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.

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