Monday, July 27, 2015

Things about architecture that make you say “Hmmm . . .”

If architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space, is the architecture of an epoch whose time has passed no longer willful? 
Why do architects always wear black? 
How is it possible to run out of space? 
Is a gigantic, multi-million dollar, LEED-certified vacation home located in the middle of nowhere really “green?” 
Why do architects admire buildings so many other people despise? 
Why does the emperor wear no clothes? 

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I’m attracted to architects and writers about architecture who see the big picture, cut to the chase, and aren’t afraid to rethink how and why humans build. They recognize business as usual—our throw-away culture’s worship of profit, novelty, fashion, and technology for technology’s sake—is untenable and an impediment to achieving a true and lasting form of architecture, let alone one resilient enough to withstand what the future portends. Their ideas challenge the status quo. We need them precisely because they’re among the important few attempting to roust us out of our collective stupor. Mostly through their words alone, they have proven adept at disrupting our contentment and complacency with the way things are. 

This post’s somewhat flippant prologue notwithstanding, I introduce with all seriousness four of these current thinkers. They most definitely have made me say “hmmm” on more than one occasion. You might be familiar with one or more of them; if so, you probably already know why I regard them so highly. How they write and what they specifically write about may be all over the map, but they share in common an underlying and unmistakable wisdom about the underpinnings of architecture and its future in the service of humanity and our planet. 

Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros
Michael Mehaffy is an urbanist and design theorist, and a periodic visiting professor at five graduate universities in four countries and three disciplines (architecture, urban planning and philosophy). He is executive director of the Portland-based Sustasis Foundation, and editor of the Sustasis Press. Previously, Mehaffy was associated with the Prince of WalesFoundation for Building Community

Through his work with the Sustasis Foundation, Mehaffy has applied a broad outlook to the task of understanding our neighborhoods and cities. The foundation expressly seeks to facilitate inter-disciplinary collaborative research, education, policy and best practice, committed in the belief that our larger challenges cannot be "siloed" within disciplines. 

Nikos A. Salingaros is a mathematician and polymath known for his work on urban theory, architectural theory, complexity theory, and design philosophy. He has been a close collaborator with Christopher Alexander

Salingaros was the primary author for A Theory of Architecture, a collection of previously published papers that collectively describe a set of guidelines for design (Michael Mehaffy contributed to portions of the book). Salingaros appeals to scientific principles to link architectural and urban forms to human sensibilities. He argues good architecture, in all of its glory and complexity, is the product of relatively simple generative processes grounded in mathematics and science. 

A Theory of Architecture occupies a proud place on my bookshelf, but I’m looking forward to purchasing a new title co-authored by Mehaffy and Salingaros: Design for a Living Planet. The book is actually a collection of twenty essays by the authors that first appeared in Metropolis Magazine between September 2011 and December 2013; regardless, my understanding is the collective essays comprise a coherent thesis about design (I’ve read several of the essays independently). Their ideas will strike many as unconventional and radical but in my mind they’re eminently logical. The authors apply principles of fractal geometry, networks, self-organization, generative patterns, and dynamical systems to the tasks of understanding our world and designing for our place within it. 

Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros aspire to nothing less than a paradigm shift in architectural thinking, and that’s why I’m paying attention to them. You should too. 

Graham Brenton McKay
Graham McKay is a prolific freelance architectural writer who currently resides in Dubai (he’s a British expat). The blog Misfits Architecture is McKay’s forum for exercising his wickedly acerbic wit. He often wields his pointed pen at the foibles of the self-styled avant-garde and glitterati (Zaha Hadid and her associate Patrik Schumacher are favorite targets). With equal regularity, he also celebrates those misfits whose contribution to better performing buildings has not been fully appreciated (Douglas Haskell being his most recent honoree). 

Are you a misfit? McKay offers a definition: 

Have you ever thought Rem Koolhaas might just be another person? Or Harvard GSD may not be the centre of the Universe? Do you not love biennali or festivali, or even 'like' anything on ArchDaily?(1) Do you sense something's very wrong with architecture? 

We do too. Welcome. 

Food and shelter are both essential for human life but food is anything from a bowl of rice a day to some exquisite mouthful for a moment's pleasure. Junk food is somewhere in-between but so too is just the right amount of nutrition our bodies need. 

It's the same with shelter. We've got bread buildings that fill, cake buildings that thrill, and junk buildings that all they do is make us want more. 

All misfits wants is a nutritious architecture that does the shelter thing well, makes us feel good because it is good for us, doesn't cost the earth or cost us the earth. If that makes us misfits then so be it. 

I’ve included Misfits Architecture on my blog roll ever since I discovered it a few years ago. Reading what Graham McKay has to say is a surefire way to keep one’s ego in check and outlook in the proper perspective. 

Witold Rybczynski
Witold Rybczynski is an award-winning author, architect, and professor. He’s written about architecture and urban design extensively for a wide variety of print and online magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and He’s also authored twenty books, mostly about architecture but also on such disparate topics as the evolution of the seven-day week (Waiting for the Weekend) and the history of the screwdriver and the screw (One Good Turn). 

My personal library includes three of Rybczynski’s titles:
A common thread that shines through every Rybczynski book or article is his writing skill and ability to impart his personal thoughts on the subject at hand. I like to think part of the reason for this is because, like me, he hails from Canada, which former Prime Minister McKenzie King characterized as a country “without enough history and too much geography.” These facts instill a peculiar way of looking at the world, one that favors wistful observation and reflection (my wife thinks I’m particularly prone to navel-gazing). 

What I like most about Rybczynski’s blog (which like Misfits Architecture appears in my blog list at right) is how pithy and yet how insightful each entry is. His posts are wonderfully varied and yet consistent in their questioning and probing of what constitutes good architecture.

*    *    *    *    *    *

I’m thankful to have discovered clear-headed architectural thinkers, whose writings are variously serious, original, entertaining, provocative, and/or enlightening. As I get older, I’m finding it easier to recognize important ideas when I read them. I do sense an increasing accord amongst those whose work I admire most. The harmonics of this chorus—at first hearing seemingly random and dissonant—is quickly emerging as a self-organizing body of thought. Hmmm . . . indeed.
(1)   Ironically, ArchDaily is another staple on my blog roll.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Building as Landscape

I haven’t frequently showcased the projects of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, the firm I work for, on my blog. This is partly due to my reticence for tooting our own horn. I started SW Oregon Architect primarily as a means to share news relevant to AIA–Southwestern Oregon members during my tenure on the chapter's board of directors. Since then, I’ve continued to mostly write on topics of broad interest to the modest readership I’ve garnered since I began blogging in 2008. 
There have been a few exceptions. I dedicated a series of posts to a case study of our design for the VA Roseburg Healthcare System Community Living Center. Likewise, I chronicled the genesis, design processes, and construction of the University of Oregon’s Student Recreation Center Expansion, the Eugene Public Library and the Lane Community College Downtown Campus. In each instance, I believed it was worth describing the challenges the design problems posed, sharing our approach to addressing those challenges, and celebrating the projects’ noteworthy achievements. 

Approach to the building's entrance.
With this post I’m featuring RSA’s recently completed Lone Rock Resources office building in Roseburg. I do so not because it breaks new ground architecturally or because it will have an outsized impact upon the community of which it is a part. Instead, the relatively small project is simply a fine example of our work and a vindication of our approach to architecture. 
Lone Rock Resources is a family-owned timber company with a proud past and forward-looking future. The company responsibly manages more than 128,000 acres of forest lands for the long term. Lone Rock has championed sustainable forestry practices ever since Fred and Frances Sohn set up shop on the banks of the South Umpqua River in Roseburg in 1950. Today, the culture the Sohn family established through investment in people, research, equipment, and technology remains integral to the company’s success. Lone Rock Resources is a quintessential forestry company for the 21st century. 

View looking toward the GIS/Mapping/Survey wing.
Working for good people and having the right team are the key ingredients of any successful project. We genuinely enjoyed working with Lone Rock’s management team, who made certain we thoroughly understood the company’s history, culture, and vision for the future of the timber industry in Oregon. The project was also blessed to have Harmon Construction of Coos Bay as the general contractor. For our part, we entrusted the primary design responsibility for Lone Rock’s new headquarters to RSA associate Scott Stolarczyk.  

Scott Stolarczyk, AIA, CDT, GGP, LEED AP BD+C
Scott is one of our firm’s most talented architects. He’s also the office’s go-to resource for all things related to sustainable design, LEED and Green Globes certification, and integrated, whole-building design practices. In addition to Lone Rock’s facility, Scott designed the Regional Health & Educational Center for Planned Parenthood, the Giustina Resources office building, several branches for LibertyBank, the Veneta Municipal Pool, and a variety of food services facilities for the University of Oregon Housing Department (check out our website for images of these projects). Scott was eminently suited for the Lone Rock project because of his unique skill set, past experience, and ability to work effectively with a like-minded and amenable client. 

View within the "Watershed" courtyard.
We consider every one of our design commissions a unique opportunity and work with each of our clients to arrive at creative solutions that exceed expectations. For Lone Rock, Scott wanted to ensure his design for the new company’s new offices was truly expressive of the company’s ethos. Beyond Lone Rock’s commitment to sustainably managing the lands they control, this meant creating attractive, clearly organized, and highly functional workspaces to empower the company’s greatest resource: its employees. This also meant honoring Fred Sohn’s legacy: his passion for innovation, belief in the importance of investing for the future, and respect for the environment. 
Floor Plan (click to enlarge)
The functional program for Lone Rock’s new building was straightforward: Provide suitable accommodations and support for its management, sales, accounting, and engineering staff, as well as a home base for the more-transient foresters (who spend much of their time in the field). Create a functionally and energy-efficient facility that consolidates a disparate and dispersed assortment of existing offices within approximately 11,000 square feet of space. Wrap it in an attractive package Fred Sohn would have liked. 
We learned that Lone Rock’s employees are characteristically humble, certainly not inclined toward favoring fancy digs. The foresters in particular expressed some discomfiture at the prospect of working within a precious or extravagant new building. Accordingly, Scott purposely designed it as a low-slung, modestly scaled structure nestled down the slope from and parallel to Old Hwy 99. Views toward the hills across the South Umpqua River to the west and up the slope across the highway to the east would also shape the plan, as would the inclusion of two interior courtyards. Scott’s emphasis upon access to views and daylight would become a key shaper of his design, rather than any desire to create an architectural statement. Instead, the form of Lone Rock’s new office building would largely appear to merge with the sloping profile of its site and become part of the landscape. 
"Watershed" Courtyard.
Furthering the building as landscape concept, Scott imagined the building as an analog for the Umpqua River watershed. The sloping roofs became abstractions of the hills flanking the river, while the courtyards represented the valley, its floor traced by the path of the waterway. Toward this end, Scott’s efforts were enhanced considerably by David Dougherty, ASLA, principal of DLA Landscape Architects. David detailed the courtyards to incorporate paving, native plantings, water features, and patterning that allude to the real landscape without appearing hokey. The courtyards provide visual oases, as well as access to light and fresh air. 
Of course, showcasing natural wood in the design was a given. Scott clad the building with a rainscreen system utilizing a combination of Western Red Cedar horizontal siding (treated with a clear alkyd oil finish) and vertical accent siding (featuring a fire-charred finish). Additionally, Scott incorporated large peeled-wood columns to support the larger roof overhangs. He worked with wood’s inherent properties to maximize the aesthetic effect of its natural beauty and warmth. The prominent display of wood, which continues inside, helps express what Lone Rock Resources is about. It symbolizes the company’s respect for a renewable and sustainable resource that has meant so much to western Oregon’s identity and economy. 

The slopes of the building's roof planes echo those of the hills behind them.
Scott complemented the expressive Western Red Cedar by cladding portions of the building with a stone masonry veneer. The cool grey color of the “Black Forest Mica” cultured stone by Coronado Stone Products harmonizes perfectly with the warm red tones of the wood. 
The interior design likewise features a harmonious blending of materials, of which wood is again prominently featured. The plan combines private enclosed offices with open workstations in flexible groupings, arranged as required to support changing needs. Pervasive throughout the interiors are the omnipresent views to the exterior, either outwardly toward the picturesque surrounding landscape or inwardly to the Zen-like courtyards. 
Conference Room.
Shareholders' Meeting Room.
Overall, Scott’s design exemplifies RSA’s belief that every project is one-of-a-kind. Working with Lone Rock Resources provided us with the opportunity to develop a design solution we believe is beautiful, inspiring, and unique to the company, a true representation of its heritage and guiding beliefs.  We’re confident we have provided Lone Rock with the first-rate workplace it was looking for, and we’re proud of our effort. 
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In addition to Scott, David Dougherty, and Harmon Construction, the other contributors to the success of the Lone Rock Resources project include the following:  

I took the photographs featured here during the June 9 Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce “Business After Hours” grand opening celebration for Lone Rock’s new building. In my opinion, the limitations of my smart phone's camera and my amateurish skills have failed to adequately capture (particularly for the interior shots) how satisfying the completed design is. We eventually hope to commission professional photography to do it proper justice.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Bases for Organization of the Environment

Maison de Rueil, by Édouard Manet (1882)

The following brief piece by Bill Kleinsasser demonstrates how broadly he viewed the architect’s responsibilities. His emphasis upon the interconnectedness of systems resonates now more than ever as we increasingly grasp how complex and expansive the processes and consequences of environmental design are. Only the gender bias (“man’s pattern-making,” “man’s awareness,” “his frames of reference,” and “his capabilities”) expressed in Bill’s writing betrays how old this passage is. Read on: 
Activity Support
The simplest and most familiar basis for organizing and shaping the physical environment is support for human activities. This basis involves accommodation of purpose and has both operational and experiential aspects. Changes in people, changes in activities, changes in institutions, the consequent desirability of loose fit and open-endedness, on the one hand, and exacting standards of performance on the other, reflect that this basis for organization involves activity families or families of use. These families imply varying amounts of specificity regarding configuration and equipment. 
Respect for Existing Systems
Outside of the institutions of man our physical surroundings belong to everyone and to no one. Because of this we can conceive of our physical environment as being extensive and continuous, both in terms of scales of existence or involvement and in terms of the interactions of systems. This accounts for this most fundamental basis for organizing the environment: respect for and sensitivity about existing systems. We need to make new systems that manifest the interdependence of life, recognizing that the physical surroundings we make both affect and are affected by other systems. This directs our attention to symbiotic and commensalistic relationships, as well as niches, dominance, and hierarchies. 
Maintaining the Ability to Make New Patterns / Heightening Awareness
Within and in addition to the first two bases for environmental organization and configuration are two more: maintenance of the physical and psychological vitality of man’s pattern-making capabilities and heightening of man’s awareness, expansion of the number of and meaning of his frames of reference and views of reality. The first is a matter of nourishing his capabilities; the second a matter of adding to or intensifying them. The first indicates the need for certain kinds of environmental characteristics and configurations; the second suggests precision and order. The first produces stimulation; the second poetic impact.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

AIA-SWO Annual Picnic!

AIA-Southwestern Oregon invites you to an evening of summer delights and the opportunity to lend a hand while learning about a spectacular hidden secret: the good work happening at Huerto de la Familia (The Family Garden). As part of AIA-SWO’s commitment towards community outreach, the 2015 Annual Picnic will provide members an opportunity to give back and make deep-rooted connections through doing good work for others. Participants will receive a hands-on account of how this non-profit impacts the lives of many families by providing practical agricultural education and assistance, directly addressing food security issues within the larger community. 
One-part work party, one-part summertime fun.
Build something! FREE BEER for all WORKERS! The Family Garden needs a few site improvements, and AIA-SWO wants you to help pitch in. Group projects will include building a trellis, repairing and adding to the tool shed, and horticultural care. Afterwards, enjoy a wonderful meal prepared with ingredients from the farm, with plenty of vegan options. Not everyone need volunteer; music, games, cold drinks, and camaraderie will all be part of the festivities.

          4:30   begin work party
                     (instructions will be sent to you)
          5:30   picnic social
          6:00   dinner
          7:00   games + tour + clean-up
          8:00   that’s all!

Huerto de la Familia manages the largest community garden developed by the Willamalane Park and Recreation District.  The picnic will take place at the Gamebird Community Gardens in Gamebird Park, located at 1500 Mallard Avenue, Springfield, OR 97477. Access the park from Game Farm Road (near Riverbend Hospital); it will be best to take MLK Jr. Parkway to Cardinal Way WEST, then Game Farm Road SOUTH, and then Mallard or Flamingo Avenue WEST. Plenty of street parking is available. Please consider biking, busing, or carpooling to the event!

Gamebird Park, Springfield

No charge for children 12 and younger. Picnic tickets include admission and (1) dinner; Work Party tickets include the same plus (1) drink ticket. Alcoholic beverages require (1) drink ticket per guest, which is good for the entire evening while supplies last.  
         $15   Picnic-Goers
         $10   Work Party volunteers (+FREE BEER!)
         $5    Drink Ticket         

Donations will also be accepted, proceeds benefiting The Family Garden. Please click to learn more about Huerto de la Familia, the farm, and organic gardening.

Follow the Eventbrite link below to purchase your tickets:

Saturday, July 4, 2015

R.I.P. Civic Stadium (1938–2015)

Image of the Civic Stadium fire posted to Twitter by Mike Jorgensen.
I was still at work this past Monday evening when my coworker Lana Sadler called to warn me: “Look out the south window” she said. I was astonished to see an immense tower of apocalyptic black smoke billowing into the sky. Lana was driving eastward away from downtown, so she didn’t immediately know the cause. “You probably don’t want to leave the office anytime soon.” 
From my 5th floor vantage in the Eugene Professional Building in downtown Eugene, the source of the densely dark pall appeared to be very nearby. Sirens were blaring, seemingly coming from all directions. Checking my Twitter feed, I quickly learned that historic Civic Stadium was ablaze and that it had become engulfed in flames in startlingly rapid fashion. The temperatures in Eugene had been at record high levels, and the old wooden structure was tinder dry. By the time the firefighters arrived on the scene, the inferno reached far above the tops of the soon-to-collapse timber roof. The radiated heat was intense, prompting the first responders to call for immediate evacuation of surrounding properties within a two-block radius.  

The fire completed its brutal work in less than 30 minutes. There was nothing anyone could have done to save Civic Stadium. 
Very little of Civic Stadium remains standing (my photo).
Two days after the fire, the Eugene Police Department arrested four pre-teen boys and charged them in connection with the incident. With the Independence Day holiday imminent, I initially suspected the fire may have been started by careless kids playing with fireworks. Instead, officials say the boys deliberately set the fire near the press box under the roof of the grandstand. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the resulting conflagration. One of the saddest outcomes of this tragedy is that these kids have not only destroyed a beloved piece of Eugene’s history but also irreversibly altered their own lives. They will pay a high price. I hope for their sake they now understand the magnitude of their actions and grow up wiser, repentant, and committed to not making similar mistakes in the future. 
The dream as imagined by the Eugene Civic Alliance (rendering by Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning)
Civic Stadium’s demise is the cruelest of blows to the members of the non-profit Eugene Civic Alliance. The grassroots organization was determined to save the forlorn stadium and repurpose it as part of a comprehensive recreation complex for use by Kidsports, other youth organizations, pro soccer teams, and adult recreational leagues. The members of the group struggled to build support for their plan to resurrect the old grandstand since its abandonment by the minor-league (short-season, single-A) Eugene Emeralds baseball club six years ago, but build support they did. They finally purchased it this past April, a huge step toward realizing their vision for the property. Now, hardly more than two months later, their dreams for Civic Stadium have literally gone up in smoke. The alliance’s leaders are in shock, as are many other Eugeneans for whom Civic Stadium provided many memorable summer evenings. 
There are few things that typify American culture as much as the sights, sounds, and smells of minor-league professional baseball. Civic Stadium excelled in this regard. It didn’t matter to me when I attended games if the Ems won or if their opponents did. What did matter was the authenticity of the ballpark experience at Civic Stadium. It wasn’t big league and I didn’t want it to be. I enjoyed being part of the community, of sharing America’s pastime with a whole bunch of people on many a lazy summer evening. Half the time, my wife and I didn’t even pay attention to the action on the diamond; instead, the barking peanut vendors, the hokey between-inning contests, people-watching, and the simple pleasures of socializing with those seated around us would provide ample entertainment. 
Something the Ems’ new home—PK Park—cannot replicate was Civic Stadium’s setting and unique field orientation. The view of the south hills from our box seats was exceptional, especially as those hills glowed with the setting sun. Also special: watching the crows flying home to roost for the night in nearby Amazon Park. 
Civic Stadium during its heyday (photo by Dennis Galloway)
Since the fire, many have come forward to share their grief and memories for a building that meant so much to them and their families. The July 1 edition of The Register-Guard included three particularly poignant opinion pieces by Eugene residents Aria Seligmann, Samuel Rutledge, and Bob Tate. Equally affecting have been the mournful eulogies by former Emeralds players and managers. Rob Morse, now the Coordinator of Communications for the New York Yankees said, “The thing I loved about Civic Stadium is that it truly felt like small-town minor league baseball. The cohesiveness of the local community at the games was palpable.” Exactly. 
For all of its charms, Civic Stadium was no architectural masterpiece. As an architect, I can say with some authority that its virtues were limited to its Depression-era provenance (as a public/private partnership between the Federal Works Progress Administration, the Eugene School District, and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce), its remarkable old-growth timber structure, and consequently its legacy as an irreplaceable example of its type. Its many shortcomings were well-known: the dearth of adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the mountain of deferred maintenance, the lack of acceptable toilet facilities, substandard team locker rooms, and the absence of an automatic fire sprinkler system (which might have saved it from its fate). Civic’s proponents spoke optimistically about raising enough money to not only restore the stadium but also enhance its safety and level of amenity by bringing it up to current building code standards. That was a tall order because the scope of the necessary and desired improvements was huge. 
In the fire’s immediate aftermath, the Eugene Civic Alliance board unanimously reaffirmed its commitment to its mission and declared its intention to “reimagine” the possibilities for the site within that mission. The Friends of Civic Stadium website asks, “What do we do when a dream dies?” The answer is to adjust the dream and move on. All of us who enjoyed going to a game, the Fourth of July fireworks displays, the Eugene Pro Rodeo, or another event at Civic Stadium will remember it fondly. The key to moving on will be for Eugeneans to rally around the reimagining process and look forward to the possibility of creating new happy memories.