Monday, April 28, 2014

April AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

The April AIA-SWO chapter meeting was the second in what may become an annually recurring series of presentations dubbed “Blurred (Di)Visions” dedicated to the power of cross-disciplinary collaboration in the conception and execution of design projects. The point of the series is to turn a spotlight on creative partnerships involving architects and other disciplines that are blurring the lines that once so neatly defined the boundaries of our profession. Last year, the program focused upon the integration of building and landscape design efforts. This time around the AIA-SWO Program Committee cast a wider net, choosing to highlight the benefits of all types of collaboration for building projects.

Designed and constructed by Travis Sheridan and Aaron Buckman of Willard C. Dixon, Architect LLC, the new wood-fired oven for New Day Bakery awaits the installation of its oven-front doors (photo courtesy of Will Dixon, AIA)  

Travis Sheridan, Assoc. AIA and Aaron Buckman, Assoc. AIA
Travis Sheridan and Aaron Buckman described the genesis, process, and realization of a custom-designed, wood-fired bread & pizza oven for the New Day Bakery, located in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood. As architectural projects go, Travis and Aaron would be the first to admit their oven assignment was a small one; regardless, it was a big deal for the bakery and an amazing opportunity for the two of them to truly assume the role of creative “master builders.”

The project initially involved converting an existing garage adjacent to the bakery to a production area, as well as improving an adjoining courtyard. It turned out New Day could not afford the shelter/pergola proposed by Travis and Aaron for the courtyard, so the project scope focused increasingly on creating the perfect oven.

The problem was the bakery’s owner didn’t exactly know what kind of oven he wanted. Travis and Aaron would not only carefully research and study the science of wood-fired ovens; they would also design and assemble the New Day Bakery’s oven with their own hands. What the owner asked them to accomplish (design a dual-function wood-fired oven capable of baking both great bread and scrumptious pizzas) was tantamount to designing a practical flying car: baking bread requires low heat and high humidity, whereas baking the perfect pizza requires much higher temperatures and low humidity. The challenge was clear: Design an oven that does both well.

Ultimately, its design would employ “rocket oven” technology, which involves a burning chamber separated by a chimney from the oven itself. The chimney burns most of the wood gases, greatly reducing smoke and increasing the heat available for baking. Building the oven using masonry and concrete provided thermal mass that retains the heat and improves its efficiency. Aaron carefully engineered and fine-tuned the oven’s configuration, utilizing a combination of CMU, aerated autoclaved concrete, and fire brick. It was a one-of-a-kind design, so unique that no masonry contractors were willing to bid for the right to build it.

So, Travis and Aaron laid down their figurative pencils and became masons (Aaron's background does include experience as a crew foreman for a masonry contractor in Idaho). By getting their hands dirty, they learned even more about the oven than they could have as designers alone. The entire project harkens back to a time when designing and making were inseparable. It also serves as a harbinger for a way of building that will increasingly be popular and necessary—one that integrates rather than isolates the processes that shape our built environment.

Complete Vision Center, by Honn Design & Construction (photo from Complete Vision Center's Facebook page

Stan Honn, AIA
Honn Design & Construction
Nothing exemplifies the blurring of the lines for the architectural profession more so than the design-build method of project delivery. Design-build is an integrated approach that delivers design and construction services under one contract with a single point of responsibility. Owners select design-build to achieve best value while meeting schedule, cost, and quality goals.
The architectural profession has been relatively slow (particularly in the U.S.) to embrace the methodology because of an outdated ethical canon that advocates separating design professionals from the construction trades.(1) One consequence of this historic opposition is there are relatively few design-build entities led by architects; most are headed by general contractors.

Stan Honn is among that minority of architects who is operating his own design-build company. Stan is the first to admit that design-build is suitable for some projects but not all. Regardless, it is the continuity of his relationships with his clients, their shared goals, and the realization of projects that make design-build right for him. Design-build has been his methodology of choice since founding Honn Design & Construction in 1981.

One of the latest of Stan’s completed projects is the adaptive reuse of an old commercial duplex near Springfield’s historic Washburne neighborhood as the new home for Complete Vision Center. It’s a perfect example of the benefits of design-build applied to a smaller project. Stan’s conversion of a characterless, one-story, small box to create the bright and cheerful optometry office is a testament to his skills as both an architect and a contractor. He attributes the success of the project to the control and freedom the design-build process afforded him.

A case in point: Stan would frequently find himself onsite all day during the construction period. As both the designer and the builder, he could immediately address the inevitability of unforeseen conditions (inherent in any remodeling project), tweaking and adjusting his design to fit the particulars of the job conditions. In some instances, there were pleasant surprises, such as when Stan discovered he could reposition some walls he initially believed were locked into place by existing plumbing. Moving these walls created more equally sized examination rooms, which are optimal for an optometric practice. Stan effected design changes on the spot, knowing they were beneficial to the finished product and fully cognizant of whatever impact they might have upon the owner’s budget.

Because Stan wears two hats and is so thoroughly engaged throughout all phases of a project means his ability to take on more than one commission at a time is limited. That’s fine with him; his satisfaction comes with providing turnkey services that translate his clients’ visions from concept all the way to reality. The buck stops with Stan, just the way he likes it.

"Rain Funnel" by Mayer/Reed & PIVOT Architecture

Michael Reed
Michael Reed is a founding partner of Mayer/Reed, a multi-disciplinary Portland-based design studio providing urban design, landscape architecture, product design, and graphic design services. His function as a collaborator breaking down the barriers between design disciplines was perhaps the most conventional of the meeting’s presenters. Nevertheless, Michael’s work and his philosophy of integrating the efforts of various design disciplines neatly fit the theme of “Blurred (Di)Visions.”

In Michael’s opinion, humility is the most characteristic trait of successful collaborators. That being said, a lack of ego doesn’t minimize the importance of strong ideas. Well-conceived, resilient concepts remain as important as ever; however, they are increasingly the product of teamwork. More and more, clients are recognizing this and demanding that room is available around the table for many different voices. They understand there is always more than one way to realize the most successful projects. The common thread is working with those who embrace collaboration.

Mayer/Reed has been an exemplary collaborator on dozens of noteworthy, award-winning projects. Michael shared just a few of these with us; they included: 

AIA-SWO member firm PIVOT Architecture enjoyed the opportunity to join forces with Mayer/Reed on the design of the “Rain Funnel” at Lane Transit District’s Springfield Station. PIVOT principal Toby Barwood, AIA joined Michael in describing this particular project to the audience. The two explained how the design process for the site landmark was a journey in understanding how the Springfield community views itself and the values it attributes to its collective sense of place. Mayer/Reed and PIVOT’s eventual solution evolved from clock tower to sign monument to abstract artistic expression. The resultant 30-foot tall stainless steel and cast glass piece references the artifacts of place, in this case the water towers associated with the lumber mills that once surrounded the site. 

“Rain Funnel” would be the product of many hands, among them glass artist Linda Ethier and the metal fabricators. Michael and Toby surprised the latter when they visited the fabrication shop to inspect the stainless steel components. The workers didn’t realize the modules they were assembling would become piece of art. They simply believed they were intended for a utilitarian function and yet the level of care and precision they demonstrated in their work was outstanding.

*    *    *    *    *    *

Projects are increasingly complex, not less so, and timelines are progressively shorter. Embracing collaboration—and blurring the historic divisions between disciplines—is critical to ameliorating these trends. The advent of integrated project delivery (IPD) and building information modeling (BIM), even for smaller projects, underscores this point. If there’s a takeaway from the April AIA-SWO meeting it is that the ability to collaborate effectively is now a prerequisite to the success of every architectural practice.

