Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finish Strong: Octagon Update

Interior of the Octagon.
Will Dixon, AIA provided another update last week about progress on renovation of the Octagon, Eugene’s own “center for architecture.” AIA-SWO’s Thursdays at Three weekly newsletter first published this update but I’m reposting it here for the benefit of my blog’s readership. 

As I’ve mentioned before, Will is the project’s chief advocate and driving force. Thanks to his efforts and that of the many who have contributed their time and materials, we’re seeing the Octagon transformed into a versatile and attractive headquarters for both AIA-SWO and Architects Building Community

Here’s Will’s latest update: 

September 25th Octagon Build-Out Update
by Will Dixon, AIA

First of all, happy Autumnal Equinox to everyone, and welcome to Fall 2014! 

Most of you should have received a “Finish Strong” postcard in the mail by now asking for your financial support to help us complete the build-out of the Octagon, our new Center for Architecture.  Please give generously today!  It’s nearly ready, but we need your help to reach the finish line this year.  Your donation is tax-deductible, and will benefit our local AIA chapter for many years to come. 

Note: despite being in the middle of a construction zone as of late, the Octagon has already proved itself as a great place for SWO Board and committee meetings, 24/7 display, community events, and “Luncheon-Learns” which are a great source of funding for our chapter.  The Octagon is essentially an extension of each and every one of our offices, and gives our chapter a real presence right in the heart of downtown.  It’s our new home!  To learn more about the story behind the Octagon: http://www.abc4.us/aia-swo-octagon-story 

To make a donation online: http://www.abc4.us/donate 

To mail in your donation, please send to:

The Octagon
92. East Broadway
Eugene, OR 97401 

The last 9wood ceiling panel has been put in place and we had our final building inspection on Tuesday of this week, so all is complete and finaled as far as permits go.  Some minor cosmetic touch-up still needs to be done on the panels, but boy does it look good, especially as a great backdrop to the very cool looking Big Ass Fan (10 foot diameter!). 

Neal and Justin’s (Neon Latitudes) cold cathode, artistic lighting installation is finished and looks absolutely stunning!  And, it’s complete with two, separately switched zones for both inside and outside.  How these two crawled around up there is still a wonder to me.  (Thanks guys!) 

Carl Oslund (Oslund Design Inc.) and I are continuing to work on signage and branding. 

Fine woodworker Tom Clark (of Divine Light Altars) is putting the final touches on the remaining cabinetry with countertop to be installed near the front entry, as well as our new conference table which is going to be 7’ diameter and made out of thick apple plywood.  And, Tom is aiming to have these pieces finished and installed by end ofMonday next week!  If you’d like to see some of Tom’s phenomenal woodwork, click here: http://divinelightaltars.com

I was able to attain the last remaining lighting track pieces that we needed through HL Stearns in Portland, and they were shipped all the way from New York City.  After Stan Honn coordinated with Bob from Gary Pierce Painting to get them painted, Kyla and Wayne (of Lynn’s Electric) graciously came back to the Octagon to have them installed. 

We’ve also prepped the space for future installation of an Overhead Projector, drop-down Screen, and Speakers.  This A/V equipment will be used for future Luncheon-Learns, seminars and other professional presentations, movie nights, and more! 

Note: your donations will help us to secure these and other necessary items, including a gallery Display System, Donor Recognition Display, Gallery Lighting, Shades, Signage, and Furniture.  All of the work and material thus far has come from donations and sponsorships, volunteer work, and much out of-pocket expense. 

As always, we greatly appreciate all of the 30+ donors thus far who have given their expertise, material, patience, and positive attitude towards our new Center for Architecture!  This wouldn’t have been possible without their support! 

Thank you! 

SWO Past Poobah ‘14

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Adjudicating Architectural Significance

Eugene City Hall awaits its fate (my photo)
Earlier this year, Otto Poticha, FAIA, challenged his colleagues in the local architectural community to advocate on behalf of saving the now soon-to-be-razed Eugene City Hall building. Many rallied to his side; ultimately, though, their efforts failed to sway a majority of city council members to vote this past week in favor of forestalling demolition any longer.

In the wake of the council's decision, Otto sent me a new letter for publication here on my blog. His reasons for his latest dispatch include voicing his frustration with what he perceives as a failure by his peers to share his appreciation for architecturally significant projects (regardless of whether there is unanimity of fondness for a project in question). He also wished to express his disappointment with the council’s edict as well as its motion to consider the token and politically expedient gesture of somehow preserving only the existing council chamber.

