Monday, May 28, 2012

May AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Orchard Street Residence, Studio-E Architecture (rendering by Hopper Design + Illustration)

A significant reason for the growth of the AIA-SWO chapter membership in the face of the years-long economic downturn has been the consistently excellent programming of our monthly chapter meetings. The May program was no exception as we heard from three experts about the history, principles, planning, design, certification, and construction processes related to implementing the Passivhaus standard. 

Our presenters were:
Jan, Win, and James are enthusiastic Passivhaus proponents. They are fully committed to its principles and unapologetic in asserting the primacy of energy conservation above all other design considerations. They hold no doubt that the standard represents the straightest path toward achieving zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions in construction. 

In a nutshell, the Passivhaus standard is an objective, performance-based set of criteria focused upon energy efficiency. Literally translated as “passive building,” the Passivhaus standard originated in Germany in the early 1990s. Since then, thousands of Passivhaus-certified buildings have been constructed throughout Europe, including office buildings, schools, multi-family residential buildings, and even supermarkets. There are far fewer certified projects in the U.S. but that’s about to change as progressively more American builders and architects are embracing the standard. 

The Passivhaus standard governs not just heating and cooling energy, but overall building energy use, including baseload electricity utilization and energy used for domestic hot water. 

Developers of Passivhaus projects invest in insulation, super-efficient windows and doors, and an airtight shell, minimizing or eliminating the need for an active heating system. They recoup the extra costs associated with these measures by not spending heavily for boilers, furnaces, or large photovoltaic arrays. Of course, the exceptionally low energy demands also result in significant savings during the lifespan of Passivhaus buildings. 

Achieving the airtightness standard of 0.6 AC/H @ 50 Pa is especially challenging. Passivhaus system design utilizes heat-recovery ventilation to capture as much as 80-95% of the heat from exhausted air while providing superior indoor air quality. 

Designers use a specialized energy simulation tool to meet the performance targets in the most cost-effective manner possible. As Jan, Win, and James explained, the rigor and exactitude of the Passivhaus standard is necessary to ensure the targeted performance levels are achieved. Passihaus designers typically find that the projections of their computer models are extraordinarily accurate once the actual performance of completed buildings is measured. 

The three presented a series of worldwide examples of Passivhaus-certified projects. However, their recent Orchard Street residence right here in Eugene is a most compelling argument in favor of the Passivhaus strategies. 

In the Orchard Street Passive House, primary design strategies include:
  • Ultra-low energy use (maximum of 4.75kBtu/sq. ft. per year for space heating)
  • Super Insulation (combinations of closed cell and open cell spray foam, cellulose and rigid board insulation for R-85 Roof / R-70 Walls / R-90 Floor)
  • Thermal Bridge-Free Construction (double 2×4 wall assembly modeled in THERM 5.2)
  • Air Tightness 
  • High Performance Windows and Doors (Unilux UltraThermo triple pane, with U-0.12 and SHGC 0.5) 
  • High Efficiency Heat Recovery Ventilation (Zehnder ComfoAir 350, 84% efficient)
These impressive features aside, I found the Orchard Street residence noteworthy because of the obvious care and craftsmanship evident in the photographs presented by the team. 

Another local Passivhaus project is part of the 54-unit low-income Stellar Apartments development designed by Bergsund Delaney Architecture and Planning(1) for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. While a majority of the project will conform to the Earth Advantage energy standard, for comparison purposes one component will be built as a Passivhaus. If the design team’s life cycle analysis proves correct, the additional investment necessary to achieve Passivhaus certification will be worth it. The energy savings will more than compensate for the initial investment in additional materials required for the upgrade. 

The Stellar Apartments, Bergsund Delaney Architecture & Planning

Jan defended the fundamental emphasis upon energy conservation demanded by the Passivhaus design approach. He pointed out that the energy to operate a conventional home far outweighs the initial embodied energy to build it. Accordingly, he argued the Passivhaus strategy is the cheapest way to build if you take life cycle costs into account.

However, Passivhaus buildings are not necessarily green in other respects. Unlike LEED-certified projects, Passivhaus projects are not required to emphasize water reduction, use of recycled building materials, or sustainable site development. Indeed, its narrow focus upon energy conservation may be its ultimate shortcoming. Michael Fifield, FAIA questioned this single-mindedness relative to site selection and size, which can have a huge impact upon a project’s true carbon footprint.(2)  Likewise, I wonder if Passivhaus projects are truly exemplary once you factor in the entire suite of design considerations inherent in any project. For example, the standard does not underscore the healthful benefits of natural daylighting and attractive views, fixating instead upon sizing and arranging windows to manage solar gain and minimize heat loss.

Pursuing the Passivhaus approach certainly does not preclude embracing the full reach of LEED or the Living Building Challenge, which may be the most comprehensive and ambitious standard for sustainability in the built environment there is. 

Those who attended the May AIA-SWO chapter meeting left knowing a great deal more about the Passivhaus movement than before the presentation. I suspect our profession will soon regard many of the strategies espoused by Passivhaus advocates like Jan, Win, and James as essential instruments to be carried within our increasingly sophisticated sustainable design toolkit.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Big thanks to the May program industry sponsors, the Small Planet Workshop (hosting a Passivhaus workshop for AIA members very soon!) and SIGA, a Swiss company that develops and manufactures air tightness products for the high performance building industry. Their trainers and application advisors have industry knowledge and expertise that can assist you in the successful execution of your air tightness goals. Thanks too to the Eugene Water & Electric Board, our community sponsor. EWEB is committed to sustainability by meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
(1)  Bergsund Delaney retained Jan Fillinger as its Passivhaus consultant for the Stellar Apartments project.

(2)  After all, a certified Passivhaus that is located out of reach of sustainable modes of transportation or inefficiently occupies valuable land may be as ecologically costly as a less energy-efficient structure.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I’ve never wanted to commercialize my blog. You won’t find banner ads or pop-ups on SW Oregon Architect. It isn’t because I don’t think I’d earn enough income to justify their presence (I’d need a lot more eyeballs on my blog than is the case now to make that happen); it’s primarily a matter of wanting to keep my blog a personal venture. I regard it as a forum for my own education, commentary, and criticism. I’ve never viewed it as a way to generate pocket change.

I was approached this past week by Richard Taylor of FindTheBest is an unbiased, data-driven comparison engine website that organizes and presents data in a consumer-friendly format. Using the comparison engine, consumers can make quick and informed decisions based on what’s important to them. FindTheBest wants to become the definitive destination for finding the information people need to make choices.

The website obtains its information from three sources: Public databases, primary sources (manufacturer websites) and expert sources. A research team reviews all third party edits and listing submissions before approving them.

FindTheBest recently launched a comprehensive CAD software comparison that allows users to filter and sort their searches based on features, price, effects, and platforms. After filtering the initial results, users are able to compare products side-by-side to pick the software that best suits their needs.

Richard thinks readers of this blog will find the CAD software comparisons available at FindTheBest valuable and of high quality. I’m inclined to agree so I’ve added the link to its CAD comparison page in my “Sites of Interest” sidebar.(1)

I’m intrigued by FindTheBest because of its claim to present facts about consumer products “stripped of any marketing influence.” Given the proliferation of CAD software options and continual changes in the technology, we all can benefit from a tool which helps us distinguish objective information about competing products. 

(1) Richard said SW Oregon Architect will be added to the site's blog comparison listing. I guess I’ll see if such a listing results in more visits to my blog.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Excellence in Advertising

The Modern Fan Company – 2012 Excellence in Advertising Best in Class Campaign Award winner: Simple, powerful advertising; the composition, choice of color, and minimalism hit the mark.

Architectural Record has conducted its Excellence in Advertising Awards program every year since 1997. The magazine announced the winners of its 2012 competition this past Friday at the Grand Hyatt Washington during the 2012 AIA National Convention.

The Awards recognize the most effective ads in the building and design marketplace, and the companies and agencies that produce them.

I served as one of 10 jurors for the initial selection round of this year’s awards program. The members of the jury represented firms of every size working on all types of projects from across the country. Individually, we looked at the graphic design and content of over 170 print and online ads. Advertisements qualifying for the award included those published during the first quarter of 2012 in Architectural Record, in the January/February issue of Greensource, or run online during the same time period.

Besides me, the other jury members were:
The final selection committee—comprised of Chilton, Dosso, Kikoski, Lewis, Sorg, and Yoos—convened on March 28 to select the prize winners from those shortlisted by the larger jury. Laura Viscusi, Vice President for McGraw-Hill Construction Media, administered the entire awards program process.

The total number of award recipients—categorized as “Best in Class,” “Winner,” or “Honorable Mention”—was quite large:

Best in Class:

  • Armstrong Ceiling Systems Zban Advertising
  • The Modern Fan Co.
  • Hunter Douglas Contract Post & Beam
  • Rocky Mountain Hardware - Burchiellaro Design
  • Valspar – Periscope
Single Page:
  • Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc. –KleinMickaelianPartners
  • Holcim – Ricochet Partners
  • Technical Glass Products – Brandner Communications, Inc.
  • CertainTeed Gypsum – Think Tank Studio
  • Decoustics – Interrupt Marketing
  • Forms+Surfaces
  • Kawneer Company, Inc. – Function
  • Louis Poulsen Lighting
  • Morin – A Kinspan Group Company
  • Simpson Strong-Tie – Function
  • