Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: A Top Ten List and More

2016 is quickly drawing to a close. The larger narratives of the year will encompass stories of terrorist incidents, police shootings, untimely deaths (think David Bowie and Prince, not to mention Zaha Hadid and Bing Thom), the Zika virus, the Syrian civil war, record high temperatures, and a divisive presidential election. Suffice it so say that 2016 will not go down in history as a banner year in the eyes of many. I certainly won’t look back at 2016 with fondness for many of the same reasons, but I nevertheless count myself among the very fortunate who enjoy the extravagances of good health, good friends and family, a loving spouse, and a rewarding career. I also enjoy the luxury of time I can devote to writing this blog, a regular exercise I find most gratifying. 

I’m always surprised to see how many people read SW Oregon Architect. The following are my top ten individual entries for 2016 as measured by the number of unique page views (listed in parentheses below as of December 23, 2016). Each listing is accompanied by one sentence as a tease, the one I think best captures the post’s core message. If you find any intriguing, click on the title of your choice and the full post will open in a separate window. 

Here’s the list, starting with No. 10: 

10. Spatial Variation (1,285)
We instinctively seek out supports within a setting and the freedom to control the degree to which we interact with that place; however, there is no choice if there is insufficient spatial variety. 

9.  The Terminal Studio Review (1,331)
I want each review to be exciting, valuable, and vibrant for the student, not because it is filled with drama and grandstanding, but instead because real learning is taking place. 

8.  #TheJane (1,351)
The PAC-12 Conference’s reigning softball champion resides at the University of Oregon, and now so too does the team’s sparkling new home. 

7.  Worst Buildings of the Last 125 Years (1,355)
As Thumper says in Disney’s animated classic Bambi, “If you can’t something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” 

6.  R.I.P. Zaha Hadid (1,404)
May we never forget how she pushed architecture’s envelope, but let us also acknowledge how her death should likewise spur serious and timely reflection about its future as a discipline in the service of humankind. 

5.  Working at Home (1,520)
There are times in everyone’s life when both pleasant and unpleasant surprises can throw you for a loop. 

4.  Bread and Butter (1,606)
All the ingredients necessary for my professional satisfaction are present in every project I am involved with. 

3.  Architecture is Awesome #12: Ordered Complexity (1,809)
At its best, architecture maintains a tantalizing balance between comforting order and bewilderingly artful chaos. 

2. Oregon BCD Certifications: OAR 918-098 (1,827)
. . . OAR 918-098 will likely have an adverse impact upon the quality of the permitting and inspection processes, drive away prospective new inspectors and plans examiners (just when they’re needed most), unfairly penalize private entities, and effectively (and ironically) generate new conflicts of interest. 

1. Placemaking - Making It Happen (2,296)
While creating effective public places is often difficult, Eugene definitely has all the ingredients necessary to develop its fair share of them. 

I’m amazed by these page visit numbers; however, they don’t come close to the 8,820 visits of my May 2010 entry entitled Influences: Christopher Alexander & Peter Eisenman, the most widely read SW Oregon Architect piece, nor do they approach the exponentially higher page view numbers some other architect bloggers can boast. In the grand scheme of things, my blog is small potatoes; nevertheless, it’s become part of my life and writing is something I do that makes me happy. 

Being happy is something I wish for everyone in 2017. Perhaps the new year will be a better one than we imagine now, during which cooler, saner heads will prevail and our seemingly downward environmental and social trajectory is reversed. Architects can be leaders in a movement toward positive, bottom-up transformations. We’ve long dedicated ourselves to ecological stewardship, the strengthening of our public realm, and the creation of safe, inclusive, and resilient spaces. We can be agents of the change we wish to see during an uncertain time. Always remember what Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Amen to that, Margaret.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Projects in the Pipeline 2017

In the following is a letter, CSI-Willamette Valley past-president Marina Wrensch invites all supporters to consider sponsoring next month’s “Projects in the Pipeline” chapter meeting. Sponsorship is not only a great way to promote your own business, it also helps the Willamette Valley Chapter fund important programs, including its certification classes. Read on: 
Good morning. 
As you may remember Willamette Valley CSI every year used to put on a product show with lots of vendors showcasing their products and services, and every other year we would talk about either “Projects in the Pipeline” or give an “Economic Forecast”. This year we have invited representatives of the City of Eugene and the City of Springfield, 4j School District, Springfield School District, the University of Oregon, Lane County and more to speak about their "Projects in the Pipeline." This is usually a joint event with AIA and other organizations. What we are not doing this year is a product show or any educational seminars. However, we are offering a different kind of participation. See below. Let me know if you are interested in any of those options. 
Date: January 26, 2017 
Buy a Plate: Purchase individual ‘Sponsorship’ tickets for the dinner to give to whomever you would like to attend this presentation and add your company’s name onto a table tent. (Available to everyone.)
Price: $40 per plate 
Buy a Table: A table seats (8). Purchase all seats and we will show your logo and company name on a table tent. You may either dedicate the table to specific costumers/clients or to CSI. (Provide attendee’s names prior to dinner.) 
Price: $400 per table 
Product Display: If you are interested in displaying some of your products or product/service information let me know. (Displays must  fit on a 30 x72 table due to space constraints.)
Price: $100 per table. Limited number available. 
We hope that we piqued your interest in attending our "Projects in the Pipeline" dinner. Please contact me for more information. 
Thank you, 
Marina Wrensch, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C, CSI
Landscape Architect, CSI Chapter Past President

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Drones in Construction

Commercial drone of the type used on building projects to perform aerial imaging (photo by ZullyC3P licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license versions 4.0, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, and 1.0.)
The latest Willamette Valley Chapter CSI chapter meeting featured two presentations about the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicle (aka “UAVs” or “drones”) in the construction industry. Justin Schoenberg of Essex Construction described the time and cost-saving benefits of using drones in construction projects for builders, property owners, facility managers, land surveyors, architects, and engineers. Mark Kannen of Hershner Hunter LLP addressed the still-evolving legal milieu that surrounds their proliferation, not only for construction-related purposes but generally as well. Both Justin and Mark provided a fascinating glimpse into a burgeoning technology that is coming into its own. 

Use in Construction
Justin joined Essex Construction a while back as a project superintendent and now works in project management. He brought with him to Essex years of experience as a RC model aircraft hobbyist, primarily building and flying helicopters and quadcopters. He’s now putting that expertise to use for the benefit of Essex projects. 

Although I had some familiarity with the capabilities and benefits of using aerial drones on construction projects, I was still surprised by Justin’s description of how sophisticated the associated applications have become. He used several Essex Construction projects to illustrate his points, including The Orchard Crossing student housing project in Eugene, the Roseburg National Guard Armory, and The Boathouse in Portland. In each instance, drones provided valuable information beneficial to the project team, quickly and economically, while providing perspectives only aircraft can provide. Their ability to efficiently record complex imagery supports a diverse range practical functions, which can include the following: 
  • Accurate site mapping
  • Conversion of sensor data into 3D computer models
  • Capturing of views from upper floor levels of future buildings (accurate to within a foot of elevation) for use during design or marketing of the property
  • Precise volumetric measurement (i.e. volumes of excavation)
  • Frequent and economical tracking of construction progress
  • Effective organization and deployment of on-site resources
  • Monitoring of worksite safety 
  • Documentation of as-built conditions, including highly accurate recording of systems ultimately buried within the completed work
Manned aircraft, either fixed or rotary-winged, are simply too expensive to repeatedly use on most construction projects. Because drones are far less costly, their use has mushroomed. This proliferation is in part due to improvements in camera technology and computer software, which have made the deployment of smaller and inexpensive drones practical for the uses listed above. 

Today’s sophisticated drones are capable of fully automated flight, with waypoint-to-waypoint programming. Users can also operate drones manually, often by means of first-person view video piloting. 

Justin brought in an assortment of his drones to display at the meeting (my photo).
Simply the ability to record construction progress from above has proven immensely useful to Essex Construction. For example, knowing the exact layout of post-tensioning tendons in a slab is critical to future modifications of that slab. Bluebeam software allows Essex to calibrate images of the tendons taken before the concrete is poured, and then measure their distance relative to datum points to locate them with greater precision than is possible using other means (such as ground-penetrating radar or x-ray technology). 

Justin likened the convenience of aerial photography on demand to having one’s private version of Google Earth. Up-to-the-minute imagery is always useful to construction teams, whereas months-old Google Earth pictures are less so. 

Justin also mentioned some of the exciting new software companies who have developed apps for construction drones. These include Skycatch, whose products transform digital imagery (photos and video) into 3D models and provide analysis and collaboration tools sharing drone data. Sketchfab can likewise generate 3D models from point cloud data collected by drones, and create virtual reality environments that help users solve problems collaboratively. Contractors can compare the resultant 3D models with those of the architect, ensuring fidelity with the design intent. 

Potential Liabilities
As an attorney at Hershner Hunter, Mark advises businesses on technology transactions and associated legal issues. He enjoys counseling clients on matters involving intellectual property rights, data privacy, and keeping proprietary business information protected. He also has a keen interest in unmanned aerial systems and is working to support their responsible and successful use throughout the Northwest. Like Justin, he has flown UAVs for many years, competing in international design, build, and fly competitions. 

According to Mark, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) holds the primary authority over the operation of UAVs for recreational or commercial purposes. The FAA rules governing their use differ depending upon you are flying drones for fun or work. Regardless of how they are used, the intent is to ensure public safety to the greatest degree possible by specifying operational limitations. 

Under the FAA rules, operators must keep their drones within visual line of sight, meaning the person flying the drone must be able to see it with the naked eye. Drones can fly only during the day (twilight flying is permitted if the drone has anti-collision lights). Drones cannot fly over people who are not participating in the operation or go higher than 400 feet above the ground. The maximum allowable speed is 100 mph. 

The State of Oregon additionally regulates the operation of drones, including the prohibition of weaponized UAVs and reckless interference with a manned aircraft. Oregon also has statutes governing use of drones by public bodies, including policies and procedures for the retention of collected data. 

The potential erosion of individual and collective privacy is perhaps the biggest concern people have with drones. In that regard the law is slow to catch up to the reality of drones and their increased presence in the skies over our heads. Mark says how criminal or civil penalties are imposed, and what the protections available to citizens may be with respect to widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles, are matters that are only beginning to studied. Stay tuned.

Thanks to both Justin and Mark for providing an excellent primer on the awesome potential and capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles used in construction, as well as the regulatory environment in which they operate. I have no doubt the use of drones by the AEC industry will continue to grow and become increasingly commonplace on projects of all sizes and types. 

*    *    *    *    *   
Good attendance by CSI members and guests for the meeting (photo by Marina Wrensch)

This month’s chapter meeting took place at the Veterans Memorial Building (Mac’s Nightclub & Restaurant) on Willamette Street in mid-town Eugene. This wasn’t the first CSI-WVC meeting held at the venue but it was the first time I attended one there. I liked it: The room we were in was just the right size and had just the right atmosphere. The January meeting will likewise take place there; that program will be our chapter’s annual Projects in the Pipeline presentation, featuring news on upcoming projects in the Eugene-Springfield market. I hope to see all of you there!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Abundant Access: Public Transit as an Instrument of Freedom

Jarrett Walker, PhD

The AIA-SWO Design Excellence committee initiated the Making Great Cities series of lectures in 2013 with the goal of creating a community forum for discussions about the built environment. The committee’s hope was to provide timely, meaningful, and defining dialogue about how to improve our built environment. Every lecture since then has met that goal and more. The growing list of luminaries who have spoken reads like a who’s who of today’s best thinkers about how to improve our cities: Maurice Cox, Carol Coletta, Joe Minicozzi, Jeff Speck, and Fred Kent all delivered thought-provoking and persuasive presentations, directly applicable to the future of Eugene-Springfield. 

Add Jarrett Walker to this outstanding list of speakers. Jarrett, president of Jarrett Walker + Associates, is one of the most innovative planners and advocates for public transit in North America today. For over 20 years, he has assisted governments improve and explain their public transit services by leading the design or redesign of transit networks, helping choose the right transit tools for each situation, analyzing transit data and integrating it with local goals, facilitating innovative public outreach processes that engage and empower the public, and helping explain transit principles and the real choices they imply for communities and their leaders. 

Jarrett’s principal message to the audience that packed the Downtown Athletic Club’s ballroom(1) was that planners and politicians too often allow distractions to dominate transit debates rather than focusing upon public transit’s core power, which is to give people freedom and opportunity as a city grows denser. For him, the challenge for public transit today isn’t just having good ideas but also being able to explain them plainly in a way people can understand. The problem is many of us are easily seduced by distractions, the two biggest of which are 1) technology, and 2) the fact that the transit conversation in North America too often is binary in its thinking. 

The issue with technology is that it cannot change the underlying geometry of the transit conundrum. Improvements in technology often only induce greater demand rather than alleviating it, meaning if something becomes easier and more convenient, people will use it more. That’s why the appeal of driverless cars or rideshare services (such as Lyft or Uber) is problematic. Replacing big vehicles with little ones only means more vehicle trips, with all the attendant congestion and environmental impacts. More cars take up more room per passenger than buses or trains. This may be fine in low-density and rural areas, where there’s lots of space per individual. But a city has relatively little space per person, so the efficient use of space is the core problem of urban transportation. Increasing vehicle miles traveled by cars means you take up more space to move the same number of people. Additionally, the sprawl induced by private transportation has not led to congestion relief, but exacerbated it tremendously due to the increasing need to travel for more and more basic functions that previously required less or no travel. 

Space (or lack thereof) to accommodate transportation is the problem. (Image from Jarrett Walker’s blog Human Transit). 

Jarrett explained how the geometry of transit requires communities to make a series of hard choices that at first appear to be oppositional or binary. Examples of these choices include the following: 
  • Ridership or Coverage? Should transit agencies maximize their ridership by abandoning service to low-ridership areas, or should they spread out service so that everyone has some service, despite the predictably low ridership that results? 
  • Connections or Complexity? Should agencies design transit networks in which people won’t have to transfer; if the answer is yes the result is a network with high complexity and low frequency. 
  • Peak-first or all-day? Should the peak commuter be the primary focus of a transit network or should a transit agency seek to build an all-day network of services that encourages reliance on transit at all hours, while still meeting peak capacity needs? 
These choices may seem binary but they’re really a function of the position upon a spectrum; the opposing terms simply define the extremes. For example, we don’t have to choose between ridership or coverage, but we do have to choose a point on the spectrum between them, and be willing to accept the fact that, as on any spectrum, moving toward one extreme means we have to move away from the other. 

Rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted by the allure of new technologies or engaging in politically polarizing discussions about priorities, Jarrett believes a community’s focus should be upon understanding transit options and how they relate to the things it cares about. The challenge for public transit agencies today is not just having good ideas but being able to explain them. Ultimately, decisions regarding how these agencies provide their services should be based upon a community’s peculiar values, its understanding of its unique needs, and what a transit plan does to meet those needs. 

An isochrone map of Portland showing the area you can get to within a fixed amount of time on some combination of transit and walking. Blue is 15 minutes’ travel time, green is 30 minutes, and pink is 45 minutes. These calculations include waiting time and therefore accurately convey the impact of frequency. Jarrett used this map to illustrate his presentation. 

A true constant in transit discussions is a universal desire for abundant access. Absence of access sets up walls around your life. Some of these walls may be a function of time. Where can I be soon? How much of the city and its resources are conveniently available to me? Abundant access provides as many choices and opportunities as possible, breaking down those walls. Abundance of access is literally a quantification of freedom. It is a measure for opportunity of all kinds. Jarrett believes our discussions about transit should focus on this aspect because it emphasizes personal responsibility by framing choice about questions of where you are free to go, when you wish to. 

Reemphasizing his most salient point, Jarrett clarified how abundant access is dependent upon the geometry of public transit. Speed is good, but it is meaningless if service is infrequent. Picture a gate at the end of a private driveway opening only every half-hour. It doesn’t matter if the owner’s car is a powerful and speedy Corvette; he or she will only arrive at his or her destination as quickly as the gate allows. Instead of focusing on speed, frequency may be the key to optimizing service. Likewise, ample connections between many simple-to-understand routes may be more effective than the direct lines between destinations in a network of greater complexity. 

Jarrett thinks the goal should be to link the notion of transit in peoples’ minds with freedom to move. The traits of the most successful systems consist of intense service focused on places of high density, good walkability, and straight paths that transit can follow. This is why transit does best in dense, walkable cities and is also most indispensable there. The ingredients of a successful ridership (or “freedom”) recipe are frequency of service, favorable development patterns (density, walkability, linearity), reasonable speed and reliability, and a connected network. A good system is one that “confers useful liberty,” a quality people of all political stripes can happily support. 

Jarrett believes communities must avoid facile thinking about transit ridership, such as labeling patrons either as “choice riders” or “dependent or captive riders.” Such thinking only exacerbates prejudices and frustrates constructive discussions about a shared set of values. 

Characterizing the decisions as value choices for a community is the best means to ensure transit-friendly development occurs and is embraced. It does come down to choices, but again these choices become a function of a community’s peculiar needs and values. Jarrett rhetorically asked “What would my transit system look like if ridership (and cost recovery) were its only goal?” He noted how top-performing services are usually either commuter express routes that run only when they’re crowded or a network of all-day high-frequency services covering areas of medium to high density. Systems emphasizing ridership would run little or no all-day service to low-density suburbs, because ridership on that product is predictably low. Conversely, coverage goals, often expressed by a policy like “90% of the population shall be within walking distance of service” require a system to be spread out over large areas despite low ridership. As Jarrett pointed out, there’s nothing wrong with either goal, but the public must understand they are competing goals and cannot be achieved in equal measure without tradeoffs.

As with all planning, there is a fundamental unpredictability about the future. Transit ridership is based on predictions; not only that, these predictions typically assume everybody grows up to act just like their parents, which may or may not prove to be the case. Regardless, Jarrett is convinced planning for and providing a good transit solution is a win-win formula, however it is achieved. A good solution, embraced by the community it serves, stimulates positive feedback loops of a desirable kind. A well-used system shapes appropriate development patterns, which in turn demands and helps pay for further system enhancements. Ultimately, the outcome favors a future in which public transit becomes valued and indispensable, which is good both locally and globally.

*    *    *    *    *   

Congratulations to AIA-SWO’s Design Excellence Committee for keeping the bar high and featuring yet another great speaker in Jarrett Walker for its Making Great Cities series of lectures. And big thanks too to the following organizations for helping make the evening’s presentation a reality: 

(1)    Jarrett noted the tremendous turnout for his lecture here. By his calculation, comparable attendance for his lecture in Houston would be 4,000 people or 10,000 people in New York. He attributed the large audience to our community’s keen interest in Lane Transit District’s evolving public transit system and what it augurs for the future of Eugene-Springfield.