Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Prophecies

Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus)

Rather than writing a post along the lines of a unimaginative end-of-year Internet meme (such as lazily featuring only the first sentence of the first SW Oregon Architect blog post I published each month during the preceding year), I will instead mark the end of 2017 by offering my own take on the equally hackneyed institution of would-be soothsayers. The following are my prognostications, a la Nostradamus, about the future of architecture as 2018 approaches. I’ll even do as the cryptic Frenchman did: Rather than using plain, modern-day English, I offer my predictions in the form of abstruse quatrains.(1) I’ll first pose a question, followed by my prophecy in response:

Artificial Intelligence
True artificial intelligence is adaptive, self-learning, and intuitive. A.I. research has recently taken great strides, so much so that A.I. is making inroads into our everyday lives, including architecture, and its impact grows with each passing year.

The question: Will AI begin to take jobs away from architects in 2018?

The prophecy:
After the eclipse of the Sun will then be

The monster divine omen will be seen in plain daylight
The new land will be at the height of its power
So that on the left hand there will be great affliction  

By ChristinaC. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Augmented Reality
Much like the exponential advancement of artificial intelligence, improvements in computer technology now make it possible to provide immersive experiences within real-world environments whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input. Augmented reality will inevitably change the way architects make design decisions by overlaying digital content onto real-world imagery. This technology will only improve and become more affordable in 2018 and beyond.  

The question: Is augmented reality actually a slippery step along a path toward completely virtual experiences and the abandonment of society’s preference for real places? Will virtual reality someday render brick and mortar buildings obsolete? 

The prophecy:
You will see, sooner and later, great changes made
Over the walls to throw ashes, lime chalk, and dust
Not far from the age of the great millennium
Pointed steel driven all the way up to the hilt 

Designing for Resilience
According to the Resilient Design Institute, resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption. At various levels—individuals, households, communities, and regions—through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services. 

Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages. 

Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to these vulnerabilities. 

The question:  Will the increased application of resilient design principles keep architecture relevant in an increasingly unpredictable and dangerous world? 

The prophecy
When 2018 is seven months over
For forty years it will be seen every day
War captive halfway inside its enclosure
Drinking by force the waters poisoned by sulfur

Architects and Politics 
The coarseness and divisiveness of today’s political climate has taken its toll on many of us. We’re stressed out when we think about the future direction of the country. Anxiety and uncertainty are at an all-time high. The election and presidency of the mendacious and unpredictable Twitterer-In-Chief has fed fears. An increasing number of architects wonder whether they should step into the political ring and voice their support for evidence-based (read: “science-based”) policymaking related to climate-change regulations and resilient design efforts, and opposition to budget cuts intended to gut environmental protections. 

The question:  Will architects serve as an instrument of positive change in the new year by constructively and/or disruptively engaging ethical and political concerns? 

The prophecy
Garden of the world near the new city 
Will cause its realm to hold in peace and union 
It will be seized and plunged into the Vat 
Late and soon comes the awaited help 

Economic Contraction 
The ongoing economic expansion and its concomitant rise in the gross domestic product, productivity, and prosperity has seemingly defied gravity since 2009. The buoyant economy has lifted most all boats, including the construction market and, in turn, the architectural profession. 

The question:  For how much longer will the good times roll? Are we headed toward a crash in 2018? 

The prophecy: 
No more than seven months will he hold the office of prelate 
Extreme horrors and vengeances 
War captive halfway inside its enclosure 
Nimes, Toulouse, perish in water, the market to collapse  

The Next Big Thing 
Too many architects have shied away from confronting the big problems of a world beset with enormous challenges. It’s far too easy to focus instead upon the more immediate exigencies of professional practice today, such as addressing arcane code issues or meeting staff payroll; however, what the world needs are visionaries, brave people willing to lead by example toward real, effective changes. 

The question:  Who will be the next Frank Lloyd Wright, the next great visionary architect? 

The prophecy
He who will have the government of the great cape 
Will cause the towers around the New City to shake 
Sword and lance before heaven is observed as serene 
King to be outside, he will keep far from the enemy 

*    *    *    *    *    *

So there you go: Visions as clear as the wellspring of the McKenzie River and as prescient as if uttered by the Oracle of Delphi. That said, I make no claims of true clairvoyance but if it turns out my quatrains accurately foreshadowed actual events, just remember you read it here first. 

Happy New Year!

(1)  I can’t take full credit for these quatrains: I relied upon an automated, online Nostradamus prophecy generator to mimic the seer’s famously vague predictions of future events.  

