Monday, May 29, 2017

Picturesque Rustic

Wallowa Lake Lodge (all photos by me)
My wife and I recently returned from a much-needed five-day vacation in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa County. This incredibly scenic region—a dramatic confluence of prairies, soaring snow-capped mountains, glacier-carved lakes, and deep canyons—is remote and sparsely populated. The principal industries include agriculture, ranching, and lumber, though many locals increasingly view tourism as a key economic driver. I’d visited the area several times previously, as my wife has ties there that date back to the arrival of the first white settlers during the 1870s. Her family still owns 160 acres of pastureland a few miles east of Joseph, as well as an additional 40 acres in timber on the flanks of Mount Howard. 

Our vacation reconnected my wife to a place resonant with childhood memories, one within which she delighted during breaks away from school in Bend. It provided me with a relaxing respite untethered from electronic connections back to my work in Eugene. Rather than stay at the family ranch, we chose lodgings at the historic Wallowa Lake Lodge, a short drive away, situated at the south end of the lake and near the trailhead into the magnificent Eagle Cap Wilderness. 

Wallowa Lake
Having grown up a city boy, I’ve never been one inclined toward “roughing it.” Despite its rustic appeal, the Wallowa Lake Lodge provides home-away-from-home comfort with the amenities and hospitality of a 5-star hotel. Originally constructed in 1923 and subsequently expanded in 1926, the Lodge proper houses 22 guest rooms. Additionally, there are eight cabins, each featuring full baths and kitchens, stone fireplaces, and big views of the lake and spring-fed wetlands. There are no room phones, televisions, or Internet service. Unlike the endemic placeless-ness of chain hotels, there is nothing predictable about the lodge for first time visitors, other than the expectation of a remarkable sojourn. We stayed in one of the cabins rather than in the main lodge, though the lodge is the focus of this blog post. 

Wallowa Lake Lodge

The Wallowa Lake Lodge is not the product of academy-trained architects; instead, the straightforward design is the handiwork of builders James Amey, his son Clyde, and J.Ross Leslie (for the original 1923 building), and later W.C. Kelly (for the 1926 addition). Regardless, the lodge betrays the builders’ good instincts through its placement, simple forms, and respect for the spirit of the place. The care for and attention to details is clear. The exterior is enlivened by the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal patterning of board & batten siding. Inside, the lodge is warmed by exposed wood paneling, Arts & Crafts detailing, and antique furnishings. 

Lobby, Wallowa Lake Lodge
The cabin we stayed in was crafted in a similarly rustic style, though the lodge operators built it and the others during the 1940s. Like the lodge, the cabin’s design is straightforward and unaffected. It served as a perfect base for our stay in Joseph. We retired in the evenings to the comfort of a real bed after exploring the environs or visiting with family at the ranch. Each morning, I enjoyed the pleasure of a freshly brewed hot cup of coffee while taking in wonderful sights, sounds, and fresh air from the cabin’s adjoining deck. The cabin immersed us in a setting a world apart from our home in Eugene. Our vacation was rejuvenating and relaxing thanks in no small part to our choice of accommodations. 

Relaxing on the deck of our cabin, Wallowa Lake Lodge
The Wallowa Lake Lodge is one of many landmark inns built during the early decades of the 20th century that have come to exemplify the National Park Service Rustic” style of architecture. Other noteworthy structures include the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite National Park, the Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier, and Glacier Park Lodge in Wyoming. Here in Oregon, the Oregon Caves Chateau, Crater Lake Lodge, and Timberline Lodge embody the essential characteristics of the great lodges. All fit snugly within spectacular surroundings, even though many are sizable buildings. Their architects designed them to harmonize with the majestic landscapes of which they are a part. They most often combine handcrafted native wood and stone in a relaxed, frontier-inspired fashion. Their lavish embellishments frequently feature natural and Native American motifs. 

Much of the appeal of the old lodges is rooted in their authenticity and their contribution to the natural sites of which they are an irreducible part. Moreover, they provide intimacy and communion with nature through their architecture. They offer environmental nourishment. This is a characteristic of the lodges that is difficult to replicate in artificial settings. For this reason, I find it impossible to believe Walt Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge would be appealing. A sanitized, synthetic, and sentimentalized form, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is nothing more than an ersatz misappropriation of the National Park Service Rustic vocabulary. It is most assuredly inauthentic. 

