Sunday, June 18, 2017

Change, Challenges, and Responsibilities


Jim Robertson, FAIA, FCSI, and Carl Sherwood, AIA announced my promotion this past week from Senior Associate to Principal at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc. I’m truly honored by the opportunity to work alongside Jim and Carl in this new capacity.

When I first embarked on a life in architecture, I thought I knew where it would take me or at least where I wanted it to. Since then, I’ve traveled a considerable distance down a steady professional track with few twists and turns along the way. Indeed, by several measures, I passed by the “mid-career” point a while ago without stopping to reflect upon how far I’d come or thinking much about my ultimate destination. I enjoyed the rhythm of my work, chugging away on project after project while doing what I could to keep each safely on the rails.

During the entire journey, I’ve been blessed to enjoy the company of outstanding associates and mentors. Jim and Carl have been tremendous in this regard, and I cannot thank them enough for this expression of confidence in me. I do hope I can reward them in turn by doing my part to ensure the continued success of the firm. Without a doubt, the future will be exciting. As I assume an increased leadership role, I look forward to helping Jim and Carl realize RSA’s full potential.

I was, and might still have been, very comfortable simply going along for the ride. Did I start out with ambitions of one day being in a position of firm leadership? Of course. Most who enter the profession do so with similar aspirations. I’ve also been paralyzingly risk-averse. I will need to do what I can to shed my risk aversion, a least a bit, if I am to become an effective principal.

I do anticipate new responsibilities, challenges, and raised expectations will accompany my changed role. I expect to remain who I am but also imagine stepping out of my skin a bit. For example, building the capabilities of our organization will become a focus of my work in the years ahead, as it is for most principals at architecture firms.

RSA’s hallmarks are attention to detail, focus on service, emphasis on the value of teamwork, and a supportive, family-friendly office culture. These form our core corporate ideology, and contribute significantly to the production of outstanding projects. Embracing change should likewise be part of our philosophy. As a new principal, I expect to work with Jim and Carl and the rest of our staff to visualize tomorrow’s version of our firm.

One thing our clients can count on is our continued commitment to provide them with the highest level of professional services. We regard every project as unique, taking pride in our ability to develop a clear and exceptional vision for each one. We constantly strive for creative solutions that exceed expectations. While always mindful of the intended use and budget constraints for the facilities we design, we also work toward the goal of creating buildings and spaces that will delight, inspire, and improve the lives of those that encounter them. We want our designs to express their function in meaningful and interesting ways. We want our projects to relate appropriately to their surroundings. We know who we are—our capabilities and why our clients come to us—and this will not change.

I arrived at this station of my life later than I originally expected to, if I expected to come to it at all following decades of secure contentment as an employee. Change always brings apprehension but it also signals opportunity and the potential for something new and wonderful over the horizon. As the train switches tracks and pulls away, I find myself on board looking forward to an incredibly fulfilling passage ahead.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Let’s Fix Construction Workshop

Cherise Lakeside, CSI Portland past-president, and Eric Lussier, CSI Vermont president, started a grassroots effort last August involving contributors from around the country called Let’s Fix Construction ( The website they created is dedicated to sharing positive and collaborative solutions to issues we face in the AEC industry. (which is unsponsored and includes no advertising) has become quite popular, drawing more attention every day. It is an impartial platform for showcasing forward-thinking solutions to many longstanding issues that have plagued construction.

As a complement to the website, Cherise and Eric have created a live, interactive event to discuss construction industry problems and solutions. Their presentation is a featured event at this year’s CONSTRUCT show in Providence, RI, but it’s also a show they’re taking on the road elsewhere, including here in Eugene.

Mark your calendars and plan on attending the Let’s Fix Construction forum on Friday, July 28.

The brown-bag lunch event will take place at the office of PIVOT Architecture, beginning at 11:30 AM and lasting two hours. Seating will be limited, so RSVP soon.

Here are the details:

What: Let’s Fix Construction Workshop

When:  Friday, July 28   11:30 AM – 1:30 PM (90 minutes presentation, 30 minutes Q & A)

Where:  Main conference room, PIVOT Architecture, 44 W. Broadway, downtown Eugene

Cost:  Free (bring your own lunch though)

Session Description:
This session will be an interactive problem-solving event. The class will be divided into “teams.” The organizers will identify a unique problem in architecture, engineering, and construction to each of the teams. A captain will be assigned to each team to ensure all team members participate in the solution.

Each team will have 15 minutes to brainstorm an out-of-the box, collaborative, forward-moving solution to the given problem. At the end of each 15-minute session, each captain will take the floor and have two minutes to present the team’s solution to the room. There will be at least three judges to determine the best forward-thinking solutions for each round.

The intent of this session is to improve communication, collaboration, unique ideas and the sharing of perspectives from different disciplines.

Learning Objectives:
  • To identify and learn about common conflicts and issues in AEC identified by industry members firsthand.
  • To evaluate the perceived gaps in project delivery that cause these problems.
  • To discuss and problem-solve four identified common issues in AEC as a group to learn collaborative and communicative solutions.
  • To recognize and identify how brief meetings among AEC team professionals can lead to positive solutions.

Level of Content: 100-300 (100-awareness, 200-understanding/comprehension or 300-application/implementation)

Primary Target Audience and Secondary Target Audience(s): Architects, contractors, engineers, interior designers, manufacturer’s representatives, project managers, and specification consultants. The session would benefit any discipline.

Continuing Education Learning Units:  2 AIA LUs (to be confirmed)

RSVP to Randy Nishimura, AIA, CSI, CCS:  before July 25, 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Surface into Form

Surface into Form is an exhibit by Nancy Yen-wen Cheng, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Oregon’s College of Design. The exhibit is the product of her ongoing exploration about how designers think and interact with the means at their disposal, most significantly the increasingly powerful digital tools that are an indispensable part of architectural practice today. Additionally, Nancy's research has explored the aesthetic potential of parametrically generated forms, specifically how such forms interact with light to shape spatial experiences. Surface into Form will occur at the Portland office of PLACE, part of that firm’s ongoing series of installations open to the public (much in the spirit of a succession of curated art displays). 

Here is a synopsis of the display: 

How much visual expression can come from a single sheet of material? Exhibit pieces explore how surfaces can be manipulated to bounce light in interesting ways. They show how simple cuts and folds can create complex patterns of flaps or pockets to catch light. For example, a family of geometric patterns incorporate self-clasping hooks designed to pull flexible sheets into saddle forms that juxtapose convex and concave edges. Recent efforts with draped and stretched fabric are motivated by the idea of shaping form and space with minimal means. 

The fabric pieces have been created with Marziah Rajabzadeh and Mohsen Marizad of ZAAD Studio, who excel in conceptual design and digital visualization. Methods to shape light with folded surfaces were developed through teaching in Australia, Germany, China and the U.S. Exhibit support has come from PLACE, Francisco Toledo, Bonnie Jean Dominguez, Tom Coates, and SuperfabPDX. 

What:  Surface into Form, by Nancy Yen-wen Cheng 

When:  June 21 – July 28, 2017  Open M-F 11-5

Where:  PLACE, 735 NW 18th Ave, Portland, OR 97209 – phone (503) 334-2080 

In addition to her exhibit, Nancy invites everyone to three FREE events, also occurring at PLACE: 

Wed June 21, 6:00-9:00pm with 7:00pm talk by Nancy Cheng 

Workshop: Shaping Light with Folded Surfaces
Saturday, July 8, 12:00-3:00pm
  • Experiment with light and shadow effects by manipulating surfaces and material properties.  Learn how curved cuts, folds and clasps can sculpt sheet materials to produce aesthetic forms.  Examine how lighting can transform appearances when capturing photos of work in progress. 

Workshop: Shaping Space with Fabric
Saturday, July 29, 12:00-3:00pm
  • What is the most interesting space that can be sculpted with the least material?  Learn about minimal structures through manipulating fabric.  The group will create temporary walls and tent-like enclosures by using bodies, rods and hoops to tension sheet materials. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Robert L. Shaw (1943-2017)

Robert Shaw (1943-2017)
Eugene architect Robert Shaw passed away in April. He was 73 years old. Unfortunately, I cannot claim to have known him as a friend. He quietly maintained his practice for many decades, during which he produced a variety of small commercial, ecclesiastical, and residential projects. Robert was not a member of either the American Institute of Architects or the Construction Specifications Institute, the two organizations through which I’ve come to know the majority of Eugene’s architectural community; regardless, I feel duty-bound to acknowledge Robert should there be some among those who knew him well who were not aware he has left us. 

The following is Robert’s obituary. Note the date and place of the memorial service planned by his family. 

Robert L. Shaw, local architect and Eugene resident of 55 years, passed away peacefully on April 13 at his home in Eugene from natural causes. He was 73 years old. 

Robert, known to many as Bob, was born in Grants Pass in 1943 to Elizabeth Chamberlin Shaw and Melvin Shaw, and raised in The Dalles, graduating from The Dalles High School. In high school, he aspired to become an architect, or a pilot. The University of Oregon’s School of Architecture drew him to Eugene, where he stayed for the city’s peaceful ambience and forested hills. 

In 1967, he married Kimberly Gish and they had a daughter, Megan, who he raised in Eugene. The marriage ended in divorce. 

In 1968, he was drafted into the Army and became a First Lieutenant and construction engineer and builder for the 18th Engineer Brigade of the Corps of Engineers in Southeast Asia. He was proud for the rest of his life of having designed and built Army hospitals. His other point of pride from that time was that all the men under his command survived their tours of duty. 

After graduating from the U of O in 1971 and obtaining his architecture license, Robert practiced architecture in Eugene up to the time of his death. During his decades of service to that profession he created many Oregon buildings, both residential and commercial, specializing in energy efficiency and artistry in design. 

In 1979, he obtained his pilot’s license and piloted recreational flights for friends and family around the Pacific Northwest. Later in life he augmented his professional work with volunteer service for organizations including Bring Recycling and the Eugene Public Library, as well as International Bird Rescue in California where he was an architect of flight aviaries. 

To family, friends, and colleagues he was known throughout his life as a gentle, spiritual man who loved animals. His whimsical artworks, original use of language, and droll sense of humor brought delight to those close to him. He was a loving father, brother, uncle, and friend. 

Robert is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Megan Shaw Prelinger and Rick Prelinger of San Francisco; sister Betty Root of Yakima; stepson Chris Hazen of Eugene (Cindy Chan); and by their respective families, including niece Randi Maddox, nephew Rusty Root, and grand-nieces, grand-nephews, and step-grandchildren. Friends of Mr. Shaw are welcome to join the family in remembering his life at a gathering on Tuesday, June 20, 5:30-7:00 PM at the picnic shelter in Hendricks Park. Donations in his memory can be made to Greenhill Humane Society.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Making beautiful places that invite people to be beautiful

Republic Square, Yerevan, Armenia. Painted by the Armenian-Swiss artist Agnes Avagyan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Kleinsasser’s singular contribution to architectural education may be his career-long crusade on behalf of designing with experiential considerations first and foremost in mind, as opposed to willful form-making. He fundamentally believed emphasizing how people interacted with their environment—how architecture could provide a stage for lives well-lived—should take precedence over matters of style or aesthetics, and even programmatic exigencies. In Bill’s mind, style, aesthetics, and poetic impact would take care of themselves if we first anticipate the quality of the experiences our places support. The excerpt below from Bill’s textbook Synthesis makes this case. 
As I’ve mentioned previously, Bill’s writing style was uniquely his own. It certainly betrayed his passion for and conviction in his beliefs. It could at once also be exasperating. He did have an irksome tendency toward employing rhetorical turns, rather than specifying or prescribing the exact means for achieving the outcomes he believed most desirable. Realizing how old the passage below is, I can attribute some of its shortcomings to Bill’s relative youth at the time of its writing (he was 38). Certainly, no one can doubt the earnestness of Bill’s prose. 
Like many of us, I want to learn more about how architects can help to make a really better physical environment; not just competent and clever buildings, which may be ingenious and stylish, but richly appropriate physical surroundings for people that measure up to the best we can imagine and hope for. 
There are many human characteristics and conditions. People have predictable size and shape, identifiable activities, institutions, movement patterns, biological structure and order, sensitivity and responsiveness, need for engagement or involvement, need for diversity of experience and self-identity, and the ability to change with changed position and accumulated experience. When people with all of these characteristics and conditions come together with that which exists and that which tends to exist (whether manmade or natural, place or institution) there is, if we can see it, a resulting “order-pattern” which suggests that buildings and places for people be made in specific, disciplined ways (rather than “any-old-way” or according to the dictates of the current fashion). In this sense, buildings and places for people can be thought of as being generated by forces, and these forces can be placed into two basic groups. They are both operational (having to do with sizes and quantities: the physical and measurable requirements of people and their actions) and experiential (having to do with how things and places are experienced by people, and the experiential characteristics which these buildings and places have). 
Operational forces are perhaps the easiest to understand and therefore we are familiar with them. They are measurable and observable. To respond to or not respond to them cause an immediate and obvious result. Experiential forces are more obscure. They often seem too personal to be studied, too intangible to be controlled. But the ability to be responsive to these forces is exactly what sets an exceptional designer apart from the rest. To be able to touch that which is meaningful to people—to inspire them, to involve them, to turn them on, to increase their awareness of life and themselves—these are the motives that are probably basic in us all, and why we were interested in architecture in the first place. 
It is certainly necessary to have concern for particular situations, for real actions of people, for particular people, individual people and their experiences, and for the differences among people. But it is also necessary to be responsible for more general aspects of the human condition, especially the human capacity and need for expanded experience, and expanding the experience until it is a new and different scene, or scene within a scene, and then perhaps back again to what it was before. 
It seems true that we are more alive (regardless of age) if we are able to make meaningful (strongly felt) patterns out of our experiences. This is made evident by our need to laugh, love, celebrate, ceremonialize, dramatize, have special places and things, swing, turn on, influence others, communicate with others, withdraw, abstract, identify, imagine, reflect, dream of better things, be in it and with it—not out of it. 
We could ask what or how much should be particular (closed), what or how much should be ambiguous (open), what should be explicit, what should be implicit, how necessary are dualities (together/alone, in/out, large/small, dark/light), what is the nature of ambivalence? 
We can make places instead of objects. We can select their elements and shape them. We can determine combinations, juxtapositions, transitions, repetitions, rhythms, moods. We can differentiate and thereby establish order. We can add to or subtract from. We can recall. 
We could make places that can be possessed by people—changed and made more responsive to particular needs or patterns—made different more than once, in more ways than one. 
We could make places that include the possibility of variety and diversity of experience over time—different frames which would invite different interpretations of reality—magic and mystery as well as logic and clarity. 
In so doing, we could make places that evoke (but not dictate), help (but not limit), are powerful (but not overpowering), are exact (but not too particular), are particular (but not closed). They could be precisely and significantly ambiguous, intensifiers of life experiences for others and ourselves, developers of our capacities to respond, feel, and wonder. 
We could go beyond the current habit of designing buildings which are fixed by na├»ve preconceptions long before designers are even considered. 
We could go beyond configurations generated by the careful and thorough study of particular needs and activities. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Unthank Hall

DeNorval Unthank Jr.
The University of Oregon’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously last Friday to rename the former Dunn Hall to Unthank Hall, effective immediately, in honor of DeNorval Unthank Jr. FAIA. De Unthank was the first African-American to graduate with a degree in architecture from the university’s School of Architecture & Allied Arts (now the College of Design). He would go on to enjoy a long and productive career in Eugene before his death in November of 2000. 
Unthank Hall is a four-story wing of the Hamilton housing complex on the University of Oregon campus. Its previous namesake, Frederick Dunn, while a professor of Latin and the head of the Department of Classics at UO, was also “Exalted Cyclops” of the Eugene branch of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s. In recent years, Dunn’s association with and actions on behalf of the KKK became a point of controversy and, in the minds of many, a shameful embarrassment and insult to students and faculty of color. 
Back in May of this year, UO president Michael Schill forwarded his recommendation in favor of honoring De. Here is his memorandum to the board: 
At the start of this academic year, you made the decision to remove Frederick Dunn’s name from a wing of the Hamilton Residence Hall and instructed me to come forward with a recommendation for a permanent name at the end of the year. That time is now upon us. 
As you know, I wanted this to be an inclusive process. After developing a list of criteria in coordination with the Black Student Task Force, we then solicited nominations from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. Nineteen names were provided to a committee which I charged with evaluating those suggestions and ultimately recommending names for my consideration. 
I would like to reiterate my gratitude to the committee members for their thoughtful work, especially given the timeframe within which they had to act. It was clear that each member reflected deeply on the criteria and this honor. 
The group submitted a list of four people after whom it recommended we permanently rename Cedar Hall. Each of these four—and indeed the others suggested—is inspiring in their own right. As the committee members said in their memo to me, a recommendation of four particular individuals was in no way a vote against the others. And in that same vein, my final recommendation here is in no way a vote against the others. 
Based on historical records and information gathered on these four inspiring individuals, a meeting with the committee about the finalists, and subsequent conversations with various individuals and groups, I have decided to formally recommend that we permanently name this wing Unthank Hall, after DeNorval Unthank, Jr. 
Mr. Unthank was a University of Oregon alumnus, graduating in 1951 with a degree in Architecture – the first black graduate from School of Architecture and Allied Arts (AAA). He went on to have a successful career here in the Eugene-Springfield area, designing many public and private buildings. His works include our own McKenzie Hall, meaning that students can see and experience a tangible example of Unthank’s success and lasting legacy. This physical space is a reminder to us all that this extraordinary man overcame racial discrimination as a child in Portland as well as discrimination and overt acts of hatred at the University of Oregon. 
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Mr. Unthank was an unwavering advocate for minority populations, especially the black community in Oregon and in Portland, specifically. He worked with community organizations in Portland on projects such as Albina Housing, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, the Mt. Olive Baptist Church, and several developments focused on low-income housing and assisted living. 
In addition to being an alumnus, Unthank remained dedicated to the University of Oregon. He served as a visiting lecturer in AAA and became an associate professor in the school for eight years in the 1970s. His impact on students thus extended far beyond creating a physical place for them to learn and engage. To him, design, education, and opportunity were intertwined. 
In 2004, AAA established a memorial scholarship fund in his honor thanks to contributions from family, friends, clients, and colleagues. While this scholarship has helped architecture students realize their potential and is a fitting tribute to Unthank, I believe now is the time we recognize his contributions to the UO, the Eugene-Springfield region, and to the state of Oregon through a more overt and tangible honor. 
I think ahead to the freshmen who will eagerly unpack belongings into Unthank Hall and who will be inspired by this tremendous man to make their own lasting impact on our university, state, and nation. 
Thank you for your consideration of this recommendation. 
De’s accomplishments, mentioned in part by President Schill, are recalled in greater detail by the Daily Journal of Commerce eulogy published at the time of his passing. His projects here in Eugene, among them the Lane County Courthouse, McKenzie Hall on the University of Oregon campus, Kennedy Middle School, and Thurston High School, remain for us to visit and experience. 
I wish I got to know De better before he died. He always struck me as particularly gracious and dignified, but I can’t claim to truly have known him as a friend or colleague. He was a member of a generation architects I regarded as pioneers, one whose impact profoundly shaped the built environment of Eugene. Their legacy continues to be felt by architects like me who follow in their footsteps. 
Eugene’s history of race politics and reprehensible intolerance belie its progressive reputation. De Unthank’s experience during his studies at the University of Oregon, and later as a young architect reflected the bigoted racism that existed immediately beneath the community’s thin veneer of gentility. The spring 2011 issue of Oregon Quarterly (the magazine of the University of Oregon) provides a chilling chronicle by De’s first wife, Deb Mohr, of the bigotry she and De faced as a young interracial couple. It’s unnerving to realize that it wasn’t so long ago that blatant racism went unchallenged. The courage De and Deb displayed in the face of blinding hate and indifference to it is inspiring. We’re all richer because De Unthank stayed in Eugene rather than choosing to leave.
I like to think De would have endorsed the Board of Trustees' decision to remove Fredrick Dunn's name from the building that now honors him. If he were alive today, I'm pretty sure De would agree that veneration for an avowed racist has no place at a public institution of higher learning. He may have been less comfortable with seeing his name taking Dunn's place simply because racism and what it represents are issues that unfortunately cannot be erased by one well-intentioned gesture.

I’m certain De would find the tenor of current race relations deeply troubling. He personally experienced the worst of human nature. He certainly would be dismayed to see racism so virulently rise again, following decades of so much progress. We can all honor De by not only remembering his accomplishments as an architect possessed of great skill, but also by having the courage to challenge bigotry and hatred whenever and wherever we see it.