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Richard Bryant, AIA (1947–2017)

PIVOT Architecture reports some sad news as 2017 draws near its end:

Richard “Dick” Bryant, AIA, a longtime partner of the firm who piloted a number of projects with school districts and was instrumental to PIVOT’s early success, died December 12. He was 70 years old. He retired from the firm in 2003.

In 1974, Dick began his long architectural career in Eugene with William W. Wilson and Associates later growing the company to Wilson, Bryant, Gunderson and Seider Architecture and Planning. Thanks in part to Dick’s leadership, the firm evolved to WBGS Architecture and Planning and became one of the largest architecture firms in the Willamette Valley. The firm changed its name to PIVOT Architecture in 2006.

“Without Dick’s five-year plan for more responsibility and firm ownership, as well as instilling in us the confidence that Dick, Eric Gunderson, and I could be the next generation of firm leaders,” said Bill Seider, FAIA, “our careers would have certainly followed a very different path, and PIVOT Architecture would likely not be the family we are today.”

Among the many projects during his 29-year tenure with the firm, Dick designed Bohemia Elementary School in Cottage Grove and other school buildings in Brookings, Corvallis, Florence, Junction City, and Philomath. He also designed the building for the Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis.

Dick was born and grew up in Portland before moving to Bellevue, WA. He attended the University of Washington and received his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1970.

Dick was an Oregon-registered architect and gave much to the profession throughout his career. He served as president of the American Institute of Architects Southwestern Oregon chapter on two separate terms, was the president of AIA Oregon, and served for many years on the AIA-OR’s Legislative Committee. After retiring from WBGS in 2003, Dick opened his own small architectural firm in Corvallis, Alta Vista Design.

Dick is survived by his wife Nancy, son Eric, granddaughter Mariah, brother Joe, and sister Kathleen. He will be greatly missed.

*    *    *    *    *    *

I first enjoyed getting to know Dick when both of us attended the 1990 AIA national convention in Houston, TX. While there he always wore a tie, even to attend the more casual events. He had the remarkable and amusing misfortune to successively ruin several of them during a series of meals at the conference. Since then, he (with or sans tie) and I shared many conversations, typically on the state of local architecture. He regularly read SW Oregon Architect, and would sometimes comment on a post that piqued his interest. I’ll miss his commentary and encouragement.

I happened to meet this past week with former PIVOT principal Eric Gunderson and current PIVOT associate Scott Clarke. According to Eric and Scott, Dick suffered a massive heart attack, ultimately succumbing to its after-effects. The passing of someone you know is always distressing but it’s particularly so when its occurrence is totally unexpected and the person is relatively young.

Rest in peace Dick.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

AIA-SWO Holiday Party

Masked merrymakers at the 2018 AIA-SWO Holiday Party.

The annual AIA-Southwestern Oregon holiday party took place last Wednesday at Sprout! Marketplace in Springfield. From all accounts, the AIA-SWO holiday party was a grand time, with great food, great music, and the fanciful spectacle of a masquerade ball. (Alas, I could not be there as I was otherwise occupied that evening, accepting a grant from the Lane County Cultural Coalition and the Oregon Cultural Trust on behalf of Eugene Taiko. I wish I could have been in two places at once! 

More Holiday Party revelers.

In addition to the sparkling festivities, the holiday party was also where the chapter announced the winners of the Colleague’s Choice and Mayor’s Choice awards. The “Colleague’s Choice” vote is an ancillary program to the People’s Choice Awards and meant to be a fun way for AIA-SWO and ASLA members to weigh in on the question of which of their peers’ projects are most worthy of recognition. The “Mayor’s Choice” carries on the tradition established under the tenure of former Eugene mayor Kitty Piercy, wherein she selected from among the People’s Choice entrants the projects she considered most worthy of recognition. Current mayor, Lucy Vinis is, like Kitty, an enthusiastic public advocate for design excellence, sustainability, and smart growth.

The 2017 Colleague’s Choice winner is:

Roosevelt Middle School (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and Mahlum)

Lucy Vinis' selections for the 2017 Mayor’s Choice projects are:

1203 Willamette (Rowell Brokaw)
Valley Football Center (HNTB Architecture) 

The Oaks at 14th (Bergsund Delaney Architecture & Planning)

Fairmount Remodel (Arbor South Architecture)

The holiday party marks the end of the AIA-SWO calendar each year. Frank Visconti, AIA will succeed Katie Hall, AIA as chapter president in January. I’m certain Frank will build upon the significant achievements under Katie’s leadership. AIA-Southwestern Oregon is as vital and dynamic as it’s ever been, and truly elevating the profile of the profession throughout the chapter area. I look forward to more great things in 2018. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Why Mass Timber?

Framework, a 12-story mass timber building to be built in Portland, OR (design and rendering by Lever Architecture)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’re probably aware of the growing interest in and use of mass timber as a construction system in increasingly significant (larger and taller) buildings. As I mentioned following a tour last year of D.R. Johnson Lumber Co.’s industry-leading CLT plant in Riddle, OR, architects are quickly latching onto mass timber because of its sustainable attributes. Mass timber structural products can outperform steel and concrete, whether the metric used is embodied energy or the amount of air and water pollution produced during their extraction and processing. Additionally, wood products sequester carbon and are derived from renewable resources.

Despite the greater awareness and appeal of mass timber as a viable alternative to steel and concrete for primary structural systems in larger buildings, its use remains a challenge because current building codes have been slow to recognize its inherent fire-resistive properties, resilience, and ability to be assembled by means capable of resisting seismic forces comparable to steel or concrete alternatives.

Last Wednesday evening’s CSI-Willamette Valley Chapter meeting was a real treat, as Eric McDonnell, a structural engineer and associate with KPFF, built a solid case in favor of mass timber construction systems. As someone who’s been at the forefront of the development of emerging industry standards for CLT use, Eric was eminently qualified to deliver a technically comprehensive, yet concise, primer on the topic to our audience.

Eric McDonnell, PE

Eric originally joined the KPFF San Francisco office in 2005, but left in 2010 to respond to a strong need in New Zealand for structural engineers capable of completing damage assessments and helping with the rebuilding process following the Canterbury Region earthquakes. He rejoined KPFF after two years of work in Christchurch, relocating to the firm’s Portland office.

Eric’s experience in Christchurch proved invaluable, as the damage wrought by the massive earthquakes served as a real-world laboratory for him and other structural engineers. Eric could see firsthand how the buildings there—designed and constructed in a similar fashion to those here in the U.S.—had performed. The vast majority of buildings engineered to meet modern codes did achieve their life safety performance objective; however, the central business district was cordoned off for two years and more than 1,000 buildings ultimately were demolished because the cost to repair them was too great. In that aftermath, public entities, engineers, and the general public began to ask whether it was reasonable to expect better outcomes in the wake of a seismic event. The notion of low-damage or resilient design took off in earnest.

Pyne Gould Building, destroyed by the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake of 2011. Photo by Gabriel. (Flickr: 20110224-DSC_0467.jpg.) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most intriguing low-damage structural systems being implemented since the earthquakes involves the use of post-tensioned CLT rocking walls, which were initially devised by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Eric worked on the design of a project utilizing this system during his time in New Zealand. Typically, a rocking wall is comprised of CLT panels connected to a steel footing by post-tensioned rods and special U-shaped brackets on the sides of the panels. The rods allow the wall to rock during an earthquake and snap back into its original upright position, minimizing structural damage.

Because of his experience with post-tensioned rocking walls, KPFF pegged Eric as a key member of its team studying the potential of mass timber construction. In the process KPFF has sent him to join the best minds in the field at workshops and symposia around the world. The growing consensus among industry leaders is the real sweet spot for mass timber construction to economically compete with concrete and steel construction is in the mid-rise range of 7 to 12 stories. At this scale, tall post-tensioned rocking walls are among the most promising and resilient lateral systems.

The challenge for the mass-timber industry is to overcome current regulatory hurdles. Because they are not prescriptively allowed by current codes, approvals for the already completed and ongoing projects have typically been processed through consent of alternative means & methods. This has and is being done by relying upon the results of rigorous fire-resistive and stress-strain property tests on CLT panels. A consortium of universities (among them UC San Diego, Oregon State University, Colorado State University, Washington State University, and others), testing agencies, and engineering firms like KPFF are conducting these tests. They are not inexpensive. Funding for the tests has come from a variety of sources, including the NSF, Katerra, Simpson Strong-Tie, Tallwood Design Institute, the Forest Products Laboratory, the Softwood Lumber Board, MyTiCon Timber Connectors, D.R. Johnson, and, notably, the City of Springfield. Ultimately, the goal is to realize the adoption of new code provisions that recognize the unique qualities of mass-timber building systems. Once this goal is achieved, mass-timber projects will undoubtedly proliferate.

Eric showed us several fascinating videos of some of these tests, including a full-scale shake table test of a mock-up of a two-story mass timber building with resilient CLT rocking walls:

This particular test was conducted to provide data for a four-story parking structure in the Glenwood area of Springfield, and also for the 12-story Framework building in Portland, which will be the tallest all-wood post-tensioned rocking wall project in the world when it is completed. Eric and KPFF are involved in the design of both projects (the SRG Partnership is the architect for the Glenwood parking structure, and Lever Architecture is the firm designing the Framework tower).(1)

The mock-up shown in the test includes resilient self-centering post-tensioned CLT rocking walls, similar to the ones KPFF designed for use as part of the Framework project, and near-identical floor-to-wall connections. As Eric explained, the test specimen underwent 10,000+ years of shaking in five days, equivalent to (6) “San Francisco Design Basis” earthquakes with essentially no damage, and (4) “Maximum Considered” earthquakes with only limited damage where expected. All in all, the results are impressive.

Framework, interior lobby view (design and rendering by Lever Architecture)

Why mass timber? Beyond its potential as a sustainable and resilient technology, its appeal lies in its aesthetic qualities, how quickly its components can be assembled once on site (reducing time of construction and labor needs), and the promise it holds for the wood products industry, once a dominant player in our regional economy. I believe the time-saving aspect is a game-changer: Once on site, contractors can install the panels quickly, shaving weeks or even months off a construction schedule. The advent of tall wood buildings will certainly challenge the hegemony of concrete and steel structures and reshape building codes as we know them, especially as the momentum toward the increasing use of mass timber builds.

Eric is someone who is on the vanguard of the mass timber movement. He truly has been in the right place, at the right time, and presented with the right opportunities at every step of his career. As a result, he has the background, experience, and passion to make modern mass timber projects a reality. With several exciting mass timber buildings like Framework currently in the works, he is definitely helping shape a homegrown industry perfect for Oregon. Thanks Eric for taking the time to share your expertise with us! 

(1)  To date, KPFF has designed seven CLT projects in five different states, with ten more on the boards. The completed projects include the Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center in Colorado, and the Albina Yard and Eastside Office projects in Portland.   

Saturday, December 2, 2017

2017 People’s Choice Award Winners

Each year, the American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO), in collaboration with the Willamette Valley Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), sponsors the People’s Choice Awards for Architecture. These awards aim to educate and inspire our fellow citizens by showcasing architecture, interiors, and landscape architecture projects created within the Southwestern Oregon Chapter area by AIA or ASLA members. The program demonstrates to the public the role of the architectural profession in enhancing the built environment by showcasing the talents of AIA-SWO and ASLA members.

This year’s edition marked the 28th year of the AIA-SWO People's Choice Awards, drawing 53 entries across 11 categories. Presentation boards for the projects were displayed throughout the month of October in the Broadway Commerce Center lobby in downtown Eugene, debuting during October’s First Friday Art Walk. Balloting occurred both in person and online via AIA-SWO’s website.

Here is the list of the 2017 People’s Choice Award winners, which was also featured in the Design Annual insert in the Thursday, November 30 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard:

Commercial: Timbers Inn Lounge - Nir Pearlson Architect

Interiors: Hot Mama's Kitchen and Bar - Rowell Brokaw Architects

General Landscape: From Forgotten to Fantastic - Stangeland & Associates

Multi-Family Landscape: Bascom Village - Dougherty Landscape Architects

Multi-Family Housing: The Oaks at 14th - Bergsund Delaney Architecture & Planning

Master Planning: Plan Clayton - The Urban Collaborative

Parklet Design: IM.A.BENCH - PIVOT Architecture

Public/Institutional: Valley Football Center - HNTB Architecture

Single-Family Residential: Christianson Passive House - Studio-E Architecture

Student/Emerging Professional: Taylor Street Food Hall - Nicholas Paino

Unbuilt: Eugene Civic Park - Robertson Sherwood Architects
Congratulations to this year's winners and big thanks to the members of the organizing committee for making the 2017 People’s Choice Awards program an unqualified success!

The winners will be recognized at this year's AIA-SWO Holiday Party, coming December 13 at Sprout! in Springfield. The winners of the ancillary Colleagues’ Choice program (and also the Mayor’s Choice awards) will likewise be announced at the holiday party. The Colleagues’ Choice voting is a fun way for AIA-SWO and ASLA members to weigh in on the question of which of their peers’ projects were most worthy of recognition. In addition, the AIA-SWO and ASLA voters were encouraged to provide their comments about the projects.