Saturday, October 31, 2015


The Wainwright Building, by Adler & Sullivan (1891). The State of Missouri currently owns the Wainwright Building and houses state offices there. (All photos by me) 

Being a geeky architect, one of the things I had to do while I was in St. Louis during CONSTRUCT 2015 was visit the Wainwright Building. Most architectural history buffs can tell you it was Louis Sullivan (the architect who infamously proclaimed “form ever follows function”) who designed the Wainwright Building. Many regard it, along with the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, as the quintessential tall buildings in Sullivan’s portfolio, examples from when his influence upon the profession and the future of skyscraper design was at its zenith. 

Completed in 1891, the 10-story tall Wainwright Building holds an unquestionably prominent place in the canon of modern architecture as one of the first commercial skyscrapers in the world. Sullivan believed the new steel-framed, high-rise building type deserved its own form of expression. He said as much in an 1896 article he titled The Tall Building Artistically Considered, writing the skyscraper "must be tall, every inch of it tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line." Critics lauded the Wainwright Building for its tectonic honesty and departure from the neo-classical vocabulary Sullivan’s contemporaries clumsily applied to similarly tall buildings. 

Notwithstanding the Wainwright Building’s significance as an early representative of a truly modern architecture, what I was most engrossed by was Sullivan’s use of unglazed terra cotta ornamentation to embellish the otherwise simple structure. Contrary to later modernists (particularly Adolf Loos, who declared “ornament is crime”) who would eschew the integration of decorative elements, Sullivan characteristically employed a lush and intricate weaving of stylized foliage in repeated patterns at the building’s frieze, cornice, spandrels, and door surrounds. Wholly unique in their conception, you can nevertheless see how Sullivan must have been inspired by the work of the Art Nouveau movement, Nordic popular art, Celtic interlacings, and the Gothic style. 

We know Sullivan also looked to the poet Walt Whitman, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and others to mine ideas about how the environment shapes our behavior. Sullivan believed a truly indigenous American architecture should not be about classic Greek forms coming from Europe but instead derived from organic American motifs. He was trying to create an original architectural vocabulary, one suitable for application to new and uniquely American building types like the skyscraper. His decorative embellishments were so original and unique they soon became known collectively as the “Sullivanesque” style. 

Door surround

I’ve always been amazed by the inventiveness of Sullivan’s architectural ornament, so it was a real treat to see the Wainwright Building in person. What I found surprising is how much of the building is actually quite plain, which only served to make the terra cotta ornamentation appear that much richer and complex. It’s difficult for me to fathom the spark of genius Sullivan possessed to create such elaborate and beautiful designs. I can only wish to come close to mastering his ability to balance and integrate art and architecture so successfully. 

While I was in St. Louis, the wildly eccentric and eclectic City Museum coincidentally featured an exhibit of some of the mass-produced Sullivanesque terra cotta pieces and other items. Manufacturers such as Chicago’s Midland Terra Cotta Company and the St. Louis Terra Cotta Company replicated designs by Sullivan, William Purcell, George Elmslie, and other Chicago School architects, distributing catalogs to publicize their availability. As a result, the use of Sullivanesque ornament on commercial buildings became widespread throughout the Midwestern states during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I found the City Museum's display of Sullivanesque ornament impressive in its scope and quality. 

Sullivanesque ornament display at the City Museum

Elevator panel, Guaranty Building, Buffalo 1894

I wonder why we don’t see architects today doing more to exploit the decorative potential of terra cotta ornament on their buildings. I’m sure there are reasons why but I don’t know what they are. Perhaps there is a dearth of large-scale manufacturers, victims of a market that disappeared when the banishment of ornament became a guiding tenet of modern architecture. Perhaps custom terra cotta designs are expensive, anathema in a time when the budget is always the thing. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame we can’t again capture the joyous spirit and richness inherent in the material’s decorative potential. Louis Sullivan embraced this potential and gave life in the process to an original American architecture truly expressive of its time. 


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Back to the Future

There was a terrific turnout last Thursday evening at Shadows Hill Country Club for the 50th Anniversary celebration for the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute. Seventy-plus chapter members (past and present) and guests commemorated the occasion with a walk down memory lane testifying to the chapter's half-century of achievements, camaraderie, and influence both here in the Willamette Valley and also on the national scene.
It was in May of 1965 that John Amundson, Eldon Shields, Paul Edlund, and Richard Gessford attended the CSI convention in San Diego. There they determined that CSI could help improve the building construction industry back home in Oregon. Upon returning to Eugene, Paul and Richard called a meeting to spread the word and seek support for establishing a new CSI chapter in the Eugene/Springfield area. The CSI idea caught fire, and with help from NW Region Director Dick Ehmann and a few members of the already established Portland Chapter, the institute granted the Willamette Valley chapter its charter in October 1965. 
The 24 charter members of the Willamette Valley Chapter CSI were:

  • John Amundson
  • Bob Ashbaugh
  • Jim Balzhiser
  • Jim Bernhard
  • Paul Bogen
  • Eldon Brown
  • John Briscoe
  • Rick DeYoung
  • Dale Dukes
  • Stan Ducyk
  • Paul Edlund
  • Richard Gabriel
  • Richard Gessford
  • Miles Kontich
  • Don Leavitt
  • Fred Masarie
  • Max Moorhead
  • Gene Schaudt
  • Larry Nielson
  • Bruce Purdy
  • Eldon Shields
  • Walt Schmeiding
  • Bob Stearns
  • Paul Wilson
We were all blessed to have two of these charter members—Paul Edlund and Dick Gessford (who was the Willamette Valley Chapter’s first-ever president)—on hand for the festivities. 

Paul Edlund, FCSI (my photo)
During the course of its 50-year history, CSI dramatically improved communications and collaboration within the local AEC industry. The Willamette Valley Chapter grew quickly, doubling its membership in the first year alone. It was only three years before it hosted its first CSI NW Region conference (at the Country Squire Motor Inn). By the time the seventies rolled along, the chapter was collecting awards for technical excellence, membership growth, and counting its own amongst the institute’s national leadership. Paul Edlund would become the chapter’s first member elevated to Fellowship in the institute. The ensuing decades would see the chapter collect more than its share of institute accolades, including an unrivaled sixteen consecutive “Outstanding Chapter” commendations (including this year), and propel several of its members to positions of prominence at the national level. 

(photos by Steven Leuck)

The Willamette Valley Chapter has much to be proud of. The 50th Anniversary celebration highlighted all of this as well as setting a very optimistic tone for the chapter's next fifty years. The evening's speakers—Paul Edlund, FCSI, Jim Chaney, FCSI (past Institute President and current WVC-CSI President-Elect), and Bob Simmons, FCSI (immediate Institute Past-President)—collectively looked back to the historic high points while also praising the chapter's resilience and forward-thinking attitude. Tom Deines, FCSI, served as the master of ceremonies.

Tom Deines, FCSI (my photo)
Tom was also the chair of the anniversary celebration’s organizing committee. The other committee members included Jim Christian, Linn West, Jon Texter, Loren Berry, and Marina Wrensch (I’m sure I forgot to include someone; if so, please accept my apologies). The committee did a great job organizing an event we’ll all remember for a long time. 

Deva Priyo and Gypsy Moon provided wonderful musical accompaniment throughout the proceedings. 

We definitely all owe thanks to the evening’s sponsors for helping make it such a great success.

  • Contractors Electric
  • Chambers Construction
  • Twin Rivers Plumbing
  • Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc
  • Essex General Construction, Inc.
  • DeaMor
  • KPD Insurance and Risk Solutions
  • Rodda Paint
  • John Hyland Construction
  • TNT Consulting, LLC
  • Consolidated Electrical Distributors, Inc.
If I could jump into Dr. Brown’s DeLorean time machine and visit the Willamette Valley Chapter in 2065, I’m sure I’d find it still going strong, still setting the bar high. Looking back from 2015 across the span of its storied history was great. Looking forward, I’m certain the chapter has much, much more to accomplish.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

