Friday, February 28, 2014

The Godfather

Paul Edlund, FCSI (left) with Jim Robertson, FCSI at Paul's send-off party on February 26, 2014 (my photo)

The Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute is one of the more decorated and active of the 140+ CSI chapters around the country. Numerous WVC members have held offices at the region and national levels as committee chairs, region directors, and Institute president. I’m not sure, but it would not surprise me at all if the Willamette Valley Chapter has a higher proportion of members who have been elevated to Institute fellowship than any other. We are blessed with an incredibly energetic, motivated, and collegial group of construction professionals. 

First and foremost among the Willamette Valley Chapter’s illustrious members has been Paul Edlund, FCSI, CCS, AIA. Paul was one of the charter members for the chapter at the time of its establishment in 1965. Since that time, he has truly served as the chapter’s sage and its heart and soul. There is no doubt he has influenced, taught, mentored, and befriended more WVC members than any other single person in the chapter’s long history. 

In addition to his immeasurable contributions at the chapter level, Paul has also played a significant role in helping CSI flourish at the region and national levels, having served on various institute technical committees, the national board, and more. 

Now 87 years young, Paul still maintains his specifications writing practice, serving numerous clients. Additionally, Paul continues to teach the CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) study course each year, as well as (up until this past fall) a similar curriculum for students at the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture.(1)  

Paul and his wife Dencie are soon leaving Eugene and moving to Lake Oswego to be closer to their children. It is an enormous understatement to say that the Willamette Valley Chapter is going to miss Paul. Our loss is the Portland chapter’s gain. We know we’ll still get to occasionally see Paul during his visits to Eugene or when those of us trek north to the Portland area to see him there. Regardless, it was only fitting for the Willamette Valley Chapter to formally acknowledge his unparalleled advocacy and actions on behalf of CSI. Accordingly, the chapter presented Paul with a heartfelt plaque in recognition of all that he has meant to us. Here it is: 

The plaque presented to Paul Edlund in appreciation by the WillametteValley Chapter at its February 27, 2014 meeting. Thanks to Tom and Trixie Deines for writing the text and arranging the production of the plaque. Special thanks to the photographer, Loren Berry, who did a masterful job of capturing Paul being “large and in charge” at a CSI event.

The plaque reads as follows: 

"Paul Edlund, FCSI, CCS, AIA
Distinguished Member 

In deep appreciation for your boundless energy and tremendous vision, beginning in October 1965 as founding member of the Willamette Valley Chapter of CSI and continuing to this day with your selfless contributions through education, teaching certification, and continual involvement. You have offered your wisdom and kept our chapter on track, while maintaining high levels of quality and integrity, as only the “Godfather of our Chapter” could do. 

Our sincere thanks for 49 years of incredible service!

WVC Members
February 27, 2014" 

We wish Paul and Dencie all the best as they embark on the next chapter of their lives!

(1)  Paul has volunteered his time (along with Linn West) to teach these classes. Beginning next winter Larry Banks and I will attempt to fill Paul’s very large shoes to help Linn teach the CDT course.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Architecture Is Awesome #2: Being surprised by great architecture you didn’t know about before

The dome of Florence Cathedral (photo by me)
 
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. 

One of the great thrills of life is the discovery of things that are new and wonderful to you. This is especially true if it happens when you’re least expecting it. 

I spent several months of 1979 traveling through Europe after completing my studies at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and before enrolling in the Bachelor of Architecture program at the University of Oregon. It was the quintessential backpacking/youth hostel/Eurail pass adventure many young people undertake. My travel partner was Tom Morris, a classmate of mine at BCIT and now an architect with his own practice in Seattle.

At the age of twenty, I hardly knew anything about the great works of historic architecture. Indeed, I largely viewed the prospect of a European Grand Tour as an opportunity to track down some of Modernism’s seminal projects rather than the architectural legacies of classical antiquity or the Renaissance. Consequently, my familiarity with many of the greatest buildings of European history pre-dating the 20th century was meager at best. The works of Corb and Mies (and even Rossi and Piano & Rogers) figured prominently on my itinerary; those by Wren, Bramante, Palladio, and their like did not. 

Despite my limited appreciation for them, I was at least aware of St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Basilica of St. Peter’s, Chartres Cathedral, and many of the other most famous works of ecclesiastical architecture in Europe. Tom and I visited all of these and much, much more. Seeing and learning about these historic buildings firsthand would prove to be a life-changing and eye-opening experience for me. 

My eyes were never opened more wide than when I first glimpsed the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known to tourists as Il Duomo di Firenze—the main church of Florence, Italy. Before visiting Florence, I had no idea this huge and magnificent cathedral existed. 

Tom and I arrived in Florence by train at the Santa Maria Novella station, and trekked by foot to the nearby Locanda Giovanna hotel, where we dropped off our belongings after checking in. Somehow, we managed to do all of this without catching sight of the Duomo or even being aware of how central it is to the identity of Florence. Stepping out of Locanda Giovanna, we made our way through the winding streets, first down Via Faenza, and then turning onto Via del Canto dei Nelli. We strolled through the open market at the Piazza San Lorenzo before finally making our way onto Via dei Martelli.(1) 

Suddenly, there it was: the brilliantly polychromatic marble fa├žade, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. The great cathedral to which it was attached loomed over the much smaller buildings surrounding the Piazza del Duomo. It was a startling apparition. 

The Duomo—actually part of a complex that includes the octagonal Baptistery of St. John and Giotto’s campanile (bell tower) in addition to the cathedral—was unlike any of the other great churches we’d already visited. Despite their equally immense size, the gothic cathedrals (Notre Dame, Chartres, Canterbury, Milan) seemed delicate in comparison to Florence’s massive cathedral. And the Duomo struck Tom and me as very much different from the iconic examples of the later Renaissance and Baroque churches on our itinerary. Its architecture was an amalgam of styles, with traces of Romanesque, Gothic, and proto-Renaissance features. Perhaps only the Italo-Byzantine architecture of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice would impress us as more exotic. 

The Duomo warmly glowed under the Tuscan sun. The rich patterning of its marble cladding belied the otherwise simple, clean lines of the immensely tall facades. We climbed all the way to the top of Giotto’s campanile for a panoramic view of the surrounding city. We admired the audacity of Brunelleschi’s dome. Thanks to stumbling upon the great church, our first day in Firenze was a very good one. 

How could we not have known about such a spectacular building? Perhaps we did; I really can’t remember. Regardless, I know our encounter with the Duomo in real life was amazing. No amount of knowledge beforehand could have prepared us adequately for the first time we actually saw the church. I was very much surprised, and most pleasantly so. It was a breathtaking experience. 

Unlike Charles Dickens’ character David Copperfield, I hope I never know enough of the world that I lose the capacity to be surprised by anything.(2)  Life is rich and its capacity for beauty infinite. A nice surprise is life’s serendipitous way of reminding us of this fact. Our world is full of fantastic architecture, past and present, the vast majority of which I am sure I have yet to discover. I fully expect to one day turn a corner and find myself absolutely astounded by another building new to me, just as I was many years ago on that sunny, late November day in Florence. 

There’s no other way to describe it: Being surprised by great architecture you didn’t know about before is AWESOME. 

Next Architecture is Awesome: #3 Wabi-sabi

(1) This is a mental reconstruction of the path we took; I’m not sure we actually followed this route.

(2)  A deflated young David Copperfield, having lost his mother, speaks of being ejected at the age of ten from the wonders of childhood to the world of work and a life of servitude.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

AIAS Professional Mentor Program

The University of Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) invites interested architects and interns to participate in the AIAS Professional Mentor Program.

This program connects emerging and established professionals with AIAS members to give students insights into a career in architecture. The time commitment is limited: you would meet with your mentee once or twice a month until June, but the service you are providing for the students is invaluable. Mentoring is a major part of our profession and AIAS is trying to extend it to students, the pre-emerging professionals.

If you'd like to be a mentor, the paragraph below is an example of the kind of brief bio to send to aias@uoregon.edu with a cc: to Regan Greenhill, the AIAS President this year at regan.greenhill@gmail.com

Students will read the blurbs and request mentors. Here’s an example paragraph for a mentor biography:

Alvar Pei van der Wright, AIA
Associate at ABC Architects


Alvar Pei van der Wright graduated with a Master's in Architecture from the University of Napkin Sketches in 2011. Soon after graduation he as hired by ABC Architects where he currently works. He has worked on various projects, two of the main projects are: XYZ University Classroom building and the Main City Promenade. Alvar believes that there is more than just working, but also giving back. With the AIA, he is currently serving as the Associate Director and sits on various committees. 

The AIAS already has commitments from 17 volunteers this year and only needs about five more participants, so contact Regan as soon as you can to sign up and join this important program. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Architecture is Awesome #1: Aedicula

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chartres_Cathedral_South_Porch_Central_Bay_2007_08_31.jpg
Aedicular frames sheltering sculpture at the south porch of Chartres Cathedral (photo by Andreas F. Borchert, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic license).

I don’t think there’s ever been a child who didn’t enjoy crawling under a table, or building a shelter out of cardboard boxes, couch cushions or blankets and proclaiming it his or her house or fort. The appeal of a little house in which to establish dominion over one’s territory is universal. As the British architectural historian Sir John Summerson wrote in his essay Heavenly Mansions, “It is symbolism—of a fundamental kind, expressed in terms of play.” 

The symbolism of the miniature shelter lies in both its coziness (which intensifies the sense of security in a hostile world) and its ceremony (the idea of neatness and serenity within, contrasting with wildness and confusion without). In historic architecture, the little house often served as a symbolic and spiritual center within or as part of a bigger building. For example, countless churches, cathedrals, temples, and shrines throughout history have incorporated miniaturized symbols of shelter for ceremonial purposes. These may have taken the form of a ciborium or a baldachin (a freestanding canopy supported on columns), or as two-dimensional frames or niches within which sculptural figures expressed theological concepts. As parts of larger structures, the diminutive shelters also preserved the human scale. The architectural name for one of these little buildings is aedicula

The first time you hear the word aedicula, it sounds as though it might be a name for part of the human body, like the uvula—that funny thing that hangs at the back of your throat. Its etymology dates to the Latin of ancient Rome, and literally translates as “little building.” Today, we can largely credit the continued use of the word and application of the aedicula concept to Summerson and also to Charles Moore(1). Moore, along with Gerald Allen and Donlyn Lyndon, presented contemporary uses of aediculae in residential architecture in their book The Place of Houses

The notion of the aedicula appeals to me because it recalls the interpretations of home, shelter, and protection we all invented as kids. This genesis is primal, instinctive, and innocent. The aedicula is a childlike design response we can apply to real-world, grown-up architecture of all kinds. For Moore and his colleagues, the aedicule provided a way of accommodating the general need for a symbolic center in the midst of the specific demands of a household. Other architects have employed aediculae to likewise differentiate spaces within spaces, or as elements to ceremoniously frame special settings. 

Picture of a table fort via The Artful Parent

We never really outgrow our love for things that appeal to our inner child—our imaginative, creative, and wide-eyed self. As children we innately understood the significance of our play. We learned how to demarcate and occupy space, to build a refuge and exclude the elements. What we may not have understood was how central and important the symbolism of the “little houses” we created was to our youthful fantasies. In fact, the creativity we express as adults and our use of symbols is the offspring of the imagination we all cultivate at a very young age. 

As Sir John Summerson noted, the concept of the aedicula is an idea of fundamental importance in the aesthetics of architecture. Aediculae are elemental expressions of shelter, centeredness, and place. Throughout history, they’ve served as vessels laden with symbolism and as centers for ceremony. Their place in the architect’s toolbox is assured, and yet their use in contemporary work isn’t as commonplace as it might be. 

I believe the aedicula is ripe for rediscovery by architects precisely because of its potency as an architectural device. In a word, the aedicula is AWESOME! 

Next Architecture Is Awesome: #2 Being surprised by great architecture you didn’t know about before 

(1) I had the privilege of working with Charles Moore as an employee of the Urban Innovations Group in Los Angeles from 1985 to 1987.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Preserve City Hall?

Eugene City Hall (my photo)

Following my preface below is a letter penned by Otto Poticha, FAIA. Otto’s long advocated for preserving Eugene City Hall pretty much as it is. In his view, it is an exceptional example of mid-century modern architecture in our community. Rather than see it altered beyond recognition, he is hopeful its future will include retention of its salient features, in addition to mitigation of its significant shortcomings. His letter is his plea to like-minded professional and academic colleagues to join him in assuring City Hall is not lost to the wrecking ball and with it an important part of Eugene’s architectural heritage. 
 
Where do I stand on the subject of City Hall’s future? 
 
I do concur with Otto’s opinion regarding City Hall’s historic significance, particularly its provenance as the winner of an important national competition that drew the attention of the major architectural publications of the day. The jury lauded the design by Stafford, Morin, and Longwood as a low-key, open expression of a municipal institution. City Hall’s simple parti—its drum-like council chamber surrounded by a serene courtyard—was as clear as a diagram. In some measure the virtue of the design derived from situating the courtyard above the streetscape, which literally elevated and detached the realm of government from the city it serves. 
 
On the other hand, I do believe City Hall’s design is also fatally flawed. Its principal shortcoming is precisely 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. 
 
Ultimately, I expect City Hall will become something much different than it is today, an outcome Otto would lament. Times have changed and Eugene has as well. Moving forward, a rejuvenated City Hall is expected to primarily serve as only the symbolic seat of civic governance, and the City has furnished a correspondingly small construction budget. It will not be the place where the majority of the work of the City takes place as it was when it first opened in 1964. How the City of Eugene plans to repurpose the portions of the building it no longer requires is very much an open question. No matter what, City Hall will be a fundamentally transformed building. 
 
I’m not pleased to conclude that we should allow an existing building of architectural significance to either be demolished or radically transformed 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 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; however, correcting City Hall’s failings may simply be too great a challenge to overcome. 
 
Notwithstanding Otto’s efforts to protect the design integrity of City Hall, its fate may largely rest with the plans now being developed by Rowell Brokaw Architects and its team of collaborators. I’m pretty certain they’re exhaustively exploring ways to extend City Hall’s future without completely erasing its essence. They owe it that much. 
 
Here’s Otto’s letter: 

Monday, February 3, 2014 

To: Architectural and University Colleagues 

Re: The Eugene City Hall Building and Site 

As all of you know I have spent over three years attempting on getting the neglected Eugene City Hall building and site to be protected and not demolished. 

This is a building with documented architectural credentials and a significant architectural history. This is an architectural art piece that needs recognition and preservation. A building with these credentials is rare in Eugene. The good news is that the original building has not been extensively renovated so all of the “bones” and design concepts are still in place. 

The other night we were given the Rowell Brokaw introduction of the process for the new City Hall on this site. We were told of the problems with energy, structure and the budget first phase program size relative to the existing frame. We were also introduced to the Council resolution to save the council chamber, the art and parking. We were shown how the existing wooden fins could be used as paneling in the renovated structure. This introduction was certainly very professional but appeared as a way to build a case to tear down most of the building and the initial important concept. It almost uses the same justification as we used for the downtown urban renewal process in the 70’s. 

I believe it is the responsibility of the community at large but certainly the architecture community to get more involved in retaining this building. I am seeking those members of the architectural and larger community who are willing to be a part of an advocacy group to lobby, monitor and focus on retaining this important mid-century modern building. Perhaps this building, with all of its identified problems, is not to be used as a City Hall. Perhaps a new first phase City Hall could be built on the South Side of 8th including the relocated Council Chamber and art. The existing building and site sold to a developer or reassigned another civic role (like the County Historic Museum or Eugene Art Museum) with the provision that it must be maintained and restored. 

I have taken on the task of filing the necessary forms and support materials to the City and State, with over 70+ 11" x 17" pages documenting the building’s history, awards, distinction and the design process involved. This is the first step of the process of getting the building and site placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I just received notice that my application to the Eugene Historic Review Board was rejected because the City ordinance requires that only a Building Owner, the City Council or the Planning Director can apply for this designation, and none are willing. The application has also been submitted to the State Historic Review Board (SHPO). This is a first phase in the process for National Registry Designation. It requires that the State agency (SHPO) supports that the building and site would be eligible for National Historic Registry recognition. I recently received notification that the building and site are eligible. I now am prepared to start the final recognition filing and the filing of the application to National. 

I assume that as an architect you consider architecture an art form and as an art form the piece requires understanding and protection. Any form of art does not require all to like and appreciate in the same way but it is important to the community and to all or any of what we do. 

As you are aware, having it recognized on the National Register guarantees nothing and the building can still be altered or demolished. 

Please share this letter with your office colleagues, as they might be interested in participating. 

Please consider volunteering to be on this City Hall Building Advocacy Committee. 

