Saturday, February 25, 2012

The New Now

The always excellent AIA Oregon Design Conference brings together speakers in architecture, design, art and other creative fields to spark far-ranging discussions that stretch our thinking as architects and human beings. Scheduled for April 26-28 at the Salishan Resort on the central Oregon coast, the 2012 edition of the biennial event will focus our attention on the “New Now.”

The organizers recently opened registration on the conference website. They’re still pulling together details and soliciting presentations but have announced a stellar roster of keynote speakers. They’ve challenged this group to set the tone for the conference, cause us to reflect, and provoke discussion and debate. Their presentations will be worth the price of registration by themselves:

After blazing a trail in the computer games world, Mark became a sustainable business entrepreneur. He founded Arcimoto, a manufacturer of affordable, sustainable vehicles that aims to be a driver in the green transportation space. Mark was peer selected as one of the Pacific Northwest’s clean technology Pivotal Leaders and is helping Oregon reshape its vision for new opportunities.

Carlos Jimenez 
A former University of Oregon Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Design Professor, Carlos is a Houston-based architect and a professor at Rice University. He is a frequent lecturer, juror and visiting critic at universities and cultural institutions throughout the world, and is a long-time jury member of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

This husband and wife architect team, with offices in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, is internationally known for their rigorous research into materiality, history and regionalism. Committed to green design, they employ aesthetic and technical innovation and a heuristic process to achieve exceptional results.

Walter Hood 
A provocative artist and landscape architect, Walter is a national leader in landscape design and place making. Working primarily in central Oakland where he is breaking new ground in urban design, he is known as a “community whisperer” for his ability at understanding what people want and need. His accolades include a Rome Prize and a National Design Award.

If past history is any guide, the tireless AIA Oregon/AIA Portland staff and organizing committee will assemble a complementary slate of speakers and sessions certain to generate, in their words, a “melee of the minds.”

Jeld-Wen has generously stepped up once again to serve as the conference’s title sponsor.

Our workaday demands too often distract us from why we became architects in the first place. We need to pause and reflect every now and then, recharge our batteries, and look at the big picture. The 2012 Oregon Design Conference is our perfect opportunity to do so.

The New Now is here. What has changed? What are the new models for thinking and doing? How should we adapt? What opportunity does the future hold? Plan on attending the 2012 Oregon Design Conference and pursue the answers to these questions. Gather with your fellow Oregon architects on the edge of the continent to reexamine our world. I’m going to be there. Are you?

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Visit the 2012 Oregon Design Conference webpage for information and to register. Make your room reservations now! Call the Salishan Spa & Golf Resort Reservation Department at 1-800-452-2300, and mention the "AIA Design Conference" to receive special rates starting at $149 a night.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Professional PIN-Up, February 15, 2012 (my photos)

For its February chapter meeting, AIA-Southwestern Oregon partnered with Design|Spring (the emerging professionals group, now a committee under the wing of AIA-SWO) and the University of Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) to produce the Professional PIN-Up. The event took place at Lawrence Hall on the University of Oregon campus and drew a rapt (and hungry) audience of students from the School of Architecture andAllied Arts

PIN-Up featured eight AIA-SWO member firms. Each firm showcased one of its current projects by discussing the design concept, design process, and dynamics of getting the job done. The latter aspect of the presentations was of particular interest to the students as it provided a glimpse into how “book learning” translates to the realities of professional practice. Extending the school-to-profession theme, each team elaborated upon the contribution of a young emerging professional to the execution of the featured project.

The following firms participated (their respective projects are listed in parentheses):
Jenni Rogers of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects presenting the VA Roseburg CLC Expansion project

In past years, AIA-SWO produced similar student/professional project review sessions; however, these “reverse critiques” tended to be poorly attended by students or failed to generate substantive discussions. The organizers of this year’s Professional PIN-Up attribute its success in part to re-branding of the meeting. The previous notion of a reverse crit (that is, student reviews of the professionals’ real-life projects) imposed what many students misguidedly believe was an unrealistic expectation upon them. Who were they to question the judgment of experienced professionals? Because this event was characterized merely as a “pin-up” by local firms, the students appeared much more comfortable, regarding it a learning opportunity rather than a gauntlet thrown down before them by the professional community.

All in all, the Professional PIN-Up was a hit: 206 Lawrence was packed and the energy was palpable. AIA-SWO will no doubt look to repeat its success in the future.

The evening benefitted from the contributions of two generous sponsors:

The Power to Pass, an online company providing exam review materials for engineers and building professionals. 

Track Town Pizza, my favorite pizzeria, provided sustenance for the starving students and professionals alike who participated in the Professional PIN-UP.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Taking Back the Reins

All readers of SW Oregon Architect need to check out Liz O’Sullivan’s clarion call for massive changes to how the architectural profession conducts its work and educates its young. Architects, Take Back the Reins is her urgent plea for a return to the basics of understanding building technology, good construction contract administration practices, and good agreements that include fair compensation and appropriate allocation of risk. Liz plainly spells out how failing to emphasize these fundamentals led to the erosion of our profession’s stature and why we must reverse this trend.

Liz is a fellow blogger, architect, and specifications writer whose blog Comments from a SpecWriter features some of the most pointed (and much needed) critiques about the practice of architecture you’ll find anywhere on the Web. Architects, Take Back the Reins is her latest common-sense treatise regarding what ails our profession. It deserves a wide audience, so I’m doing my part by featuring it here on SW Oregon Architect.

Liz asserts we focus too heavily upon design (the way a building is intended to look) rather than upon the “technical stuff.” She correctly reasons that disproportionately emphasizing aesthetics while failing to pay due attention to the entire spectrum of our duties as professionals will ironically result in the production of more bad design. That being said, I do not believe we can afford to shortchange the teaching of indispensable design skills in our schools of architecture, especially the ability to think critically and solve problems with an integrative eye.

A crucial challenge confronting architecture is the exponential growth in its complexity and scope. This development prompts specialization because it is increasingly difficult for architects to acquire detailed expertise in all areas of focus. The problem is essentially a budgeting exercise: how do we allocate limited resources (time and money) in the development of future architects? This cannot become a zero-sum game in which sacrificing design acumen is necessary to acquire critical technical know-how. Architects need to retain as broad a world-view as possible, one that applies a systems-thinking approach to every aspect of professional practice. We need to take back the reins, but in order to do so we can’t sacrifice our core duty as designers of the built environment.

Be sure to read the comments at the end of Liz’s post. There’s a lot of good stuff there from some of the growing number of architectural professionals who share Liz’s concern for the role of the architect in construction today. Bookmark or subscribe to her blog to read future posts and follow Liz on Twitter @LizOSullivanAIA. I’ve added Comments from a Spec Writer to my blog roll in the sidebar.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Hammurabi Design Awards

University of Portland Bell Tower by Soderstrom Architects, recipient of the 2011 Hammurabi Excellence Award (this and all other photos in this post courtesy of the Masonry & Ceramic Tile Insitute of Oregon)

The common materials of masonry—brick, stone, and concrete block—are at once both humble and brimming with potential. When assembled artfully by skilled masons in accordance with designs by talented architects and engineers, these materials are as rich and expressive as any others.

Builders have exploited masonry’s timeless attributes—its durability, human scale, varied textures and colors—throughout the entire history of civilization to powerful effect. Masonry’s relevance as a construction material has not waned in the 21st century; if anything, the durability, strength, and thermal mass of brick, stone, and block often render them materials of first choice when designing with sustainability in mind. 

I had the great honor to serve as a juror for the 2011 Hammurabi Awards Program produced by the Masonry & Ceramic TileInstitute of Oregon.(1) The biennial program honors innovative and unique building projects that feature the prominent use of masonry. My fellow jurors were Joe Van Lom, AIA of Architects Van Lom Group, and Kathy Dietrich, AIA, LEED AP of Architects Associative, Inc. All three of our firms are past recipients of Hammurabi awards.(2) The Institute presented the latest award winners this past Thursday during a posh luncheon at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland.

Joe, Kathy, and I actually convened last November at the Institute’s Portland office to review the 2011 entries. The quality of the submissions was uniformly excellent, so it was definitely a challenge for us to narrow the field. Nevertheless, we quickly arrived at a consensus regarding what we considered the attributes of outstanding masonry projects.

Our attention was drawn to projects in which masonry’s inherent properties were clearly understood and used to the greatest effect. We were attracted to obvious displays of skillful construction and reverence for the materials. We checked our aesthetic biases at the door and directed our focus upon the appropriate application of masonry to the design problems posed by each project.

We ultimately selected four Merit Award winners, three Honor Award recipients, and one outstanding project worthy of recognition with the Excellence Award. The winning projects (accompanied by our jury comments) are:

Excellence Award:

University of Portland Bell Tower, Portland - Soderstrom Architects
The University of Portland Bell Tower, completed in September 2009, is located at the spiritual and academic center of the university. The jury found the level of craftsmanship to be outstanding. The integration of brick and precast concrete elements, and the application of the Flemish bond patterning are particularly successful. The texture, coursing, and brick patterns all complement one another in the service of creating a unified whole. The result is a complete, finished little jewel.

Honor Awards:

(photo by Josh Partee)

Oregon State Hospital, Kirkbride Building, Salem - SRG Partnership/HOK
The Oregon State Hospital is the oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital building on the west coast. The project team completely rehabilitated the facility, restoring the historic building to its former glory while meeting Secretary of the Interior standards for historic district designation. The jury was impressed with the extensive restoration of the dilapidated hand-fabricated brick, an elaborate process that involved both delicate repairs to the mortar joints and more extensive repairs to its structural integrity. The completed project extends the life of an irreplaceable landmark so that it meets modern patient care standards. It stands as a testament to the timeless virtues of brick masonry.

Keizer City Hall & Police Facility - Group Mackenzie
The new Keizer City Hall & Police Facility provides a strong, new civic presence for the community. The jury admired the continuation of the ashlar-coursed block used at both the exterior and interior to unify the project. The contrast of the CMU with the exposed wood framing and decking was likewise effective and complementary. Overall, the jury regarded the Keizer City Hall & Police Facility as “a complete project,” well-conceived from start to finish.

St. Francis of Assisi Church, Bend - Becker Architects
The jury was attracted to the new St. Francis of Assisi Church because of the use of humble materials and its understated design. The contemplative aesthetic showcases the structural and expressive qualities of concrete masonry. The play of light across the exposed, textural block surfaces makes a particularly apt use of the material in this house of worship.

Merit Awards:

Verne A. Duncan Elementary School, Happy Valley - BBL Architects
This state-of-the-art, LEED Silver-certified project impressed the jury because of its high level of design for a budget-driven public facility. The City of Happy Valley’s design guidelines mandated a mixture of low-maintenance, natural building materials on the exterior of this new 61,000 s.f. elementary school. The client’s emphasis upon economical, high-performance building products was addressed by the architect’s use of both concrete masonry and brick. The result is a pleasing juxtaposition of colors and textures, one that appears richer than the budget would suggest.

Oxford Hotel, Bend - BLRB Architects
Despite being the tallest building in downtown Bend, the Oxford Hotel effectively reduces its scale by employing a variety of masonry products across various levels. The jury admired the way the building engages the streetscape while not overwhelming its neighbors. This feat was particularly impressive given the internal exigencies of hotel planning, which typically would have favored a looming tower rather than this modestly-scaled horizontal design.

Ramona Apartments, Portland - Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects
The Ramona Apartments caught the jurors’ eyes as a noteworthy example of the possibilities of brick masonry when applied to affordable housing. Located in Portland’s Pearl District, the project’s street level detailing provides a pedestrian scale that fits in well with this neighborhood context. Brick is a particularly suitable building product for use in an urban context because of its maintenance-free durability and rich appearance. This is a “fabric building” of the type that could easily bear repeated emulation throughout the city.

Hood River Middle School – Music & Science Building, Hood River - Opsis Architecture
This net-zero, LEED Platinum Music & Science Building complements an existing historic landmark main school building. Jury members noted how seamlessly the designers integrated the various “green” features (including photo-voltaic panels) into a historically sympathetic building. The selection of the harmonizing brick color blend and texture was particularly successful. The project stands as a model for future developments seeking to couple both traditional building methods with the latest sustainable design strategies.

Congratulations to all of the winners in the 2011 Hammurabi Awards program!

The Masonry & Ceramic Tile Institute of Oregon does a marvelous job of recognizing all of the parties who contributed to award-winning projects. These include not only the architects and masons, but also the structural engineers, general contractors, building owners, and others. Many were on hand at the Governor Hotel, making the luncheon an unqualified success. Kudos to Institute executive director Carl Lee and his assistant Jen Horace for orchestrating the 2011 Hammurabi Awards program. And thanks too for allowing me to play a part by participating as a juror. It was a blast!

(1)  Hammurabi was the sixth king of Babylon from 1792 BC to 1750 BC. He is known for the set of laws called Hammurabi's Code, one of the first written codes of law. His edicts included several pertaining to construction. Here’s an example: “If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm and the house collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.”

(2)  Robertson/Sherwood/Architects received a 2003 Hammurabi Excellence Award for the Eugene Public Library.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

AIA-SWO Intern Tour: Fern Ridge High Performance Lake House

The next Design|Spring intern tour (co-hosted by AIA-Southwestern Oregon and the Eugene branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council) will take place on Thursday, February 9 and feature the Fern Ridge High Performance Lake House designed by Jan Fillinger, AIA, LEED AP of Studio-E Architecture.

Jan is an architect with 20 years of experience in the practice of sustainable design that includes climate- and site-responsive buildings, non-toxic and sustainable materials, and integration of energy-efficient building systems. A major focus of his work is design that incorporates social and environmental responsibility and adds richness to people’s lives, so that they can live and work in uplifting, fulfilling environments.

The High Performance Lake House project is actually a campus of several carefully sited buildings overlooking Fern Ridge Lake: a 3,000 sf artist studio and workshop, a two-car garage, and a 2,800 sf high-performance residence. The overall project is characterized by creative geometries and innovative use of industrial materials. The high-performance residence implements many sustainable features and concepts throughout the design and utilizes recycled materials in both its structure and finishes.

The sustainable features include:
  • Super insulation
  • Tuned sunshading
  • 5 kW photovoltaic panels
  • Thermal solar hot water panels
  • Double-stud 12” wall construction
  • Passive solar design & orientation
Here are the particulars:

What: Fern Ridge High Performance Lake House

Where:  26272 Fern Ridge Drive, Junction City, OR
  • If leaving from Eugene include at least 20 minutes to commute
  • If lost call Jan @ 541-359-5513
When: Thursday, February 9 – 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM

Architect:  Jan Fillinger, AIA, LEED AP of Studio-E Architecture

Carpooling will be available! Email for more information.