Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hearing Loops

In a free presentation, national expert Dr. Juiliette Sterkens, Au.D., discusses why hearing loss is such a challenging, isolating problem and how hearing loops in both community and personal spaces can dramatically increase access to music and the spoken word for people with hearing loss. This event is for people with hearing loss and their family and friends, church leaders, public facility and retail managers, architects and contractors, hearing and speech specialists, physicians, and anyone who is or will be impacted by hearing loss. 

Dr. Juliettte Sterkens, Au.D.

What is a “hearing loop” and how does it work? A hearing loop is an assistive listening technology for individuals with reduced ranges of hearing. It consists of a physical loop of copper wire which is placed around a designated area (such as concert halls, ticket kiosks, high-traffic public buildings, auditoriums, places of worship, courtrooms, meeting rooms, homes, and even taxis) that broadcasts a magnetic field throughout the space which can be picked up by any hearing aid or cochlear implant equipped with a generic T-coil, or “telecoil,” receiver (and most modern hearing aids and cochlear implants already are so equipped). Unlike other assistive listening systems, it does not require the use of a special headset. The loop allows the sound source—whether a musical performance, a speaker, or film—to be transmitted to the hearing-impaired listener clearly and free of other distracting noise. 

What:  Juliette Sterkens:  Hearing Loops: What is all the fuss about and why we should care? 

When:  Sunday, November 18, 2018   2:00 – 3:30 PM 

Where:  Jaqua Concert Hall, The Shedd Institute, 868 High Street, Eugene 

Cost:  Free 

The Shedd Ticket Office and Jacqua Concert Hall are looped. The Shedd will provide assistive listening devices for those without t-coil who wish to try out the system. 

Sponsors:  Hearing Associates – Sanid Ybarr, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology 

About the Shedd Institute:  Founded in 1991, The John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts is a non-profit education and performance center that operates a community music school for all ages and provides more than 150 performances annually in a 70,000 square foot former church building in downtown Eugene. The Shedd Institute also manages its building for use by other cultural and educational organizations and community rites of passage.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Emerald Village

Emerald Village (all photos by me unless noted otherwise)

SquareOne Villages believes everyone deserves a safe and stable place to call home. The organization, founded in 2012 by pastor Dan Bryant and others, seeks to bridge the gap between the street and conventional housing with a variety of simple, cost-effective housing options. Following its Opportunity Village pilot project (which consists of transitional micro-housing for otherwise homeless individuals and couples) SquareOne embarked on Emerald Village, a tiny house community located in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood providing permanent, accessible, and sustainable homes for people with very low incomes. By developing Opportunity Village and now Emerald Village, SquareOne is delivering real solutions through innovative means. 

A big part of that innovation is enlisting the help of local architects, designers, and builders to make Emerald Village a reality. The AIA-Southwestern Oregon members and other design professionals who volunteered their efforts each designed one or two of the twenty-two homes or shared communal facilities. All the homes meet code definitions for a “permanent dwelling,” including sleeping and living areas, a kitchenette, and bathroom—all within 160 to 288 square feet per unit.  

Each resident of Emerald Village pays between $250 and $350 to cover their share of the cooperative costs (which pays for rent and includes utilities, maintenance, and operating expenses). They can build equity as $50 of their coop share each month applies to a savings account, which can be cashed out if they choose to move elsewhere. Each resident had a voice in shaping how Emerald Village is operated and managed, creating the foundational sense of ownership on which the village thrives. 

Andrew Heben (still from YouTube video by Homeless Action)

I recently toured the project. My host was Andrew Heben, SquareOne’s project director and himself a resident of Emerald Village. Andrew’s background is in urban planning and design, and includes a stint working with The Urban Collaborative. He’s traveled extensively to study over a dozen tent cities organized by the homeless, and spent time living at one in Ann Arbor, Michigan known as Camp Take Notice. This experience informed his 2011 award-winning thesis in urban planning at the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages, based on his extensive field work, personal research, and hands-on experience with SquareOne. 

I found Emerald Village remarkably picturesque, albeit pint-sized. The cluster of varied structures is truly village-like, shaping an assortment of pleasant outdoor spaces shared by the residents. 

I asked Andrew whether he considers the tiny home village concept to be a superior means to address the problem of housing affordability when compared to multi-unit apartment buildings, cooperative housing, or SROs. “Emerald Village is simply an alternative, it isn’t necessarily better,” he said. “What’s important is rethinking the problem of affordability and scale, and involving residents in the final design and construction of their homes.” 

Tiny homes are not truly inexpensive (economy of scale is lacking, and the SquareOne model relies heavily upon donated labor & materials, and an absence of debt), they are small (they are, after all, tiny houses), and not for everyone (Emerald Village’s residents include individuals and couples, but no families with children). No matter: for the inhabitants of Emerald Village, what’s most important is that each is a place they can afford and proudly declare as theirs. 

Andrew Heben of SquareOne Villages (left) and resident Bruce Sedgwick outside of Bruce's home, Unit C.

During my visit, Andrew and I chatted with one of Emerald Village’s pioneering residents, Bruce Sedgwick. His home—Unit C—features a hallmark common to all of the village’s tiny houses: individuality. Bruce’s home is truly his. He enjoyed providing input during the design phase (Bergsund Delaney Architecture & Planning PC designed Unit C), and he’s equally enjoying the process of “home improvement” now that he’s moved in. His current project is an expansion of his front porch using a type of patio paver that can be filled with grass, crushed rock, or sand to provide a permeable, durable, and usable surface. 

I peeked inside Unit C. “Tall, isn’t it?” Bruce asked rhetorically. Indeed, it is. The loftiness of the main living space relieves its otherwise petite dimensions. Above the bathroom and kitchenette is Bruce’s sleeping loft, accessible via a ship’s ladder. Like the other Emerald Village houses, Unit C is definitely cozy, but it is practical and full of charm. Bruce did lament the absence of indoor places in which to stow away his belongings, but also noted the generous storage room he can access from outside. 

Unit C interior

Andrew mentioned how one of the obstacles to creating a tiny home village has been Oregon’s residential building code, which mandates minimum room sizes and specifies acceptable stair configurations. The State recently adopted the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), which includes Appendix Q for Tiny Houses. The new code provides relief from some of the provisions that were applicable to conventional housing but impractical for tiny homes. The new code will certainly ease the acquisition of building permits for future tiny home developments in Oregon like Emerald Village. 

Those fortunate enough to be housing-secure can easily misjudge how the lack of affordable housing impacts our entire community. Rather than fearing the housing affordability challenge and the change it portends, we need to confront it to help low-income individuals find permanent housing and preserve the qualities we find most attractive about life in Eugene. 

Andrew stressed the importance of communication with neighborhood associations and involving them in the planning for projects like Emerald Village. Significantly, a long-time neighbor of the development site served as a member of the Emerald Village resident selection committee. Inclusive communication from the beginning helped to allay concerns. Notably, the plans for Emerald Village didn’t trigger a public input process because the development was allowed outright under the current R-2 zoning for the site.(1) 

Now nearing completion, Emerald Village stands as its own best ambassador. It has cachet in spades. Downsizing and simple living may be fashionable trends but the environmental and social merits of tiny houses and living with less give them real staying power. In a sense, SquareOne has captured lightning in a bottle by capitalizing on the popularity of tiny homes, paving the way for broader acceptance of developments like Emerald Village within other established neighborhoods and communities. 

One Village, Many Hearts mural by artist Kari Johnson

I asked Andrew if he might change anything for SquareOne’s future projects. “No, not really,” he answered. “We can always do things more efficiently. We do like the organic process we employ.” Regarding future projects, SquareOne has Cottage Village in the works. Located in Cottage Grove, Cottage Village follows the permanent, affordable tiny house community model pioneered by Emerald Village. The new project will consist of 13 tiny houses and the conversion of an existing shop building to include a community gathering area, kitchen, and laundry. 

Too many people with low incomes lack the security, the predictability, and the comfort that comes with one’s own house, which is why the efforts of non-profit organizations like SquareOne Villages are so important and appreciated. Emerald Village is proof our community is prepared to welcome a safe, livable, and affordable tiny-housing development. The project is a brilliant and inventive example for others to follow. 

(1)  Only 6% of the land zoned for residential use in the City of Eugene is zoned as R-2, compared to 91% zoned for R-1.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cognitive Risk

Les Deux Magots, a Parisian café 

Upon each successive reading, I am always surprised by how well Bill Kleinsasser’s essays on the importance of experiential considerations in architecture have stood the test of time. They remain constructive and useful to designers because how people actually experience their physical environment is too frequently neglected in contemporary design in favor of aesthetic flash or fashion. The fact is the invariable human capacity and need for rich and expanded experiences demand that architects appreciate how to provide supportive conditions and important opportunities for people. He may be gone now, but Bill’s thoughtful lessons endure. 

The following excerpt from the 1981 edition of Synthesis addresses Bill’s notion of “cognitive risk” and the means by which designers can mitigate its effect through architectural means. Decades on, the words are more cogent than ever: 

Cognitive Risk
People often avoid desirable experiences because they anticipate some kind of personal risk in those experiences. 

Before one can relate to and comfortably choose to have a new experience, one must be able to preview the experience by imagining its impact and meaning; one must be able to assess its opportunities, the possibilities of “success” or “failure,” if there is something to be gained or lost, whether another experience is better, etc. 

A simple response to this frame of reference is described in Peterson’s paper, The Id and the Image / Design Implications of Human Needs

“We should make convenient indoor and outdoor gathering places where one can watch things happening without having to participate oneself. The French sidewalk café is an example: Loitering is encouraged by the sale of food and drink and the availability of games. People come and linger. They have a chance to look out over a street scene which is rich with activity, both human and non-human, and which would be, without the opportunity to pause and observe it, formidable and less accessible.” 

Another example which demonstrates response to this hypothesis is the workplace for 15 students built at the University of Oregon in the spring of 1969. The plan configuration provided several opportunities for those passing by the place to observe what was happening inside, together with several opportunities (varying in degree of required commitment) to come in and participate. The purpose of this plan-arrangement was to invite passersby to observe, come in, and learn about what we were doing. It worked too well: everyone came in and we were almost driven out. But compare this situation to that occurring in corridors where there are many doors with no windows, no stopping or tarrying places where information of some kind might be gained, and where one usually feels that entering any of the doors is very “risky.” 

In a more complex sense, this Frame of Reference is based upon the tendency for people to be overwhelmed or confused by places, people, and situations that are complex, that “come on too strongly,” or that reveal themselves all at once. In making the physical environment, this suggests the need for clear articulation of parts and places (parts and places that are differentiated or otherwise made more realizable). It also seems to imply the need for the gradual, rather than sudden, unfolding of the organization of places and the nature of their parts. 

Cognitive risk (anticipated personal risk) apparently may be reduced by providing the following in the built environment: 
  1. Overview of what is to come (allowing detached participation)
  2. Preview (beyond overview)
  3. Slow reveal (not all at once or too much at once)
  4. Precise separation (maybe controllable separation)
  5. Other hints of what is coming (visual traces)
  6. Clear evidence of boundaries, limits, hazards, conditions (clarifying territories, subspaces, and layers so that contact is not avoided because of apprehensive withdrawal or avoidance)
  7. Opportunity to commit oneself in stages (to choose the degree of commitment)
  8. Cross-views, back-views, reinforcing views (to allow a buildup of spatial or place understanding)
  9. Clearly differentiated subparts and subspaces (to achieve #6 above)


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Influences: Robert Venturi

Robert Venturi, FAIA: 1925-2018 (photo by Todd Sheridan [CC BY-SA 2.0  (], via Wikimedia Commons)

An earlier blog entry of mine, “Genealogy of Influence,” promised a series of posts about the architects and theorists who influenced my architectural world view. This is the latest post in the series. 

This weekend is a busy one for me, but I could not let it pass without acknowledging the death of Robert Venturi this past Tuesday at the age of 93. Venturi truly was one of the major architectural figures of the 20th century. He was a Pritzker Prize laureate and a recipient (along with his wife and professional partner Denise Scott Brown) of the AIA Gold Medal. Eulogies cite his enormous influence as an architect and theorist upon a profession that had by the 1960s and 70s become sclerotic and often out of touch with those it served. He was a pioneering postmodernist though he famously disavowed the label. He contributed greatly to the broadening of architectural discourse during a culturally transformative time. Many buildings and places today are nuanced, erudite, subtle, witty, and more in no small part because of Venturi’s own work and writings. 

My introduction to Robert Venturi came from reading his landmark treatise Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. I purchased my now thoroughly dogeared copy in 1977, immediately upon publication of its second edition by the Museum of Modern Art. It’s important to understand the zeitgeist at the time: the most celebrated architecture of the 1960’s and 1970’s generally conformed to doctrinaire Modernism though change was in the wind. Before discovering Complexity and Contradiction as a first-year student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, I regarded “architecture” to be limited mostly to the examples of de rigueur Pacific Northwest Modernism with which—having grown up in Vancouver—I was most familiar. The book was a total revelation for me: I realized Architecture, with a capital “A,” could do much, much more than merely solve a design problem with a pleasing composition of forms. I learned Architecture also had the capacity to be a conveyor of meaning, which many historical examples and styles from all periods provided in rich abundance. My eyes had been opened to see a vastly more inclusive and complex architectural universe. 

Rather than expound too much more about how Robert Venturi fundamentally changed how we look at and talk about architecture, I’ll include the following excerpt from Complexity and Contradiction. This passage is the first, short chapter of the book. By characterizing it as a “gentle manifesto,” Venturi sought direct and ironic comparison with the more bombastic declarations of Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and others from the early years of Modernism:  

Nonstraightforward Architecture: A Gentle Manifesto 
I like complexity and contradiction in architecture. I do not like the incoherence or arbitrariness of incompetent architecture nor the precious intricacies of picturesqueness or expressionism. Instead, I speak of a complex and contradictory architecture based on the richness and ambiguity of modern experience, including that experience which is inherent in art. Everywhere, except in architecture, complexity and contradiction have been acknowledged, from Godel’s proof of ultimate inconsistency in mathematics to T.S. Eliot’s analysis of “difficult” poetry and Joseph Albers’ definition of the paradoxical quality of painting. 

But architecture is necessarily complex and contradictory in its very inclusion of the traditional Vitruvian elements of commodity, firmness, and delight. And today the wants of program, structure, mechanical equipment, and expression, even in single buildings in simple contexts, are diverse and conflicting in ways previously unimaginable. The increasing dimension and scale of architecture in urban and regional planning add to the difficulties. I welcome the problems and exploit the uncertainties. By embracing contradiction as well as complexity, I aim for vitality as well as validity. 

Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture. I like elements which are hybrid rather than “pure,” compromising rather than “clean,” distorted rather than “straightforward,” ambiguous rather than “articulated,” perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as “interesting,” conventional rather than “designed,” accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur and proclaim the duality. 

I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning; for the implicit function as well as the explicit function. I prefer “both-and” to “either-or,” black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white. A valid architecture evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus: its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once. 

But an architecture of complexity and contradiction has a special obligation toward the whole: its truth must be in its totality or its implications for totality. It must embody the difficult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion. More is not less. 

Vanna Venturi House (1964)

I would subsequently acquire Learning from Las Vegas (coauthored with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour), which celebrated the common, the vernacular, and the use or interpretation of signs and symbols, further cementing my appreciation for the value to architects of a catholic, all-embracing, and eclectic knowledge base.

Venturi’s books and designs did prefigure a proliferation of some awfully bad, kitschy, cheap, and vulgar buildings by lesser architects during Postmodernism’s late 70s, 80s, and early 90s heyday. Critics maligned much of the work executed under its banner. The use of irony—which knowing architects could expertly employ—frequently would be unintentionally absurd in the most trivial work of others. Too many thoughtlessly quoted historic motifs at random. For his part, Venturi claimed he used history as a reference but never used it for direct inspiration. Today, it’s fashionably hip among some to look back at Postmodernism with sardonic affection for its melding of wit and picturesqueness. I suspect Robert Venturi was bemused by the interest of millennials in the more superficial traits of a movement he helped spawn rather than in its more substantive and lasting lessons. 

I learned from Robert Venturi that the ordinary can be extraordinary, and that history provides many lessons from which to draw. By his own account, he was guided not by habit but by a conscious sense of the past—by precedent, thoughtfully considered. Ultimately, his legacy for all architects will be how he expanded our perception of what architecture was, is, and can be. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Civic Park Groundbreaking Celebration!

After two+ long years of design and permitting work, it’s hard to believe construction of Eugene Civic Park is about to begin. Mark your calendars: The Eugene Civic Alliance (ECA) invites everyone in the community to celebrate the project’s groundbreaking on Sunday, October 7 at 2:00 PM.

To properly launch the construction of a facility as unique as Civic Park, this won’t be a run-of-the-mill groundbreaking ceremony. Make sure you bring a shovel with you! While the event will begin with the requisite words about Civic Park from ECA team members and stakeholders, the real fun will immediately follow. To commemorate the event and provide it with a fitting flourish of community fanfare, everyone will have a chance to find his or her own place on the site, dig in, and ceremonially break ground for the Civic Park project! 

The groundbreaking will mark the start of the project’s initial phase. Earlier this year, the ECA board of directors decided to construct the facility in two separate packages over time. Phase 1 will include the KIDSPORTS fieldhouse, parking lots, and the synthetic turf, all-weather playing field. The second phase will consist of a capacious grandstand and associated concourse, restrooms, press box, ticket office, and other amenities. The two-phased approach leverages the funds and pledges ECA already has in place to bring critically needed facilities online as quickly as possible.  

ECA is lining up a roster of special guest speakers, as well as food and beverage vendors for the groundbreaking, so it’s certain to be a spirited event. There’s no doubt this is an exciting milestone for the project, one that I as one of the architects involved have personally looked forward to for a long time.

Play On!

What:  Civic Park Groundbreaking

When:  Sunday, October 7; 2:00 PM

Where:  The Civic Park site, at the former Civic Stadium location between Willamette Street and Amazon Parkway south of 20th Avenue in Eugene.

Cost:  Free

Sunday, September 9, 2018

TinyFest Northwest

Emerald Village, a tiny home community providing low-income individuals the security and benefits of a permanent home (photo from SquareOne Villages Facebook page)

TinyFest Northwest will be in Eugene on Saturday, September 29 and Sunday, September 30 at the Lane Events Center. Builders, tiny dwellers, and tiny living fans alike will be inspired and informed by educational workshops and leaders in the tiny home movement. They’ll meet and share experiences with fellow tiny living enthusiasts, peruse Marketplace offerings, and check out the DIY/Tiny Dweller Village.

Sunday’s keynote speaker will be Andrew Heben, Project Director with SquareOne Villages. SquareOne is a non-profit organization based right here in Eugene, dedicated to developing self-managed communities of cost-effective tiny houses for those in need of housing. SquareOne’s first project, Opportunity Village, opened in 2013 as a transitional micro-housing community for otherwise homeless individuals and couples. The next iteration, Emerald Village, aimed to create a permanent tiny house village affordable to people with extremely low-incomes. 

Andrew’s background is in urban planning and design. In addition to being SquareOne’s project director, he is the author of Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages, based on his extensive field work, personal research, and hands-on experience with SquareOne. The book is available for purchase through SquareOne’ website or at  

The tiny house movement has been gaining a lot of momentum in recent years. Downsizing and simple living may appear to be fashionable trends but the environmental and social merits of tiny houses and living with less give the movement real staying power. If you’re a tiny home enthusiast, or simply are interested in learning more, don’t miss TinyFest Northwest.

What: TinyFest Northwest

When: Saturday, September 29 and Sunday, September 30; 10am – 7pm both days

Where:  Lane Events Center, 796 W. 13th Avenue, Eugene, OR  97402

Cost:  Weekend Pass at the Gate $20, Online* $17. Single Day Ticket at the Gate $15, Online* $12. Kids 12 & Under are FREE! *Online prices are available until midnight PST on Friday, September 28.

*    *    *    *    *    *

Eve McClure, a volunteer with SquareOne, told me about TinyFest Northwest. I met Eve and two Emerald Village residents while they were selling SquareOne-branded clear plastic tote bags and drawstring bags on the sidewalk in front of J. Michael’s Books, just down the street from my firm’s office in the Miner Building. The University of Oregon has a brand new rule that disallows bringing anything into Autzen Stadium that isn't in a clear plastic bag or container. If you’re an Oregon Duck fan and still need your own clear bag to bring to games with you, be sure to support SquareOne by purchasing one of their bags. Look for SquareOne tables in front of Autzen Stadium on game day (they’ll be on site for the next two home games: September 15 and September 22).  

Monday, September 3, 2018

Eugene’s Town Square

Aerial view of the future Eugene Town Square: North is to the left; the yellow rectangle is the existing "butterfly" parking lot owned by the County (base image © 2018 Google) 

In a decidedly snarky editorial last week, the Register-Guard threw shade upon the City of Eugene’s latest bid to provide our community with a physical seat for its civic government. The paper likened the City’s proposed bundling of a new Eugene City Hall on the county-owned “butterfly” parking lot along with a year-round Lane County Farmers’ Market and Parks Blocks improvements in a combined project it dubbed Eugene’s “Town Square” to a self-interested marketing ploy worthy of fictional Mad Men ad agency Sterling Cooper. While the City’s culpability for the City Hall debacle is not subject to debate, I do know the folks in COE Planning & Development are genuinely earnest and sincere in their efforts to improve downtown and make the best of its leaders’ botched handling of the City Hall replacement project. The R-G piece likely inflamed cynicism among its readers, which is unfortunate and unhelpful. 

The Town Square concept is not Madison Avenue packaging. It is instead an organic outcome of a multiplicity of factors stemming from historical and contemporary roots, many of which were and are beyond the control of COE planners. That we’ve arrived at this point is due in equal parts to dumb luck and serendipity. Thanks to the prospect of a proposed land swap with Lane County, the City can now consider three previously separate projects to be a singular opportunity to generate what Christopher Alexander refers to as “wholeness” in the built environment. The City and County are not always known for thinking outside the box or cooperatively(1), so this cross-agency collaboration is commendable. We owe thanks to the elected representatives and members of the joint coordinated downtown development task force who recognized the opportunities inherent in developing an equitably beneficial and collaborative vision for downtown Eugene.(2) 

Any functioning city is a complex adaptive system, much more than the sum of its parts alone. Rather than separately regarding a new City Hall, a covered Farmers’ Market, and the Parks Blocks, designers will be able to approach the three elements with coherence and a compelling vision in mind. The goal now is to create something so intertwined and whole that it is difficult to imagine how it can be considered or function well as discrete elements. Combining the three projects magnifies the prospect of a generative design process that emphasizes the interrelatedness of the projects and ensures every building increment will form a greater whole, which is both larger and more significant than itself (this is Alexander’s Rule #2: The Growth of Larger Wholes, from his 1987 book A New Theory of Urban Design). 

From both morphological and symbolic perspectives, a recognizable city hall is necessary and important because it is an expression of municipal authority and democracy in the spatial order of our urban fabric. Its symbolism resonates with people because civic ritual and ceremony encourage participation in the collective life of the community. If anything, the concept of shared ritual is necessary now more than ever because of the increasingly fragmented and digital nature of our interactions. Properly handled, a city hall and its architecture, along with that of a permanent Farmers’ Market structure and the refurbished Park Blocks, will enhance literal and conceptual perceptions of centeredness, wholeness, and urban order. 

In the past, city halls often bordered or occupied a town square in the historical heart of the community. Functional town squares offer a gathering spot for people and social, cultural, and political activities. According to Project for Public Spaces, public squares bring diverse benefits to a city. They can nurture identity, draw a diverse population, serve as a city’s “common ground,” and catalyze private investment. PPS’s principles for successful squares include image and identity, attractions and amenities, access, and management plans that promote ways to keep them safe and lively. As presently envisioned by COE planners—bounded in part by an attractive and welcoming new City Hall—Eugene’s Town Square would be a place even more inseparable from our civic identity than the current Park Blocks are today. 

City Hall needn’t be a palace, and the City’s currently proposed funding is certainly insufficient to realize anything remotely close to one. The same is true for the relatively modest amount of urban renewal district dollars earmarked for the Farmers’ Market and Parks Blocks. The key will be leveraging the limited resources to maximize bang for the buck. For example, a covered Farmer’s Market might double as a venue for large town hall gatherings or entertainment events. Perhaps there are other functions or activities that might benefit from the synergies inherent in a combined project. Certainly, a primary role for a new City Hall to perform will be as a backdrop for the activities occurring on the Town Square. The City should otherwise scale back its expectations for what its new City Hall will be. A pragmatic strategy will be to continue to limit its scope to that of a symbolic seat for city government, housing at most the ceremonial council chamber and offices for the mayor, city councilors, and the City Manager. Other COE offices would remain in leased space distributed throughout downtown. 

The 40 acre parcel donated by Eugene and Mary Skinner to Lane County in 1856. 

Of course, as the Register-Guard pointed out, still unanswered is whether the proposed land swap between the City and the County will be allowed to proceed. I’m presuming the court ruling will favor the transaction. Even if it does not, the community founders’ original vision of a public square would still be attainable, the difference being the County’s new courthouse might rise on the “butterfly” lot parcel instead of a new City Hall. I do know in terms of programmatic fit, a new courthouse—which will be many times larger than a ceremonial City Hall—is much better suited to the former City Hall site, and vice versa. In my opinion, a scenario wherein the City Hall occupies the Town Square would fulfill the founders’ vision in spirit if not the letter of the original deed restrictions. I don’t see a problem as long as the property is kept under public ownership. 

If the land swap falls through, I’m inclined to favor moving City Hall to the riverfront EWEB headquarters building rather than once again attempting to rebuild on the former city hall site. If newly constructed on the old city hall site, the building would look oddly diminutive and the remainder of the block would by necessity remain fallow if it is to be reserved for future consolidation of COE offices.(3) 

The City of Eugene’s self-inflicted wounds have not helped its efforts to develop a new City Hall. The narrative today would be much different if the City and the County brokered the land swap and the Town Square concept from the outset. If they had, chances are the City of Eugene would have been spared much of the controversy and bad press that has accompanied more than a decade of poor decisions, false starts, and equivocation. Hindsight is always 20/20. The fact is we are where we are today. 

In a scene from what is now part of pop culture lore, Mad Men protagonist and Sterling Cooper creative director Dan Draper memorably declared “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” The City of Eugene has changed the conversation, but this isn’t a marketing gambit. This is a laudably deep reset, one that might achieve the best outcome we can reasonably hope for.

(1) A written history of the site by Dan Armstrong is particularly informative. The use and conditions of use of the “public square in Eugene City” have been issues of debate multiple times in the one hundred and sixty-plus years since the square’s creation.

(2) Full disclosure: In 2016 the City of Eugene and Lane County retained Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning and my firm—Robertson/Sherwood/Architects—to explore the opportunities inherent in three development scenarios for publicly owned properties in downtown.

Scenario A: City Hall and Farmers Market on the Site of Former City Hall and the Courthouse on the Butterfly Lot
Scenario B: City Hall and the Courthouse on the Site of Former City Hall and the Farmers Market on the Butterfly Lot
Scenario C: City Hall and the Farmers Market on the Butterfly Lot and the Courthouse on the Site of the Former City Hall.

(3)  If the City does need to lower its sights for City Hall, it could do much worse than purchasing and repurposing the EWEB headquarters. As I wrote six years ago, converting the EWEB headquarters into Eugene’s new city hall can be a win-win scenario. EWEB could entrust its prominent, uniquely situated, structurally sound, and energy-efficient building to the City of Eugene rather than to a private enterprise that might permanently remove it and its riverfront prospect from the public realm. The City would secure an attractive new home for itself at a considerable discount compared to the cost of constructing equivalent space from scratch. The downside, of course, would be the distance between that location and the historic center of Eugene.

Saturday, August 25, 2018


Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye set in a wintry Christmas Thomas Kinkade landscape (image by @robyniko)

Internet memes quickly propagate across social networks like Twitter. The most popular “go viral” at the speed of light as media sites share and reshare content, typically within specific Internet subcultures. A classic instance of this effect caught my attention and the notice of others across the architectural Twitterverse just over a week ago: Indianapolis architect @robyniko debuted a bravura series of Photoshopped mashups featuring icons of 20th century domestic architecture set within the glowing, pastoral landscapes of mass-market “Painter of Light,” Thomas Kinkade. The dissonance inherent in the unlikely melding of high modernism and twee kitsch spurred a broad and timely online conversation about the cultural chasm between so-called “elites” (of which architects supposedly number prominently) and social conservatives. 

Various outlets immediately picked up on the #modernistkinkade experiment, among others Fast Company, Curbed, The Architect’s Newspaper, and Archinect

@robyniko’s work was in response to a challenge posed by fellow architect and Twitterer @DonnaSinkArch. “Does anyone do paintings of Modern buildings in the style of Thomas Kincade (sic)?” Donna asked. She wondered if “Trad Arch ethnonationalists would like Modernism better with a Painter of Light glow.” A self-proclaimed procrastinator, #robyniko had “a lot to do” and his wife “would kill” him if she knew he spent time on his little diversion but “you don’t get to pick when you get the call to be a hero.” 

Essayist Joan Didion once said of Thomas Kinkade’s style: A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.” The genius of the #modernistkinkade mashups lies in their juxtaposition of Kinkade’s idyllic, sentimental landscapes with seminal designs by the likes of Kahn, Johnson, Le Corbusier, Mies, Eames, and Gehry. The effect is both jarring and disarming for architects raised at the altar of high design. 

Philip Johnson's Glass House gets the #modernistkinkade treatment

@robyniko believes there’s a meaningful conversation to be had about architectural representation and public perception. Reverse-engineering his motivations, he hoped his mashups would foster a worthwhile dialogue. They’ve done this and more, contributing an entertaining counterpoint to the stylistic contretemps fueled by today’s deep social and political divisions. The waggish irony of the chimeric images makes us smile, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Alas, all good things do come to an end. Sic transit gloria. @robyniko’s brilliant modernist/kitsch fusions will fade as their Internet half-lives tick away. I’m late to the party but I felt compelled to acknowledge and celebrate his virtuosity. Internet memes may be fleeting but this does not mean they cannot be important, thought-provoking, and lasting in impact.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Prioritizing Design as a School Security Solution

Roosevelt Middle School - Mahlum Architects w/Robertson/Sherwood/Architects

The American Institute of Architects recently launched an initiative to promote the role design can play in improving school safety, specifically in response to the spate of school shootings in recent years. This initiative is proceeding on a variety of fronts, including efforts to help state and local school officials access information and funding in support of expertise focused upon the design of safe and secure schools. 

The fact school shootings regularly fill our news cycle is beyond heartbreaking. The immediate, reflexive, and necessary responses may improve safeguards but in the process they too often transform once open places dedicated to education into less-than-welcoming fortresses or bunkers. Our schools risk becoming victimized twice by the perpetrators of violence—directly in the most tragic of instances but also indirectly as society comes to grips with the repercussions for all. To the extent anything can be done to ensure school safety, we can hope informed, skillful design will contribute toward practical, cost-effective solutions that help preserve the innocence, wonder, and joy for learning all children deserve. 

AIA’s Committee on Architecture for Education knows it is possible for vulnerable schools to remain open and positive learning environments while also enhancing safety and security. This is the power of good design. A safe school is one that allows administrators to have physical control over the environment. It is a place where students, parents, and staff can go and not be concerned by outside or internal threats. Measures intended to deter school violence needn’t be ever-present in the minds of those protected by them. 

AIA’s initiative includes collecting signatures from its members for a petition intended to prioritize design as an integral part of the solution to curbing school violence. Once it collects 50,000 signatures, the AIA will deliver the petition to elected officials across the country at all levels of government. While the written appeal is short on specifics, it does serve to emphasize the profession’s commitment to helping address an intractable issue charged with politics and emotion. It comes from a uniquely qualified perspective, one focused upon enhancing the physical attributes of our school buildings and campuses so that they may be the safe, supportive, and life-affirming places for learning everyone wants them to be. 

I’ve signed the AIA petition and encourage you to do so as well. Here is its wording, which you’ll also find on the petition website

“Power of Design” Petition on School Safety:
Architects protect the health, safety and welfare of building occupants. It is fundamental to what we do. We routinely address the social, psychological, economic, and environmental factors when designing a building, especially schools. 

Over the course of almost two decades, architects have worked with school communities across the country in response to repeated acts of deadly violence targeting students and educators. In so doing, our profession has proven that innovative architectural design solutions must keep learners and learning central to the decision-making process for designing safe schools. Therefore, we ask you to make this a core value of your decision-making when considering how to design new schools or when renovating existing ones. Furthermore, we ask you to remember that schools are intended to be communities. They should be planned without sacrificing the inherent positive qualities of the school environments we all desire for our children. This is especially important to value because there is no one-size-fits-all design solution to school safety. School design must adapt to differing and evolving community concerns, support student health and safety, and create productive learning environments. 

As architects and citizens of your community, we call on you to understand that the power of architecture and design to address this issue is real. While it can’t prevent school violence, it can help safeguard students and teachers while keeping schools positive places of learning and growth. To that end, we stand ready to partner with you.