If there are future editions of “Blurred (Di)Visions,” I’m certain they’ll prove as insightful as the two already under our belt. We all benefit from sharing lessons learned with each other, particularly when it comes to the subjects of our changing profession and working toward common goals.  

(1) The belief was that it was the architect’s role to protect the interests of the client. If the architect held a fiduciary interest in the construction contract, there was a fear the owner would or could no longer trust the architect. The reality is the architect’s first duty is to protect the health and welfare of the public. This is true regardless of whether the architect is acting as the project’s designer or contractor

Friday, April 25, 2014

It’s All in the Details

The University of Oregon’s chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) is selling custom-designed T-shirts as a means to raise money for the organization. The shirts are available in any color you want as long as it’s black (which, quite frankly, is de rigueur) and feature a variety of building enclosure details in white ink, underscored by the phrase “It’s All in the Details.” They’re manufactured by American Apparel, pre-shrunk, and true to size. 
If you are interested in supporting AIAS and ordering a shirt, please email what size (and quantity) to in the next few days. The price is $15 per shirt.
The AIAS is a fun energetic student-run group that deserves the support of all practicing architectural professionals. The association builds interest and enriches the educational and professional experience of architecture students through different social and professional events. The benefits to students for belonging to AIAS include:  

§             Direct connections with AIA-Southwestern Oregon leaders

§             Firm tours in Eugene and elsewhere in Oregon

§             Portfolio and interview/resume workshops with professionals

§             Critique opportunities

§             Mentorship and internship possibilities
Support the AIAS and order your shirt today!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Architecture is Awesome #4: Perfection 

The geometric perfection of the Great Court at the British Museum by Foster + Partners (Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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. 

Years ago, Architectural Record featured one of Richard Meier’s spectacular residential commissions(1). It was an archetypal Meier project: light-filled, crisply geometric, and starkly white in contrast to nature. I’d already been a fan of Meier’s work for some time, but what struck me about the project was a simple point made in the magazine about how fastidious Meier and his partners were when it came to both designing and overseeing the execution of the project. They were absolutely unforgiving of even the tiniest of flaws. They attempted to eradicate every possible geometric impurity. What they sought was nothing short of perfection. 

The ancient Greeks regarded perfection as a prerequisite for beauty. Plato defined perfection as “apt, suitable, and without deviations.” Pythagoras asserted that perfection was a matter of geometry, proportion, and the harmonious arrangement of parts. Aesthetic perfection would become synonymous with flawlessness and completeness. These classical definitions of perfection remain applicable today. 

For many architects, perfection is a Holy Grail. The success of Richard Meier’s work is largely contingent upon how precisely he arranges his trademark vocabulary of gridded panels, oblique ramps, pipe railings, expansive windows, and austere planes of plaster or drywall. Every component is exhaustively considered, fitted exactly and inflexibly in the only position it can occupy to be absolutely perfect. The beauty of a Meier building lies in its precision, sophistication, elegance, and the way light & shadow play on the white surfaces. 

Other maestros of High Modernism, such as Sir Norman Foster and I.M. Pei, equally obsess over the exactness of every detail and its relationship to the complex wholes of which it is a part. Like classical architecture before it, the work of these masters aspires to a standard of perfection verging on the super-human or divine. The obsessive precision of the Great Court at the British Museum by Foster and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art by Pei betray the aesthetic hauteur and confident genius of their authors. Indeed, the pursuit of perfection demands a level of self-assurance bordering on arrogance. 

The amazing degree to which some of the most talented architects are able to achieve the illusion of perfection awes me. After all, these architects confront the same confounding practicalities of design and construction that perplex the rest of us. Somehow though, they transcend these profane realities to create seemingly immaculate works of architecture. Undoubtedly, their ability to create “perfect” buildings is not only a product of raw talent but also one of immense effort, capital, teamwork, supportive clients/owners, and plain good fortune. 

Attaining perfection in architecture is tantamount to a miracle. I know how difficult it is to design something as complex as a building. Every project is a tremendously demanding venture. Each one is a leap of faith. Many are born of optimism and ambition, but end up being dragged down by exigency and disenchantment. That’s why it’s nothing short of AWESOME when architects strive for perfection and actually come close. 

Next Architecture is Awesome: #5 Integrated Art

(1)  Was it the Rachofsky House? I think so but I don’t remember and cannot immediately locate the article.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Call for Entries: 2014 AIA-SWO Design Awards

The American Institute of Architects–Southwestern Oregon Chapter is excited to announce the 2014 Design Awards Program. The purpose of the program is to celebrate achievements in design excellence by member firms, to generate greater public interest in architecture, and to honor the architects, clients, and consultants who work together to enhance our built environment. 

It’s been five long years since AIA-SWO last produced a Design Awards program.(1) The reasons why include the sheer effort required to organize a successful program, as well as the debilitating impacts of the “Great Recession” upon AIA-SWO member firms. Kudos to the AIA-SWO board and the AIA-SWO Design Excellence Committee for committing to producing what I am certain will be a true showcase for the best work of our most talented member firms. 

As listed above, the intent to enter and fee payment deadline is Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 5:00 PM. The deadline for actual submissions is Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 4:00 PM (either by mail or hand-delivered to the AIA-SWO office). 

Award Categories 
The AIA-SWO organizers will give the jury members the right to grant the number and type of awards of their choice. The jury will consider the virtues of each project individually, regardless of type or size, and will bestow awards for projects in any or all of the following four categories: 
  • Honor Awards for built projects that show outstanding achievement in architectural design.
  • Merit Awards for built projects with noteworthy achievement in architectural design.
  • Citation Awards for built and un-built projects with specifically notable design elements.
  • Student Awards for design projects submitted by students enrolled in a professional degree program in architecture or interior architecture. Winning projects will receive a student citation. 
Only AIA-SWO member firms, AIA-SWO member architects, or AIA-SWO Associate members are eligible to participate in the 2014 AIA-SWO Design Awards program.(2) Members can submit architecture, planning, urban design, or interior design projects located anywhere in the United States but they must have been completed between October 1, 2009 and May 22, 2014.

AIA-SWO encourages any student currently registered in a professional degree program in Architecture or Interior Architecture to submit his or her best design studio projects for consideration. 

Interested? Click the following link for a complete rundown of submission instructions, entry fees, and the necessary entry forms:

2014 Design Awards Jury 
The Design Awards committee has assembled an outstanding jury of four accomplished professionals: 

Carol ColettaVP, Community and National Initiatives, Knight Foundation 
Carol Coletta is an expert on the development of cities. She was director of ArtPlace, a unique public-private collaboration to accelerate creative placemaking in communities across the United States. ArtPlace brings together leading private foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, other federal agencies and major banks. For seven years, Coletta was president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders. Previously, she served as executive director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, and also ran a Memphis-based public affairs consulting firm, Coletta & Company, focused on civic issues. In 2003, Coletta was named a Knight Fellow in Community Building at the University of Miami School of Architecture. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and public issues management and has completed graduate work in future studies at the University of Houston Clear Lake and in design at the Institute of Design in Chicago.  

Laura Hafermann, AIA, LEED AP, Salt Studio, Seattle, WA 
Based in Seattle and now the principal of Salt Studio, Laura Hafermann, AIA, LEED AP, was also a founding partner in Patano+Hafermann Architects with offices in Seattle and Coeur d'Alene. The Seattle AIA recognized Patano+Hafermann as a Regionally Emerging Firm in 2011. Among its accomplishments, the firm can boast a COTE Top Ten What Makes it Green Award, an AIA Citation, and Dwell Magazine's #12 Favorite House. Prior to cofounding Patano+Hafermann Architects, Laura worked at the Miller/Hull Partnership in Seattle. She attended Whitman College and received her master's in architecture from the University of Oregon, where she was also a founding member of the HOPES Ecological Design Conference. 

