Sunday, November 29, 2015

Architecture is Awesome #10: Choreography

Two Dancers on a Stage (1874, Edgar Degas)
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. 
As architects, we not only design buildings, we also design how people use them. We deliberately manipulate the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension (time) through our built places. If we’re particularly skilled, we’re adept at choreographing movements through space in ways that greatly expand our perception and comprehension of it. Our best designs plot motions with intention, engage all of our senses, and invite participation. Experienced architects understand architecture is a stage for the dance of a richly experienced life. 
Architects and choreographers have much in common. Both design sequences of movements through space. They both work creatively to heighten one’s appreciation for the body’s relationship to and its movement through a setting. They both define and use space as a medium for creative expression. They both employ movement and the kinesthetic senses to create works of aesthetic and symbolic value. 
Renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and his choreographer wife, Anna, used the design of movement as a basic generating force in the planning of spaces and environments. They understood the power of ritual and the careful orchestration of the body through the environment. Influenced by Anna, Lawrence Halprin borrowed liberally from dance theory, translating the art of movement into physical narratives integral to the structure of his designs. In so doing, he created evocative, dynamic, memorable places meant to be explored and moved through. 
In their 1977 book, Body, Memory, and Architecture, Kent Bloomer and Charles Moore spoke about how our bodies and our movements are in constant dialogue with our buildings. They discussed “the spatiality of movement,” the function of architecture as a stimulus for movement, and the place of our bodies within and around buildings. They explained how the psychophysical coordinates of the body—up/down, front/back, right/left—help to map our environments while also assuming meanings established by our early body experiences. Not unexpectedly, they pointed out how similar the critical relationship between dancers and the space they animate is to architecture’s dialogue with the body. 
A place designed as a stage for people in motion: the Spanish Steps in Rome (photo by Arnaud 25 (], via Wikimedia Commons) 
We cannot truly appreciate architecture unless we use, feel, and move through it. This is why judging a building or place by merely looking at static photographs alone is such folly. A consequence of today’s image-driven culture is its overemphasis upon sanitized, Photoshopped, verisimilar, yet fundamentally unreliable representations of three-dimensional reality. The essence of the best architecture in the world is obdurately resistant to being defined by anything less than direct and immersive experience. 
The way we experience our world from the moment we are born is through our bodies. Architects shouldn’t forget how important senses other than sight—touch, hearing, and equilibrium among them—are to fully engaging our environment. Dancers viscerally understand how movements through space and time bring the choreographer’s vision to life. They recognize their potential to convey meaning through the juxtaposition of bodies in motion within a visual frame. Architects should likewise anticipate how people move through their designs. Thinking like choreographers enhances the likelihood users will exploit architecture to expressive, meaningful, memorable, and AWESOME effect.

Next Architecture is Awesome: #11: Sense of Place

Sunday, November 22, 2015

2015 AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards

2015 AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards Banquet, November 18, 2015 (all event photos by Steven Leuck)
The Lee Barlow Giustina Ballroom at the University of Oregon’s Ford Alumni Center was packed this past Wednesday as the Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects honored the nominees for and recipients of this year’s AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards. The event was my profession’s opportunity to honor fine craftsmanship and recognize those considered by the jury to be deserving of special recognition. It was a wonderful evening that celebrated the best of the best. 
The overarching purpose of the awards program is to ensure the time-honored ideals of craftsmanship are sustained and passed along. Its success is dependent upon nominations of those individuals that local architects believe exemplify the highest standards of craftsmanship. 
The Southwestern Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architects considers anyone in the building trades—tradesmen and women, fine cabinet makers, job site superintendents, and all the others—worthy of this recognition if they have consistently taken that extra step to ensure a finely crafted building. The success of the most excellent architecture would not be possible without the dedication and skill of these individuals. 
AIA-SWO invited its members, associates, and affiliates to nominate individuals who have demonstrated outstanding skills in the execution of their work. The jury—comprised of AIA-SWO chapter members, past award winners, and other members of the construction industry—received and reviewed 16 nominations. 
The following is the complete list of nominees for the 2015 Craftsmanship Awards:

  • Noah Barth – electrician with Contractors Electric
  • George Bleekman – owner’s representative for University of Oregon Capital Construction
  • Mark Bruer – project manager, Essex General Construction
  • Bryce Gardner millworker/cabinet maker, Advance Cabinets
  • Mike Gerot landscape contractor, Woodruff’s Nursery
  • Robert Havas self-employed finish carpenter
  • Larry Kovarik carpenter, Essex General Construction
  • Mark McGee sheet metal worker, Phoenix Mechanical
  • Tim McMahen – project manager, Essex General Construction
  • Patrick Morgan – millworker/cabinet maker, The Cabinet Factory
  • Robin Olofson – millworker/cabinet maker, Yankee Built, LLC
  • Nick Pappas – construction superintendent, Chambers Construction
  • Dave Quivey – construction superintendent, Howard S. Wright, a Balfour Beatty Company
  • Kean Rager – construction superintendent, Fortis Construction
  • Rick Robertson – residential construction, Six Degrees Construction
  • Dave Veldhuizen– residential construction, Six Degrees Construction

The list reflects a broad spectrum of skill sets and experience. All of the nominees should regard their recognition as a testament to the skills they’ve contributed toward the realization of successful projects. The pride exhibited in their work shines through. They all should feel proud and honored, and all are deserving of our congratulations. Regardless, the awards jury did choose to distinguish five of the nominees as the recipients of this year’s awards: Noah Barth, George Bleekman, Robert Havas, Mark McGee, and Patrick Morgan. By means of their craft, they and past honorees encourage others to similarly excel and take the extra steps necessary to ensure finely crafted buildings. 
The 2015 Craftsmanship Awards nominees
AIA-SWO 2015 president Jenna Fribley, AIA, congratulates Noah Barth of Contractors Electric for receiving his award. Craftsmanship Awards committee chair Bill Seider, FAIA (left in photo) looks on. AIA-SWO president-elect Stan Honn, AIA (right) served as the evening's emcee.
This year’s Craftsmanship Awards program was graced with a keynote presentation delivered by Esther Hagenlocher, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Also a member of this year’s Craftsmanship Awards jury, Esther proved to be an inspired choice as the keynote speaker. Her background, upbringing, education, and professional career trace the classic path of one destined to excel in craft. She was born and raised near Stuttgart in the state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg in Germany, an area synonymous with craftsmanship (Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Bosch, and Hafele share roots there), trade guilds, and Lutheran ideals that equated methodical work with religious duty. Her father, a cabinet-maker, instilled in Esther the pride to be found in making things with one’s own hands. She learned the value of working in different scales and with different media, and the years of practice necessary to achieve mastery of one’s craft. She would go on to become a certified cabinet maker like her father. She would also become an architect and an educator. 
Esther Hagenlocher
Esther teaches interior architecture, architecture, and furniture design classes at the University of Oregon. Clearly a source of satisfaction for her is seeing the joy and pride her students display in the process of designing and building furniture pieces in her class. Her students regularly exercise craftsmanship in the conception and execution of their projects. There’s little doubt they learn true craft is a consequence of the quality of the intellect and effort they apply to their projects. Esther’s influence is evident in the professional work of her past students, who include among their number current AIA-SWO chapter president Jenna Fribley, AIA. 
Esther struck all the right chords in her presentation. Her personal history is a testament to the persistence of craftsmanship in today’s world. Her teaching provides optimism we may witness its resurgence in the future. 
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AIA-SWO conferred its first Craftsmanship Awards in 1953. Today, sixty-two years later, recognizing the virtues of craftsmanship remains as important as ever, if not more so. If all goes to plan, we can look forward to another AIA-SWO Craftsmanship Awards program in 2017. It’s not too early to think about the craftsmen and women we work with on our projects who deserve to be nominated. Consider all the people you have worked with recently who have helped make your designs a reality. Does someone especially stand out? Was his or her contribution to your project worthy of recognition? 
As I previously noted, craftsmanship 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. It’s important for us to forever celebrate the pride and the dignity to be found by people producing useful, beautiful objects, buildings, and places. 
*     *     *     *     *    
The 2015 Craftsmanship Awards program was a great success due to the efforts of the organizing committee (chaired by Bill Seider, FAIA), the jury, and the generous support of the program’s sponsors—Willamette Graystone, Ideate, and the University of Oregon. Congratulations to everyone involved especially the award recipients and nominees!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The Generation 8 SRK, unveiled by Arcimoto at the Broadway Commerce Center in downtown Eugene, November 14, 2015 (my photo)
I simply had to attend the Arcimoto Generation 8 Launch Party at the Broadway Commerce Center in Eugene this past Saturday evening and I’m glad I did, even though it started during the middle of the Oregon/Stanford football game (another “can’t miss” event on my calendar!). I wanted to be there for Arcimoto’s public unveiling of the first market-ready iteration of the SRK, its everyday electric vehicle for the masses. I was hopeful the launch party would be the start of something big for the home-grown company, the latest step toward a paradigm-shifting future for personal urban transportation. Arcimoto hopes to begin pilot production of the SRK by the end of 2016. 
Mark Frohnmayer founded Arcimoto in 2007 with the goal of catalyzing a revolution in sustainable transportation. His objective was to build an electric transport radically different from conventional automobiles, one with a smaller footprint, is emissions-free, safe, and fun to drive. With the Generation 8 SRK, he and Arcimoto have come tantalizingly close to achieving that goal. The three-wheeled, tandem-seat SRK can serve the daily transportation needs people mostly have—driving to and from work, shopping at the grocery store, or running other routine errands—because the majority of those trips are short, and often only involve the driver and perhaps a single passenger. 
The SRK’s side panel options can be easily removed for nice weather days. When the rain comes, it takes just a few minutes to reattach the cover and the one-of-a-kind Eagle Wing Door (photo from Arcimoto's website).

With a top speed of 85 mph, acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, and a range of 70 miles with the standard 12kWh battery (or 130 miles with the optional 20kWh battery), the SRK promises to be no slouch when it comes to performance. Arcimoto also says the SRK will achieve 230 MPGe, meaning the vehicle would literally pay for itself in fuel-savings after a few years (compared to the cost of operating a conventional automobile). The base model will retail for $11,900 so it definitely will favor the affordable end of the automotive pricing spectrum. 
The SRK is just short enough that it can park nose-in to the curb, meaning that you can park three of them in a normal parallel parking space.
Seeing the SRK in person and understanding what it is capable of raises the obvious question. How does the SRK not make sense? The all-too-common instance of a lone driver slogging about on short hops in a massive, gas-guzzling, 7-passenger SUV appears immorally absurd by comparison. 
I wrote a blog post back in 2010 in which I reviewed The End of the Road, a book authored by Joseph McKinney and Amy Isler Gibson. In it, the two presented a series of key concepts associated with their vision for a healthier automotive future:

  • Reassessing what it is we truly need to get from Point A to Point B
  • Differentiating and distinguishing between appropriate transportation options
  • Developing “village vehicles:” small, lightweight, zero-emission cars as an interim step toward a car-free future
  • Transitioning to a transportation infrastructure that makes village vehicles safe to operate (including decommissioning of urban roads to become “greenways” limited to use by pedestrians, cyclists, and village vehicles)
In that 2010 post, I recognized Arcimoto was on track to develop exactly what Joseph and Amy were envisioning. Five years later, they seem more prescient than ever as Arcimoto approaches production of the SRK. 

The SRK’s ride and maneuverability are augmented with a full roll cage, 3 + 2 harnesses for both riders and impact crumple zones in front and rear for additional protection (my photo).

The proliferation of village vehicles like the SRK may profoundly reshape our built environment. They require far less parking space, meaning less precious land would be conceded to surface parking lots or structures. Being electric, these vehicles would reduce pollution, resulting in improved air quality. Fewer filling stations would be required so the land the stations might have occupied would be available for higher and better uses. Ultimately, our streets would be cleaner, quieter, and probably safer as oversized, over-powered, and polluting cars declined in number. 

I have high hopes for Arcimoto and the SRK. The potential market worldwide for an everyday, inexpensive, high-performing, emissions-free vehicle is immense. If the company is successful, that achievement would bode very well for Eugene, as Arcimoto would undoubtedly choose to primarily manufacture the SRK and its successors here. My prediction? SRK’s buzzing around Eugene and other cities will soon become a common sight. If so, good for Arcimoto, good for Eugene, and good for the world.     

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Work and other commitments have again taken priority in my schedule, so blogging by necessity must take a back seat. Regardless, I like maintaining a pace of at least one new post a week, so I appreciate being able to draw once more upon Bill Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. The following excerpt typifies his advocacy of a design philosophy grounded first and foremost in experiential and phenomenological considerations, as opposed to purely formal ones. For Bill, the important thing was the creation of opportunity-rich, vivid, connected, inclusive, and eloquent life-spaces for people to inhabit, work, and play in. He believed in empowering those who use or encounter the buildings and places architects design. By offering choice, architects willingly relinquish how their creations may be used and evolve. Fostering choice is a means to sustain delight, utility, longevity, and value for generation after generation of users. 

The need for choice and diversity in the manmade environment comes mainly from the confrontation between the relative permanence of the manmade environment and: 
  • Different people, different circumstances, different activities and purposes
  • Change in personalities, states of mind, activities and purposes, and values.
As different people (users/occupants of the environment) and change occur in the environment, the environment itself must somehow be able to flex in spite of its permanence, to accommodate what is new (whether that be people, new circumstances, new purposes, new values, or all of these). 

If the manmade environment offers diversity and choice (and degrees of changeability) it will be able to accommodate different people and change more broadly. It will be a looser fit, but still a fit. 

Change of fixed facilities and/or institutions:
These may be determined by life space analyses and checked with life space diagrams. They also may be determined by careful analysis of predictable activities and recurring actions. 

Choice of paths to take:
For this kind of choice to exist, there must be alternate paths that have been made visible, accessible, inviting, and safe. Each must be well-developed as an important sub-analysis. Each must be where it is needed. 

Choice of how much is done for us (the choice of making our own places):
This may range all the way from making entire places (which not everyone can do) to impacting them only modestly. A flexible, participatory process of design and construction is required for this kind of choice. If more people had the opportunity to make their places, if they chose to do so, the built environment would probably take on significant new meaning and improve in quality. It might also cost less. 

Choice of spatial configuration or arrangement:
Opportunity for this kind of choice occurs twice in the built environment. Firstly, through participation in the planning, design, and construction processes, and secondly by manipulation of physical conditions that have been designed to invite change; that is, by “imprinting.” 

Choice of places to be:
A built place may have many places to be if it has large spaces as well as small, private spaces as well as public, edge spaces as well as internal, undesignated spaces as well as designated, changeable spaces as well as fixed, dark spaces as well as bright, low spaces as well as high, plain spaces as well as elaborate, etc. The consideration of dualities such as the ones mentioned above may be used as a means of generating ranges of spatial opportunity in built places. Such consideration, in addition to other ordinary considerations, may greatly expand the richness of any spatial framework and facilitate the finding of desirable spaces within ordinary programmatic requirements.