Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tacoma’s Museum of Glass

Museum of Glass poster (2002). Photo by Russell Johnson. All other photos are mine.

My wife and I traveled north to Canada last week to attend my niece’s wedding, which was joyous and lovely, just as such occasions should be. On our return trek south, we stopped in Tacoma for lunch but, more importantly, we also made a point of visiting the iconic Museum of Glass along the city’s Thea Foss Waterway.

The Museum of Glass is far from new (it opened its doors in 2002) but this was our first visit. As a fan of the work of its principal designer, the late, great Canadian architect Arthur Erickson,(1) I had long been determined to see it firsthand. Poor timing had thwarted our previous attempts, as the museum’s fall/winter/spring operating schedule includes closures on Mondays and Tuesdays, and all too coincidentally our visits with my family in Vancouver involved traveling on those days.

View of the hot shop cone from the east end of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass.

"Fluent Steps" by Martin Blank form islands of glass in one of the Museum's reflecting pools.

The long wait did not disappoint: The Museum of Glass more than lived up to my expectations, architecturally speaking. Despite its relatively modest size, it projects a surprisingly monumental presence, punctuated by the inclined, 75-foot tall cone enclosing the dramatic hot shop amphitheater within. The towering cone alludes to the old wigwam burners that once dotted the landscape at sawmills throughout the Pacific Northwest; alternatively, its profile calls to mind the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range. It rises above a series of terraces rendered in Erickson’s characteristically refined concrete. The warm tone of the concrete contrasts with the coolness of the stainless steel shingles that clad the exterior of the cone.(2)
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass looking toward the west.

Works by Dale Chihuly in the Venetian Wall, Chihuly Bridge of Glass.

The adjoining Chihuly Bridge of Glass(3) links the uppermost terrace of the museum with downtown Tacoma and its cultural corridor (which includes the Washington State History Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma). Sandwiched between busy Interstate 705 and the rejuvenated waterway, the Museum of Glass skillfully mediates that transition, while alluding to the greater landscape and history of the region at the same time. It does so serenely, an island of calmness amid an otherwise frenzied context.

The Museum is very much one designed for the 21st Century. It is experiential and dynamic, a place that, as the museum’s vision statement proclaims, “pulses with life, light, and fire . . . a place of discovery, surprise, collaboration, and joy that transforms the visitor as profoundly as fire transforms glass.” The Museum celebrates creativity, making it visible for the public to watch, learn, and participate in.
Looking up inside the hot shop.
Glass artists at work in the hot shop as museum visitors watch.
The exhibit spaces are predictably unassuming and deferential to the works on display, and the auditorium is likewise modest. The real spectacle occurs inside the hot shop amphitheater. To describe it as dramatic would be an understatement. The soaring space calls to mind the interior of the cylindrical interrogation chamber seen in filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s cult masterpiece Brazil; however, rather than evoking a dystopian future, the hot shop is all about viewing creativity in action, featuring state-of-the-art facilities for advanced glassmaking techniques. Despite its grand scale, it is also intimate. The audience sits close to the artists at work, the radiated heat from the kilns very much felt. The hot shop melds glassmaking with theater.
Venetian glass art by James Mongrain.
Imaginative glass art designed by kids.
In my opinion, the project epitomizes more than most of Erickson’s other late-career designs his salient and defining interests: site, light, cadence, and space. He was well-known for viewing architecture as an analog for the natural landscape. His buildings were a paean to nature, often revealing a poetic awareness of the land. Typically, his best projects also bared the influence of their cultural context in surprising and remarkably insightful but not always obvious ways.

Other themes common to previous Erickson projects include an emphasis upon movement up, over, and through a building via expansive stairs and ramps, and also contrasting the solidity of carefully crafted exposed concrete with the mutability of water, light, and glass. Erickson liked to use architecture to choreograph how people experienced spaces. At the Museum of Glass, he wove these themes into a narrative about the primary elements of fire, water, earth, and sky—the stuff of which glass is made and brought to life by.
The upper terrace. Note the empty reflecting pool on the left.
If I have any quibbles with the Museum of Glass, they are also characteristic of some of Erickson’s other most well-regarded projects, including the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and Robson Square in downtown Vancouver. The reflecting pools on the roof of the Museum of Glass were drained at the time of our visit, just as the trademark cascades of water at Robson Square have too often been inoperative over the years. The water elements are essential to these designs, so their absence seriously compromises the original design intent.

I’m happy we finally had our opportunity to see the Museum of Glass. It certainly is worth a stop if you find yourself in the Puget Sound area, to experience its architecture, see glass artists at work, and peruse its galleries.  

(1)   Erickson’s collaborators on the project were Nick Milkovich Architects of Vancouver and Thomas Cook Reed Reinvald Architects (now TCF Architecture) of Tacoma. 

(2)   Despite his affection for concrete (once referring to it as “the marble of our times”), Erickson’s work with the medium was much too elegant to be characterized as “Brutalist.”
(3)   The Bridge of Glass was designed by Austin, TX architect Arthur Andersson and is decorated with artworks by famed glass artist and Tacoma-native Dale Chihuly. I briefly had the opportunity to work alongside Arthur Andersson during my stint with the Urban Innovations Group (UIG) in Los Angeles back in the mid-1980s. Andersson was a partner of the peripatetic Charles W. Moore (1925-1993), a frequent UIG collaborator. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

CSI Distinguished Member: James M. Robertson, FCSI, FAIA, CCS

James M. Robertson, FCSI, FAIA, CCS

Distinguished Membership is the most prestigious honor conferred upon a member of the Construction Specifications Institute. It is bestowed on individuals who have performed distinguished services to the construction industry in fields of activity related to the Institute’s mission. CSI recently named two most worthy individuals to receive this lofty accolade: Paul Betram, Jr., FCSI, Lifetime Member, CDT, and James M. Robertson, FCSI, CCS.

Having worked alongside Jim for nearly thirty years, I know him as well or better than most people. I can think of few others as deserving of the honor. The following excerpt from the Willamette Valley Chapter’s nomination document promoting Jim’s candidacy for Distinguished Membership enumerates his many accomplishments:

James M. Robertson, AIA has been a member of CSI for over 41 years, and has been continuously involved in national and international technical activities for more than 32 years. He has served as a leader at all levels: the local chapter; the Northwest Region; Institute committees and task teams; the Institute Board as a Director and as Vice-President Professional; and as a representative to international organizations.

Through his exemplary leadership in the Construction Specifications Institute, James M. Robertson, FCSI, FAIA, CCS, NCARB has developed and promoted international standards for design documentation and construction contract administration advancing significantly the practice of design and construction.

Robertson is an award-recognized architect who keenly understands and appreciates the value of standardization. Through his many leadership roles in the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) he has committed over 33 continuous years of his professional career to advancing the standardization of construction document organization; improving the practice of contract administration practiced by architects; improving collaboration between architects and others in the construction industry; achieving industry-wide efficiencies; reducing waste; minimizing construction costs; and increasing the quality of construction-related project information. For his service and contributions, he has received some of the highest honors bestowed by CSI, the Northwest Region and AIA.

Robertson has been instrumental since 1984 in the development of international standards used by architects for formatting and organizing contract documents. These standards include: MasterFormat™, SectionFormat™, PageFormat™, and PerSpective®. He also championed a new format for Preliminary Project Descriptions which was released in 2010.

Robertson has made significant writing contributions to three editions of CSI’s Manual of Practice which is recognized as a leading resource for architects on the proper principles, techniques and formats for writing and organizing specifications. He was also involved with developing the current generation of this influential series of manuals.

Robertson chaired the 1990 Ad Hoc CSI MasterFormat™ Committee charged with examining the future of this important classification system. The noteworthy recommendations presented in his report paved the way for important improvements to MasterFormat™ that has aided architectural practice. His leadership fostered open communication between disciplines and agencies within the design and construction industry.

Robertson played a prominent role in the development and writing of the original Construction Contract Administration (CCA) Module of the CSI Manual of Practice. He helped develop the Construction Contract Administration Education Program used by instructors around the country. He helped formulate CSI’s first certification program for CCA. This work has elevated architects and others in the industry, demonstrating the importance of effective contract administration in achieving quality projects.

Robertson has consistently shared his knowledge and expertise in the art and science of building design documentation and the project delivery process. Through his speaking and writing, he has contributed to the knowledge of the construction industry, enhanced the practice of architecture, and promoted the creation and implementation of national and international standards for construction information. He has made more than 60 presentations, promoting the standards he helped develop and conveying the importance of standardization in design and construction documentation. His local CCA seminar program has been so valuable to architects, interns, and others involved in design and construction that it has been repeated annually for 21 years.

Robertson is recognized internationally as a leader in technical construction standards and he represents CSI in international organizations involved with development and promotion of standards for specifications and contract documents. He has represented the interests of the architectural profession in crafting important industry-wide standards, and he has bettered the perception of architects within the construction industry and with international organizations. He is respected as an architect and was appointed by the Governor to the Oregon Board of Architect Examiners. In addition, he contributes to the profession as a member of NCARB’s ARE Committees/task teams.

What’s most remarkable about Jim’s significant contributions is that he made them all while running a successful architectural practice and being the consummate family man. The time commitment demanded by his volunteer efforts on behalf of CSI, NCARB, and OBAE has been considerable. As his colleague, I’ve witnessed firsthand his effectiveness as a leader, architect, and construction specifier. Undeniably, he has accomplished much more during his professional career than many of us can ever hope to in ours. As the Willamette Valley chapter’s only other Distinguished Member Paul Edlund, FCSI wrote in his endorsement of the nomination, Jim has demonstrated “exemplary leadership, tenacious commitment, and donation of time and expertise” in service to CSI, very much deserving of our acknowledgment and appreciation.

Both CSI and the American Institute of Architects previously elevated Jim to Fellow in their respective organizations in recognition of his contributions to the A/E/C industry. As noteworthy as achieving fellowship status with both these estimable organizations is, there’s no doubt being honored as a Distinguished Member is a career pinnacle. The Institute will honor Jim at next month’s CONSTRUCT 2017 and the CSI Annual Convention in Providence, RI. I won’t be at CONSTRUCT this year so, unfortunately, I’ll miss the opportunity to share Jim’s (and Paul Bertram’s) special moment. If you likewise cannot be in Providence, be sure to let Jim know the next time you see him how much you appreciate all he has done on our behalf.

Congratulations Jim! 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Building Upon the Ephemeral

PIVOT Architecture's SIT (im.a.bench) parklet  located on Olive Street between Broadway and 10th Avenue

I finally found the time this weekend to check out the completed winners of the Eugene Parklet Competition. As I reported upon the announcement of the selected entrants, the competition succeeded in drawing attention to downtown Eugene’s ongoing resurgence and also to the outsized power of modest urban interventions designed to make parts of the city more lively or enjoyable. Step-by-step and piece-by-piece, the parklet competition and similar initiatives (such as the City of Eugene’s “lighter, quicker, and cheaper” projects this summer) have drawn welcome attention to temporary efforts that hint at the promise of more permanent and likewise transformative changes to our public space.

I’m sure each of the four parklets shone best through their debut as part of the July 30 Downtown Sunday Streets event, and the following week as featured destinations for the August 5 First Friday Art Walk. Alas, during my quick stroll-by I found all to be unoccupied, despite plenty of passersby on a busy Saturday afternoon. They appeared forlorn and all too quickly forsaken.

Perhaps it was simply a matter of poor timing on my part. By design, their appeal was preordained to be as fleeting and ephemeral as the beauty of the cherry blossom. The parklets are not permanent. Regardless, a little bit of TLC (periodic cleaning, etc.) might extend their attractiveness. The targeted date for their deconstruction is this October, so plenty of time remains to warrant their continued upkeep.

Vivid Summer parklet located on Broadway in front of the Bijou Theater; design by Lindsey Deaton and Chistopher Becker

Cameron McCarthy's pinYOUgene parklet, also on Broadway.

Framing Parklet, by Propel Studio, on Broadway in front of Townshend's Tea.

Despite my disappointment in not finding the parklets in use, there’s no doubt in my mind they fulfilled the intention of the competition’s organizers, who envisioned the parklets as part of a series of short-term, low-cost, and highly visible projects intended to catalyze more permanent and profound changes in our city’s core. The goals are to build public acceptance of a deliberate, phased approach to instigating change, and to enhance the perception of downtown Eugene as a pedestrian-friendly and an amenity-rich precinct. The challenge now will be for the City of Eugene to build upon and sustain the momentum generated by the parklets competition. Ideally, this momentum will be sustained both from the top down (through government leadership) and the bottom up (as citizens endorse the most desirable of these changes). Ultimately, downtown will thrive as more permanent human-scaled improvements appear incrementally with increasing frequency. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

EmX West Service Begins September 17, 2017

The westbound EmX West line stop at McKinley Street.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of the Emerald Executive Association (EEA), without a doubt the best business networking group in Eugene. We meet each Thursday morning over breakfast, most often enjoying a presentation by one of our members; occasionally though we welcome outside speakers who provide news or programs of interest to our group. We had the pleasure this past Thursday to hear from Edward McGlone, Director of Public Affairs for the Lane Transit District. He was on hand to talk about the EmX West, the newest segment of Eugene-Springfield’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which will begin carrying passengers next month. 

Edward’s presentation was before an audience comprised of small business owners who have not been universally approving of the EmX West project. EEA is an interesting group holding divergent viewpoints from across the political spectrum. More than a handful have questioned the value of a BRT system, especially when weighed against its not inconsiderable costs. A few EEA members—Dalton Carpet in particular comes to mind—were significantly impacted by the protracted and disruptive construction work. Others simply regarded the project as a boondoggle, a prime example of governmental profligacy and waste. To his credit, Edward was as diplomatic as he could be and apologized ahead of time for the disruption to affected businesses during construction. 

The reality is public transit is an essential component of the transportation ecosystem in any community. I previously expressed my enthusiastic support for LTD’s goal of a comprehensive bus rapid transit system within its service area. Each new segment incrementally raises the effectiveness of the entire network. With the completion of its west line, the entire EmX network now stretches 28.3 miles, encompassing much of the metro area, from the Gateway area of Springfield to the north and east, to Eugene’s western extremity along 11th Avenue near Beltline. Edward said the expanded EmX system will link an additional 52,000 residents with 81,500 jobs within 1/2 mile of the route. 

The installation of the EmX West line did provide LTD with the opportunity to introduce a number of enhancements that might otherwise have not occurred. These will directly benefit the businesses and neighborhoods that surround the transit line. They include:  

  • Improved intersections with two new signalized pedestrian crossings
  • Improved street lighting for safety
  • 5 miles of rebuilt and new sidewalks
  • Curb cut-outs at cross walks to safely accommodate mobility devices
  • 3 bicycle-pedestrian bridges for improved access between West 11th, the Fern Ridge Path and surrounding neighborhoods
  • 200 more trees planted
  • Many rain gardens and water filtration systems for cleaner storm water run off
  • 26 covered bus shelters with seating and customer information
  • Public art by regional artists integrated throughout the line
All told, LTD spent approximately $100 million on the EmX West project, providing three years of local construction-related jobs. 

Bus rapid transit operates similar to light rail, with frequent service, quick boarding, comfortable stations, and other amenities. The service is frequent, with buses arriving at stations every ten minutes. Bus-only lanes and priority signals maximize on-time performance. EmX fare is $1.75 per trip or $3.50 for travel all day. Tickets are available at vending machines at EmX stops. Riders may use their all-day pass on LTD’s other bus service as well. All LTD passes are honored on EmX. 

The EmX system map (click to enlarge)

Regardless of where you stand on the question of whether investments in public transportation are worth it, the evidence here and elsewhere is clear. Public transportation reduces traffic congestion, saves fuel, and reduces our community’s carbon footprint. With careful, enlightened planning, light rail and BRT systems can drive community growth and revitalization while limiting urban sprawl, enhance property values, and broaden economic opportunities. Most importantly, public transportation offers personal mobility and freedom for people from every walk of life, particularly those who otherwise lack convenient means to travel to and from destinations. LTD and other transit agencies provide people with affordable alternatives to driving and owning a car. Everyone deserves access to job opportunities, the means to get to school, to visit friends and family, or go to the doctor’s office. I think everyone can agree on that.

Thanks to Edward for an informative presentation. LTD is building for the future. I'm looking forward to soon seeing the EmX West line in operation.