Sunday, September 25, 2016

CLT Road Trip


Save the afternoon and early evening of October 12 for a chartered bus trip to the D.R. Johnson Lumber Co. cross-laminated timber (CLT) plant in Riddle. The bus will leave Eugene at about noon and return by 8 PM. The tour will be comprised of a lecture en route by a special guest, a guided tour of the D.R. Johnson plant (including the opportunity to see actual production of CLT panels), a stop on the way back at an Umpqua Valley winery, and a concluding lecture during the return trip to Eugene. University of Oregon architecture students enrolled in a studio focused on CLT will accompany the AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter members who make the trip to Riddle.
 
I must admit I know little about CLT and am eager to learn as much as I can, so, work commitments permitting, I hope to take advantage of this opportunity. Is the hype about the technology warranted? My understanding is that the carbon footprint of a building structure primarily comprised of CLT is as little as a quarter that of a similar-sized building constructed of steel or concrete. Also, CLT buildings can be assembled in much less time than conventional steel or concrete ones. The tallest timber building in the world—the 18-story Brock Commons on the campus of the University of British Columbia—took a mere 70 days to reach its full height after the first CLT components arrived on site. Equally significant, CLT manufacture can take advantage of thin, “junk” trees that otherwise have little commercial value. And of course, the ability to showcase the beauty of wood by exposing the structure is always appealing to architects.
 
AIA-SWO expects the tour to provide up to 4.0 CEUs at a likely cost of $50 or less. The chapter has yet to post an invitation to sign up for the tour but expects to do so this week. Look for it because availability is on a first come, first served basis. Space will be limited! 
 
What: Tour of the D.R. Johnson CLT plant 
 
When: Wednesday, October 12, 2016, noon to 8:00 PM 
 
Where: Riddle, OR (round-trip bus tour from Eugene) 
 
CEU: 4.0 (anticipated)
 
RSVP: Sign-up pending 
 
Cost: TBD but probably less than $50
 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Community Design Handbook


Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post about the City of Eugene’s effort to develop a broad set of non-regulatory design principles and guidelines with the intent of setting expectations for design excellence in Eugene and achieving the community’s vision for the built environment. Christened as the Community Design Guide, the city planners have since redubbed the document as a “handbook.” 

Fast-forward to 2016 and the Community Design Handbook (CDH) remains in draft form and very much a work in progress. The City’s primary goal continues to be its desire to represent best practices related to design espousing the “seven pillars” of Envision Eugene. Despite the express statement that the CDH will not be a regulatory document, the City clearly intends it to form the basis for consensus about what the future of our built environment should look like. What the City wants is to ensure that development occurs in a manner consistent with the seven pillars as the challenges posed by Eugene’s growing population continue to mount. 

Here’s a link to a digital version of the current draft document: 

https://issuu.com/planningdivision/docs/cdh_open_house_version_singles/21?e=0/31252339 

Since the original draft of the guide/handbook first appeared three years ago, the City’s Planning Division has invited comment from the general public as well as specific community stakeholders. You can see a summary of past community input here. The city continues to welcome feedback. Earlier this summer, senior city planner Zach Galloway directly solicited the opinion of AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA), of which I’m a member. CoLA will convene later this month to compare notes. Our goal is to forward a single set of comments and recommendations for improving the CDH to the Planning Division. 

Here are my initial thoughts about the current draft of the handbook: 

I believe the current draft of the CDH uses plain language in an engaging way. It is well-illustrated using colorful photographs, mostly of local scenes. Fellow CoLA member Scott Clarke questioned whether the graphic style √† la Sunset Magazine is appropriate, but I think it suits the current sensibilities and short attention spans of our digital society. 

My biggest issue with the document is its frequent reliance upon “motherhood and apple pie” statements that fail to rise high enough above a shallow rhetoric to be truly meaningful. For example, the design guidelines for the creation of successful public spaces include statements like the following: 

“CONFIGURE the size and shape of public spaces for human comfort, proportions, and intended uses.” 

"MAXIMIZE natural, everyday observation and experience of public and semi-public spaces through high visibility and open connections.” 

Sound good, right? The problem is there are no metrics cited by which to gauge the extent to which a proposed development complies with or successfully fulfills the design guidelines. Will it be important to somehow objectively measure this? Does it need to be codified in some way? Is this what the City of Eugene intends to do? As I mentioned above, my understanding is the City has no plans to formalize the CDH as a regulatory document; however, I’m pretty certain aspirational statements alone won’t ensure good design. 

Some community members who have reviewed the various previous iterations of the guide/handbook share my concern. They likewise fear it will fail to be beneficial without implementation of critical development standards in the Eugene Code. Lacking “teeth,” how can the CDH be a practical tool that effectively influences design in Eugene? If it is not codified, will well-meaning developers, architects, and designers interpret its underlying principles in contradictory and conflicting ways? 

At the other end of the spectrum, some people believe the CDH will eventually become an overly prescriptive albatross regardless of the City’s statements to the contrary—yet another regulatory burden discouraging desirable and productive development. These commenters fear the guidelines would not stand up to the eyeball test of clear and objective standards. In their opinion, the City should leave architecture to architects and site planning to landscape architects and engineers. 


The City wants the CDH to be an all-encompassing, comprehensive document but it also wants it to be easy and fun to read. I don’t think the CDH will be successful if it is overly encumbered by countless pages detailing the means to execute designs that would help comply with each of the guidelines. I can imagine an electronic version of the document copiously hyper-linked making it easy to go down whatever rabbit hole you need to in order to find concrete strategies for how to “shape public spaces for human comfort, proportions, and intended uses” among the many design goals; however, this isn’t an option for a hard-copy of the handbook. 

Again, the City’s primary goal for the CDH is that it become the basis for an inspired, shared vision for future development in Eugene. Given this is its principal purpose, the CDH must serve as effectively as possible as an educational and communications tool providing citizens who lack a design vocabulary a primer about what is commonly regarded as good community design. In this regard, I think the current draft version does a pretty good job. 

Ultimately, the trick will be getting the CDH in front of as many eyes as possible. If it does not ultimately serve as the basis for new form-based codes, it will only be useful and valued if the community widely embraces and implements its design principles on its own accord. Perhaps it will become required reading for every high school student, developer, community activist, and politician in Eugene. In order for this to occur, I believe the City of Eugene will need to vigorously promote the CDH without equivocation and with the support of as many stakeholder groups as possible (CoLA included). 

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Interested in sharing your thoughts about the Community Design Handbook? The City of Eugene’s Planning Division would love to hear from you. Review the latest draft version and then participate in the City’s online survey by clicking the link below: 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/J3FJCDF

 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cascadia Green Building Council – Eugene Branch Survey


Formed in 2006, the Cascadia Green Building Council – Eugene Branch’s mission is to generate momentum toward a sustainable built environment by facilitating education, fostering connections, and celebrating our community. The Eugene branch spreads awareness of practices that enhance the sustainable built environment and encourages adoption of the Living Building Challenge. The organization is composed of green building professionals and advocates from the greater Eugene-Springfield area. Presently, the Eugene Branch hosts monthly lunchtime presentations, tours of noteworthy projects, and quarterly evening events on the latest green building topics.

Please help the Eugene Branch by taking this survey, which will allow the group to gain an understanding of our community’s interests in its offerings and shape its planning efforts over the next 1-2 years. It only takes 5-10 minutes to participate, and the information will inform how the Eugene Branch shapes its future programs to support your needs.

I’m not a CGBC member (I should be!) but I did complete the survey and you should too. Click HERE to participate. If you prefer to fill out a paper copy, contact: eugene@cascadiagbc.org 

The survey will close on September 23 at 4:45 PM, so participate today!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Architectural Record’s Top 125 Buildings

I mentioned in my post Worst Buildings of the Past 125 Years that the venerable magazine Architectural Record is marking its 125th year in publication. As part of its commemoration, the editors chose to honor what they considered to be the “125 most important works of architecture built since the magazine’s founding in 1891.” As they note on Record’s website, “radical changes have indelibly shaped not only the built world but also the culture of the discipline and the personality of the magazine.” Accordingly, I presumed their list would include buildings most associated with those changes, choices we would correlate with significant shifts and advancements in architectural design during this period. 

Alas, historic importance does not appear to have been as significant a criterion for the selection process as I would have expected. Indeed, the disproportionate inclusion of twenty-five projects since 2007 alone (versus one hundred projects over the entire course of the 116 years preceding 2007) betrays the editors’ bias toward the most contemporary trends in architecture. As wonderful as they may be, are Studio Gang’s Aqua Tower or Rafael Vinoly’s Novartis Building truly more important works of architecture than many others omitted by the editors? I don’t think so.

In my opinion, the five buildings I list below are more worthy for inclusion on the list than several of the editors’ selections. Record’s editors apparently disagree with me but I find their omission puzzling. Each of my choices were seminal projects in their time: 

Tribune Tower, 1925
Chicago – John Mead Howells & Raymond Hood

Photo by Luke Gordon, [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 

In 1922 the Chicago Tribune conducted an international design competition for its new headquarters, with the express goal being construction of "the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.” It was the competition itself, perhaps more than the resultant Tribune Tower, that would be most important to architecture. The resulting entries still reveal a unique turning point in American architectural history, heavily influencing the design of skyscrapers for an entire generation. 

Interestingly, the Record editors did select the American Radiator Building in New York, also by Howells & Hood and completed a year earlier, a design inspired by the competition’s second place entry by Eliel Saarinen

Jacobs House, 1937
Madison, WI – Frank Lloyd Wright 

Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

The Jacobs House was the first example of Wright’s “Usonian” home designs, and remains the purest and most famous application of his organic architecture in the service of homeowners of modest means. Aesthetically as well as structurally, Wright intended the Usonian House to be the prototype of a new, modern standard of form following function in home building. In this respect, his designs served all too successfully as a template for the proliferation of post-war suburban housing, the vast majority of which would hardly come close to fulfilling Wright’s Usonian principles or design merit. 

Commonwealth (Equitable) Building, 1948
Portland, OR – Pietro Belluschi 

Photo by Ajbenj at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

The Commonwealth Building is one of the first glass box towers ever built, pioneering many modern features and predating the more famous Lever House (which Record did include on its list). It was also the first large commercial building in the United States to use heat pumps for heating and cooling. The fact that it’s located nearby in Portland is a bonus. 

Sea Ranch Condominiums, 1965
Sonoma County, CA – MLTW 

Photo by John Lambert Pearson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 

I found the absence of the Sea Ranch Condominiums on Record’s list of the top 125 buildings the most baffling of them all. Hailed by many at the time as a “paradigm of ecologically sensitive design,” the project was (and remains) a revolutionary, widely imitated icon of 1960s architecture. The design combined a modernist sensibility with an evocatively contextual response to its spectacular setting on the northern California coast. The AIA would bestow an Honor Award on the project in 1967, and conferred upon it the Twenty-Five Year Award in its first year of eligibility in 1991. I cannot overstate the influence of the Sea Ranch Condominiums upon the course of architectural design. 

Smith House, 1967
Darien, CT – Richard Meier 

Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. 

Like the Sea Ranch condominiums, Richard Meier’s Smith House is likewise noteworthy because it was another much heralded example of a developing pluralism in architecture during the 1960s. Meier, along with his New York Five contemporaries (Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, and John Hejduk) represented one end of a spectrum measured metaphorically from white to gray. The Smith House was a landmark example of the “white” architecture, for which pure expression of a complex formal language was paramount (as opposed to the impure “gray” architecture that acknowledged the messiness of its context and alluded to historical styles). 

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I could have selected many more buildings in addition to my five nominations for the “most important works of architecture” since 1891. These include the Sagrada Familia (by Antoni Gaudi), the University of Leicester Engineering Building (by James Stirling and Michael Wilford), the Trenton Bath House (by Louis Kahn), the Lake Shore Drive Apartments (by Mies van der Rohe), and the Eishin Campus (by Christopher Alexander). Arguably, Record’s editors should also have named two of the buildings on my worst buildings list (Boston City Hall and the Portland Building) on its roll of top buildings given their outsized impact upon their respective debuts as winners of notable design competitions. 

Whether the subject is the greatest motion pictures of all time, the funniest Internet memes, or the hippest coffee shops in town, people enjoy arguing about “best of” lists. Choosing a list of the “best architecture” is no different; however, the process is revealing and discloses the prejudices of those who assemble the list. Architectural Record admits its “best of” list is its own, reflecting its editors’ tastes. The fun part is debating their choices, weighing in with our own opinions, and appreciating the varying perspectives everyone brings to the discussion.