If you are willing please contact me by email and I will organize our first meeting. 

Otto P. Poticha, FAIA
op@poticha.net  (541) 686-9466

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Architecture Is Awesome

The Pazzi Chapel by Filippo Brunelleschi, Florence (my sketch, 1979)
 
One of my favorite websites is 1000 Awesome Things, a Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The blog is Pasricha’s affectionate, sunny affirmation of some of the awesome things that help make life worth living. He launched the site on June 20, 2008, with No. 1000, Broccoflower, counting down to No. 1, Anything you want it to be, on April 19, 2012. Much to Pasricha’s surprise, 1000 Awesome Things was an immediate hit and quickly attracted millions of followers. 

Pasricha started his blog to help counter the endless barrage of bad news we’re all subjected to on a daily basis and as a means to overcome his personal depression in the wake of the breakup of his marriage and the suicide of a close friend. He found solace in writing about the things that help make life special and worth living. Through his blog Parischa extolled “that sense of wonder and beauty in all the tiny joys in life” and marveled at how “life is so great we only get a tiny moment to enjoy everything we see.” He wanted (and wants) us all to share high fives and keep thinking wild thoughts, dreaming big dreams, and laughing loud laughs. 

I enjoy 1000 Awesome Things because it reminds me about the awesomeness we can all find in our lives if only we take the time to look. Some of the awesome things on Pasricha’s list that immediately brought a smile to my face upon reading them for the first time include the following: 

#834 Building an amazing couch cushion fort 
#355 When construction cranes get Christmas lights on them 
#166 Midnight summer walks 
#124 Babies in Halloween costumes 
#67 When cats do stupid things 
#2 Remembering how lucky we are to be here right now 

Check out his entire list of awesome things and take the time to read a few of them. I’ll bet you anything you’ll find it impossible not to smile at least a few times. 

Pasricha doesn’t claim to have cornered the market on awesomeness. He believes awesome is what’s awesome to each of us. It’s about what’s in your heart. It’s about the free, easy little joys that make life sweet. Nevertheless, he offers three secrets—the three “A’s” of awesome—to leading a life that is truly awesome in a heartfelt TED talk

Attitude: Choosing to move forward
Awareness: Truly seeing the world and embracing your inner three-year-old
Authenticity: Being you and being cool with that 

1000 Awesome Things is not only AWESOME but inspiring as well. 

I was looking for inspiration for my own blog when it occurred to me that much of what’s made my life sweet is the awe, wonder, sheer beauty, and joy I have experienced during a life in architecture. I realized there are numerous reasons why this is so—why I find studying, exploring, and appreciating architecture so fulfilling and life-affirming. There are many, many things (maybe even a thousand) about architecture I can reflect upon and share with readers of SW Oregon Architect. I can blog about why I think architecture is awesome. 

My plan is to write one Architecture Is Awesome post a month, maybe more as my time and mood allow. I’m not certain yet, but I expect the architectural topics I touch upon to be highly eclectic, from the specific features of buildings and landscapes I admire to subjects like spatial composition, materiality, and ordering principles. Each post will tend toward the pithy and the personal. Very occasionally they might even attempt to be humorous, as many of Neil Pasricha’s posts most certainly are. 

Unlike 1000 Awesome Things, my list will not be a countdown of the reasons why I think architecture is awesome; that would put too much pressure on me to meet a predetermined goal. Instead, I plan to simply start with No. 1 and go from there. We’ll see how far Architecture Is Awesome takes me. 

One of the big reasons why architecture is awesome is that the potential to make people’s lives better is inherent in every project architects undertake. More than ever before, architects must deal with the reality of today’s world, which includes addressing such enormous challenges as global warming, social inequity, and an uncertain economy. We simply cannot stick our heads in the sand and ignore such issues when it’s within our control to do something about them. I’m no Pollyanna, and I won’t let my Architecture Is Awesome series trivialize and sugarcoat the important work we do as architects. On the other hand, I do want to acknowledge the art of architecture and its power to transform the way people see the world and their place within it. I do want to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, and meditate on architecture. Most of all, I want to revisit all the reasons why I was drawn to architecture in the first place. 

Thank you Neil Pasricha for reminding us about the AWESOME things that make life great! 

Coming up: Architecture Is Awesome No. 1: Aedicula