Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Hub

The Hub (all photos by me unless otherwise noted)

The August meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute - Willamette Valley Chapter featured a tour of the massive new Hub on Campus, strategically sited at 515 East Broadway (on Franklin Boulevard) between Eugene's downtown core and the University of Oregon. A large group turned out for the privilege of a sneak peek at the latest of the recent crop of privately developed student housing projects.

The Hub is a prime example of the nationwide trend toward the construction of luxury student housing by private developers. More and more, students (and their indulgent parents) expect hip, amenity-laden, lavish housing options. Each successive project in the competitive market seemingly outdoes its rivals. It's gotten to the point where these developments more closely resemble vacation resorts than the Spartan lodging I and my fellow baby-boomers endured during our years at the good ol' alma mater.

Vicinity map: the University of Oregon is highlighted in yellow; downtown Eugene is at the left edge of the map
The Hub’s developer, Chicago-based Core Campus (now Core Spaces), is one of the major players in the lucrative student-housing market. The company’s website proclaims how it has “revolutionized student housing style—and lifestyle.” The goal for its Eugene project was to capitalize on a great location by providing “an unparalleled living experience . . . in tune with the needs of today’s college students.” Notably, all of Core Campus’ future student housing projects will also be named “Hub.” The intent is to develop a brand and the promise of that brand’s quality, from campus-to-campus, city-to-city. 
Notably, Core Campus hired local contractor John Hyland Construction to build its Eugene project.(1) Two key members of the Hyland team—Shaun Hyland, president of the company; and Mark Brabham, Hyland’s project manager—served as our guides for the tour of the Hub. Shaun is justifiably proud of his company’s role in the landmark project. He described Core Campus as a very involved, easy to work for, lean, and youthful company. 

Shaun Hyland
The architect for the project was Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) of Chicago. Following Core Campus’ lead, HPA also brought on local talent to be part of its team: KPFF performed civil and structural engineering services, Schirmer/Satre Group was the landscape architect, and Interface Engineering provided M/E/P design. 2fORM Architecture assisted HPA, serving as the local “boots-on-the-ground” when required.
Shaun enthusiastically enumerated some of the Hub's superlatives: 
  • 12 stories above grade (the tallest building constructed in Eugene in many years)
  • 232,000 square feet, including 4,700 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and 16,000 square feet of shared amenities, plus a panoramic 8,300 square foot rooftop deck
  • 183 units with 513 total beds in apartments of assorted configurations (studio, 1-bed, and multiple bedroom plans)
  • Secure, multi-level underground parking
  • A direct construction cost of $40 million
  • Targeting LEED Silver certification
    HPA rendering of the rooftop amenities

    Of course, the feature that elicited the biggest “oohs” and “ahhs” from everyone during our tour was the impressive list of jaw-dropping amenities:
    • Heated resort-style pool with hot tub on the roof deck
    • Gaming cabana with 80” outdoor TV and billiards table
    • Rooftop regulation-size outdoor sand volleyball court
    • Large fire pit and lounge area
    • Star and landscape-gazing 20x telescope(s)
    • Sundeck with lounge chairs and tables
    • Expansive Club Room with billiards table, foosball, Golden T, and arcade games
    • Media wall with 15’ recessed fireplace
    • Outdoor fire pit, BBQ area, lounge, and hot tub
    • Fitness complex with state-of-the-art fitness equipment
    • Yoga room
    • Rejuvenating Resident Spa with sauna, steam room, and indoor tanning beds
    • Business Center with Mac’s, PC’s, and printer
    • Spacious private study rooms
    • Video conferencing facilities
    • Controlled-access scholar floors
    • Secure bicycle storage with bike repair station
    • 9-foot ceilings in all units
    • Cable TV (including HBO and select international stations) and WiFi Internet
    • Full-size washer and dryer in each unit
    • Electronic key access
    • In-unit bike storage
    • Air conditioning in every unit
    • Upscale stainless steel appliances including refrigerator with icemaker, smooth-top range, oven, undercabinet-mounted microwave, and dishwasher
    • Keurig™ Coffee systems in all units
    • Black quartz countertops
    • High-end Moen™ plumbing fixtures
    • 42” LED HD flat-screen TV mounted in each living room
    • Designer custom cabinetry
    • Large operable windows
    • Built-in dry bar with beverage cooler
    • USB outlets in bedrooms
    • Walk-in closets
     The rooftop pool
    Sand volleyball court on the roof
    2nd floor outdoor lounge

    Central courtyard. The tree is artificial.

    Pivoting glass door to the courtyard from the Club Room

    Club Room

    Fitness Center

    A flock of rubber duckies in the Club Room

    Typical unit kitchen
    Imagine the (beer-lubricated) poolside parties on the roof. Oh, to be a college student again, and well-heeled. As fellow tour-goer Greg Brokaw aptly quipped, the Hub is an opulent “cruise ship,” albeit a landlocked one.

    This level of luxury doesn’t come cheap. Monthly rents start at $689 per bed in a 5-bedroom unit, and top out at $1,225 for 1-bedroom units. Despite the relatively high costs, the Hub isn’t having trouble finding tenants.

    Typical 3-bedroom unit plan
    This was a huge project for Hyland; previously, the company had not constructed a building taller than six stories. There definitely was a learning curve for everyone; regardless, Hyland worked quickly to complete construction in less than 18 months. Core Campus has been so pleased with Hyland’s performance that Shaun reported his company is already working with the developer on an even-larger Hub in downtown Portland near the campus of Portland State University.

    So what about the architecture? What do I think of the design?

    The principal issue I take with the project is its massive bulk. Maybe Eugene will grow up around it, but for now it seems overly big. The Hub dominates its surroundings and looms over the sidewalks. “Svelte” isn’t an adjective one associates with the building. 
    The architects, HPA, would probably take exception to my assessment. The firm’s website described its design intent as follows: 
    “To activate the streetscape, cube-like forms sculpt the fa├žade, delineate building use, and break up the scale. A contrasting metal slat wraps around each face to articulate the forms on all sides. At the base, a continuous green screen softens the transition between the building and site.”

    A “green screen” softening the transition between building and site? I must have missed that somehow.
     Looking up from the 2nd floor outdoor lounge

    My criticism notwithstanding, it was obvious to everybody on the tour that the Hub has set a very high bar for student housing in Eugene. The level of finishes and amenities is undoubtedly impressive. The project will add significantly to the (near) downtown population, furthering the City of Eugene’s goal of concentrating compact development in the metro area’s core rather than sprawling expansion on the periphery of the city’s urban growth boundary. In this regard, its large size is a boon for downtown and a step in the right direction.

    It may also be the last of its kind, at least for a while. The Hub was the last student housing project the City of Eugene approved under its MUPTE program (in its renewed form, MUPTE does not list student housing developments as eligible for the property tax exemption). The student housing boom seems to have abated somewhat, which will allow Eugene time to absorb the substantial inventory of new beds added in recent years.

    *    *    *    *    *    *

    Thanks to Shaun Hyland and Mark Brabham for leading the tours of the Hub. The project stands as a fantastic tribute to the team at John Hyland Construction and its subcontractors. Congratulations on a job well done! 
    (1)   Contrast this with Capstone Companies use of Tennessee-based Construction Enterprises, Inc. as the general contractor for its controversial downtown Eugene project.  

    Sunday, August 23, 2015

    The Future of Architectural Craft

    The technology-fueled, accelerated existence many of us lead leaves little room for applying measured, considered craft to the work we do. Indeed, the notion of craftsmanship—the human skill of making things well—has become quaint, our yearning for it largely nostalgic. The primacy of economy and speed in manufacturing today is simply incompatible with the logic of craft. It’s rare anymore to witness the pedestrian become poetic in the hands of a true master. On the surface at least, our society has sacrificed craftsmanship at the altar of expediency. 

    Architecture and construction have not been immune. The evidence is all around us. Too much of our built environment betrays an absence of human caring and craft, compounded by a disproportionate reliance upon manufactured building components. Invariably, these manufactured components lack traces of work by human hands; their hallmarks are an inhuman consistency and thoroughly predictable precision. It should come as no surprise many of the buildings we assemble using such materials correspondingly appear deficient to us. There’s a marked absence of “life,” even if these buildings otherwise solve problems well and are objectively beautiful. 
    Additionally, today’s global marketplace and its free flow of resources and goods too often trump regional sourcing and hand-fabrication of building components tailored to project and site-specific needs. The efficiencies and economy of worldwide mass production by computer-controlled machinery or cheap labor are tough to beat. Until this changes craftsmanship will never be a priority. The shame is our failure to adequately recognize the importance of craft and what is learned through using our hands. 

    So, is there a future for craftsmanship in architecture? I say yes, unequivocally. 
    In his 2008 book The Craftsman, sociologist Richard Sennett advocates craftsmanship as a template for modern living. He equates craftsmanship with thoughtfulness, exploring how “making is thinking.” Sennett argues the values we associate with craftsmanship—the desire to do a job well for its own sake, the “slow learning that enables reflection,” and the application of mastered technique—produces superior work in any modern industry. Sennett numbers construction, architecture, and even urban design among these industries. 
    Most architects wouldn’t immediately apply the label of “craftsman” to themselves, yet the training that prepares us for the profession and much of what we regularly engage in typifies the craftsman ethos. After all, like craftspersons who master any trade, we endure a lengthy education and indoctrination into a culture that highly values the obsessive energy required to do good work. We subsequently learn at the feet of those who, by virtue of their experience and command of the professional skill set, provide mentorship and model desirable performance. We learn by doing. Ultimately, we likewise achieve a level of competence (validated by licensure) to skillfully and knowledgeably practice architecture. 
    Many architects believe our ability to truly ply our trade is limited by our current tools. The advent of computer-aided design distanced us from the tactile, tangible, immersive, and physically natural craft of drawing by hand; however, our computers are merely tools, just as the pencil and pen are. Ideally, the electronic interfaces we employ will become increasingly interactive, ergonomic, and natural to use, bridging the rift between hand and eye, idea and execution. The application of craft works using all forms of media, across many scales in the built environment, from the detailing of a building component to the organization of life-enhancing public spaces within our urban fabric. The common thread architecture shares with all traditional crafts is meticulousness about the details and an appreciation for the quality and cohesiveness of an overall vision. 
    It’s easier for most of us to imagine the many tradesmen and women who do get their hands dirty doing the work of assembling buildings as engaging in craft; however, if they’re not required or allowed to exercise the thoughtfulness and patience Sennett regards as essential to craftsmanship, is this true? The answer to this question is “no.” Craftsmanship is an attitude and a practice, not merely a skill set. If they do not regard their work as an intellectual activity exploring the possibilities and processes to produce unique objects, they are not craftsmen or women. True craft is a consequence of the quality of effort that created the work. 
    Fundamentally, our society’s future embrace of the values of craftsmanship will boil down to whether we are willing to radically alter business-as-usual and cast aside the socioeconomic paradigm that has dominated our recent history. The waning of craftsmanship, which generally corresponds to the ascension of global industrialization and mechanization, will reverse if the way we approach construction and the making of things of lasting value itself changes course. 
    Bet heavily on change. The tribulations wrought by global heating, social inequity, overpopulation, and political upheaval are progressively compelling us to reconsider how we do things. The production of consumer goods—especially the disposable, ephemeral kind—will inevitably decline. The world’s economies will increasingly localize and differentiate. By necessity, our settlements will become more resilient, self-sufficient, and agile. Because of their scarcity, we’ll aggressively conserve limited resources. We’ll confront the rapidly shifting and complex challenges by simplifying how we live and cherishing what is truly meaningful. We’ll produce and preserve valued objects possessing lasting quality because we cannot afford to do otherwise. 
    There is a future for craftsmanship precisely because of the magnitude of changes we’re witnessing. This will be as true here in Eugene as it will be in Akron, or Shenzhen, or Buenos Aires. I predict craftsmanship in architecture and building will return and thrive again. It will blossom in many forms, each unique to its specific geographic and cultural context. The entrenched system isn’t likely to relinquish its grasp on the construction industry without a fight, but I do believe it will happen within my lifetime. 
    Richard Sennett is no Luddite and neither am I. We’re not wishing for a return to a pre-industrial existence. The craftsmanship we extol is an ideal to which to aspire, a means to assert an essential humanity in the making of things regardless of the tools at hand. Craftsmanship is technology-neutral. Craftsmanship, now and in the future, is defined by competence, technique, and acquired skill. It accepts that progress won’t always be linear. It acknowledges contingency, anticipates ambiguity, and rewards improvisation. Craftsmanship will always be about the pride and the dignity to be found by people producing useful, beautiful objects, buildings, and places. 
    *    *    *    *    *    
    The American Institute of Architects - Southwestern Oregon Chapter is once again producing its Craftsmanship Awards Program. This edition has been far too long in coming: the last time the chapter bestowed Craftsmanship awards was in 2011. The organizers will soon ask AIA-SWO members and member firms to nominate individuals they believe represent the best attributes we associate with craftsmanship: a command of technique, evident pride in one’s work, and transcendent quality. I’ll post links to the nomination materials as soon as they’re available.

    Sunday, August 16, 2015

    Become an Active Voice in the Community

    For years, the Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has addressed local issues that affect the practice of architecture and urban design in essentially an ad hoc fashion. My understanding is the chapter once boasted a standing and active Local Affairs Committee. Since my return to Eugene in 1988, past-presidents of the chapter have de facto assumed the function of a local affairs committee, sometimes incarnated as the proudly self-proclaimed GDA (“God-Damned Architects”). More recently, AIA-SWO formed its Design Excellence Committee, which has provided a series of community-wide education forums about design excellence at the building, urban, and metro scales. Regardless, there has remained a vacuum, an absence of a consistently organized and authoritative professional voice to represent AIA professionals on issues of importance to the future of the Eugene and Springfield communities. 
    This vacuum is about to be filled by AIA-SWO’s new Eugene/Springfield Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA). The committee’s mandate is to promote views, policies, and positions that largely represent the professionally informed opinion of AIA-SWO members on topics of community-wide importance. Doing so would elevate the stature and visibility of architects in general by representing design professionals as active, organized, and concerned public citizens. A new CoLA could adopt an activist posture, engaging design-related issues in the glare of the public eye and perhaps within the political arena. 
    CoLA will maximize its effectiveness by only taking on a limited number of issues at any given moment. The AIA-SWO board may recommend issues for CoLA to consider. All issues would be of relevance to the profession, of community interest, and come with implications beyond the scope of any single building project. Members of the committee would arrive at consensus agreement on each issue after having studied it in detail. They may or may not decide to formally adopt a public position on the matter. 
    The AIA-SWO board envisions CoLA providing a platform for discussions among all AIA-SWO members regarding positions on issues. CoLA certainly would keep the chapter membership informed throughout its deliberations. Ultimately, the committee might organize advocacy in support of its positions, soliciting participation from all interested members. Significantly, the AIA-SWO board has empowered CoLA to take stances without its approval. 
    I certainly can imagine CoLA tackling such prickly topics as MUPTE and the South Willamette Street Improvement Plan. It might also take on even broader matters, such as local efforts to combat climate change and region-wide mass transit. One thing CoLA will not do is endorse candidates for political office.
    The chapter is seeking volunteers to sit on the new committee. The committee will consist of three members plus a non-voting representative of the AIA-SWO board of directors. Volunteers should be excited about becoming active and knowledgeable about architectural issues of importance to Eugene and Springfield residents. They’ll need to be prepared to inform the chapter membership about these issues and advocate public positions representing a plurality of AIA-SWO members. 
    AIA-SWO will advertise CoLA meetings, which will be open to all chapter members, in its weekly Thursdays at Three e-newsletter. The board encourages AIA-SWO members at-large to participate in committee meetings and advocacy efforts. CoLA may ask anyone to lead subcommittees on specific issues. 
    I’m somewhat torn about throwing my hat into the ring as a candidate to be one of the three appointed CoLA members. I certainly want to be in the know and enjoy the satisfaction of doing important work on behalf of the architectural profession. On the other hand, I can always attend the open CoLA meetings, staying informed and participating as my time and interest allow. I’m guessing there are plenty of AIA-SWO members who are very attracted to the prospect of being a member of the committee. 
    If you’re one of those interested individuals, contact Eric Gunderson and/or Andrew Scheidt with any questions you may have. Email AIA-SWO executive director Annie Loe if you are fully committed to becoming a member of CoLA.  

    Sunday, August 9, 2015

    Summer Reading

    The promise of long lazy days, backyard barbeques, and weekends at the beach (or at least our romantic longing for such times) sustains the tradition of summer reading. Avid bibliophiles find the prospect of sitting on the porch in the evening, unwinding with a cool drink and a good book, to be the quintessential summer experience. 

    I’ve never numbered myself among those who ravenously consume book after book, whether during the summer months or any other time of the year. Typically, I’m too easily distracted— too unfocused—to earnestly take up reading. When I do read, I tend to favor non-fiction rather than fiction (though I do hope to remedy that imbalance at some point). I’m also more apt to favor small, easily digested snippets of text. I definitely suffer from a short attention span. 

    This summer is different: I hope to finish reading four important books before the dog days of 2015 are over. I owe three of these to the kind generosity of Nikos Salingaros, who gave me Design for a Living Planet, which he coauthored with Michael Mehaffy, and two of his other books after reading my blog post entitled Things about architecture that make you say “Hmmm . . .”  Nikos wished to thank me for publicly expressing interest in and promoting his work. In addition to Design for a Living Planet, Nikos selected for me Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction and Twelve Lectures on Architecture: Algorithmic Sustainable Design, based upon my expressed interest in the application to design theory of fractals, networks, self-organization, dynamical systems and other revolutionary ideas. 

    Rather than paraphrase what others have said about these books, the following are direct excerpts from some of their reviews: 

    On Design for a Living Planet:

    "Lucidly describes what's coming in the world of design -- and what needs to come." ~ Ward Cunningham, Inventor of wiki, and pioneer of Pattern Languages of Programming, Agile, and Scrum.

    "Essential reading for all urban designers." ~ Jeff Speck, Author of Walkable City.

    "Inspired, compelling and fascinating... Recognizes that a true architecture can be dug from the facts, insights, and theories, that occur with a broadening of science to include the human being." ~ Christopher Alexander, Author of A Pattern Language and Notes on the Synthesis of Form.

    "This new science of design is the most exciting frontier there is presently in the fields of architecture, urban design and planning. Mehaffy and Salingaros offer easy access to the true potential of living design that can heal our sensibilities and realign our collective future on this planet. This is the genetic building block of a new science for building and rebuilding human settlements and all built form across the urban, suburban and rural spectrum." ~ Mahesh Butani, architect. 

    On Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction:

    "Undoubtedly, this manuscript is a voice of logic and reason against anti-architecture norms, and the destructive attitudes of their followers. I would add my voice to other reviewers of this manuscript: that it must be a mandatory reading in schools of architecture worldwide."
    ~ Ashraf Salama, Architect and Educator, Doha, Qatar 

    "Less than twenty pages of text is enough to deprive Deconstruction [sic] of the complex scientific arguments that offer its exponents scientific authority and social approval. It is astonishing that while architecture abandons the principles that made civilizations reach the highest building achievements, at the same time scientific knowledge that results from a drastically improved understanding of Nature rediscovers the quality of those traditional principles. Whereas the most celebrated architects abuse the latest technological gadgets in order to produce caricatures of science, mathematicians such as Nikos Salingaros and Christopher Alexander use science to reveal the ability of traditional architectural principles to innovate by creating humane urban environments. The clarity of vision that characterizes books such as Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction shows that such a future may not be so far away after all."
    N. Karydis, architect and author, London and Athens 

    "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction should ruffle lots of feathers in the building and design world. But I suspect it'll also fascinate many who aren't generally architecture and urbanism fanatics. This is a stunning and deep book, as interesting for its analyses of psychology and politics as it is for its discussions of architecture. It's guaranteed to get the brain buzzing; what a treat too that it's a real reading pleasure, written in a voice that's both urbane and forceful."
    ~ Michael Blowhard, Author and Filmmaker

    On Twelve Lectures on Architecture: Algorithmic Sustainable Design:

    "A fantastic manual of architectural algorithms explaining exactly why some designs make us feel at home on this planet and why others offend our neurology." ~ James Howard Kunstler, Orion Magazine

    "From architectural megalomania to media culture to the habit of cutting design and construction costs by ignoring the obvious . . . modernism acts like a computer virus that erases data banks and substitutes something much simpler and less functional, with collective social memory as the 'data bank' in question." ~ James Kalb, Turnabout

    "Biology and architecture intersect in mankind's unconscious perceptions . . . in ways that cause traditional architecture to be perceived intuitively by most people as more natural and life-affirming than modern architecture . . . the importance to change the world might be an additional incitement." ~ David Brussat, Providence Journal

    Thank you again, Nikos, for sending me your wonderful books. I’m hopeful other architects will share my fascination with your work and discover for themselves how paradigm-shifting your definitions of architecture and urban design are. 

    The fourth book I am presently reading is The End of the Long Summer by Dianne Dumanoski. I learned about Dianne Dumanoski from Alder Stone Fuller. Alder is back in Eugene following several years in Maine, where he established the Ermah Ge education collective, which is dedicated to teaching about complexity (system) sciences and living systems—from cells to organisms and ecosystems to the whole Earth. Ermah Ge includes education about abrupt climate change, and how to mitigate it to the extent possible but simultaneously build community resilience by increasing our adaptability. 

    Alder believes Dumanoski’s work, and in particular The End of the Long Summer, to be vitally important because she directly confronts the question of how humans must adapt to the inevitability of large-scale climate change. She does not offer false hope, which would be unethical because doing so would prevent people from fully understanding what is coming. Instead, she redefines hope in a way that is grounded in reality. Dumanoski counsels that “Fear, despair, and denial are indulgences we cannot afford. It is time to turn and face the future head on.” Humanity's future, she argues, will depend on our ability to return to systems based on flexibility, diversity, redundancy, and community and away from current trends that rely on technological fixes, unsustainable economic models of growth, and excessive globalization. 

    Here’s an excerpt from The End of the Long Summer, which offers a glimpse into Dumanoski’s sobering message: 

    "The most formidable obstacle ahead may be an imaginative one. The first step is to recognize that we have entered a period of deep change. Of course, simply suggesting that our civilization may be hitting a dead end is considered a message of ‘doom and gloom.’ But this judgment is a matter of perspective.  Acknowledging that we’re at the end of something means we’re at the start of something else.  We need to imagine futures that don’t much resemble the present—all kinds of futures, creative alternatives as well as frightening scenarios. The question is not how to preserve the status quo, but rather how to make our way in a new historical landscape. Today’s children will likely confront challenges we can hardly imagine in a radically altered, unrecognizable world. Can we responsibly continue preparing them for business as usual? And if not, what can we do to make them ready for a survival game in which wild cards rule?” 

    Architects would do well to heed Dumanoski’s words. Indeed, it’s increasingly clear to me our profession must first comprehensively understand the interconnectedness of all things from a systems perspective and then assume a leadership role, serving as guides in the new historical landscape Dumanoski foresees. This is an unprecedented challenge, one I hope we’re up to taking on. 
    *    *    *    *    *   

    Summer reading is meant to be pleasurable. I want to enjoy what I read, but I also want to actively engage myself in that reading. I want to think, ponder, and expand my horizons. The four books on my summer table are certainly helping me do this. Check them out for yourself.