best architecture we can. 
Jim and Carl recently hosted a big party to thank Rosie for her inestimable contributions and celebrate her pending retirement. Well over a hundred of the professional colleagues, friends, and acquaintances she’s come to know during her long career were on hand. Everyone had a great time reminiscing with Rosie. Carl shared a tribute the members of our office composed for the occasion. It largely took the form of an affectionate and sometimes irreverent list of adjectives and nouns to help describe what Rosie has meant to us: 
For our uniquely. . . 
. . . beautiful, awesome, fabulous, fun, colorful, spirited, cheerful, witty, hilarious, friendly, memorable, authentic, raucous, one-in-a-million, genuine, obnoxious, outgoing, direct, indomitable, pushy, boisterous, stubborn, strong, spunky, scheming, considerate, thorny, cattle-prod-wielding, irreplaceable, technology resistant, warm, dedicated, loyal, persistent, brassy, loud, nutty, bodacious, caring, dependable, unfiltered, opinionated, full-of-life, huggable, kind and loving . . . 
. . . friend, partner, MVP, coworker, confidant, big sister, mom, rascal, shoulder-to-cry-on, listener, gad-about-town, hootenanny, kick-in-the-pants, bull-in-a-China-shop, handful, artist, treasure, character, heart-of-our-clan, piece-of-work . . . 
. . . and brightest will be missed! 
We love you, 
Carl, Jim…and the Gang! 
Jim Robertson (left) and Carl Sherwood (right) fete Rosie at her retirement party.
Rosie officially retires on December 31 but she’ll continue to help us out on an as-needed basis (Rosie’s relishing the opportunity to bill her services to us at a yet-to-be-determined exorbitant rate per hour). She’s been grooming her successor, Sherry White, since this past October, so we expect the transition to be smooth. Sherry brings a similar energy and enthusiasm to her work as Rosie always has, and is a great fit for our office. 
Personality traits—such as whether an employee has integrity, resiliency, self-confidence, and a strong work ethic—matter as much to employers, if not more, as one’s educational background or initial skill set. I’m pretty sure Robertson/Sherwood/Architects is not alone in this regard. Every firm has its own unique office culture. I’m so glad Rosie played an outsized role in shaping ours for so many years. 
All of us at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects wish Rosie and her husband, Tom, the best as she opens a new chapter in her life. We love her and will miss the undeniable energy she brought to the office each day. There’s no doubt about it: Rosie is one of the best people you could ever have the privilege to know!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Responding to Place

I’ve been a little slow on the blogging front lately as work and the holiday season’s social commitments have taken priority. Nevertheless, I do like to maintain a pace of at least one new post a week, so being able to draw upon the rich trove of Bill Kleinsasser’s writing is always a godsend. 
The following excerpts from Bill’s 1983 iteration of SYNTHESIS succinctly capture his thoughts on the importance of responding to place—achieving connection, particularity, orientation, physical continuity, and appropriateness vis-à-vis setting. 
In today’s hyper-connected world, people are increasingly failing to appreciate the characteristics that make a place special or unique. More and more, we’re losing our sense of authentic attachment and belonging to places of meaning and significance to us. Consequently, Bill’s words ring even truer today than when he wrote them more than thirty years ago. Read for yourself: 
When a building or place is made in response to the particular setting in which it is located, it established a silent, lasting definition of that setting. In its embodiment of the tangible and intangible qualities of place, it explains the place. 
A place that has been organized and shaped in response to its particular physical context establishes an opportunity to become more aware on that context. Responding to place entails analyzing the setting thoroughly in regard to the following characteristics and conditions: 
Solving Place Problems
  • Responding to weather and climate (the heat, the cold, the humidity, the dryness, the precipitation, the wind, etc.).
  • Responding to the physical character of the land (the topography, the vegetation, the drainage, the subsurface conditions, the ecological patterns).
  • Reducing scale (creating security and shelter), if appropriate.
  • Establishing appropriate separation and control.
  • Making necessary transitions.
  • Respecting the rights of others.

Developing Place Opportunities
  • Organizing spaces to let in sunlight.
  • Organizing and developing spaces to dramatize sunlight.
  • Utilizing solar and other natural energies.
  • Establishing connections to local features and phenomena.
  • Using the whole site (treating the building as one element in the making of a larger room) and going beyond the site to an even larger room by:
    • Reinforcing a larger order by continuing or completing an existing pattern or structure;
    • Reinforcing a larger order by augmenting the collective life space—that is, improving or adding to the spaces, paths, services, institutions or other facilities needed by those who will occupy the space, including those nearby;     
    • Embodying and expressing the essential spirit of the place, reflecting in the way the new construct is made the unique and distinguishing qualities of the place; and finally:
    • Diagramming important place-response ideas so that they may be fully understood and not forgotten as other objectives are considered.

Through its embodiment and expression of its setting, any built-place has the capacity to establish connections. By being of its setting through its designer’s response, a built-place can both define and dramatize that setting, including the processes occurring there, people and their values, and even moments in time. And we need to sense the connections between ourselves and all things—how we belong to each other and to the world—for, as we do so, we expand not only our experience but also our conception of reality and life. We enlarge our image banks and frames of reference. We grow in our ability to make a better world.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Understanding Geotechnical Reports

The Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute always endeavors to provide excellent continuing education opportunities to everyone in the local design and construction industry. The WVC/CSI Education Committee’s latest offering, Understanding Geotechnical Reports, promises to be no exception. 
Literally underlying every construction project, the importance of proper foundation design cannot be overstated. Three experts on the subject will touch upon a wide range of considerations, including water table & weather issues, foundation preparation, the deleterious impact of inaccurate soils data, expansive soils, and the responsibilities of design professionals (architects and structural engineers) when dealing with geotechnical challenges. 
I know each of the seminar’s panelists well and fully expect them to deliver a comprehensive overview of the topic in three brief, information-packed hours. 
The panelists are: 
Jim Maitland, Ph.D., P.E., G.E.
Principal and Founder of Foundation Engineering Inc.
35 years experience as a geotechnical engineer 
Matt Gralund, M.S., P.E., S.E.
Principal and Owner of Gralund Engineering, Inc.
25 years experience as a structural engineer

Curt Offenbacher, B.S.
OSU degrees in Civil Engineering Technology & Business Administration
40+ years experience as site superintendent, estimator, and civil construction department manager. 
This is the first time in recent memory that the chapter has offered a seminar on this important topic. Register now in advance of the event. Refer to the event details below; RSVP soon as space is limited. 
Registration: Contact Steve Gunn of Construction Focus, Inc., WVC/CSI Education Committee Chair, to let him know you plan to attend the seminar. Call him at 541-686-2031 or email him at 
What:   Educational Seminar: Understanding Geotechnical Reports
When:  Thursday, December 11, 2014
Registration: 8:00 AM - 8:30 AM
Program: 5:00 PM
Pastries/Tea/Coffee will be provided.
Where: Baker Downtown Center, 975 High Street, Eugene, OR
Parking available in the east lot.
Credits: 3AIA/CES HSW Learning Units 
Cost: $90 (CSI members $10 off); make checks payable to WVC/CSI 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Guest Viewpoint: Steven Leuck

The following is a reprint from the November/December 2014 edition of The Documentor, the newsletter of the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute. WVC/CSI president Steven Leuck wrote the piece as his monthly message to the WVC/CSI membership. 

With Steven’s permission, I’m republishing his article here on SW Oregon Architect for the benefit of those who read my blog but who do not receive The Documentor. I admire how much he personalizes his commentary on work-life balance and the perspective the younger generations in our workforce bring to that issue. 

Steven happens to be one of the founders (along with Jeff Brown) of Contractors Electric, LLC here in Eugene, a company he has poured his heart and soul into. If anyone understands the value of balancing one’s career with the other things in life that matter to us, it’s Steven. He knows the millennial cohort may be young, naïve, and idealistic, but it is also like most every generation that proceeded it. Young people have always wanted to challenge the status quo and question why things can’t be done differently. We (graying baby boomers like Steven and me) may believe we know how things should be done but that’s exactly the reason why it’s good to listen to the younger professionals who work with and for us. 

Here’s Steven’s message: 

Life Balance
By Steven Leuck, President WVC/CSI

Some months ago I read an article re-posted to Facebook by my grandnephew titled “Why the Millennial Architect Won’t Be Your CAD Monkey” (read the complete article here: My grandnephew received both his bachelors and masters in architecture here at the U of O some eight or nine years ago. He felt the article had some merit. I was astounded and dismayed by both the tone and the content of the article—which was, essentially, that the “millennial” architects now coming up through education and into our ranks are not satisfied with much of the old model by which experience has been traditionally gained through the current model. 

At first I was incensed over the article and took my grandnephew to task that he would actually believe what I saw as complete drivel and nonsense. But now, some months later as I re-read the article, I am seeing some truths poking out here and there to which we should be paying attention. The main one, and the one I’d like to bring to our attention here, is that of a notion of some sort of life-balance between our jobs, our projects and the quality of our personal lives. 

While there is quite a bit of this article that I just outright reject and condemn as “stinking thinking” there is at least one aspect of it that we should be paying attention to: life-balance. Not just as it applies to them but to us as well. Those coming out of school now and joining the ranks of the building construction professionals are part of a whole new world that has changed and is continuing to change at a much more rapid pace than we have ever seen in the past. It’s not that they expect more for less—it’s that they want and expect different things to meet their needs in a quickly changing world. We need to be keen to their desires to have some sort of balance in their lives such that they (and we!!) don’t feel as though our workaday activities are sucking the life out of us. 

I am, quite possibly, the worst example of not doing better at having a quality life-balance. Recognizing what would be required to get a construction company off the ground during an economic recession, I committed myself early on to spending enormous amounts of time at work and even more time after normal work hours to build community relationships with the end goal of building a successful business. We have reached most of our goals during these first four and a half years so far. But at what cost? At the time we started out, my wife and I were empty-nesters and we mutually agreed that this would be a good time for us to start a business, because the need to have me at home was not as great as the need to have me working our business plan. Now that we’re raising a grandchild we have to adjust this thinking—drastically. 

The new upcoming generation (now officially known as the “Linkster” generation) has a much different outlook on what they need for life-balance than many of us did when we started out. Some things remain and always will but we need to listen to what they’re saying to better understand them. Do we know what it is they’re really asking? How do we respond to them? Can we apply these things to ourselves and our own situations? 

I’m not saying I have the answers. But take a moment and read the original article. As you do, try doing so through a different pair of colored glasses. Try seeing it from the view point of someone just starting out and the way the changing world is now and will continue to affect them as they travel the road most of us have already traversed. See if you can find enough in here to re-create for the better some of what we do in order to achieve better balance—for ourselves and our companies.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What is Missing?

Still from Maya Lin’s video Unchopping a Tree

Acclaimed artist, architect, and designer Maya Lin (best known as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC) delivered the Oregon Humanities Center’s O’Fallon Memorial Lecture this past Thursday at the University of Oregon. I fully expected to be impressed by a review of Lin’s extraordinary oeuvre. What I and the many others who packed the EMU Ballroom didn’t expect was to come away both shaken and moved by what she has described as her latest and final memorial project: What is Missing? 

What is Missing? blends art and science to raise awareness about the ongoing loss of biodiversity and natural habitats. It is a multi-media, multi-site memorial that aims to build awareness about species loss and highlight what scientists and environmental groups throughout the world are doing to protect species and habitats. Maya Lin’s intent is to bring the magnitude of the sixth extinction to our attention through artistic means. 

Many of us are fully aware that we’re on the brink of a sixth mass extinction on par with the five others that have punctuated our planet’s history. I fear we may have already passed the tipping point insofar as large-scale climate change (and its concomitant and exponential acceleration of habitat and species loss) is concerned. It is beyond tragic. What is Missing? alerts us about the very real immediacy of the crisis and how catastrophic and dreadful its impacts will be if we choose to do nothing. This shouldn’t be necessary, and yet there I was in the audience shocked again by the magnitude of the calamity unfolding before us. It’s far too easy for me—for all of us—to ignore or forget our responsibilities to protect our planet when our day-to-day concerns are so distracting. 

What is Missing? debuted in 2009. Since then Lin has continuously been working on the ambitious undertaking in the form of multiple permanent and temporary art installations, more than 70 videos, and the What is Missing? interactive website(1). Among other things, she uses her work to emphasize the importance of preventing deforestation as a way of reducing emissions and protecting animals and habitat. She engages her audience through interactive media, asking visitors who view (and listen to) her work to contribute their own stories of loss and or recovery in the natural world.

I’m surprised I wasn’t previously aware of Maya Lin’s What is Missing? project. I like to think I’m pretty well-informed when it comes to the activities of the most notable thought-leaders in the design universe but I obviously wasn’t paying attention to what may prove to be her magnum opus. 

Lin did not devote the entirety of the lecture to What is Missing? She initially offered a brisk overview of her career’s work, glossing over her most familiar pieces (such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, the Women’s Table at Yale University, and the Wave Field at the University of Michigan). She did dedicate more time to the Confluence Project, perhaps because of the relative proximity of that series of outdoor installations and interpretive artworks to Eugene. Of these, I found the yet-to-be completed Celilo Park site the most intriguing, in part because of my familiarity with its important story(2)
Celilo Falls, before the falls were flooded by The Dalles Dam in 1957.

Maya Lin is obviously brilliant. She’s been blessed with opportunities to deliver her messages in ways that are impactful, perspective-altering, and thought-provoking. She is the rare personification of a total artist, equally at home with a variety of media at all scales. What is Missing? may be her “last” memorial but I fully expect she’ll never finish it, at least without the confidence that humankind has taken heed of its message. 
Click the link below for a video of Maya Lin’s complete November 20 lecture:

(1)    Curiously, the What is Missing? website appears to be inactive at the moment.

(2)    Years ago, my wife worked as an archaeologist on digs in the vicinity of where the now-lost Celilo Falls once served as a gathering place for thousands of Native Americans and an important salmon fishery.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Eugene Gingerbread Competition

Are you ready for the holiday season? If not, you need to be because the third annual Eugene Gingerbread Competition is quickly approaching! This year's event will take place on December 13 at The 5th Street Market.
AIA-Southwestern Oregon or CSI WillametteValley chapter members can enter a gingerbread creation into the Professional Category, vote for their favorite entry, buy a house during the silent auction, or simply enjoy the festive atmosphere. The Professional Category is for teams or individuals that include architects, landscape architects, bakers, contractors, or designers. 
My firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, proudly submitted an entry for the first contest back in 2012. Cleverly disguised as a fun time together, designing and assembling our sugary sweet project proved to be a great team-building exercise. We didn’t take home an award but we thoroughly enjoyed the agreeable distraction from our workday concerns. 
As with the 2012 and 2013 editions of the contest, the competition judges will bestow awards based on the creativity of approach, quality of construction, and observation of the rules. The awards may include the following: 
  • People’s Choice
  • Best in Show
  • Most Unusual
  • Most Economical
  • Most Innovative use of Materials
  • Most Accurate Recreation of an Existing Building
Entry forms are due on Friday, December 12. Register your entry online at: Act quickly as there will only be room for the first 50 submissions.

Start drawing your plans, heat up your ovens, and join what has become a delightful and welcome holiday tradition in Eugene!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Architecture is Awesome #7: The Process of Discovery

This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture. 
Like most creative pursuits, the practice of architecture is fundamentally a process of discovery. Each new project seduces us with its promise. Inherent in every design problem are possibilities, inventions, and an order of systems waiting to be revealed. The means of their discovery necessitates the exploration and study of concepts. Ultimately, the process rewards architects who embrace opportunities, brave the unknown, and dispel preconceptions. 
Paul Laseau described the process of discovery as consisting of two parts: 1) invention; and 2) concept formation. In his book Graphic Thinking for Architects & Designers, he explained how invention seeks the basic discovery—the original idea for the project—whereas concept formation converts the discovery into a graphic and verbal statement that can give basic direction to the full development of the project. 
But the process of discovery is much more as well. Its course is seemingly capricious, full of twists and turns. There are often surprises along the way. Some are welcome epiphanies. Others are roadblocks, obstacles that momentarily frustrate progress. Along the way, the journey is its own reward, its route marked by leaps of understanding and creativity. There is a great deal to be learned, and the learning is achieved by doing. 
The greatest thrill comes to us when the process suddenly reveals a clear and obvious path toward the solution we have been seeking. What was previously inscrutable swiftly and surprisingly becomes a simple, elegant, and robust design concept. This is our eureka moment, that exhilarating instant of the judged truth being laid bare. The process of discovery has coupled the thrill of creative effort with the joy of achievement. 
Because it can so often be unpredictable, exasperating, and difficult, the process of discovery is inherently challenging. Then again, it is also a voyage every architect willingly embarks upon. Like inveterate explorers, we repeatedly seek knowledge, insight, and answers to questions of great importance. Architecture is as much about how we arrive at our design solutions as it is about the designs themselves. We trust the process of discovery to get us where we want to go. 
Next Architecture is Awesome: #8: Transitions

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Social Networking Basics

Cherise Schacter, CSI, CDT
For its October 2014 meeting, the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute enjoyed having Cherise Schacter, CSI, CDT deliver an excellent presentation on social networking basics. 
I previously described Cherise to readers of SW Oregon Architect as an “absolute dynamo” and a “real up-and-comer,” though she has now most definitely arrived and is leaving an indelible mark on CSI. After only three short years as a CSI member, Cherise is already the Portland chapter president, chair of CSI’s Certification Preparation Committee, and a member of the CSI Academies planning team. She is also the undeniable queen of the CSI Krakens. As I’ve mentioned before, the CSI Krakens are the loudest cheerleaders of a movement that exemplifies the collaborative ethos of successful project teams. Any and every CSI member who wants to likewise join the crusade can become a CSI Kraken. 
Undoubtedly, social networking media are helping to spread the CSI Kraken fever. As Cherise reported, social media have become commonplace means for members of the AEC industry to communicate and share information and ideas. The bottom line is that if you’re not already engaged online, you’re definitely behind the curve. There’s no time like the present to jump in, expand your reach, and grow your professional network. 
Cherise has become an authority on the topic of online social networking. Her impressive Twitter statistics show she has tweeted more than 32,000 times, has 1,672 followers, and follows 1,910 others. Her LinkedIn connections number 1,580 professionals.(1) Additionally, Cherise is a fellow blogger. Her blog—entitled The Voices In My Head—may be new but Cherise displays an innate knack for writing engagingly about her life, work, and/or her appreciation for CSI in every post. 
Cherise is quick to point out that she is not a marketing professional. Instead, she has worked for more than 30 years in the AEC industry, presently serving as Standards Coordinator for Interface Engineering in Portland. In this role, Cherise’s responsibilities include writing specifications, developing standards, quality assurance/quality control, and construction contract administration. It is precisely this background that qualifies her best to talk about the value of social networking to CSI members. 
Cherise is enthusiastic about social networking because she’s living proof of its benefits. By her own account, she’s made incredible connections from all disciplines (worldwide), gained valuable education and experience from the information shared with her, amassed a wealth of trusted advisors for guidance, and made the most of opportunities that have taken her career to places she never thought possible. These benefits have accrued not only to Cherise personally but also to Interface Engineering as well. 
Twitter and LinkedIn are Cherise’s primary social networking tools, and she focused her talk on these two platforms. She packed a huge amount of information into a concise, fast-paced presentation suited to SoMe newbies and old hands alike. I don’t think of myself as a Twitter and LinkedIn novice, yet Cherise offered tidbits of invaluable advice about both networking services that were completely new to me. 
Here (borrowing liberally from her Powerpoint slides) are a few of the key points Cherise made:
About Social Media Networking:

  • Social media networking is the practice of expanding your business and/or social contacts by making connections online.
  • The potential is incredible but “potential” means nothing if you don’t do anything with it.
  • If you’re a beginner, think of social media networking like starting a new school: At first, you don’t know anybody and have no friends. You attend some classes and start meeting people. As you meet people, you start associating with the ones with similar interests. This “school” is worldwide. You can interact and learn from like-minded professionals you never would have met any other way.
  • Social Media (SoMe) and social networking have some overlap but are two separate marketing concepts. SoMe is a format that delivers a message like TV and radio; it is a system to disseminate information, which everyone can create and distribute. Conversely, social networking is an act of engagement. The main purpose of social networking is to connect with other people. People with similar interests congregate to share information of mutual interest.
  • Social media, especially Twitter, can be like drinking from a firehouse. Refine your stream to dictate what you want to read.
  • Social networking is career insurance you can’t afford to be without. It will help you maintain a robust professional brand. Power your career.
  • Social networking is not the wave of the future; it is here NOW.
About Twitter:

  • Twitter is micro-blogging, social messaging, news reporting, and social media marketing.
  • There are more than 645,750,000 active registered users, who generate an average of 58 million tweets per day (9,100 tweets per second!).
  • Twitter is free. The only price is your time and effort.
  • Twitter is instant, quick to use, and can greatly expand your market reach.
  • Your competition is likely already using Twitter, so you should too.
  • Twitter allows you to engage your clients and customers on a regular basis.
  • With only 140 characters, each tweet is short and sweet.
  • Tweet Reach = total number of estimated unique Twitter users using the same search term.
  • Exposure = total number of times tweets about the same search term were delivered to Twitter streams.
  • Impressions = total number of times a tweet has been delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account.
  • Hashtags: Think of hashtags as a TV channel. If you want to find a particular program, you dial that channel. Same with a hashtag. If you type #CSIKraken into the search box, it will return all the tweets that include that hashtag.
  • Don’t be an egghead. People are likely to ignore you.
  • Create a great bio. People will use this to decide whether to follow you.
  • Have a short, easy username that is easy to type and easy to remember.
  • Tweet less than 140 characters. Leave room for others to reply or retweet.
  • What you tweet about will choose your followers. Post cats—expect cat ladies. Post construction failures—expect construction professionals.
  • Twitter is not a monologue; it is a social medium. Nobody likes to talk to a wall. Reply to tweets and participate in conversations.
  • Share/promote others. Share and re-tweet information necessary to your brand or something you think will be interesting to your followers. People will remember you for sharing and respond in kind when you tweet something interesting. CSI has a lot of bloggers who use Twitter to promote their writing. When you re-tweet them, you drive traffic to them.
  • Respond to others in a timely manner. Engagement only happens if you respond.
  • Mind your manners. Ranting will get you nowhere. Stay away from conflict and controversial topics. Always be polite and respectful.
  • Thank often. Thank your followers, especially for re-tweets. A small appreciation tweet can go a long way to building future relationships.
  • Get signed up and get started. Follow people in your area of interest. Spend some time scrolling through tweets and getting a feel for the conversations. Remember, you grow slowly on Twitter. It’s all about building relationships and that takes time. Be patient, be consistent, and engage!

About LinkedIn:

  • LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network. It helps connect you to trusted contacts and helps you exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities.
  • LinkedIn is about finding and being found with other professionals in your industry. Get in touch.
  • LinkedIn has almost 2 million groups with discussion boards, news boards, and job postings. Learn and share.
  • There are over 100 million LinkedIn members and growing, over 48 million in North America alone.
  • The average age of LinkedIn users is 45. The gender of LinkedIn users is almost evenly split. The average household income of LinkedIn users is $91,566.
  • LinkedIn helps you to establish and maintain business contacts online, get introduced to professionals and service providers, recommend colleagues, and check references.
  • LinkedIn is a forum within which to conduct research. You can receive industry news, and ask and answer industry questions. LinkedIn provides opportunities to publish articles or your blog.
  • The fundamental purpose of LinkedIn is to present your professional, rather than personal image. Don’t confuse the two.
  • Search engines LOVE LinkedIn, which is good for you, because you can control every bit of info on your profile
Additionally, Cherise provided the following list of helpful resources regarding Twitter and LinkedIn:

There are critics of social networking who contend its technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. What these “nattering nabobs of negativity” (2) fail to recognize is how the intelligent use of social media—specifically Twitter and LinkedIn—can greatly enhance our ability to communicate and share on a professional level. Let’s not be Luddites and fail to recognize the vast potential of social media networking. Fundamentally, today’s social media is a collection of tools that create and support relationships. In this respect they’re just like the telephone—a tool for and not a usurper of social interaction. 
It’s neither a coincidence nor insignificant that Cherise and I first became acquainted through Twitter; in fact, we didn’t meet in person until just this past May at the CSI Northwest Region Conference in Portland. I truly believe both Cherise and I came to know each other as well or better as members of CSI’s very active community of “tweeps” as we might have the old-fashioned way. Seeing Cherise in person for the first time was actually very much like greeting a good friend I’d known for many years. 
Release the krakens!
Attendance at the October 2014 meeting was the best it has been in many months. Those who were on hand to listen to Cherise were rewarded with a perfect primer about the value and potential of social networking. Thank you Cherise for making the trip down I-5 and sharing your expertise with the Willamette Valley Chapter! #CSIKrakens rule!

(1)  To compare, I’ve tweeted less than 1,000 times (over the three-year period since I joined Twitter), have 657 followers, and follow 1,019 people. I have 355 LinkedIn connections.

(2)  I trust the late William Safire would not begrudge my use of the infamous line he wrote in 1968 for a speech by then vice-president Spiro Agnew.