Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

The holidays keep me busier and amp up my stress level more than most any other time of the year. Not surprisingly, December has typically been the month during which I generate the fewest blog posts. This final one for 2011 is admittedly about stat-padding; my motivation in part is to exceed last year’s overall number of posts.  

My inspiration for this entry comes from Bob Borson and his blog Life of an Architect. Bob is a prolific, plain-spoken, and entertaining blogger. His accessible and self-deprecating writing style is totally absent of snobbish posturing and pretense. Not surprisingly, he has become immensely popular and a social media guru (at least among a significant subset of Web 2.0 navigators interested in architecture and design). Life of an Architect is easily among the best blogs written by an architect.

Bob recently listed his favorite posts for 2011 and the top ten Life of an Architect entries as tracked by Google Analytics.(1)  I decided to do something similar because I am: a) lazy; and b) intent on posting anything to attain my goal of topping 2010’s post count. In my case however I’m listing the five SW Oregon Architect pages most-visited through 2011 (though not necessarily written during the past year). Click each post title below to jump directly to the actual page:

House VI by Peter Eisenman

1.  Influences: Christopher Alexander & Peter Eisenman
Far and away, more eyeballs found my post about Christopher Alexander and Peter Eisenman than any other during 2011. I attribute this to blogging about both architects at once: their infamous 1982 debate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design prompts those interested in that event to search for both. My post consequently rises to the top of web searches about the two architects. It’s amazing to think that serious scholars seeking insight about Alexander and/or Eisenman may be reading my blog. 

Matthew Knight Arena (my photo)

2.  Matthew Knight Arena Sneak Peek
My account of the construction-period open house at the now-completed Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene is actually the most popular post overall since I started blogging back in 2008. The Oregonian newspaper linked my blog to an article it published about the arena at the same time. For several days thereafter, hundreds of visitors clicked the link on the Oregonian’s page and found their way to SW Oregon Architect. Visitors are still regularly finding that post as evidenced by its number two ranking for 2011.

John Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes (my photo)

3.  June AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap
The June AIA-SWO chapter meeting featured another new University of Oregon building, the John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes. I characterized the project as a “lightning rod in the escalating debate that has pitted athletics against academics on the University of Oregon campus.” That it is, but the design by ZGF is also the recipient of numerous awards including a National Honor Award for Interior Architecture from the American Institute of Architects and an AIA-SWO People’s Choice Award.

Benton County Historical Society & Museum (rendering by Allied Works Architecture)

4.  A Museum for Corvallis
Interest in the work by Brad Cloepfil and his firm Allied Works Architecture (AWA) is growing, particularly since the completion of several commissions for prominent museums across the country (including the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver and the Museum of Arts & Design in New York). This may be why my post about AWA’s unbuilt design for the very modest Benton County Historical Society &Museum in Corvallis garnered so many hits.

Lane Community College Downtown Campus (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects with the SRG Partnership and Pyatok Architects)

5.  Filling the Pit
This post about the conceptual design phase for the new Downtown Campus for LaneCommunity College is among the most satisfying that I have written. This is because I am a member of the project team and proud of the design and the promise it bodes for a revitalized Eugene city core. I will continue to chronicle its progress as it moves through construction and occupancy.

Surprisingly, I did not actually write any of these most-visited posts during 2011. I’m not sure if this is a product of the cumulative effects of search engine optimization or a reflection of the quality of my posts of the past year; I like to think the former is the reason.(2)

I’m hopeful that 2012 will afford me greater opportunities to blog regularly. I wrote a post shortly after I started blogging about how enjoyable the pastime is for me. I truly believe writing SW Oregon Architect (as well as for My Green Palette’s Green Blog) helps me be a better architect. I expect the coming year to provide me with plenty of blogging fodder and look forward to writing about both local building news and architecture in general. 

Best wishes to all of you in the New Year!

(1)   According to Google, Google Analytics is “the enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness.”

(2)   Earlier posts seem to appear more frequently in and higher on search results lists.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Downtown Springfield Design Charrette: Final Report

Pin-up time at the Downtown Springfield Design Charrette (photo by SeenEugene)

I previously blogged about the successful Downtown Springfield Design Charrette organized by Design|Spring. The group’s charrette committee has now completed its final report documenting the event, which you can find at the following link:

The organizers thank each of the more than 30 citizens, business owners, and design professionals who took part in the November 12 event. The final report captures the ideas generated by the participants during the 3-hour workshop.

Site plan suggestions for Main Street's 500 block

Design|Spring encourages you to contact them at  with any questions or comments you may have about the charrette.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture has offered me several opportunities over the years to teach at the school; however, due to professional commitments I was never able to accept an appointment. The stars have finally aligned, so for the Winter 2012 academic quarter starting in January, I will be an adjunct member of the faculty, assisting Associate Professor Roxi Thoren with Arch 4/517 Context of the Professions.

Roxi’s course description outlines the content of the class and its objectives:

The professional degree curriculum largely follows the historic model of the academy: history, theory, composition, human, and ecological contexts inform why we make places, and are taught through readings, lectures, and labs.

The professional internship largely follows the historic model of the guild: material technology, construction, and business management explain how we make places, and are taught through hands-on experience.

This course bridges between the academy and the guild. Context of the Professions introduces students to the professional practice of architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and related careers. . .

. . . The purpose of this course is to introduce students to key aspects of professional practice; to teach basic professional skills; and to provide a setting for students to discuss their careers and begin to create the documents necessary for a professional career.

The National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB) mandates that schools of architecture include a professional practice curriculum to ensure continuing accreditation. NAAB stipulates the number of credit hours and the overall degree programs’ general content, and also periodically scrutinizes the schools’ curricula to validate conformance with minimum accreditation requirements. Every student pursuing a first professional degree from Oregon’s Department of Architecture must successfully complete the Context of the Professions course before graduation.

A class that prepares students for professional life by introducing them to the subject is clearly valuable. Providing students with the opportunity to interact with current practitioners would likewise be constructive. The Winter class will be the first Roxi has taught with assistance from a team of adjunct instructors who are practitioners. Previously, she relied upon graduate teaching fellows, some of whom did not possess significant real-world experience.(1)

Besides me, the members of Roxi’s new teaching team will be Travis Miller of atelier corbeau – art & architecture; Liza Lewellen of PIVOT Architecture; and Michael Sanchez of Shirmer Satre Group. Travis is an old classmate of mine (we attended Oregon together) who practiced for many years in Juneau, Alaska. He and I will lead lab sections for the students majoring in architecture. Liza will do the same with the interior architecture majors, and Michael will be assigned the landscape architecture students. Travis, Liza, and Michael have all previously held adjunct positions at the school.

The four of us sat down recently with Roxi to review our teaching responsibilities. These include attendance at twice-weekly lectures or panel discussions, as well as meeting with two separate groups of students in lab settings per week. Roxi estimates our time commitments as .2 FTE, or 88 hours for the course, divided among lectures, labs, readings, grading, course development, and teaching team coordination meetings. The lab sections segregate undergraduate and graduate students from one another (the school expects graduate students to engage in a higher number of hours per credit earned, primarily through a greater commitment to individual readings and lab assignments).

College kids look younger than ever to me.

My greatest concern is whether I will successfully connect and communicate with younger students.

Roxi commented about how "Millennials"(2) are so digital that those of us raised in an analog age do not always understand how their minds work. For example, fewer and fewer students choose to meet with faculty during open office hours. They are most comfortable text messaging, favoring digital interaction over face-to-face contact. They possess their own social rules and unique sets of values. Some social scientists even claim the minds of today’s students are wired to process information differently than older generations.

I haven’t spent a lot of time around college-aged kids since I myself was one more than a generation ago (I definitely stand on the opposite side of the proverbial “generation gap”). To say the least, the instructor-student dynamic will be revealing for me.

The University does offer a Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP). I’ll take advantage of TEP and its wide range of workshops and individual consultations to hone my teaching skills. The program will help me provide students with the education, guidance, and feedback they deserve.

It doesn't hurt that I have been a visiting critic at UO student design reviews for many years. I’ve always enjoyed the role of reviewer; my enthusiasm for academic exchange and the spirit of inquiry will now serve me well as an instructor.  

This will be an opportunity to share my professional experience with fledgling design professionals eager to make their way in a rapidly changing world. I look forward to instilling in the students a respect for the professions they will soon enter, as well as a greater awareness of the opportunities that await them. They should understand professional ethics, the legal context within which they will practice, and their duty as leaders of the future.

I want to fulfill everyone’s expectations: Roxi’s, those of my fellow teaching team members, and most importantly the expectations of the students who will be placed under my charge. I fully expect teaching will be a rewarding experience, one that will make me a better architect all-around.

(1)  Roxi did enlist seasoned design professionals to participate in lectures and panel discussions.

(2) Generally characterized as young adults born after 1982.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

AIA-Northwest & Pacific Region Associate Director

Our illustrious AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Directors (Greg Kessler, AIA and Bill Seider, AIA) have issued a call for nominations to the position of Northwest & Pacific Region Associate Director (RAD). The outgoing RAD is AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s own Shawn Jenkins, Associate AIA. Shawn is completing his two-year term of service at the end of this year.

If you’re an Associate member of the AIA assigned to one of the components (chapters) within the Region, you are eligible for this appointment. It is an excellent opportunity to become involved with the American Institute of Architects while representing the interests of your fellow emerging professionals.

The main job of the RAD is to carry the flag for the Northwest & Pacific Region as a member of the National AssociatesCommittee (NAC). In this role, the RAD provides information and leadership to AIA Associate members throughout the Region. The RAD addresses local, regional and national issues and contributes to the shaping of new governance policies.

The RAD serves as a resource to AIA National regarding issues that affect Associate members, by providing regional feedback and comment. He or she maintains regular contact with the NAC Chair, NAC ExCom, and other RADs. The RAD also fosters expanded interest in the program, encourages growth of the profession, acts as a mentor, builds relationships, creates goals for the Region, and disseminates knowledge.

The RAD receives some financial support from the Northwest & Pacific Region and AIA National. Additional funding for attending meetings needs to come from other sources such as the RAD’s place of employment. The selected candidate is required to attend the NAC Conference, Grassroots Leadership Conference, AIA Convention, and the NWPR Region Conference.

This is great opportunity for anyone who enjoys traveling and meeting new people. The chance to get to know one’s peers from around the country and make lasting friendships is a tangible reward for serving as the RAD.

For more information about all the responsibilities of the RAD please click here.

Greg and Bill encourage all Associate members to review the application materials and consider applying for this important position. If you have questions please do not hesitate to contact AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Executive Director Stan Bowman for further information.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Automobiles and Architecture

Section analysis of Le Corbusier's Voiture Minimum (from the book Voiture Minimum. Le Corbusier and the Automobile by Antonio Amado Lorenzo)

The time has come for me and my wife to get a new car. Buying a car is not something I look forward to because there’s always the fear that we will spend more than we should or end up with a vehicle we’re less than happy with. My dread of buyer’s remorse hovers menacingly over the entire affair. There’s also my predisposition to paralyzing over-analysis, a byproduct of my background and training as an architect. It’s a draining and angst-ridden experience.(1)

Do we really need a new car? We’ve always had two (we even had three vehicles between the two of us for a brief while). If we could truly be responsible stewards of the environment, we’d make do with only one. Cars pollute. They’re rapacious consumers of non-renewable resources. They isolate us from our communities by fostering an alienating and unsustainable landscape of placeless strip malls and freeway interchanges. And yet North Americans are addicted to their autos.

Regrettably, we’re no exceptions. We do rely on two cars because our individual commitments and schedules require them. The dilemma in this country is that our urban environments are not conducive to abandoning our motoring ways nor has there been the will to develop comprehensive alternative modes of transportation that might overcome the primacy of the automobile.

On the plus side, we do eke out every mile possible from each one we’ve owned. Our new vehicle will replace a now decrepit 1989 Honda Civic DX 4-door sedan. It’s served us very well for over 23 years (we purchased it new in 1988) but its time has come. Our other car is a 2001 Subaru Outback wagon, which we hope will be serviceable for nearly as long.

Being an architect, I tend to obsess more about form and function than the average car buyer. For me, purchasing a new car is similar to the process of architectural design. Like a building design problem, we need to settle upon a functional brief, a program so to speak. What kind of vehicle do we need? What model do we want? Are we looking for a coupe, a sedan, or an SUV? How important is performance? How much can we afford to spend?    

Then there is the matter of design. I cannot separate appearance from utility. They should be mutually supportive. I find beauty in the elegant resolution of problems, wherein the maximum effect is achieved with an economy of means. I appreciate the prudent application of innovative concepts, so I favor cutting- but not bleeding-edge technologies. I try to avoid the whims of style and fashion; instead, I prefer more timeless and organic notions of what looks good such as those based upon proportion, symmetry, and harmony. I abhor self-indulgence and opulence for its own sake.

Buildings convey meaning and so do automobiles. The dawn of the motoring age famously inspired the architecture of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright among others.(2)  In his book Automobiles by Architects, Ivan Margolius wrote about how the seductive beauty of the latest car models beguiled and influenced the early modernists:

“A number of well-known architects liked to pair the architecture of their houses with their favorite automobiles in order to illustrate the close functional and aesthetic relationship between them. Some believed that their cars had to 'look becoming to' their architecture, and included automobiles in perspective views and photographs of their completed buildings, the result being a harmonizing composition of the two elements that stressed their close affinity.”

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Car

Le Corbusier and noteworthy architects since have understood the iconic power of automobiles to symbolize the prevailing zeitgeist. Many applied the principles of automotive technology and design to their architecture. Some like Corb, Wright, Walter Gropius, Buckminster Fuller, and most recently Zaha Hadid even proposed their own motorcar designs.

Zaha Hadid's Z.Car

Because they are (usually) less expensive than buildings and automotive design evolves more quickly than architecture, it’s possible that cars more precisely reflect who their owners are at a given station in their lives than, say, the owners’ homes. Architects are notoriously image-conscious; by association, their choice of wheels probably says something about the kind of architects they are.

So, what type of car should my wife and I buy? What kind of architect am I?

I’m image-conscious but it’s not my goal to purchase a vehicle to make a statement or as a status symbol. This is much more of a problem-solving exercise: we need to replace an old car with a new one that similarly provides economical, safe, and functional transportation. I do however want it to look good at the same time.

We’re leaning toward purchasing a hybrid vehicle, specifically the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan. We’ve considered and test-driven several other vehicles, including the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, Ford Escape Hybrid, and Ford Fusion Hybrid. The bottom line is that it appears the Civic offers us the best combination of features we’re looking for.

The Civic Hybrid’s fuel economy is very good (44 city/44 highway/44 combined EPA rating) but not as good as the Prius. Nevertheless, the Civic’s combination of handling, style, and fuel economy swayed us. If our own past experience is any guide, Honda will again live up to its reputation for reliability and we’ll enjoy many years of happy driving if we end up purchasing one.

We originally thought we’d get a Prius but quickly changed our mind. Contrary to some reviews I read, we did not find the Prius accelerated, stopped, or maneuvered as well as the Civic Hybrid. The Prius felt sluggish off the line and Toyota’s regenerative braking system exhibited excessive fade. It also felt much heavier than the Civic, most notably in turns. The deciding factor, however, was the Prius’ incredibly poor rear and rear quarter window visibility. It simply felt unsafe driving the vehicle. The Prius is a bad design in this regard.

In hindsight I don’t think the Prius is an aesthetically pleasing car. This opinion is admittedly colored by our experience test-driving the vehicle. Regardless, it is somewhat clunky looking and patently different. It’s commonly known Toyota developed the Prius’ signature look so everyone instantly correlates the car with a sustainably minded ethos that aspires to save the planet by consuming less gasoline and generating fewer emissions.

Conversely, the Civic’s appearance is by no means idiosyncratic. If anything, the design borders on the generic for compact sedans. If you didn’t know what to look for, you wouldn’t recognize that the car is a hybrid. On the other hand, I find its form pleasingly spare and absent of pretense. It looks aerodynamic because it is. The Civic most closely matches what we’re looking for.

We did consider a conventional Honda Civic as well. Why spend thousands more for a hybrid if a conventional motor delivers only a marginal fuel economy penalty? It’s questionable whether we’d make up the cost difference in fuel savings over the life of the car. Nevertheless, we’re betting on the likelihood of rising gasoline prices in the future, which seems inevitable. Gloomily pessimistic, sure, but I fear paying more at the pump will be the least of our worries as humankind moves forward.

The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

I’m hardly an automotive enthusiast. On the other hand, being an architect means I do have a level of discernment useful to evaluating the merits of various car models. The ability to appreciate good design has universal applications. The skills required to evaluate architecture are equally applicable to the design of cars. We’ve done our research and allowed both sides of our brains to have their say. I’m hopeful we will have made the correct choice when we purchase the Honda Civic Hybrid.

(1) With the explosion of car buying and comparison information available on the Internet, the experience needn’t be as stressful as it almost always used to be. Access to pricing information helps to level the playing field.

(2) Le Corbusier’s enthrallment for les voitures was rooted in his fascination with industrial production processes and modern technology. He went so far as to dub his mass-produced single-family house prototype—his “machine for living”—the Maison Citrohan, a homonymic play on the name of the automaker Citroen. Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with the automobile prompted a different response. For better or worse, Wright foresaw how the car would open up the American landscape and how the freedom it promised would come to be regarded a birthright. His wider vision became Broadacre City, which if fully realized would have been the apotheosis of suburban sprawl: a totally automobile-reliant development pattern.