As I’ve written previously, I do believe the design of the existing city hall is fatally flawed, particularly its indifference to the sidewalks that bound it. It’s not pedestrian-friendly. The building hasn’t ever engaged passersby because its architecture purposefully lacks the scale, vocabulary, and elements necessary to do so. It is the product of a much different time and world than we find ourselves in now. As for possibly repurposing the building for another use, I cannot imagine doing so without fundamentally erasing the very essence of the original design that its supporters so vociferously defend.

I wasn’t pleased to also conclude that we should allow an existing building of architectural significance to be demolished simply because it fails to meet fashionable standards for beauty or measure up to state-of-the-art performance yardsticks. Fashion is relative and transitory, and we can ameliorate many functional shortcomings. As a society, we’re too quick to forget our past transgressions, repeating history by destroying it. Casting aside the old for the allure of the shiny and new is unnecessarily wasteful and unsustainable; that being said, I believe correcting the failings of the existing city hall building is simply too great a challenge to overcome.

Here’s Otto’s latest letter:

September 26, 2014


The City Hall matter appears to be at rest; we will see.

It is important to say that in a community with very little interest or knowledge about architecture other than the published awards we give or get for each other, we, the architectural community, are the only caretaker of what we create or have created. The lack of interest in the city hall as a significant building is very embarrassing to me as a member and Fellow in our profession, and as an active member of both our architectural community and social-civic community. 

I am very sad and worried that the profession looked at the building as something that they liked or hated rather than our art form. There is no piece of art or architecture that we all love or hate and I think that is good. This piece, over the years, has been certified by us, our peers, and others as significant and should not be destroyed. As a city hall or not, it is our art form, in my opinion a better piece of our art than some of what we are currently replacing it with: an architecture that hides behind quantitative matters such as energy efficiency and sustainability, with little attention paid to qualitative matters such as concept or design—a tight box with good makeup.

How can we attempt to educate our community about architecture when we cannot understand our own role or what is significant?

During this recent debate, I learned that we, the architectural community, must be marketing the idea that all of our built environment should be removed and replaced since it is out of style, not energy efficient, seismically correct, sustainable, green, friendly, or connected to the street. That opens, for us, an enormous market for our trade (not craft) and the destruction of our built architectural history and we need to understand that WE are responsible for that.

I cannot fault the architecturally inexperienced layperson, city manager, council member, mayor, or facilities manager for not relating to mid-century modernism but I can’t excuse the architectural community; how embarrassing.

The community looked to the AIA for their input but it came as a neutral statement: “maybe good or maybe bad."

If you are interested, the council will consider retaining only the council chamber in or for the new symbolic city hall. I personally find that offensive, as a political compromise or token and I hope you intend to campaign against it. The existing chamber is the focus of the existing complex and the basis of the existing building’s concept. Saved, it is simply a remnant to be placed in the new lobby or front yard of the new building as a dinosaur that was just excavated and roped off as an exhibit piece. 

Otto Poticha, FAIA

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Center of Gravity

The Lane County Farmers' Market bustles on a sunny Saturday afternoon in downtown Eugene (my photo)
If we’re fortunate, we may look back years from now at the current burst of development activity in Eugene and realize how propitious it was. This is a defining moment in our city’s history, one which we must capitalize upon. At stake is nothing less than downtown Eugene’s future identity, vitality, and livability. The decisions we make at this juncture will seal the district’s fate for years to come and impact its standing as the acknowledged heart of the city. It’s important we ensure our downtown withstands the pull of the ambitious plans outside of its orbit and remain Eugene’s center of gravity.

These farsighted plans include the EWEB Riverfront Master Plan. I find the vision shared by EWEB and the City of Eugene of a sustainable, urban “people place” along the banks of the Willamette River very promising. The strong framework developed by the team led by Rowell Brokaw Architects clearly articulates future riverfront development consistent with the community’s vision for the site. Everyone agrees with the notion of connecting the river to the city and the city to the river.

The vision presumes repurposing of the former EWEB operations center site as “Eugene’s Downtown Riverfront.”  My concern is if this is truly the goal, we must be careful to accomplish it without detracting from recent downtown achievements.

Eugene Riverfront Master Plan image by Rowell Brokaw Architects
The ongoing revival of downtown Eugene has been remarkable. Thanks to public leadership and private initiative, our downtown is more vibrant today than it has been in many years. The intersection of Broadway and Willamette Street is thriving once again and increasingly resembles the commercial and cultural crossroads it was long ago. The notorious “pits” have been filled. An assortment of unique retailers, restaurateurs, and artists is reopening long vacant storefronts. An increasingly diverse downtown population is helping to activate the sidewalks. Those of us who work or live downtown are thrilled by its renaissance. 