Author Christine Barnes published several copiously illustrated books showcasing the National Park lodges, of which I own two volumes. The books in turn spawned the PBS-produced Great Lodges of the National Parks television series in 2002, for which Barnes served as a consultant. The books and TV series glowingly featured the famous lodges but showcased several lesser-known examples too, including the Wallowa Lake Lodge. Of the many documented by Barnes, my wife and I have also previously vacationed at the Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Park and Timberline Lodge. Despite including “. . .of the National Parks” in her titles, both Timberline Lodge and the Wallowa Lake Lodge are not U.S. National Park Service properties; the Lake Quinault Lodge(1) is located within Olympic National Park in Washington state. 

Lake Quinault Lodge
Interior beam detail, Lake Quinault Lodge
Cupola, Lake Quinault Lodge
Our goal is to visit many more of the historic lodges catalogued by Barnes. We find vacationing at the great lodges not only enjoyable and refreshing, but enchanting journeys back in history to boot. Their picturesque and rustic style of architecture has undeniably contributed to the mythos of the American West. They are worthy of our best preservation efforts.  

(1)  Architect Robert C. Reamer designed the Lake Quinault Lodge. Reamer is best known for designing Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful Inn.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Curtain Call

The now-removed Hult Center’s Blackberry Curtain depicts a cloudy Oregon sky over blackberry bushes (photo source: the Hult Center for the Performing Arts website).

Eugene’s favorite curmudgeon, Otto Poticha, FAIA, emailed me last week regarding a topic of continuing concern for him, which is our community’s seeming indifference to its artistic and architectural heritage. In this instance, Otto cited the City of Eugene’s decision to retire the Hult Center for the Performing Arts’ iconic Blackberry Curtain in the Silva Concert Hall in favor of a nondescript replacement.  
New at the time of the Hult Center’s completion in 1982, the massive, hand-printed house curtain was the work of artists Margaret Matson and Mollie Favour. It was one of the original works of art funded in part by the City’s then-new ordinance specifying that a small percentage of the project’s construction budget be reserved for place-specific art pieces. After thirty-five years of wear and tear, the curtain was admittedly threadbare. 
Otto laments how Eugeneans so willingly and repeatedly accept the loss of invaluable cultural assets. He wrote the following letter for submission to The Register-Guard and The Eugene Weekly, but neither paper bit, so it went unpublished—until now that is. Otto also hoped AIA-SWO’s Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA) might take up the cause. The subject is certainly one that warrants our discussion. 
In Otto’s mind (and mine as well) the Blackberry Curtain is an irreplaceable work of art, one that deserves to be restored, cared for, and protected in the same way treasured works of art around the world typically are. It should be refurbished and reinstalled in the exact setting artists Matson and Favour intended it for. 
Here’s Otto’s letter:
Letter to the Editor:
Another mistake: Replacing the main curtain at the Hult Center
This is not a curtain; this is a piece of art. It was selected in a national, juried art competition and funded with 1% for art funds. 
This work, like the other destroyed or misplaced forms of art, is a community resource. It is community property and must be maintained and cared for. Art all over the world is restored, not destroyed. 
Our current short list of not caring: The (shuttered) Jacobs Gallery, the “Flying People” at the airport, the Sandgren murals abused by the new glaring airport terminal lighting, the Hadzi sculpture from the County Public Services building, the destroyed art and murals from the past City Hall, soon the (underfunded) Eugene Opera, the reduced Oregon Bach Festival, the (demolished) former national-design-awarded City Hall, soon the (to-be-replaced) Lane County Courthouse, the (threatened) Eugene Main Post Office, the pedestrian bridges abused by signs, and more to come. 
Doesn’t anyone care? 
We have become “the just get by city,” not the city of the arts, imagination, and culture. We apparently only embrace an “off the rack” mentality. 
Eugene is famous within the valley as the city that destroys its history as documented by its art and architecture. Unsurprisingly, we are still one of the largest cities in the USA without a public museum of art. 
This piece of art—the curtain—represents the unique and special nature of this community and needs to be restored, preserved, and maintained—not made into pillows or wall hangings. 
(City) Manager, STOP this nonsense. 
Otto Poticha, FAIA

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Associate Director of Facilities Management and Planning

I happen to be a member of Lane Community College's hiring committee seeking to identify a new Associate Director of Facilities Management and Planning. FM&P's director, Jennifer Hayward, invited me to participate on the committee as a member from outside the college and yet familiar with LCC's design & construction project processes. I'm helping to spread the word about the opening through my blog with the hope that one of my readers may be interested or knows someone who may eminently qualified and seeking a new career opportunity. Here's the job posting:

Lane Community College is seeking an Associate Director of Facilities Management and Planning to assist the Director in facilities management and planning for a 60 person department with 1.4 million square feet of building stock spread over a 400+ acre main campus plus six satellite campuses across Lane County. Facilities Management and Planning areas of responsibility include: 1) facilities planning, renovations, and construction; 2) space planning and programming; 3) maintenance and repairs; 4) grounds and landscaping; 5) custodial services; 6) utilities management; 7) hazardous waste management and general waste management; 8) moves and event set ups; 9) transportation program, motor pool and vehicle scheduling; and 10) department office support. 
REQUIRED EDUCATION:  Bachelor's degree in business administration, engineering, architecture, or a related field. 
REQUIRED EXPERIENCE:  Five years experience in facilities and/or construction including team leadership for at least two years. 
PREFERRED EDUCATION:  APPA certification, LEED accreditation, and/or other professional certifications related to facilities management. Additional years of higher education or degree beyond Bachelor's .
PREFERRED EXPERIENCE:  Experience in public sector or educational institutions. 
SALARY RANGE:  $61,050 - $80,972.  In addition to salary, a generous benefit package is provided.  

For more information and application instructions:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eugene Parklet Competition: Details

Parklet design by Gensler (photo by Lydia Thompson/NPR) 
I have more information now regarding the Eugene Parklet Competition I first blogged about a few weeks ago. 
Entries in the competition are due Friday, June 16. On June 21, the organizers from AIA-Southwestern Oregon and the City of Eugene Parking Department expect to announce four winners. Their intention is to have the winning designs built and installed by July 29 of this year for downtown Eugene's Sunday Streets event that day. 
The City has identified four parking spaces as sites for the purposes of the design competition. Three of the parking spaces are on Broadway: one each in front of Townshend’s, Starbucks, and the Bijou theatre; and one parking space on Olive Street in front of the University of Oregon’s new innovation hub RAIN. 
The competition jury will select up to four submissions for construction by the winning teams in one of the assigned locations. Once built, the parklets will remain in place for 1-2 months before disassembly. The organizers’ expectation is participants will design their parklets such that they can readily be disassembled for relocation throughout downtown. 
The City of Eugene is providing up to $2,000 per winning entry for materials and related construction costs. The competition jury, which will have sole discretion to identify the winning submissions, will distribute the funds after completing its evaluation of the competition entries. The goal is to attract as many design entries as possible, and ensure the winning participants have some fun while making their parklets a reality. 
Everyone is welcome to submit an entry: architects, landscape architects, designers, artists, students, and more—basically, any and all of the most creative minds in our community. Participate in this exciting collaboration and help create a vibrant downtown Eugene!
The organizers are also looking for general contractors, sponsors, and volunteers to partner with them to help make the parklet competition a success. Partnering can be in the form of assisting in the building of the parklets, donations for materials, or contributions of funds and time. Each of the built parklets will include a Partner board, and AIA-SWO will include recognition for all Partners in all promotional materials and at all related events.
See the PARKLET COMPETITION HANDBOOK for competition guidelines, rules, timeline, and entry form.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Fine Grain of Cultural Diversity

Architecture often mirrors the culture or cultures that give rise to it. The variety of beliefs, customs, and arts found in our community and others across the country is increasingly diverse; accordingly, it’s reasonable to assume our buildings and cities should likewise reflect a growing multiplicity of influences. Cultural diversity countervails forces that threaten to render our places, neighborhoods, and cities placeless. Cultural diversity can be a force to humanize our built environments. 

My own experience growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia serves as a case in point. Vancouver, naturally at a crossroads between Canada and the world beyond, was then and remains today a montage of distinct neighborhoods. Many of the neighborhoods familiar to me reflected the makeup of their population. My family’s home was within an enclave largely populated by Italian families and businesses.(1) Other neighborhoods were variously identified as Chinese, Greek, Ukrainian, WASP, etc. Each featured its own distinct sights, sounds, and smells. Businesses serving these communities were overwhelmingly owner-operated, small, and clustered along streets that came to characterize the presence of the dominant population. My childhood was shaped by this exposure to a rich juxtaposition of cultures and the distinct sense of place within the city that each fostered. 

Today, Vancouver remains very much (if not more so) a city of immigrants. By far the principal groups are now of Chinese and south Asian (primarily Indian) origin, though recent arrivals from Iran, the Philippines, and Korea are contributing to the wealth of backgrounds. 

Sociologists often point to Canada as an example of a cultural “mosaic,” contrasting that with the U.S. ideal of a “melting pot.” Proponents of multiculturalism believe a societal structure that encourages immigrants to keep their cultural identity benefits everyone by cultivating an appreciation of and tolerance for different belief systems and customs. On the other hand, multiculturalism and the changing face of America have served as points of contention for those who firmly believe in the value of assimilation and its necessity to ensure a common interpretation of and fealty to the principles of the country’s constitutional democracy. The past election cycle revealed a very real, populist backlash against the change that multiculturalism portends. 

Chinese Lion Dancers at the 2017 Asian Kite Festival in Eugene (my photos)
Despite its discomforting aspects, the trend toward multiculturalism will not be abated. Our communities will adjust and thrive. It might seem counterintuitive to some people, but cultural diversity does not mean our built places will become prejudiced by the traditions of the predominant socioethnic population that has moved in. Other forces, such as topography, climate, land use zoning, solar access, local transportation options, and the native ecology should prevail in the majority of instances. Cultural diversity is an overlay, merely another—albeit powerful and fertile—consideration for architects. 

We can attribute the physical blandness of many of our cities in some measure to the universal application of corporate branding at the expense of what might make the architecture of a specific city or neighborhood unique. Large companies have too often valued homogenization over heterogeneity. Conversely, great cities and neighborhoods are in part that way because they value diversity in all its forms. Embracing cultural diversity encourages us to celebrate what makes us different, which in turn inspires unique architectural responses. 

Cultural diversity also contributes to the emergent properties that distinguish a place. The gestalt of a great city or neighborhood arises from the interactions of many smaller entities, which include every single person and the unique backgrounds and the stories each brings. Rather than suppress that individuality, it behooves us to build upon it. Building upon what makes us different leverages the complexity of our interactions to generate discernable communities. The more fine-grained developments are in reflecting the cultural values, community economics, and the natural setting of a place, the better adapted and coherent they will be. By their nature, large master plans and developments too often lack this fine-grained quality and thus fail to adequately support complex patterns and behaviors. 

Eugene may never achieve the critical mass amongst its minority groups to nurture a mosaic of ethnic enclaves of the sorts that I experienced during my youth in Vancouver. Regardless, Eugene’s prospects may hinge in part upon whether it is supportive of enough diversity and cultural activity to remain vital and attractive to the creative class and industries crucial for success in our post-timber economy. If Eugene remains inclusive and welcoming, it will always have a puncher’s chance to thrive in the competition to attract the best and brightest workers, as well as desirable industries and companies and the family-wage jobs they bring with them. 

*    *    *    *    *    *
The 32nd annual Asian Kite Festival, which took place this past Saturday in Eugene, prompted this reflection upon the meaning and value of cultural diversity. I originally intended to simply draw a correlation between the culture and artistry of kite-making and architecture, much as I’d done previously between architecture and automobiles, or architecture and my taiko drumming. Instead, I had an epiphany: the diversity of peoples and cultures the Kite Festival represented was indicative of how incredibly complex, kaleidoscopic, and spiritually satisfying our world can be. I was struck by how humbling this realization was, even though I previously embraced this notion. I was amazed by how much a small cultural event in a small community could symbolize for me everything that is remarkable about human beings. For architects, the lesson to be heeded is to always view our buildings as contributions to a legacy that is incomprehensibly vast and consequential.
(1)  The Japanese-Canadian diaspora returning to Vancouver after World War II never cohered again into an identifiably “Japanese” neighborhood or ghetto.   


Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Obama Presidential Center

A view of the Obama Presidential Center campus experienced from the south (rendering published by the Obama Foundation).

The Obama Foundation unveiled the much-anticipated initial design concept by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (TWBTA) for the Obama Presidential Center this past week. The foundation envisions the project being much more than a building on Chicago's South Side; its hope is the Center will be a place that inspires people globally to be citizens of a democratic world. That ambition imposes a substantial burden of expectations upon the Center’s architecture. Whether the TWBTA design meets those expectations remains to be seen, certainly not until long after it opens sometime in 2021.
A presidential library is, to a degree, a shrine to the president’s ego. Over time, the libraries have progressed from primarily being repositories for presidential documents to serving as monuments to each retired POTUS. Most visitors do not arrive to conduct archival research but rather to tour immersive museum exhibits. They come as tourists rather than scholars. Undeniably, the de facto purpose of the libraries is primarily to commemorate each president’s achievements (while most often engaging in spin by whitewashing or downplaying controversies). 
Not surprisingly, each library manifests something of the president’s persona in built form; after all, the president is actively involved in its creation (the John F. Kennedy Library being a noteworthy exception, in which instance the president's widow, Jackie, worked with architect I.M. Pei). This includes selecting architects whose work is sympathetic to and consistent with the public’s perception of those personas. The Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California by Hugh Stubbins and Associates, despite its large size, features a relaxed, Mission-style design. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, is unashamedly modernist; by contrast, the George W. Bush Library in Dallas, Texas is a conservative, historicizing composition by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. It’s not a stretch to imagine that any enthusiast of the presidency might be able to guess which library is associated with which president simply by viewing photographs of the buildings.(1)
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston (photo by Fcb981, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons). This is the only presidential library I've actually visited.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, CA
William Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR (photo by Archipreneur [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

George W. Bush Presidential Center (photo by J. P. Fagerback [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)
Despite its pretensions to being in the words of the Obama Foundation “an ongoing project for us to shape, together, what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century,” the Obama Presidential Center will inevitably be regarded as a reflection of Barack Obama and his tenure in office. How can it not? Architecture can be many things, but it most certainly is a vehicle for the conveyance of meaning and allusion. For many, despite the challenges and frustrations of his two terms in office in the face of intransigent political opposition, Obama remains a symbol of hope, transcendence, and progressivism. 
So, what are my impressions of the proposed design and what it says about the Obama presidency and its legacy? Will it be a “transformative” building in the same way Barack Obama views himself as a transformative figure?
My answer to these questions is it’s too early to know. It’s premature to pass judgment solely based on a preliminary model and renderings. Architects know too well how their designs can evolve profoundly through the course of the design process. Sometimes changes are a consequence of forces beyond the architects’ control, such as when the client modifies the functional brief or simply wants to do something different. On other occasions, they’re the outcome of the architects’ own reflection and iterative analysis. The most successful projects are the products of constant improvement from the start until they’re occupied and beyond. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is a case in point; Gehry radically altered its design during the lengthy period that transpired between the 1988 design competition and its completion in 2003.
Top: Frank Gehry in 1988 with a model of his competition-winning design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Bottom: The finished building in 2003, a completely different design.
I was pleased when the President and First Lady announced the selection of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (along with Interactive Design Architects) for the Obama Presidential Center project. While I have yet to visit a TWBTA design in person, I am impressed with the obvious display of craft, thoughtfulness, and deference to site and program evident in photographs. I’ve long believed it is perilous to evaluate the merits of buildings and places without visiting them but my understanding of TWBTA’s approach to its work and the accolades for the firm’s oeuvre bolster my confidence in their abilities. Their work displays an obvious maturity, expressing principles that emphasize the values of experience, perception, and slowness of method. They are architects of sensitivity and subtlety rather than bombast and posturing. 
A favorite TWBTA project: The Scripps Neurosciences Institute
Immediate reactions from others(2) to the Obama Presidential Center design have mostly focused upon how it melds landscape and building (a common TWBTA theme), or the curious museum tower, which calls to mind (as Chicago Tribune columnist Blair Kamin said) nothing if not a portly Pharaonic monolith. Regarding the 180-foot-tall tower—the Center’s focal point—some have reported TWBTA designed it in response to President Obama’s entreaty upon seeing earlier, understated concepts for something more impressive. I fully expect the architects will variously reconsider and revise their design, and would not be surprised in the least if it ultimately looks much different than what the current model and renderings suggest. 
A model view of the Obama Presidential Center showing its Jackson Park context in Chicago.
Ultimately, the architecture of any presidential library cannot by itself redeem the shortcomings of a presidency, nor does the architecture possess the power to extend and polish its legacy. That being said, I do look forward to seeing if the architecture of the new Obama Presidential Center will help the Obama Foundation realize its lofty goals. Will the 44th president of the United States, a sophisticated politician whose soaring rhetoric, power to inspire, and appeal on the world stage are unrivaled, likewise be rewarded with an appropriate built homage? Time will tell.   
It was during a luncheon for the 2009 National Design Awards that Michelle Obama described how “great designers design with mankind in mind, building on the innovations of the past to shape a better future.” Today, as she and her husband work with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, I look forward to seeing how the Obama Presidential Center will fulfill that ideal. 

(1)   I can only imagine what a Donald J. Trump Presidential Library/Museum might look like. Undoubtedly, it would be another extension of the Trump brand, perhaps a preposterously gilded exercise in “Dictator Chic.”

(2)   A lot of press accompanied the unveiling of the proposed design. Here’s a sampling: