Sunday, July 31, 2016

Praxis Portland 2016

Portland CSI is hosting an unprecedented 2-day concrete symposium August 26-27. Representatives from the specifications community along with industry professionals will lead presentations on the subjects of slab construction, polishing, and performance-based specifications, as well as roughness average demonstrations. After decades of challenges within the concrete construction industry, this educational events series brings transparency, clarity, and accountability to the concrete construction process. 

The event will include panel discussions, hands-on contractor training/certification, and up to 8 AIA credit hours of classroom learning:

  • Water Is the Why: Hydrophobic Concrete 1 AIA LU
  • Healthy Concrete Systems: Defending Design Intent 1 AIA/HSW LU
  • Panel Discussion: Concrete & Flooring Issues - Closing the Gap 1.5 AIA LU
  • CSDA ST 115 Certification Course 2.5 AIA LU and CSDA Certificate

  • Polished Concrete Quantified 1 AIA/HSW LU
  • Panel Discussion: Concrete & Flooring Issues - Closing the Gap 1.5 AIA LU
  • CSDA ST 115 Certification Course 2.5 AIA LU and CSDA Certificate

Find the full event schedule here:

Registration and fees:!register/okox8

What: Praxis Portland Concrete Flooring Symposium

When:  August 26-27, 2016

Where:  Walsh Construction, 2905 SW First Avenue, Portland, OR  97201

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bread and Butter

I’ve led a charmed professional life. When I eventually retire and reflect upon my career, I’ll enjoy recounting my involvement with some really significant and challenging projects. These include world’s fair pavilions (for Expo ’86 in Vancouver, during my time with Bing Thom Architects); a competition-winning civic center (for Oceanside, CA, while working with the Urban Innovations Group under the design leadership of Charles W. Moore); and the Eugene Public Library, the Springfield Justice Center, and Lane Community College’s Downtown Campus, among others (all since joining Robertson/Sherwood/Architects in 1988). All of these notable design commissions are ones any architect would have yearned for. 
As substantial as these important projects may be in my portfolio, my good fortune as an architect has also involved a lot of work that is far less prominent. These include minor renovations, facility assessments, accessibility improvements, building envelope repairs, and no-nonsense space planning exercises. These unassuming projects actually comprise a sizable share of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects’ work and annual billings. They’re our “bread-and-butter” assignments—prosaic, everyday problems to be solved, but no less important to us or our clients than any of our larger jobs. 
RSA is a small firm in a relatively small city, so we cannot afford to eschew routine work that may appear outwardly tedious or uninteresting to some architects. Our practice needs to be diverse. We avoid over-specialization simply because there aren’t enough jobs in any one project type to go around in our market. We embrace most every commission, no matter how modest, because each one helps to pay the bills and keep our doors open. These everyday projects also present us with opportunities to sharpen or expand our skills, learn through experience, and grow as professionals. We fundamentally approach all of our bread-and-butter work with the same enthusiasm we bring to our more conspicuous efforts. 
Application of the new exterior coating in progress on Olive Plaza. Western Partitions, Inc. was the contractor for the exterior improvements.
An excellent example of these mainstay jobs is our recently completed Olive Plaza Seismic Upgrade & Exterior Improvements project. Christian Church Homes of Oregon is the building’s owner, and Viridian Management is its operator. Olive Plaza is a 12-story tall, HUD-subsidized apartment building located in downtown Eugene. It accommodates low-income seniors and individuals with physical disabilities in one-bedroom, self-contained apartments. The project involved increasing the building’s capacity to withstand earthquakes, and also the application of a new elastomeric coating and replacement of sealants to secure its walls against water infiltration. RSA’s duties included bringing on board a structural design consultant familiar with the shortcomings and idiosyncrasies of Olive Plaza’s lift-slab construction, developing a prudent and cost-conscious solution to its problem with leaky walls, assisting with the selection of a construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC), and generally shepherding the project from beginning to end. 
The new exterior color scheme for Olive Plaza is meant to provide "disruptive" camouflage, breaking down the building so that it appears less massive.
We helped assemble an excellent project team: Miyamoto International (and particularly Miyamoto principal Bob Glasgow, SE) provided world-class structural engineering expertise; Carole Knapel of Knapel & Associates ensured the project successfully navigated HUD’s labyrinthine financing and approval processes; and Chambers Construction (led by project manager John Wright and site superintendent Mel Taylor) fulfilled the duties of the CM/GC in exemplary fashion. 
One of the hundreds of new column to slab connectors designed by Miyamoto International. The connector provides enhanced lateral force resistance.
Fiber-reinforced polymer strips tie different areas of the floor slabs together.
Undoubtedly, the biggest factor in the project’s success was our client. We’ve worked with Christian Church Homes and Olive Plaza for many years. Over those years, we’ve helped them address a variety of improvements and planning projects, in addition to the seismic upgrade and exterior repairs. A constant throughout every project has been how absolutely enjoyable it has been to work with the key people associated with Olive Plaza. To a person, they have been a delight. They’re appreciative of the skills and expertise we bring to their projects. They’re preternaturally good-natured. Their amiable ways rub off on everyone they interact with, not only the residents but also every vendor or contractor with whom they conduct business. 
We derive a great amount of satisfaction from working with good people. Good people make even the most challenging and seemingly banal projects a pleasure. If anything, our decision to accept a bread-and-butter project comes down to who it is we will be working with and for. 
Members of the Olive Plaza team gathered for an end-of-project celebration.
I remember when I first realized much of the work done by architects is anything but glamorous. It happened during the time I worked for the Office of Facilities & Campus Development at the British Columbia Institute of Technology between my sophomore and junior years of architecture school. My job involved interacting with the architects hired by BCIT to carry out exactly the same types of projects I now manage with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. I was taken aback by the realization architects had to deal with such lowly concerns as reconfiguring the access to a laboratory storage room or determining whether three employees could fit comfortably within an office initially intended to house only two. Really? Was this my future? I would soon learn the answer is, yes, it very much would be. I would also find that within the humblest of projects lies a kernel defining the architect’s role for any undertaking, large or small. 
In many respects, bread-and-butter projects are no different than the big, high-profile jobs coveted by every architect. After all, like any prestigious project, bread-and-butter jobs demand creative problem solving and an ability to see the big picture. They require a commitment to providing the best possible client service. They require translating real-world needs into functional, beautiful solutions. With every bread-and-butter project comes the opportunity for us to demonstrate our professionalism, talent, and ingenuity. 
At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I take pride in doing a job well, no matter what that job might entail. All of the ingredients necessary for my professional satisfaction are present in every project I am involved with. It’s a matter of bringing the correct perspective and a positive attitude to the table. Far from being tiresome, I find our “bread-and-butter” work truly meaningful and highly gratifying.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Architecture is Awesome #12: Ordered Complexity

Aftnn Rooftops of Prague. Photo by Ben Godfrey [ source] {{cc-by-sa}} licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

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. 

Architecture is nothing if not complex. Even the simplest of buildings is assembled from many thousands of interconnected and related parts that must work together to successfully address a myriad of concerns. A harmonious work of architecture is a system within which those many components correspond with and complement each other, generating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A harmonious work of architecture is furthermore inextricably part of the systems around it, which include its immediate environment and the world beyond. A great design is at once comprised of recognizable wholes, is whole itself, and connected and consonant with many others as well. 

At its best, architecture maintains a tantalizing balance between comforting order and bewilderingly artful chaos. Our finest buildings evince organization and elicit wonderment. They are dense with purpose and meaning, sublimely intricate and impeccably structured. They work well. They betray an undeniable complexity. This is true even when the architect harnesses that complexity to achieve works of transcendent simplicity, calm, and serenity. Whether sumptuously extravagant or austerely minimalist, architecture is fundamentally a manifestation of ordered complexity. Great buildings exist at the edge of chaos, just as life itself does. 

Complexity can arise from the simplest of design circumstances. These circumstances often pile upon one another and appear overwhelming (and often are). There’s so much to consider. Buildings need to shelter and protect their occupants from the elements. They need to stand up and resist the forces that would bring them down. They need to operate efficiently and economically. They must comply with a multiplicity of arcane codes and regulations. And they should be aesthetically pleasing too—of course! 

There can be a fine line between surrendering to the complexity of a design challenge or exploiting it in the service of architecture. It’s a line navigated with skill by the most gifted architects. These architects understand that design is not a simplistic, linear activity. They understand it to be a living process, wild and wooly, and complex in its behavior. These skilled architects are adept at recognizing the simple and beneficial patterns that underlie the complexity of successful buildings and places. 

The process of design is a means to manage the many variables at play at the outset of any project. It begins with a definition of the problem to be solved. Patterns emerge with each iteration. Most every building may be a prototype, but the iterative nature of the design process allows the architect to probe and test, to help make sure the design is headed in the right direction and to validate concepts before any earth is turned. The emergent properties of the design solution reveal themselves as the generative process unfolds, on occasion in surprising and sudden ways. The design seemingly arises in accordance with natural laws, its order resembling an evolving ecosystem rather than a crude machine whose plan the architect has willfully imposed. The architect’s task is to successfully manage complexity and the unfolding of the design process. If done properly, the result can be a profound and deeply adapted building full of life, one that is inextricably tied to the systems around it and healthful for the ones it contains. 

The issue of complexity is of increasing concern to architects. Change is happening so fast in our world it’s hard to keep up. The profession’s work is ever more challenging and difficult, and its responsibilities and duties to society increasingly crucial. Pressing issues like dwindling resources, climate change, social inequity, and accelerating advancements in technology are mounting exponentially. Nevertheless, the architect’s typical skillset is one eminently suited to the task. Assuming he or she is open to the possibilities, bringing order and meaning to complex design problems should come naturally. Exercising humility by embracing the power of emergent self-organization increases the likelihood of a project’s success. 

Looking at ordered complexity in this way, we begin to appreciate the possibility of a truly organic approach to architecture. Treated as complex, adaptive systems, more of our buildings would occupy the creative threshold between order and chaos. How AWESOME would that be?

Next Architecture is Awesome: #13: Teamwork

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Annual Picnic!

Mark your calendars now for the annual picnic hosted by the local design and construction community. What started years ago as separate summer outings for separate organizations (AIA, CSI, NAWIC, and others) has become a bigger, better, and much more enjoyable event for all. This year’s picnic will take place Wednesday evening, July 20 at the old Civic Stadium site and home of the future Eugene Civic Park. 
The 2016 picnic will feature live music (by Camino Marimba and Doug & Amey), family fun, games, wood fired pizza, local brews, and great company! The organizers have planned a lot of great activities, including foot golf (think putt-putt with soccer balls) and the annual tug-of-war. The picnic will also continue the emerging tradition of an annual group photo! 
Of course, Eugene Civic Stadium tragically burned to the ground a year ago. Many of you are aware that since then the Eugene Civic Alliance (ECA) has moved forward steadfastly with its plans to give our community a place where kids can enjoy playing their favorite sports, where adults can participate in recreational leagues and enjoy a lifetime of physical activity, and where families and friends can rally together to cheer on local sports teams. ECA wants to give people in the Eugene/Springfield area a place that will be home to the same happy, carefree memories that Civic Stadium once held. 
On a personal note, I’m proud to be a member of the project team helping realize this vision of a new Eugene Civic Park. Earlier this year, ECA selected the team of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and Skylab Architecture as its designers for the project. Along with our consultants (Cameron McCarthy and KPFF, among others), and also Chambers Construction (fulfilling the Construction Manager/General Contractor role), we’re busily moving forward. We’d hoped to have a completed Schematic Design to present at the picnic but we’re not quite there yet. So, while we won’t be able to share our finalized design with everyone, ECA will be on hand answer to questions and let everyone learn more about the project and how they can get involved. 
Merriment and frolicking will undoubtedly ensue at this year's picnic.
What more do you need to know? The mayor might stop by. You should come. Bring your friends and family. If you don't have a family, bring somebody else's family. Share the RSVP link with your friends and colleagues. The more the merrier! 
This could be the best picnic ever! 
When:  Wednesday, July 20, 2016 – 5:30pm to 8:00pm
Where: Civic Stadium site, 20th & Willamette, Eugene, OR 
  • $15.00 including dinner & dessert
  • $5.00 attendance only, no dinner
  • Free for children under 12
  • $5.00 surcharge for no RSVP
RSVP here:

Menu: Wood fired pizza, salad, and dessert (vegetarian/vegan options available) all from Oregon Wood Fired Pizza. Drinks (beer/cider) will be available for purchase from the vendor.

NOTE - If you make a reservation but do not attend, your dinner may be sold to a walk-up, but this is not always possible. The organizers may have to send you a bill for the meal in that case.

Parking: Plenty of parking will be available in the lot to the north of the site at no charge.

Sponsors: Many sponsors are contributing to make this a great event, including the Eugene Civic Alliance, Kidsports, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, Chambers Construction, and Buck’s Sanitary Services.

Help Wanted: Willing to help with setup/takedown? Contact

Sunday, July 3, 2016

2016 Willamette Valley Chapter CSI Awards Banquet

2015-2016 WVC-CSI president Marina Wrensch presents Linn West with one of this year's Certificates of Appreciation for all of his efforts on behalf of the chapter (all photos by me unless otherwise noted).
Every June, the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute marks the end of its annual calendar with a celebration to recognize those who contributed to the group’s success in the preceding year. This past year was particularly momentous, amongst other things having marked 50 years since the chapter first became chartered by the Institute. 2015-2016 WVC-CSI President Marina Wrensch, CSI, ASLA, LEED AP, bestowed a bevy of awards acknowledging those who helped make her year in office a memorable one. 

Marina was an outstanding chapter president. We owe her the biggest thanks for doing whatever it took to get things done when they needed to, and for cajoling and eliciting the best from her supporting cast of board members and committee chairs. Because of her efforts and energy, the chapter’s future fortunes look bright. Her successor, Jim Chaney, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, is certain to leave his mark as well; after all, he is among the most decorated of our chapter members—not only a previous WVC-CSI president (1990-91) but also a past Northwest Region director and CSI national president as well. Like Marina, Jim is a tireless advocate on behalf of the Institute and our chapter, and an innovative thinker. Under his leadership, I have no doubt the chapter will continue evolve in significant ways and become increasingly relevant to construction industry professionals here in the southern Willamette Valley. 
Tom Deines, FCSI, received a Certificate of Appreciation from Marina for his work organizing the Willamette Valley Chapter's 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Incoming WVC-CSI president Jim Chaney thanks Marina for her service as president during the chapter's 50th anniversary year.
I was honored to receive from Marina both a Chapter Service Award and also a Certificate of Merit & Appreciation.
Alan Harper of Ausland Group presented the evening's program.
Most every one of the annual awards banquets includes a program, and this year’s edition offered a particularly fascinating one: Alan Harper of Ausland Group presented 7 Lessons Learned from 150 Dutch Bros. Units

Prior to joining Ausland, Alan, a land use attorney and development specialist, spent six years working for Dutch Bros., the country’s largest privately-held, drive-thru coffee company. Founded in Grants Pass in 1992 by dairy farmer brothers Dane and Travis Boersma, Dutch Bros. grew from a single espresso pushcart to become enormously successful. There are now over 250 locations in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona, serving an assortment of specialty coffee drinks, smoothies, teas, and energy drinks. With an insider’s perspective, Alan described how the company developed a distinct, winning culture and applied it to the task of growing the brand and developing new outlets in disparate locales. 

 Dutch Bros. coffee stand in Hillsboro. Photo by M.O. Stevens, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
The seven lessons Alan took from his Dutch Bros. tenure were:
  1. Small doesn’t mean cheap, easy, or fast. Small projects still follow all the same steps as large ones. There are no short cuts. 
  2. It takes a great team. Together, people are collectively smarter and can achieve more than anyone one individual. 
  3. Operations and use will evolve. The evolution of the business will bring changes. The Dutch Bros. outlet prototype has changed over time and adapted to local needs. 
  4. Customer service is king. From the beginning, Dutch Bros. chose to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the baristas and their customers. Toward this end, they did away with cash registers and other point-of-sale technology that would get in the way of this relationship. The service windows are large so that any sense of barriers is removed. Baristas become familiar with their regular customers and vice-versa. 
  5. There is no barrier to entry. All Dutch Bros. franchises are locally owned and operated, so the owners have a personal investment in the communities they serve. They also know their communities best, including where the best opportunities are located. For example, understanding commuting patterns might reveal that siting two outlets within direct proximity to one another would not result in reducing traffic to either. Locations can be in underutilized corners of parking lots, otherwise unproductive and thus inexpensive sites, etc. 
  6. Every place likes to think of itself as different but they’re fundamentally all alike. A lot of it boils down to esoteric code work, and specific lease terms and land use requirements can sneak up on you, but the challenges are essentially similar. Again local knowledge is key. 
  7. Celebrate more. It doesn’t matter how challenging a project has been, being enthusiastic, looking at the sunny side of everything, loving life, and forgetting the mistakes of the past is the Dutch Bros. credo. Every new opening is marked by a party, free coffee, and good times.
Alan included “150 units” in the title of his presentation, which is the number of projects he was involved with. As I mentioned, Dutch Bros. can now point to more than 250 locations, so it has grown significantly in just the short time since Alan left to join Ausland Group. 

Thanks to Alan for an entertaining and insightful presentation. We can take the lessons he presented and apply them to almost any endeavor. They’re not just applicable to the development and operation of a drive-thru coffee retailer. In many respects, they’re equally pertinent to the business of operating a volunteer-run membership organization like our CSI chapter. The success of Dutch Bros. can be a model for us to emulate. 

And big thanks to the generous sponsors for this year’s awards banquet: Ausland Group, Rodda Paint, and Twin Rivers Plumbing. Thank you sponsors!