Saturday, May 17, 2014

The AIA-SWO Octagon Story

Recent view of work in progress at the Octagon (my photo)

Walk by the Octagon in downtown Eugene these days and you’ll notice a lot of activity going on. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers (led by Will Dixon, AIA) and the generosity of more than 30 supportive donors, the headquarters for AIA-Southwestern Oregon and Architects Building Community is coming together nicely.(1)   

True to AIA-SWO’s vision of “driving positive change through the power of design,” the Octagon is destined to become a well-used resource for the chapter, ABC, and indeed the entire community. AIA-SWO executive director Don Kahle recently wrote about its future potential as Eugene’s own vibrant center for architecture:

“The eight-sided glass structure just south of Summit Bank has always been a little 'jewel box' but since the local architects made it their permanent home, it glistens the way it should. Its lighting scheme catches the eye after dark, drawing downtowners to view the window displays. Most weekday afternoons, it forms the center of a small food court, with different food carts setting up each day of the week. The expansive covering makes it seem like the covered porch that downtown always wishes it had.

The 14 windows are cleverly lit, showing an ever-changing display of art and architecture, educating and inspiring Eugene and its residents to consider and reconsider the value of good design. Local businesses use the window display to demonstrate how the work they do has the elegance of good design embedded, if only you know where (and how) to look.

Inside the architects have built a space that is both welcoming and versatile. Whether it’s a reception before an Art Walk, a lecture about urban planning, a hands-on tutorial session for a software package, a poetry slam, or a board meeting, the space “just works.” If there are those who want to observe — or even participate — from their home computers or from a second site, the technology is built into the space. Nobody has to be a super-geek to use the screen, projector, Powerpoint, and video remote capabilities.

Although the space is used by dozens of groups (for a modest rental fee), the architects use it for their board and committee meetings, as well as twice-monthly “Luncheon Learns,” where professionals learn the latest news from vendors and suppliers who make their businesses and buildings perform better.

Downtown businesses who want to get out of the office for a half-day retreat or need a conference room only a few hours each week use the Octagon as an extra space. Artists of every sort enjoy having their work displayed in a site where anyone can see it anytime. And the public loves the space for gathering at lunchtime, or wandering past for unexpected inspiration.”

The Octagon build-out is nearing a major milestone, which is completion of the initial renovation. I figure that all of the major new interior building elements (flooring, lighting, ceiling fan, and custom casework) will be in place within the next month to provide a useful meeting and gallery space freed of major construction activity. Will and his project team anticipate completing the entire project (including the display systems, audio-visual equipment, plaza lighting, and donor recognition) by October of this year, at which time there will be a celebratory party.

Will has been providing regular updates on progress at the Octagon as part of AIA-SWO’s Thursday @ Three weekly e-newsletter. Look for those and stay informed about the latest news regarding the project.

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Despite the ongoing improvements, you can visit the Octagon and enjoy a current exhibit of amazing final projects by the students who participated in this year’s Architects in Schools program. Architects in Schools is administered by the Architecture Foundation of Oregon and is intended to help 2nd through 6th graders develop an awareness of the built environment through classroom sessions with a local design professional. The Octagon shares the honor of displaying this special youth arts project with the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center until June 12.

(1)   The impressive list of companies who have donated services or materials includes:
  • 9wood
  • Big Ass Fans
  • Emser Tile
  • Evolve Design
  • Frontier Builders
  • Gary Pierce Painting
  • Harvey & Price Mechanical Contractors
  • Heartwood Carving
  • Honn Design & Construction
  • Luma Lighting Design
  • Lynn’s Electric
  • May or May Not Construction
  • Neon Latitudes
  • Oslund Design
  • Pioneer Engineering
  • Virco

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