CONSTRUCT 2015: Building a Better World

The Gateway Arch, with the old St. Louis courthouse in the foreground.
It’s already been two weeks since I attended CONSTRUCT 2015, the Construction Specifications Institute’s (CSI) annual conference/convention and trade show, held this year in St. Louis. I returned home convinced more than ever that CSI is the AEC organization best suited to lead the industry as it confronts a transformative and challenging tomorrow. Why? You’ve heard it before: It’s because CSI is radically inclusive, welcoming members from all corners of the industry. It’s because it remains the most influential voice across the entire spectrum of construction communications. It’s because construction knowledge is only becoming more complex and necessary to master. It’s most definitely because of the people who comprise its membership. If you were there, you’d know CONSTRUCT 2015 was the place to renew your faith in CSI’s mission and enthusiasm for the future of design and construction. 
Despite my strong endorsement for everything CONSTRUCT offered attendees, I actually wished I could have enjoyed the experience more. It was my lousy misfortune to come down with a miserable cold just before my departure for St. Louis. That cold (which I’m only now putting behind me) kept me from taking in a number of events, including the CSI Fellowship Investiture Ceremony, the CSI Night Out party, the annual meeting, not to mention a few of the educational sessions I’d signed up for in advance. I simply didn’t feel well enough or have enough energy to do as much as I wanted. I also didn’t get to explore St. Louis much at all, disappointing because it was my first visit there. 
Don’t get me wrong: Despite my cold, CONSTRUCT proved well worth my time and money. It was a definite pleasure to finally meet in person many of the members of the CSI online community I’ve come to know so well in recent years. They all truly represent the best of what CSI has to offer. It was great to hear the expressions of optimism and enthusiasm for the future of the institute from CSI president Lane Beougher, FCSI, and CSI’s new executive director, Mark Dorsey. Keynote speaker Tom Kolopoulos enthralled everyone as he asserted generational thinking is an artifact of the past and how influence is the currency of the future. The exhibitors at the CONSTRUCT Show were on top of their games, displaying the latest and greatest they have to offer. The educational session speakers were consistently excellent.  In three short days I learned more about what's new in construction technology and communications than I had in the previous three years. 
The CONSTRUCT Show floor.
I particularly enjoyed Matthew Foch’s presentation entitled Big-Bang Disruption: Traditional Business Thinkers Need Not Apply. Matthew is CSI’s Manager for Community Development, which is to say he works to directly support all of CSI’s volunteer chapter and region leaders, and also oversees the day-to-day management of all five of CSI’s Practice Groups. His core messages were the need to find the sweet spot of relevancy, the distinction between being accessible and being relevant, and how to craft offerings based on feedback rather than assumptions. All of these resonate with me and will no doubt influence my work as well as my blogging pastime. 
Speaking of blogging, other CSI bloggers, notably Cherise Lakeside, Marvin Kemp, Eric Lussier, and Charles Hendricks, have already reported about what CONSTRUCT 2015 meant to them. Charles and I, along with J. Peter Jordan and Vivian Volz, participated on this year’s CSI Bloggers Panel. We recounted how we each started blogging, provided advice about developing quality content, and shared how having an active blog has helped our businesses. Writing my blog, SW Oregon Architect, isn’t part of my workday life with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, but it has become an inextricable part of my professional identity. Thanks to CSI’s Marketing and Membership manager, Kaitlin Solomon, for inviting me to participate on the Bloggers Panel. 
The CSI bloggers panel (from left to right): Kaitlin Solomon (moderator), VIvian Volz, Charles Hendricks, J. Peter Jordan, and me.
I’m more optimistic than I have been for a while about CSI’s future prospects, and I have my attendance at CONSTRUCT to thank for that. I clearly sensed that CSI’s new generation of leaders is attuned to how the AEC world is becoming ever more knowledge-focused and recognize the opportunity this trend presents for the institute. They know CSI is well-positioned to capitalize upon the accelerating proliferation of construction data, technology, and communication among all of the participants in the project delivery process. 
It had been far too many years since I previously attended CONSTRUCT, so I’m glad I made it to St. Louis. I may not be able to go to CONSTRUCT every year, but I certainly won’t wait so long before going again. Next year’s edition moves to Austin, TX, September 8-11, 2016. If you haven’t been to CONSTRUCT yet, mark your calendar and plan on traveling to the Lone Star State for four days of education, networking, technical tours, and special events. Go. You’ll learn more than you ever thought you could in such a short period of time, and you’ll have fun doing it!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Vote Now!

Earlier this month, AIA-SWO kicked off the 2015 People's Choice Awards at the Broadway Commerce building in downtown Eugene during the Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalk. The People’s Choice boards will remain on public display through the month of October. Ballots are available for onsite voting. If you haven’t already, be sure to stop by and visit the display. 
Online voting is also an option this year! To vote virtually, visit: 
Credit for producing yet another great People’s Choice program goes to a dedicated group of AIA-SWO members who stepped up in a big way to organize the initiative and conceptualize and assemble the display. Big thanks to them, in particular to Paul Dustrud, AIA, Kurt Albrecht, AIA, and Shane McCloskey, Assoc. AIA for doing the heavy lifting, coordinating and hanging the display. 
Big thanks too to the program’s generous sponsors:

  • Dorman Construction, Inc.
  • Arbor South Architecture
  • Builders Electric, Inc.
  • Rubenstein’s
  • The Cabinet Factory
  • Comfort Flow Heating
  • Appliance & TV Center
  • Cliff Davis Painting, Inc.
  • Stone Works International, Inc.
  • Dustrud Architecture

AIA-SWO and ASLA members: Don’t forget to vote for the entrants you most admire in this year’s Colleague’s Choice Awards program. Note that the October AIA-SWO monthly chapter program (this Wednesday evening, October 18 at the Broadway Commerce Building at the corner of Broadway and Willamette streets in downtown Eugene) will feature brief Pecha Kucha-style presentations by member firms with projects on display.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Refreshing AIA-SWO CoLA!

I wrote a blog post back in August about the AIA-Southwestern Oregon decision to form a new Eugene/Springfield Committee on Local Affairs. At that time, I was undecided about being a candidate for one of the three appointed committee positions. After reading my post and learning of my ambivalence toward serving, AIA-SWO past-president Scott Clarke, AIA twisted my arm. So here I am now, a member of CoLA who, along with Austin Bailey, AIA, Travis Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, and Scott, is ready to consider and comment upon topics of importance and urgency for our community and profession. Wish us well! 
Refreshing AIA-SWO CoLA!
The newly formed AIA-SWO Eugene/Springfield Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA) is ready to publicly represent the professionally informed opinion of the chapter on topics of community-wide importance. By doing so, the committee hopes to elevate the stature and visibility of architects in general by representing design professionals as active, organized, and concerned public citizens. CoLA is prepared to adopt an activist posture, engaging design-related issues in the glare of the public eye. 
The following individuals have volunteered to serve as CoLA’s initial members: 
Scott Clarke, AIA – PIVOT Architecture; AIA-SWO immediate past-president and non-voting representative from the AIA-SWO board of directors
Austin Bailey, AIA – Rowell Brokaw Architects 
Randy Nishimura, AIA – Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc 
Travis Sheridan, Assoc. AIA – Willard C. Dixon Architect, LLC 
Both Austin and Travis will serve two-year terms on CoLA. Scott and Randy will be members for one year. Staggering the terms of the committee members will ensure continuity by eliminating wholesale turnover at any one point. 
CoLA wishes to both inform the AIA-SWO chapter membership about architectural issues of importance to Eugene and Springfield residents and also invite participation and input from members at-large. Toward this end, CoLA will convene open meetings of the committee. The first of these will occur at noon on Thursday, October 22 at the Octagon. 
The topic for this first meeting will be City of Eugene’s development of its proposed new South Willamette Special Area Zone (SW-SAZ). With City Council action imminent, controversy about SW-SAZ has reached a flashpoint. The gamut of issues the controversy encompasses includes the challenge of compact urban development in the face of future development pressures, individual property rights, and exactly when and how the city has engaged impacted neighbors and property owners. 
The consensus of the CoLA members is the SW-SAZ is too important a subject for architects to be silent about. If you agree, don’t miss the opportunity to share your thoughts by meeting with the CoLA members, suggest other issues for future consideration by the committee, and otherwise help shape our profession’s public profile. Mark your calendars now! 
What: AIA-SWO CoLA Meeting: South Willamette Special Area Zone 
When: Thursday, October 22, 2015 – noon to 1:00 PM 
Where: The Octagon, 92 East Broadway, downtown Eugene

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Join us for a Celebration!

Please join us for a very special celebration that will be a fun-filled evening full of history, accomplishments, special speakers, and special entertainment. The Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, and we want you to join in the festivities! For those of you who aren’t from around the Willamette Valley and have a hard time remembering how we pronounce our name, this little pneumonic aid may help: “It’s Willamette, damn it!” 
When:  Thursday, October 22, 2015 
Time:  6:00 PM – 10:00 PM 
Where:  Shadow Hills Country Club, 92512 River Road, Junction City, OR  97448 
Menu Choices:  Top sirloin, chicken, salmon, or vegetarian; dessert included 
Cost:  $43 per person (includes dinner and program) 
Entertainment:  Live music by multitalented guitarist DevaPriyo and his band Gypsy Moon; dancing 
Special Speakers: 

·       Robert W. Simmons, FCSI, CCPR; Immediate Past Institute President

·       James Chaney, Esq, CCS, CCCA; Past Institute President

·       Paul Edlund, FCSI, CDT, AIA Emeritus; Founding Chapter Member

·       Tom Deines, FCSI, CCCA; Master of Ceremonies

There’ll also be recognition of chapter “old-timers,” visitors from far and near, and a special raffle drawing! 
Sponsors: Join Contractors Electric, TNT Consulting LLC, and Essex General Construction as sponsors. Contact Steven Leuck at (541) 343-2222 or by email at if you’re interested in being a sponsor. 
Contact Tom Deines at or Linn West at for more event info.