In view of this success, is pursuing the goal of connecting downtown with the EWEB riverfront development the right thing to do? Is there a risk we might spread downtown too thin? Would a vibrant and shiny new riverfront district remove the luster from the revival of Eugene’s historic downtown?

I believe Eugene’s downtown is already spread across too large an area. I recall Paul Farmer—who once served as the City of Eugene’s planning and development director (1998-2001) and recently stepped down as CEO of the American Planning Association (APA)—drawing a noteworthy comparison between Eugene’s downtown and that of a city with a metro population many times greater than our own. He said the area most Eugeneans regard as our downtown is equal in size to that of Pittsburgh, PA (where Paul also once worked). Granted, Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle” is largely constrained by the Allegheny River, Monongahela River, and Ohio River, so there’s basically no way for it to grow other than by building up. Eugene’s downtown is not so severely limited by geography. With the exception of Skinner Butte to the north, its edges are much fuzzier: our perception of its limits is shaped by legislated boundaries (i.e. the borders defined by the Downtown Urban Renewal District or the Eugene Downtown Plan) as much as it is by experiential cues.

Despite its recent success, the bottom line is downtown Eugene still lacks the critical mass necessary to assure its future.  It’s too diffuse because it’s too large. Too many still fail to find reasons to visit downtown. Without a sufficiently dense concentration of people, it cannot consistently generate the exuberant diversity on its sidewalks urbanites crave.
"Downtown Eugene with cars lined up at a stop, circa 1955" by OSU Special Collections & Archives: Uploaded by russavia. Via Wikimedia Commons

What downtown Eugene should stake claim to is being the region’s historic center for business, governmental, and cultural activities. Presently, more office space does exist there than in any other single section of town. Many of the community’s art galleries and principal performing arts venues—including the Hult Center, WOW Hall, McDonald Theater, and the Shedd—are also found downtown. The Lane County Farmers’ Market has always been located in the city center. Ditto for the Saturday Market, the First Friday Art Walk, and the Eugene Celebration. Lane Community College’s new campus across from the Eugene Public Library is evidence of that institution’s commitment to the city core. Downtown is also an important transportation center, home to Lane Transit District’s primary hub, the Amtrak rail station, and the Greyhound bus terminus.

Downtown’s center of gravity should stay where it is now. I think its general outline and “bones” should also remain generally as they are. Its boundaries shouldn’t expand. Its geographic center should not shift toward the river. We need to retain and reinforce downtown Eugene’s historical legacy and the distinct features that impart its genius loci (spirit of place). These features include the Park Blocks, the concentration of government buildings, the Willamette Street axis between Skinner Butte and Spencer Butte, and Skinner Butte itself.

In his seminal book, The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch stressed the importance of structure and identity, the vividness of elements, and a sense of the whole to how we perceive our urban environments. He spoke of the “contrast and specialization of individual character.” Achieving contrast and specialization entails the generation of well-defined edges, paths, nodes, landmarks, and districts. Ideally, we recognize a district by its singular qualities, which may include contrasting and unique features that “vivify the scene.”

Accordingly, one means to help secure downtown Eugene’s future is to avoid hitching its wagon to the proposed riverfront development. What many regard as a significant challenge for whomever EWEB and the City select to develop the riverfront property— that is the site’s relative inaccessibility—may ironically prove to be a blessing. This is because its isolation may bolster the contrast necessary to preserve downtown Eugene’s present structure and identity. Downtown’s greatest asset is being a unique place with its own underlying organizational structure. 

"Old Mill District Bend" by  Jenny Furniss. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons

Many may point to the Pearl district in Portland as a relevant precedent insofar as it is a significant and flourishing reclamation of a once moribund area immediately adjacent to a CBD. Perhaps a closer analog to what we’ll see happen in Eugene is the Old Mill District in Bend. Like the Eugene Riverfront project will be, the Old Mill District was assembled under the control of a single developer. Also like the Eugene Riverfront plan, it features mixed uses at relatively high densities arrayed in a pedestrian-friendly and scenic environment. Notably, the new development does not border Bend’s downtown. I happen to think both the Old Mill District and downtown Bend are thriving because they are separated from one another.

Older downtowns tend to be resilient in a way an altogether new development district may not be. They’ve grown over a span of time, more organically than if they sprouted overnight. Their incremental patterns of development are inherently forgiving and permit course corrections over time; however, further expanding downtown's reach may excessively tax that resiliency.  

Downtown Eugene is just finding its stride again and reestablishing its identity. We do need to be careful as we move forward with such ambitious and welcome projects as the development of the EWEB riverfront site. This is a time to take stock of these plans and to carefully consider how we can ensure they complement our still emergent accomplishments downtown. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rosaria Flores Hodgdon (1922-2014)

Rosaria Hodgdon
All of us can recall the amazing teachers who left indelible marks on our lives. Their brilliance commanded our respect and their passion for teaching drew us to them. Their greatest satisfaction came from seeing us go on to succeed in whatever we chose to pursue in life. 
I was extremely fortunate during my undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon (1980-1983) to learn from the members of a truly outstanding and diverse faculty. I’ve frequently featured the writings of one of my favorite professors, the late Bill Kleinsasser, here on my blog. Sadly, another of my noteworthy teachers, Rosaria Hodgdon, passed away last Monday. 
Rosaria was a dedicated urbanist, an advocate for smart growth and the principles of new urbanism well before those terms became popularized within the environmental design lexicon. In this regard, we might regard her presence at the University of Oregon—particularly in the Eugene of the early 1980s—as exceptional. 
One of the courses I took from Rosaria was ARCH 441G – Critical Issues in the Urban Environment. Looking back now, I realize how much Rosaria’s lessons regarding the importance of the city to human civilization and its development are relevant to everyday architectural practice. I learned from her that “urbanness” needn’t only be the province of politicians, sociologists, and planners. She convinced us it is within the city where the contributions of architects to society are most impactful. 
We lament surrendering to the passage of time those who have meant the most to us, yet we should rejoice in our memories of them. I’m very happy I got to know and learn from Rosaria Hodgdon. 
Here is Rosaria’s obituary as published in the Register-Guard: 
Rosaria Flores Hodgdon, 92, a woman pioneer in the field of architecture and an early leader in the Great Books Foundation, died September 8 in Needham, MA after a lengthy illness. 
Born in Naples, Italy, she was encouraged by her family to follow her passion for architecture, graduating from the University of Naples in 1945. After Naples fell to the Allies in 1943, she met her future husband, David Hodgdon, an American ambulance driver serving with a British unit that occupied her family's villa. After the war they came to his home town, Wakefield, Mass. They were married for 64 years until his death in 2009. 
She practiced architecture in Wakefield and at the same time coordinated 60 reading groups for the Great Books Foundation, at that time the largest adult education organization in the country. 
In 1963, she went to work for Shepley Bulfinch in Boston, moving in 1971 to CBT. 
The University of Oregon hired her in 1972 to teach in its School of Architecture. She won the Cornaro Tercentenary Award and was a Danforth Associate for outstanding teaching; she was granted tenure in 1979 and remained for 20 years. She published one book Housemoving: Old Houses Make Good Neighbors. 
In New England her projects included the Somerset Hotel in Boston, the Beebe Library in Wakefield, and the Hartford Hospital.
She is survived by two sons, Andrew and Charles of Newton, and daughter Victoria of Portland, Oregon.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Register-Guard Insert

I previously reported big news about the 2014 AIA-SWO People’s Choice Awards, specifically that its display and associated voting will take place at this fall’s Lane County Home Improvement Show, October 10-12. The next big announcement is that AIA-SWO will once again publish a special insert in the The Register-Guard newspaper to coincide with the Home Improvement Show and the People’s Choice Awards.

With a distribution to over 190,000 businesses and residents in Lane County, The Register-Guard is an excellent place to advertise your firm or business. This Register-Guard Insert is also one of the most direct ways that the AIA-SWO addresses the Eugene-area community as a whole. 

Join other AIA-SWO members in raising the visibility of our profession, highlighting the chapter’s recent accomplishments, and sharing the quality and value of our work in the community.

In addition to the copies delivered to subscribers and newspaper boxes, AIA-SWO will distribute hundreds of copies at October's First Friday Art Walk and at the Lane Events Center during the Home Improvement Show. If past attendance is any indication, the show organizers expect more than 30,000 people to pass through the doors.

Check out the PDF at this link for more information. The R-G Insert committee will follow up with member offices in the weeks ahead. Act quickly and secure your firm's place in the Register-Guard insert. Space is limited!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Charting a New Course

"Detail from a map of Ortelius - Magellan's ship Victoria" by Ortelius - www.helmink.com. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

AIA-SWO chapter president Scott Clarke, AIA, recently emailed a momentous letter to chapter members. He reported the chapter will not renew its contract with Don Kahle, who has served as AIA-SWO’s executive director since 2007. Don will leave his position at the end of this year.

I was at once both surprised and not surprised by the news.

I found it surprising because the board’s decision to not renew Don’s contract is huge; by choosing this course, the board is navigating our chapter toward the unchartered waters of a post-Kahle world.

The board’s decision wasn’t surprising because our chapter’s aspirations and the corresponding cost of Don’s service have become unsustainable. This is a bottom line verdict.    

There’s no doubt that with Don beside the helm, AIA-SWO broadened its horizons and became a stronger voice in the community. What I most appreciate about Don is his out-of-the-box thinking and his willingness to be, in his own words, a “troublemaker, iconoclast, and provocateur.” Before Don’s arrival in our world (Otto Poticha notwithstanding) our members maintained a safe and straight course. Our natural tendency was to not rock the boat. With Don’s encouragement and guidance, our chapter actively sought a higher public profile, undertaking a series of impressive initiatives (some of which Scott cites in his letter). We owe him a debt of gratitude for all he has done for AIA-SWO.

Don mentioned to me on more than one occasion how much he admires architects, the way we go about our work, and the vast potential of our profession. He wants us to succeed and effect the positive change he knows we’re capable of. He understands the importance of presenting a clear vision about the value of architecture and architects to society. I’ve no doubt Don will continue to be our biggest fan.

On a personal note, I’ve regarded Don as a valued mentor; this was especially true during my term as chapter president (2009). I’m grateful for his counsel. He helped draw me out of my shell. He was always quick to offer me advice when I asked him. I don’t expect this to change after he relinquishes his position as AIA-SWO executive director.

I’m interested to see who Don’s successor will be and how much responsibility the board will invest with him or her. I’ll also look forward to Don’s continued contributions toward the betterment of our community. I think we rubbed off a bit on him as much as he did on us. I fully expect Don will occasionally write or comment about Eugene’s architectural scene, exercising his characteristic intellect and wit while doing so.

Here’s the entire letter Scott sent to the AIA-SWO membership announcing the board’s decision:

August 20, 2014

Dear Members,

Don Kahle first worked with our chapter at the time of the AIA's 150th anniversary. He was an important part of our AIA 150 celebration, which our chapter manifested as an exploration of the potential of the Glenwood area between Eugene and Springfield. We identified this important link between the two cities as a place of great potential. Don was instrumental in the success of the event. Now, realization of the vision established 8 years ago is imminent and in some ways accomplished. Our chapter has undergone its own transformation. As Don's role with AIA-SWO grew, so too did our chapter's aspirations and expectations. We decided that we should do more, have a more active voice, and better serve our members and communities. Our present efforts are an extension of the vision formed in the years between the AIA 150 and now. Don has been the catalyst for efforts like our Center for Architecture, Architects Building Community (ABC), Register Guard newspaper insert, the 2010 AIA Pacific and Northwest Region Conference, and many other initiatives.

As our chapter's aspirations grew, we made a conscious decision to retain Don at a high level of service. As this occurred, we found ourselves engaged with larger initiatives and commensurate increased significance to our communities. At times, these initiatives brought with them income that buoyed our financial health. These kinds of lucrative situations have proven to be difficult to sustain. Recently (no doubt abetted by the poor economy of the last six years), an increasing amount of effort has been required to simply raise enough income to balance our budget. Some effort of this kind is to be expected, but when fundraising displaces work that defines our core mission we are left with an untenable condition. The high level of service Don has provided has enabled us to reimagine ourselves, and has established new standards for diversity and quality of chapter initiatives. He has taught us to think broadly and to seek symbiosis with other community institutions. He has successfully established new standards of performance and service. Our chapter will continue to strive to realize these new standards. We must do so in a fiscally responsible way. As a result, the board has decided not to renew Don's contract for 2015. This has been a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly, but the board sees that our current position is unsustainable.

We will seek means of changing the nature of our administrative services. We understand that this will result in a different kind of support from chapter staff. We will generate a revised description of the responsibilities for future executive directors. These responsibilities will focus on the administrative necessities of our organization, and will include fundraising responsibilities. We will maintain the vision of a stronger, more proactive organization that Don was instrumental in forming. We will assume the responsibility of remaining a visionary chapter that understands the value of our accomplishments while always remaining open to change. Maintenance of this vision will be the responsibility of the board. The cultural changes that Don has instigated have made this possible.

Don is continuing to serve our chapter well, and will do so for the remainder of 2014. He remains dedicated to acting in the best interest of our organization. We owe him thanks for all he has done for us, and wish him the very best. He will remain a vital, valued voice in our community. The vision he has brought to our organization will benefit us for years to come.


Scott Clarke, AIA
2014 President, AIA Southwest Oregon