Dennis McFadden, FAIA, Los Angeles, CA 
Dennis McFadden’s work of the last 27 years has focused primarily on public institutions. As a design partner with the Los Angeles firm CO Architects (previously Anshen+Allen, Los Angeles), he was responsible for the design of 12 projects on five different University of California campuses as well as numerous other public and private university, college, and healthcare projects. Additionally, his experience includes designing hospitals, courthouses, high schools, and multi-family housing. Dennis’ work has been widely published and recognized with over 30 design awards, including 10 local, state, and national AIA Awards. 

David Tryba, FAIA, Tryba ArchitectsDenver, CO 
David is the Founder of Tryba Architects, a Denver-based architecture, urban design and planning firm with a national reputation for design excellence. David possesses a deep understanding of the West, its culture and history and landscape. He has completed projects across North America including commissions in Colorado, Washington, New York, California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Utah, Arizona, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Mexico. David received his Bachelor of Environmental Design and Master of Architecture from the University of Colorado. In 2005, the University of Colorado conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from CU for his significant contribution to the transformation and rebuilding of Denver’s urban form. David served as AIA Denver Chapter President in 2007 and was named AIA Colorado’s 2013 Architect of the Year. 

The jurors will evaluate all entrants on Thursday, May 22, 2014 between 9:00 AM to 2:00. Their deliberations will be closed to the public. 

2014 Design Excellence Lecture 
In an effort to share its most prestigious awards program with the broader community, AIA-SWO will reveal the winners of the 2014 AIA-SWO Design Awards immediately following the 2014 Design Excellence Speakers Series presentation. Awards juror Carol Coletta will deliver a public lecture for the Design Excellence Program beginning at 5:30pm. This one-hour presentation, which will be free and open to the public (RSVP at, will be followed by the Design Awards dinner and awards presentation. 

Here’s the program schedule: 

AIA Design Excellence Program - Public Lecture May 22, 2014 @ 5:30 pm 
The Hult Center for the Performing Arts 
5:00 pm - doors open 
5:30 - 6:30 pm - presentation 
6:30 - 7:00 pm - light reception 

AIA Design Awards - Dinner Event May 22, 2014 @ 7:00 pm 
The Hult Center for the Performing Arts  
6:30 pm - doors open 
7:00 pm - dinner/presentation 
9:00 pm - good night 

The chapter announced the call for entries this past week on its Thursdays at Three e-newsletter, so this blog post shouldn’t be news to most AIA-SWO and Associate AIA-SWO members. My goal is to entice non-AIA members in our chapter area to consider joining the Institute. Members benefit from a range of expertise through a peer network of more than 83,000 colleagues, excellent continuing education opportunities, and the work of leaders raising the visibility of architects in our community. The AIA also benefits members by pursuing legislative agendas aimed at promoting and defending our profession. This is best accomplished by working together and presenting a single, united voice. The AIA is dedicated to fostering a culture that appreciates architecture and values what we do as design professionals. 

So, if you’re not currently a member of AIA-Southwestern Oregon but would like to submit your best projects to the 2014 Design Awards program, now is the time to join. With the prestige an AIA award confers, your work will be regarded as setting a standard for excellence, informing public expectations for architectural practice, its breadth, and its value. 

(1)      Sadly, one of the members of our 2009 Design Awards jury, Robert Hull, FAIA, passed away just last week at the age of 68 due to complications from a stroke. A founding partner of the outstanding Seattle firm The Miller Hull Partnership, he was a truly thoughtful juror. I appreciated and was honored by the opportunity to interact with Bob before, during, and after the jury deliberations. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy, one which all architects familiar with his work are grateful for. 

(2)  Note: An AIA firm is defined as one wherein the majority of financial ownership is held by registered architects, all of whom are AIA members. (AIA Bylaws 2.122, Use of Membership Title by Firm). 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Living Building Challenge

Last month’s meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute’s Willamette Valley Chapter featured a presentation by Gabe Cross, LEED AP BD+C about the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The International Living Future Institute created the Living Building Challenge in 2006 as “a philosophy, advocacy tool, and certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement of sustainability in the built environment.As we learned from Gabe, the LBC calls for the creation of building projects at all scales that operate as cleanly, beautifully, and efficiently as nature's architecture. It is truly a visionary path toward a restorative future. 

Gabe is currently Chair of the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Eugene branch, as well as founder and managing member at New Axiom, LLC, where he consults on energy efficiency, sustainable operation and occupancy, green design and construction, and LEED certification. He also is an instructor for the Northwest Water & Energy Education Institute, a program of Lane Community College, where he teaches courses on LEED, energy efficiency methods, and alternative energy technology. Gabe serves on the Board of Directors of BRING Recycling, sitting on the planning committee. 

One of Gabe’s missions is to spread the word about the Living Building Challenge. While other models of green building promote strategies to lessen our impact upon the environment, the LBC seeks to foster a culture of design, construction, and occupancy that goes well beyond mere mitigation. For example, LEED is a prescriptive system wherein points are awarded for a building’s projected performance and whether it incorporates certain features. In contrast, the LBC doesn’t mandate accruing a minimum number of points. Instead, it is a system predicated upon actual building performance. A project either achieves Living Building status or it doesn’t. The beauty of the Living Building Challenge is its simplicity. 

This simplicity is exemplified by the all-or-nothing Living Building Challenge imperatives and measures of performance. Every project must meet each of its 20 strict requirements to attain certification. The LBC is focused on the ends rather than the means, and achieving those ends requires exceptional commitment, imagination, and persistence. It’s noteworthy that very few LEED-certified buildings are both net-zerowater and net-zero energy, but every single LBC building must achieve those goals. There’s a reason why the LBC is framed as a “challenge.” Achieving Living Building Status is nothing if not exceedingly difficult. 

There’s no doubt LEED has been a tremendous boon to increasing society’s awareness of the impact of buildings upon the environment. However, even if every new building in the world was rated LEED Platinum, it’s unlikely their construction and performance would stem the tide of carbon emissions, toxic pollution, and water depletion. By contrast, the Living Building Challenge requires that everyone involved consider the real life cycle impact of design, construction, and operation. If our future buildings all met the requirements of the Challenge, growth in emissions from the building sector would cease, yielding real reductions in global carbon emissions. 

Is the Living Building Challenge too ambitious? Does it overreach so much that it is impossible to imagine its practical application across the entirety of the building industry? Gabe doesn’t think so. The LBC may reflect cutting-edge thinking, but it’s precisely the kind of thinking we urgently need now to pull everyone forward toward realizing the best possible future for our planet. Remember, it was just a few years ago that we considered achieving basic LEED certification remarkable, not to mention costly. In response to the awareness cultivated by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED-certified projects and green building technologies are now commonplace and cost-effective. There’s no reason not to believe that certified Living Buildings will likewise become part of the “new normal.” Gabe and the other members of the International Living Future Institute would only be pleased if their efforts proved so successful that everyone possessed the wisdom, skills, and resources necessary to create living buildings anywhere in the world.  

Learn more about the Living Building Challenge and review the Challenge in detail by downloading a copy of the standard:

Also, consider attending Living Future 2014, the International Living Future Institute’s annual unConference in Portland this coming May 21-23):

Big thanks to Gabe for spending his evening to introduce the Living Building Challenge to the members of CSI’s Willamette Valley Chapter. His presentation was excellent, spurring keen interest and lively interaction during the question and answer period. I highly recommend contacting Gabe if you or your organization would like to learn more about the LBC as well. You can reach him through his company, New Axiom at the following URL: