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.

 *    *    *    *    *    *

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.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Urban Lumber Co.

One-of-a-kind businesses are part of what make our community unique, especially those that contribute to a distinctly local identity. Here in the Eugene-Springfield area, we covet companies that produce diverse, locally made products and services of the kind that bolster the homegrown vibe but also attract customers from far and wide. Supporting local businesses builds economic opportunities, keeps tax dollars close to home, and rewards talented entrepreneurs. These unique companies often favor locating in smart growth places, such as compact, walkable downtown centers, as opposed to occupying the outer fringes of urban areas. They’re often established by passionate people driven by creativity and a commitment to investing in their community.

Urban Lumber Co. of Springfield is an excellent case in point. Owner Seth San Filippo founded Urban Lumber Co. in 2006. He viewed the stewardship of our urban forest as his mission and growing the awareness of the value of salvaged city street trees as the means for fulfilling that vision. He did this by building a company dedicated to repurposing salvaged wood into bespoke pieces of fine furniture and décor. Seth’s belief in environmental responsibility, his fundamental love of beautiful woods, and his appreciation of the trees they come from have fueled his success and that of Urban Lumber since its beginning.

Along with several of my Robertson/Sherwood/Architects colleagues, I recently enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Seth and visiting Urban Lumber’s facility located in the former Booth Kelly Lumber Company mill (now the Booth Kelly Makers District) adjacent to Springfield’s historic downtown. In addition to Seth, showroom manager/designer Becky Rothweiler and director of sales Sheri Wayt welcomed us warmly and led our small group on a private tour of the company’s operations.

RSA tour of Urban Lumber Co. (from left to right: Andy Drake, Jenni Rogers, and Scott Stolarczyk of RSA; Becky Rothweiler, Seth San Filippo, and Sheri Wayt of Urban Lumber)

We were immediately impressed by the size of Urban Lumber’s milling and storage area, which occupies 30,000 square feet of contiguous space. Countless slabs of various wood species were carefully stacked throughout for drying. Other conspicuously large, unmilled sections of salvaged trees sat about awaiting their turn for transformation into fine handcrafted pieces. We looked at various saws and planers, an eclectic mix of vintage and state-of-the-art equipment. These include one of the largest custom-built saws in the country, which allows Urban Lumber to cut slabs up to six feet wide directly from intact logs as much as 35 feet in length. The best cuts possible enhance the character of each log.

The large mill saw (a band saw type raised and lowered between the two blue posts)

The mill space also includes two large, custom-built kilns. Each freshly sawn slab is dried according to its size and species (I quipped that I would enjoy the 100+ degrees inside one of the kilns on the damp and chilly day of our visit). The mill also has a metal fabrication shop where employees fabricate metal pieces for the custom furniture. An old school bus in the process of being transformed into a tiny home/mobile Urban Lumber showcase dominated the metal shop during our visit.

The two kilns. Note the stack of slabs cut from a single large log on the right.

Seth explained how Urban Lumber works with the City of Eugene, the City of Springfield, other municipalities, and private property owners in the metropolitan area to sustainably salvage and reclaim trees that have been felled by necessity or circumstance. Trees become available because arborists determine they pose a danger due to weakening by disease or insects.

The devastating January 2017 ice storm claimed many notable specimens but provided Urban Lumber with a valuable bounty that might otherwise have been destined for landfills. Another source is from buildings razed to make room for new developments. Urban Lumber gives this salvaged lumber new life, through means that can recall and extend a memory of the structures from which the material originated.

Seth said the urban forests of Eugene and Springfield support trees that can grow much larger than their nature-dwelling counterparts, which often must compete for access to sunlight and other resources. The variety of native species Urban Lumber uses is remarkable. This variety includes familiar Oregon woods such as Douglas fir, hemlock, Western red cedar, and Oregon white oak, but also an abundance of black walnut, maple, elm, myrtlewood, and other hardwoods. The distinctive character of every species, and the individuality of each tree comprises a singular legacy and story about our urban forest.

A variety of slabs cut from different trees.

Seth and his designers make a determined effort to emphasize the unique qualities of each piece of wood. This often means preserving the natural edges of the slabs they work with, and sometimes working at a monumental scale. In some instances, they combine slabs from different species to produce a harmonizing blend of colors and patterns. They evaluate every cut with an eye toward maximizing its inherent beauty and aesthetic potential. Every table, chair, bar top, mantle, bed frame, natural-edge wood slab, and décor piece by Urban Lumber is a clear expression of the company’s dedication to one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. We saw this amply on display inside the 2,000 s.f. showroom/office that fronts Urban Lumber’s Booth Kelly home.

Showroom display

Seth enjoys working closely with architects, interior designers, and contractors. Many of Urban Lumber’s commissions are part of new building or remodeling projects. I’m hoping my firm will have an opportunity to someday work with Seth and his crew to create custom pieces tailored for one of our jobs.

You can see the company’s handiwork in many places. Restaurants, breweries, and tap houses find the rustic quality of reclaimed lumber fits the bill when quirky charm and character are the order of the day. Hotels, corporate offices, and many other venues have likewise been attracted to Urban Lumber’s offerings. Urban Lumber’s local clientele include Blu Mist Restaurant & Bar, Oakshire Brewing, the University of Oregon, Springfield School District, Northwest Community Credit Union, and The Hub. The company also takes pride in sharing the inherent natural beauty of our Pacific Northwest lumber with a growing global customer base.

Speaking of growth, Seth reported his business has grown by 30% annually; this includes during the Great Recession that was a backdrop to the company’s early years. Urban Lumber produced 770 pieces in 2017, an unquestionably impressive number considering the handcrafted nature of so much of its work. Urban Lumber’s success is good news for Springfield, and particularly fitting given the city’s long wood products history.

Urban Lumber Co. is literally a homegrown company, one that has quickly become a leader among custom furniture makers in the nation. I’m happy a local enterprise is making a difference in Springfield, contributing to the city’s ongoing renaissance by working proactively toward sustainability, economic diversity, and urban rejuvenation.   

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

10 Years of SW Oregon Architect

I just realized it’s been ten years since I started blogging. Time flies, but those ten years have been full in part because of what has become a satisfying personal hobby. I’ve reliably published pieces at a rate averaging just more than one per week. All told, I’ve committed more than 540,000 words to online bits and bytes across 674 posts.(1) My Blogger stats tell me SW Oregon Architect has received 494,000 unique pageviews since February 2008—approximately 4,100 per month. Not spectacular, but a lot more than I ever imagined would be the case when I began. 

I had no idea being a blogger would become such a large part of my identity. In some ways, SW Oregon Architect is a personal journal; in other respects, it is more like a newsfeed for readers interested in local goings-on in the Eugene-Springfield, Oregon architecture and building community. I do find writing on topics of interest to me enjoyable and satisfying. It’s fun. It’s also gratifying when people comment on a post or say something nice about what I’ve written. 

Bloggers tend to be a self-absorbed bunch, but then the inherent nature of many blogs is to be narcissistic to a degree. “Look at me,” they all say. On the other hand, bloggers also risk getting it wrong or embarrassing themselves. Vulnerability is the toll paid when you put yourself out there, online. I always tend toward being circumspect and guarded in the way I express myself, so I chose the following ten posts—one marking each of SW Oregon Architect’s ten years—precisely because they reveal something about who I am and how I see the world. I invite you to read them if you didn’t have an opportunity to do so when they first appeared: 

2017 – The Fine Grain of Cultural Diversity

2016 – Architecture is Awesome #11: Sense of Place

2015 – The Future of Architectural Craft

2014 – The Perils of Building Cheaply

2013 – The Oregon Experiment

2012 – Awe, Wonder, and Curiosity

2011 – Challenging the Cult of Speed

2010 – Influences: Christopher Alexander & Peter Eisenman

2009 – Influences: Frank Lloyd Wright

2008 – Eugene, Genius Loci, and the Butterfly Effect 

Looking back, I’m sometimes surprised by how much my writing style and views have remained consistent. I like to think I can evolve and improve. The cool thing about blogging is that it’s something I can look forward to doing for many, many years to come. I don’t imagine I’ll ever lose my enthusiasm for maintaining SW Oregon Architect

Ten years from now, I expect the world will be much different. It’ll be interesting to see if my blog and I are different too. 

(1)   By way of comparison, the King James Version of the Bible has a word count of 783,137 words; the entire Harry Potter book series contains 1,084,170 words. It’s crazy to think I’ve written so much.