Saturday, April 21, 2018

The New Hayward Field

View of Hayward Field's east grandstand (at left) from outside the Powell Plaza entry (my photo)

I know my initial reaction to the unveiling of the plans this past week for an altogether new Hayward Field complex mirrored that of many others: awe and amazement, tinged with some sadness at what the news heralded. When completed in 2020, the completely rebuilt facility (designed by SRG Partnership of Portland) will most certainly be the finest track and field venue in the country, if not the entire world. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Phil and Penny Knight and fifty other principal donors, Eugene will possess a spectacular showcase during its turn on the world stage as home for the 2021 IAAF World Championships.

Construction of the project (rumored budget: $200 million) will begin this summer. Beyond meeting the requirements of a host facility for the IAAF championships (which include accommodating 30,000 spectators), the design objectives include creating a “theater” for viewing track & field events, within an open and airy wood and glass structure set atop a stone base symbolizing Oregon’s natural features. Among the significant upgrades are state-of-the-art locker rooms, an indoor practice arena (featuring dedicated space for throwers and jumpers, as well as a 140-meter track with a curve), spacious spectator seating, private donor suites, classroom and lab space for the Department of Human Physiology and the Bowerman Sports Science Clinic, and of course fully accessible restrooms and expanded concessions. Most conspicuous will be a 165-foot tall tower to be named in honor of Bill Bowerman and situated at the new stadium’s northeast corner within a rebuilt Powell Plaza. 

Bird's-eye view of the new Hayward Field (all renderings furnished by the University of Oregon)

As a dedicated follower of the Oregon Ducks, I’ve mostly welcomed the vast upgrade in facilities now enjoyed by a majority of the Department of Athletics programs.(1) Likewise, as a resident of “Track Town USA,” I’ve enjoyed Eugene’s preeminence within the world of track & field competition at all levels. That renown is in no small part attributable to historic Hayward Field itself. It is the nation’s most storied ground for track & field competition, having hosted seven USATF championships, six Olympic trials, numerous NCAA championships, the 2014 World Junior Championships, and the annual Nike Prefontaine Classic. The century-old timber structure of Hayward Field’s east grandstand is inextricably tied to that history. The roars of passionate fans that lifted legendary athletes like Steve Prefontaine along the track’s backstretch still echo there. The old structure is a track & field icon, instantly recognized by fans of the sport.

15th Avenue view (the street will be closed to vehicular traffic to allow for the larger Hayward complex and to create a new park-like entry plaza)

It comes as no surprise more than a few of those fans object to the proposed design. Several have penned passionate pleas to preserve the east grandstand. Others simply have lamented its pending demise, acknowledging that its time has passed, and change is due. Among the more eloquent have been Zach Silva, writing for the Cottage Grove Sentinel, and Bob Penny in a guest viewpoint piece for the Register-Guard.

For Zach, Hayward Field was “perfect . . . because it was ours.” Stepping into the historic site was “less like walking into a sporting event and more like walking into grandma’s house. There is a comforting smell that greets you at the door; it’s a place filled with memories of your own and from those before you; you know each and every corner of it. It’s a place you revere and under no circumstances [can] be replicated.”

Like me, Bob attended the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts (now the College of Design). In his piece, he asserts “Preserving historic meaning is inseparable from preserving the built environment. Removing all traces of the past and erecting an alternative structure would sever the continuity of the site’s historic legacy. Instead, preserving the building where history was made, and kept, is the real way to bring history into the future. It isn’t about a fear of letting go of our past. It’s about a community’s resolve to care about people who will come after us.”

Another commentator worth mentioning is Otto Poticha, FAIA. In an April 21 letter to the RG, he leveled his criticism at the project’s scale rather than its proposed razing of the old grandstand. Never one to mince words, Otto railed against SRG’s design, characterizing it as the “caterpillar that ate Agate Street” while ironically stamping it as a “great design” and a “brilliant idea” at the same time. Surprisingly, I agree with Otto. The project may indeed prove to be out of scale with its surroundings, and the Bowerman Tower an overly boastful monument for an understated man.

View from inside the renovated Hayward Field. The nine-story tall Bowerman Tower looms over the northeast corner of the stadium.

I do question whether the new stadium’s capacity will be excessive, even in its base configuration (which will incorporate fewer seats than will be the case in its IAAF World Championships form but more than Hayward Field presently contains). Part of Hayward Field’s current appeal stems from its atmosphere on the day of a meet, the stands filled with knowledgeable, cheering spectators within an intimate setting. What will it look and feel like during a more routine dual-meet against a Pac-12 foe? It’s hard to tell from SRG’s renderings exactly how the stadium’s bowl will be arrayed with fewer seats, especially given the large disparity between the projected standard capacity of 12,900 spectators and the 30,000-seat IAAF arrangement.

The question of historical continuity is more challenging for me to address. The loss of Eugene’s old Civic Stadium still stings for many, but in my opinion that pain has much less to do with that old wooden structure’s architectural merit (which, aside from its provenance, was nonexistent) as it did the memories of many generations who attended events there. Eugene’s late, great City Hall was an outstanding example of mid-century modern design that over time revealed the shortcomings of its pedestrian-unfriendly and energy-profligate configuration. I suspect we’ll soon hear McArthur Court is destined for the wrecking ball, but there’s no debate about the superiority of its replacement—Matthew Knight Arena—as a modern venue for sporting and entertainment events. Eugene’s record when it comes to preserving its architectural heritage has been far from stellar but has offered us lessons to learn from.

Hayward Field’s east grandstand isn’t particularly noteworthy, architecturally speaking. Like Civic Stadium, it was constructed plainly from materials readily at hand in timber-rich western Oregon. Were it not for its fabled past, I might likewise describe the current Hayward Field as lacking architectural distinction, devoid as it is of pretense. On the other hand, its history makes it hallowed ground and the first place that comes to mind for most people when they think of Eugene as a mecca for runners and the sport of track & field. 

Two views of SRG's earlier proposal for a renovated Hayward Field. Note the preserved East Grandstand and Powell Plaza in the lower image.

I’m not entirely sure why Phil Knight and other supporters chose to abandon an earlier (2015) proposal for the project, also designed by SRG. That scheme would have retained and improved the east grandstand while knocking down the west side of the stadium and replacing it with a swooping, ultra-modern structure, which presumably would have contained most of the same program elements found in the newly debuted design. I found the 2015 plan more than sufficiently impressive. One of its strengths would have been the powerful contrast between the new and the old, in shorthand form speaking at once to the remarkable legacy of Hayward Field as well as its forward-thinking and continued evolution. I also believe that design would have better connected with and have been more sympathetic to the adjacent campus, preserving the existing field’s relationships to its immediate context.

Time will tell whether the new Hayward Field will prove itself worthy of the historic bequest it inherits. My hope is it will do so. If it does, Eugene’s Track Town USA identity and sense of place will be assured.  
  



Saturday, April 14, 2018

Attend and Comment at Public Forum

Bill Randall of Arbor South Architecture built a LEED Platinum accessory dwelling unit (cottage) to accompany his primary residence on an R-1 zoned lot near downtown Eugene (photo from Arbor South's website)

I previously mentioned the work of Better Housing Together, a coalition of community leaders working to address the local housing affordability crisis. Better Housing Together has issued a call to arms, asking for all who support the development of affordable housing types within established single-family residential neighborhoods to attend and comment at a public forum this coming Monday, April 16 at Harris Hall.

The current form of Eugene’s R-1 zoning functionally excludes a large percentage of our population at any price point by not offering the type of housing needed. Oregon Senate Bill 1051 mandates the expedition of affordable housing permits. My understanding is the City of Eugene requirements for permitting of secondary or accessory dwelling units presently fail to adequately comply with SB 1051, and accordingly the City is obliged to revise them to make the path toward the development of ADUs less onerous. Some of the existing obstacles that confront those wishing to build ADUs include minimum lot size requirements, special restrictions in particular neighborhoods, height and roof slope limitations, and deed restrictions mandating owner-occupancy of one of the two units on the property.

Here’s the notice from Better Housing Together:

City of Eugene SB 1051 Public Forum: Monday, April 16 @ 7:30pm
On Monday, April 16, City Council will be holding a Public Forum on SB 1051—the new State Law that a bill that requires cities to comply with standards that promote affordable housing and allow an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on property zoned for single-family residential.

It is important that Councilors see faces and hear your organization’s voice. Your presence and testimony are needed. Please arrive at Harris Hall (125 E. 8th Avenue) by 7:15pm to sign-up for public comment. We will also have stickers for coalition partners and supporters.

Better Housing Together has provided a list of possible talking points for your testimony (see below), and they are encouraging all partners to identify their organization/business and mission in this community, as well as their partnership with Better Housing Together.

TALKING POINTS
We are encouraging all partners to identify their organization/business and mission in this community, as well as your partnership with Better Housing Together. Please feel free to use any of the points below in your testimony.

As an organization and a partner in the Better Housing Together effort, we encourage City Council to:
  • Comply with state law. Demonstrate our community’s commitment to affordability and diversity by removing barriers to age-friendly, inclusive housing.
  • Recognize that our community needs smaller and more affordable housing options for all residents of all ages and income levels. Take immediate steps to encourage “missing middle” and more affordable housing types—like ADUs.
  • Make this simple and direct. The proposed “two-phased” path to implementation is unfunded and unscheduled. SB 1051 requires compliance by July 1, 2018. If implementation is to be “phased,” all phases should be complete by July 1, 2018.
  • Adopt code regulations and permitting fees for ADUs that facilitate the construction of this smaller housing type. It should not be easier to build a large garage than it is to build a small cottage. It should not cost as much to permit a 600sf cottage as it does to permit a 3,000sf house.
  • Remember that housing + transportation = affordability. By locating new housing in places with nearby amenities like parks, transportation options, and grocery stores, we support overall affordability. This is what matters to working families and individuals living on fixed incomes.
  • Understand housing is at the center of livability—accessibility, availability and affordability. Where certain residents can live is determined by what housing is available. The most equitable communities have a diversity of housing options available throughout.
  • Increase quality of life, support families and workers, advance our climate goals, and support local economic opportunity by supporting housing diversity—like ADUs.
  • Show leadership. ADUs are an important step toward BUILDING a more affordable, resilient, age-friendly, inclusive community. This is the community we want. Please take steps that make it easier—not harder—to build the community we want.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Architectural Study Media

As imagined virtually (left) and the reality (right) - The VA Roseburg Healthcare System Protective Care Unit by Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc

Bill Kleinsasser was an advocate for the informed, skillful use of various types of architectural media to facilitate the study of places, activities and spatial components, the organization of those components into unified compositions, and evaluative analyses. He believed these included not only the customary diagrams, drawings, and scale models but also written essays about and illustrated case studies of place-response and activity-support.

The following excerpt from the fifth edition of Bill’s self-published textbook Synthesis serves as a useful reminder that the purposes of study media extend well beyond merely depicting design intent. It’s important for us to understand the capabilities and limitations of the media we employ to avoid being victimized by them on the one hand, or unable to read them on the other. As our designs progress, the focus shifts across an increasing field of ideas, all in need of externalization for study. The “badly needed” kinds of study media Bill advocated for are as much about achieving a deeper understanding of the problem being solved as they are means for producing tangible surrogates for building. He wanted us to not allow the media we use to set their own agenda for our concerns—a topical consideration today as we increasingly abdicate our design processes to virtual reality software. Read on:
   

Architectural Study Media: Some badly needed kinds:

Media that depict and remind us of the multitude of actions and events that will happen (or that we hope will happen) in the places we propose.
All built places need to support many events and actions. Every built place should present many opportunities rather than few. This can only happen when places are made in sufficient response to the dimensional, proportional, and locational requirements of a broad range of anticipated actions and events (but this doesn’t mean that we try to make every place accommodate all actions and events; that is impossible). We could begin by considering the most obvious and demanding actions and events and then add consideration of as many more as we can (activity overlays are media for this).

Media to remind us of considerations that tend to be overlooked or avoided because they are difficult.
We need categories that we can focus on or tend to in each design problem. The several experiential categories from my course are of this kind. Bob Harris’ “modes of inquiry” are of this kind. Alexander’s patterns, while being much more explicit in regard to what they suggest, are of this kind. And the suggestions of Vitruvius, Palladio, Ruskin, Le Corbusier, and Kahn are all of this kind.

Media that help us respond to a great quantity of considerations.
A typical house embodies responses to several hundred separate considerations.

Media that invite or simplify consideration of recurring objectives such as spatial diversity, essential three-dimensionality, sensorial richness, suggestiveness of spaces, spatial layering, etc.
Of course, if these objectives are absent in the first place the problem is not limited to study media types, but conventional media (plans, sections, small scale models, and the several kinds of projection) do not focus on these objectives very well, especially when used separately. We need media that deliberately focus on the objectives above.

Media that present a direct and detailed description of the experience of places by the people who live there—their description and explanation of the most important conditions, characteristics, and aspects of those places.
My media class is attempting to provide itself with such information by visiting several houses and recording long interviews with their occupants about their experiences there. We will also transcribe and categorize the occupants’ comments so that we can cross-reference them.

Media that help us generate design ideas.

Media that recall and retain for us the gestalt of existing places, that recall and retain the overall impact of those places.
There is no reason to assume that such places will not have similar and significant (while certainly not the same) meaning if recreated within new situations. People have always built upon previously existing models and images, and with meaning.

Media that recall and retain for us the purposefulness and meaning of the parts and various characteristics of places—parts and characteristics that have had obvious success or significance.
While the particular circumstances surrounding those parts and characteristics will not be the same as in new situations, the situational variation may be taken into account and the examples still used as a source of valuable insight.

Media that help us identify significant qualities, opportunities, and problems in existing places (sub-places, undeveloped relationships, dependencies, fragility, dominant characteristics, existing patterns of use, etc.).

Media that help us check the appropriateness or precision of what we have proposed, and this under circumstances that simulate reality.

Media that permit the observation of proposed places under real lighting conditions, and this during different times of day and during different seasons.

Media that permit the observation of proposed places within their actual physical context, and this in scale (a gross simulation is only misleading).

Media that allow ordinary people to understand and evaluate (rehearse) proposed places, especially how places would be for individuals with differing needs and how they would be over time. This is important because those people must be able to make wise decisions about proposed ideas. If they are confused or fooled then they will be greatly disappointed with the built places they have decided upon.

WK / 1975

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Midtown Arts Center

The new Midtown Arts Center (all images courtesy of Dustrud Architecture)

The well-attended March chapter meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute-Willamette Valley Chapter featured presentations by Josh Neckels, Executive Director of Eugene Ballet, and Paul Dustrud, AIA of Dustrud Architecture, regarding their plans for a new Midtown Arts Center. The Center promises to be an outstanding example of mixed-use, high-density development—precisely the kind of project Eugene needs more of to meet its goals for compact urban growth. Moreover, it is a unique and creative undertaking by a nonprofit organization whose goal is the strengthening and sustainability of its offerings and those of other arts groups.

Eugene Ballet is celebrating its 40th birthday in 2018. Its reputation as a performance company has grown over the years, and it now tours throughout the West and abroad. EB also maintains an educational academy introducing the art of dance to hundreds of students at any point in time. After years of bouncing about several locations, EB settled into its current location at 1590 Willamette in 2006. Since then, the 13,700 s.f. facility, dubbed the Midtown Arts Center, has provided the organization with the studio and administrative office spaces it required.

Bringing additional nonprofit arts organizations under the Center’s roof has always been a key to EB’s sustainability. The groups who presently rent space are Chamber Music Amici, Oregon Mozart Players, Eugene Concert Choir, Lane Arts Council, Pacific International Choral Festivals (Picfest), Orchestra Next, and #instaballet. By sharing infrastructure and maintenance costs, EB has been able to keep rents affordable and consistently below market rates for these groups. A bonus has been the synergy between them and the promise of enriching collaborations.

The current Midtown Arts Center at 1590 Willamette Street

As Josh quipped, if growth is a measure of its success, the Midtown Arts Center is successfully out of room! The Center’s operational model has contributed to the growth of each organization housed within it. Collectively they have seen a 58% increase in personnel. Enrollment in the Eugene Ballet Academy has increased more than 40%. As a lively arts space, the Center has served its occupants well. To strengthen the foundations of each organization, Eugene Ballet decided to reinvest its current equity and experience into a new, expanded, and permanent home.

Eugene Ballet is working with Alex Haugland, a longtime supporter of Eugene’s local performing arts scene, and a team which includes Dustrud Architecture, Essex Construction, and Paradigm Properties, to redevelop a 20,000 square-foot parcel of land at 16th Avenue and Pearl Street into a mixed-use commercial condominium project that combines expanded nonprofit spaces for the Midtown Arts Center with privately-owned apartments and townhouses. This opportunity means Eugene Ballet can own a new permanent home designed specifically to expand the capacity of its Academy while also providing increased accessibility to valuable rehearsal spaces for Eugene Ballet and other Eugene nonprofit arts organizations.

When completed, Eugene Ballet will own the new Midtown Arts Center portion of the development (totaling 25,000 square feet), while the thirty-four residential units will be sold as condominiums, pretty much the first to target the higher-end, multifamily residential market in Eugene since The Tate was completed twelve years ago. Funding for the project will come from the sale of 1590 Willamette, individual donations and charitable foundation support, $750,000 from the State of Oregon, and of course the proceeds from the condominium sales.

Section

Combining private development with nonprofit funding(1) may seem unconventional, but precedents for the proposed style of development exist and illustrate unique partnerships incorporating highly sought-after support of private financing for nonprofit arts groups. Paul cited as examples the historic Balboa Theatre in San Diego, which originally housed an elegant vaudeville and movie palace wrapped by retail and office space, and also the Rose Building at Lincoln Center in New York City, home of the New York City Ballet as well as private residences in a 32-story tower.

Dustrud Architecture was a natural choice as the firm to design the new Center. Paul’s ties to Eugene Ballet run deep, not the least of which is his wife Toni Pimble, EB’s artistic director. Paul also has a background in theater arts, and of course his firm has become well-known in Eugene for designing a series of successful multifamily housing/commercial office & retail mixed-use projects.

Dustrud Architecture’s frequent collaborator, Essex Construction (not so coincidentally also the sponsor for the chapter meeting), will build the Center. Completed Dustrud/Essex projects include The Patterson, The Pearl, The Prefontaine, and the LEED Platinum Westgate in Eugene, as well as The Boathouse and Russell Apartments in Portland. Like these other projects, the Midtown Arts Center will feature a creative interpretation of building code provisions, maximizing the potential of economical wood-framed construction above a post-tensioned concrete podium structure.

2nd Floor Plan, showing the mix of residential and Eugene Ballet Academy spaces on that level

The proposed building interlocks the facilities for Eugene Ballet and the other arts groups with residential and office occupancies in six above-grade stories occupying the entire available site area. Eighteen of the seventy-nine enclosed parking spaces will be on the first level, while the remainder will be found in the basement. Seven large, flexible studios will provide EB and the Eugene Ballet Academy with vastly more capacity to conduct rehearsals and classes. The programmatically complex mix of spaces, types of construction, and occupancies (A-3, B, E, R-2, S-1, and S-2) presented a design challenge, to say the least. Dustrud Architecture ultimately considered eighteen different solutions before arriving at its final design for the project.

Axonometric view: The blue portion is the Arts Center; the gray is the residential.

Building code diagram

As Paul explained, the code path his firm chose to implement utilizes stepped horizontal separations and a 3-hour vertical separation between the R-2 and the E/A3 occupancies. Dustrud Architecture detailed the 36’ tall, Type IIIB structural wall between the occupancies to not only isolate the disparate occupancies, but also to ensure minimal transference of sound energy through the assembly. Additionally, the 3-hour separation addresses differential lateral movement (during seismic events) and allows the floors on either side to be misaligned vertically (allowing tall studio volumes on one side and domestically scaled residential spaces on the other). Moreover, the 3-hour vertical separation provided Paul and his team the flexibility to stack the residential floors above the post-tensioned podium but did not likewise require the 3 stories of the Eugene Ballet Academy to occur above that podium (that way, the Academy’s lobby could be set at street level). Add to the mix the overall height restrictions mandated by the type of construction, and the need to include parking garages—at both the ground floor and in the basement—and the building code challenges were as perplexing as a Rubik’s Cube. Kudos to Dustrud Architecture for developing a creative solution without compromises.

One of the proposed new studio spaces

I’m looking forward to seeing the new Midtown Arts Center rise in the coming months. The new building will help ensure future growth of Eugene Ballet and that of the other nonprofit arts groups is not limited by the size of their facility, but only by the reach of their vision. The completed project will provide new housing, vibrancy, and arts engagement to Eugene’s “Midtown,” catalyze adjacent development, restaurants, and street life, and enhance the quality of living in the area. Thanks to Josh and Paul for a most informative presentation. Based on the information they shared with us, I’m confident the new Midtown Arts Center will be a resounding success.

(1)  Speaking of funding, if you’d you like to invest in the growth of the arts in Eugene by donating to the new Midtown Arts Center capital campaign, you can contact Lisa Bostwick, Eugene Ballet Development Coordinator, at 541-485-3992 or by email at lisa@eugeneballet.org.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Morality and Architecture


I featured a guest viewpoint contribution last September by Ujjval Vyas, Ph.D., J.D. At that time, I wrote about how he has challenged me to reassess my understanding of the proper role and duties of the architect, and the necessity of critical thinking in professional practice. The point was to bring to light how the architect’s belief structure can prejudice his or her work. As Ujjval explained, the architect bears a responsibility to think objectively and skeptically. This isn’t always easy given the tendency of my profession to invoke moral imperatives to validate the deep-seated biases it seeks to affirm or the aesthetic flavor of the day it chooses to promote. Ujjval will correct me if I’m mistaken but I understand his fundamental premise to be that architects have too often failed to recognize the inadequacies and inconsistencies of the principles they follow, while exhibiting a propensity for objective declarations of right or wrong despite an unstable rooting within the shifting sands of moral relativism.

To further our discussion, Ujjval suggested I read the book Morality and Architecture, written by British architectural historian David Watkin. At the time of its initial publication in 1977, the slender volume created quite a stir, challenging the notion of a zeitgeist as suitable justification for whatever style critics proclaim to be the most authentic and morally irreproachable. The object of Watkin’s critique was Modernism, and particularly its claims that traditional forms of architecture were ill-fitted and outdated in the context of a constantly evolving economic, social, and political environment. Many adherents of Modernism buttressed their polemic with an unwavering and sanctimonious belief in the inevitability of their position and the value of novelty. For the architectural profession then (and now), the orthodoxy of its avant-garde faction—particularly its reverence for all that is shiny and new—is powerful.

Watkin used as examples the proselytizing of the 19th century architect & theorist A.W.N. Pugin and 20th century architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who respectively argued religious truths should underlie the form of architecture and that a modern architecture must be a rational instrument of social policy. Both Pugin and Pevsner passionately believed in the certainty of a moral foundation for contemporary architecture, and yet what such architecture should look like to both was very different. For Pugin, the Gothic Revival style presented itself as superior and synonymous with “Christian architecture” and necessary for the work of Pugin’s time. For Pevsner (for whom Watkin was a pupil) it was the machine-like, ahistorical, and unadorned architecture of Modernism that exhibited moral fitness.

As Watkin would go on to explain, Pugin’s and Pevsner’s convictions stemmed from the evolutionary assumption that each new epoch compels architects to “express” the nascent spirit of the moment within which they work. Both Pugin and Pevsner trusted in the moral rightness of their position, each expertly asserting that which comported with his own preferences. A “historicist emphasis on progress and the necessary superiority of novelty,” Watkin said, “has come dangerously close to undermining, on the one hand, our appreciation of the imaginative genius of the individual and, on the other, the importance of artistic tradition.”

What constitutes good architecture shouldn’t be circumscribed by architectural critics and historians who promote whatever style they are most fond of, nor should it be defined without question by whatever culture happens to momentarily prevail within the profession. Good architecture may be expressed using the most vogueish of forms. It can be equally good and relevant when garbed more conventionally.

Watkin cited the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens, without question a brilliant architect, whose misfortune it was to be ignored by historians such as Pevsner and Henry-Russell Hitchcock and regarded as out-of-step with the spirit of the age in which he practiced. Ujjval has likewise written about how critics were baffled by Philip Johnson’s penchant for seemingly contradictory approaches to the design of his buildings.(1) Johnson was notorious for his propagandizing on behalf of a succession of architectural styles or movements, as well as for deprecatingly referring to himself as an architectural “whore.” Nevertheless, Johnson used his authority to initiate an increase in formal experimentation. He was, as Ujjval noted, “committed to increasing the possibility of elegant architecture in the world.” This possibility was devoid of any presumptions regarding the weight of morality upon our consideration of that architecture.

My takeaway from Morality and Architecture is Watkin’s advocacy for the autonomy of aesthetic merit and the value of an artistic tradition. He effectively rebukes a romantic and collectivist populism within which the architect has no imagination or free will of his or her own but instead designs buildings to reflect a moral consensus, such as the primacy of novelty for its own sake. The dogma of Modernism provided him with a convenient target, springing as it did from a volatile mixture of naïve moralizing and authoritarian principles (though I suspect his dislike of modern architecture contributed as much to his disdain for the movement as did the self-righteousness of its proponents). The book’s principal shortcoming is how dated Watkin’s anti-modernist argument seems today, written as it was during a time when the style was only beginning to relinquish its ascendancy. Much has changed since then; even so, its core message and assessment of relativism remain relevant.

I’m not entirely sure, but I believe Ujjval hoped by reading Morality and Architecture I would recognize the fallacy of arguments architects use to justify their work by asserting moral superiority, all while confusing certitude with certainty. As he is apt to say, it is easy to go along with stuff when it agrees with what you already believe. The challenge is to avoid confirmation bias—the tendency to interpret information in a way that validates one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. When you also consider the risks in applying ethical standards of judgment to architecture, the magnitude of that challenge is magnified. It’s very easy to seek affirmation within echo chambers rather than carefully examining what we think and why we do. My responsibility as an architect is to apply an intellectual rigor to my work and to possess enough self-awareness to know what I don’t know. 

(1)  Ujjval’s piece on Philip Johnson was his contribution to a collection of essays published by the Yale School of Architecture entitled Philip Johnson: The Constancy of Change. Other contributors to the book included Peter Eisenman, Kurt Forster, Charles Jencks, Phyllis Lambert, Vincent Scully, Michael Sorkin, and Mark Wigley.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunlight is a Powerful Healer

Early morning light, Ridgeline Trail, Eugene, OR (my photo)

The news from The New York Times came as a shock, one that provided the architectural profession with a Harvey Weinstein Moment to claim as its own: five women have come forward to accuse Pritzker laureate Richard Meier of sexual harassment. If the accounts are true—and there’s little reason to believe they are not, and indeed Meier has acknowledged “words and actions” that may have been offensive—Meier’s indiscretions went far beyond mere bad behavior to include sexual assault. The brilliance of his oeuvre notwithstanding, Meier’s legacy is now most deservedly sullied, the dazzling whiteness of his architecture indelibly stained by his failures as a human being.

Many immediately commented on the fall from grace of one of the profession’s most-celebrated “starchitects.” Writer Eva Hagberg Fisher took to Twitter to recount how it was Meier’s Douglas House that made her fall in love with architecture (when she was only twelve). Richard Meier was one of my architectural heroes too, which is why I found the Times article distressing. As Fisher lamented, we can be so naïve. "Of course,” we are too quick to believe, “a brilliant artist must be a good person.” It’s a painful realization: we shouldn’t expect any corollary correspondence between talent and virtue. Fisher herself has experienced sexual harassment, a victim of misconduct by a prominent member of the UC Berkeley architecture faculty she had trusted.

In response to the Meier revelations, the AIA issued a statement on sexual harassment in which 2018 AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA, stated the “AIA stands by a set of values that guide us as a profession and a Code of Ethics that define standards of behavior for our members. Sexual harassment is not only illegal, it flies in the face of our values and ethics.” Elefante further said “we are deeply troubled by the allegations in The New York Times today, and believe that sexual harassment—in any form and in any workplace—should not be tolerated and must be addressed swiftly and forcefully.” We’ll see if the Institute adds teeth to this statement by rescinding Meier’s membership in its College of Fellows and revoking his Gold Medal, AIA’s highest award.

The Hyatt Foundation has come straight out and said its award of the Pritzker Prize to Meier in 1984 will stand because it was “based on his architectural merit at that time,” and that the foundation does “not comment on the personal lives of our laureates.” The problem is it’s difficult to dissociate the work of those bestowed with the architectural profession’s top honor from the honorees themselves. A stated purpose of the Pritzker Prize is to recognize “significant contributions to humanity.” Humanity can refer to humankind but also to kindness, charity, compassion, and sympathy. In these respects, Richard Meier has failed without qualification. It’s possible the Hyatt Foundation is simply avoiding a rush to judgment. Exercising caution and steering clear of presumptuous persecution inflamed by the current news cycle is prudent. We’ll see if the foundation reconsiders its stance if the volume of incriminatory testimony becomes overwhelming.

The obvious parallels between Meier and Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Roger Ailes, Louis C.K., James Levine, and too many others include the disturbing arrogance and narcissism that fueled their predatory behavior. The common threads are a cult of personality, an abuse of power, and the asymmetry that exists between the predator and his unfortunate targets. History will judge these men harshly, and deservedly so.

A similar day of reckoning presumably awaits the boastful and contemptible misogynist who presently occupies the Oval Office. I find the fact this day has yet to arrive in the face of plain and damning evidence absolutely dumbfounding. The “Weinstein Moment” is rightfully taking down many powerful men who have abused their positions, and yet why are so many in this country willing to give the POTUS a free pass when it comes to this issue, if not other matters?

The fact Meier’s transgressions are only now becoming widely acknowledged is an indictment of a well-established subculture within the architectural community—one that unquestioningly venerated its heroes, bred a coterie of sycophants, and swept inconvenient truths under the rug. The problem derives from a patriarchal sense of entitlement. This pernicious subculture may be on the wane as women increasingly assume positions of leadership throughout the profession. Awareness of the issue is a prerequisite. There’s no excuse now to not take steps at all levels, organizationally and individually, to address the problem.

Daniela Soleri, the daughter of another architectural icon, the late Paolo Soleri, published an article last year bringing to light her father’s sexual molestation of her when she was a child, culminating in his attempt to rape her when she was seventeen. Her matter-of-fact accounting of her father’s reprehensible actions further condemns the way our social order has allowed serious flaws of character to be cloaked in the shadows, whispered about but not spoken openly of. Her piece, though painful to read, is also optimistic. “Sunlight is a powerful healer,” she says. She likens the #MeToo movement to a first bit of light, a glimmer of hope, and a sign real change is finally on the way.

My wife tried to dissuade me from wading into this topic, fraught as it is with emotion and controversy. She believes I have nothing to contribute to the discussion that hasn’t already been said with much greater authority by those (both women and men) who have been victims of serious harassment or assault. Regardless, I feel compelled to acknowledge this watershed moment for the architectural profession because of my erstwhile admiration for Richard Meier. The widely publicized downfall of famous and influential men guilty of unconscionable abuses is proving cathartic and transformative. As Daniela Soleri wrote, “silence is cynical,” and in contrast, “truth is hopeful, and inevitable.” The light of truth can also be healing, and if that light shines bright it may lead all of us to real and lasting change for the better. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Darrell Smith, FAIA (1935-2018)

Darrell L. Smith, FAIA (1935-2018)

The Eugene-Springfield architectural community mourns the loss of another of its stalwart members: Darrell Smith, FAIA passed away earlier this month. As his obituary below states, he went peacefully, which no doubt comes as a comfort to his family and friends.

Darrell and I crossed paths frequently because his practice, TBG Architects and Planners, and my firm Robertson/Sherwood/Architects both have offices in the Miner Building in downtown Eugene. It was always a pleasure to chat with Darrell. I don’t know if I can remember him ever being anything but cheerful and supportive. He was definitely one of the old guard among local architects who made me feel very much welcome when I returned to live and work in Eugene in 1988. Darrell will be missed by all who knew him, especially those at TBG who had the privilege to work side-by-side with Darrell on a daily basis.

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Darrell Lyle Smith, born April 5, 1935 in Wallowa, OR to Charles and Effie Boswell Smith, passed peacefully on March 1, 2018 in Eugene, OR. 

Darrell initially grew up in NE Oregon and around Oregon and Washington as his family moved to seek employment in the timber industry. After four high schools in four towns he began college at Oregon State University majoring in Forestry. Before completing his degree, he transferred to the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture, where he graduated in 1961. 

In 1956 he married Lois Patterson and they built a life together that spanned 61 years, living, working and raising their family in Eugene. 

In 1961 Darrell began work as a draftsman at the firm that would become TBG Architects and Planners. He was made a partner in the firm in 1967 and he retired in 2003 then "shared his wisdom" at the office until 2013. The other partners and members of the firm were more than just colleagues. Darrell also enjoyed many great friendships developed through his association with the Eugene Executive Association. 

Appointed by Governor Vic Atiyeh in 1982 to the Oregon State Board of Architect Examiners, Darrell eventually took national offices including President of National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in 1996-1997. While volunteering in these positions he was instrumental in the conversion of then national architect's registration exam to a computer administered process. This position required many hours of time yet also facilitated travel to many interesting parts of the world working with architects around the country and around the globe. In 1997 Darrell was inducted into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. 

The highlight of Darrell and Lois's travels was a three-month trip around the world in 1999 visiting twelve countries on that excursion. Family trips included Mexico, Hawaii and many days at Mercer Lake. 

A lifelong Duck fan who attended hundreds of Oregon football and basketball games over the years, Darrell was usually wearing a "duck shirt" in retirement. Traveling to bowl games with friends and watching the Ducks on TV was a favorite pastime. 

Darrell is survived by his wife Lois, his sister Lois Dehne (Axel), daughter Michelle Pellitier (John), son Garth (Polly), four beloved grandchildren; Serena Pellitier Klimek (Jason), Ashley Wells Hubbard (Beaux), Peter Pellitier and Natalie Pellitier and two delightful great granddaughters; Sloane Klimek and Bess Hubbard. 

Friends are invited to raise a glass to Darrell on Sunday, March 18th from 4-6 pm. in the Cascade Manor Solarium. 

It was a "good run!"

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Market Expansion

The 5th Street Market Expansion - view (l to r) of the Market building, Market Alley, and apartment building from the intersection of 6th and Pearl (all images here are from the Obie Companies' March 9, 2018 press conference presentation)

Brian Obie and his grandson Casey Barrett (CEO and Vice President, respectively) of Obie Companies, unveiled their plans this past Friday to double the footprint of the 5th Street Public Market in downtown Eugene. The ambitious undertaking consists of an 82-room hotel, a seven-story 113-unit apartment building, and a three-story retail and office complex. Additionally, Obie Companies is partnering with Homes for Good (formerly HACSA) to help the housing agency provide 50 affordable “workforce housing” units on a neighboring parcel. Overall, the project promises to bolster downtown Eugene’s ongoing revitalization by adding to its resident population, providing a rich mix of retail shops, enhancing the pedestrian experience, and furthering the emergence of a “Market District.” The goal is to have everything built and open for business by 2021, in time for the IAAF World Track and Field Championships.

Lane County issued a request for proposals five years ago for the property it owns on the half-block fronting Sixth Avenue between Pearl and Oak, presently devoted to surface parking. The County’s goal was to attract developers interested in helping realize the site’s full potential. Ultimately, the County selected the Obie Companies’ amenity-rich proposal for the site. Though the property is owned by the county, Obie Companies’ negotiated a 99-year lease to build on it. After the execution of the lease agreement, Obie Companies purchased four neighboring buildings (Station Square, the David Minor Theater, the Fifth Pearl Building, and the vacant former Oregon Electric Station catering building), ensuring control of their future development and compatibility with the other Market District properties. The project’s lengthy gestation period involved give-and-take discussions with the City of Eugene regarding the application of its Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) to the development.

Context map of the future Market District

Aerial view from the east. The Market Expansion is on the left side of the image.

I didn’t attend the Obie Companies’ press conference but I did watch a recording of the event online. Brian (who served as Eugene’s mayor from 1985-1988) provided some historical context about the Market Expansion’s location, describing it as “hallowed ground” because it was part of the original Eugene townsite and witness to many formative downtown developments. These would eventually include the Obie Companies transformation of a former poultry plant into today’s 5th Street Market, now in its 42nd successful year of operation, as well as the construction more recently of the Inn at the 5th, a nationally acclaimed, one-of-a-kind boutique hotel.

Casey followed Brian by taking the podium to describe the $60 million new venture and how it is moving quickly toward groundbreaking before the end of this year. In addition to enumerating its components, Casey also called attention to several items of interest. These include the Market Alley, which will be a shop-lined, glass-roofed passage through the site. He mentioned the possibility of an elevated pedestrian crosswalk over Pearl street—though one wasn’t depicted on the renderings—and perhaps a second overpass at High Street, connecting the Market District with the future EWEB riverfront development. The name of the proposed new inn—The Gordon Hotel—comes from Brian’s father, Gordon. The hotel will be a fine arts showcase, featuring work produced through an Obie-sponsored artist-in-residency program as well as that of University of Oregon Fine Arts students and faculty who will soon occupy the former Willamette Stationers building next door. Casey also mentioned how Obie Companies is working with others to secure the future of the historic Post Office building on Willamette Street, possibly as a museum that would contribute to the establishment of an expanded downtown cultural precinct.

Rendering of The Gordon Hotel

Where will visitors to the Market District park? The development will eliminate a significant number of spaces. Casey said a half-block of underground parking is in the works, which will make up for some of the lost parking capacity. Additionally, Casey mentioned the probability of valet parking and participation in the PeaceHealth Rides bike share program.

Casey said it was important for the new architecture to allude to the Market District’s industrial past. Judging from the available renderings, the overtones are as much subdued Art Deco as they are “industrial.” Some might take exception to the overt historicizing or pejoratively ascribe the term “pastiche” to the designs, appearing as they are to be referential reproductions rather than rejuvenations of genuinely older buildings (as was the case with the extant portion of the 5th Street Public Market). They might criticize a lack of “authenticity” and a failure to adequately express the contemporary condition. For my part, I’m far from parochial when it comes to style; I’m more interested about whether the project will succeed on a variety of other fronts. Will its architecture be pedestrian-friendly? Will the design delight and make the Market District an attractive destination? Will it be well-detailed, well-built, durable, and sustainable? Will it reward the considerable public and private outlay on behalf of its future?

The glass-roofed Market Alley

I haven’t taken the initiative to identify the members of the Market Expansion design team. Brian and Casey did not mention who the architects are but did acknowledge their contributions to the shared vision for the project. I do know Ankrom Moisan Architects, Arbor South, and Bergsund Delaney had their hands in some of the early planning shortly after the County accepted the Obie Companies/HACSA proposal. TBG Architects & Planners of Eugene and Seattle-based GGLO designed the Inn at the 5th, and CSHQA designed Obie’s recently completed Inn at 500 in Boise; are any of these firms involved? Leave a comment below if you know who the architects are.

Casey regards the Market Expansion as an expression of Obie Companies’ enthusiasm for the future of downtown Eugene. It comes as welcome news to those of us who want downtown to be a robust, vibrant, and diverse place. The project will undoubtedly draw interest from other developers for nearby properties, spur additional investment, and further enhance the Market District’s appeal and contribution to the tax rolls. Its impact will extend past its boundaries, in part through connections between an emerging cultural precinct and the Market District and beyond to the riverfront. The scheme appears to be well-coordinated, thoughtful, and comprehensive. I applaud Obie Companies’ commitment to its hometown and its embrace of compact urban design principles, and I wish the project nothing but success.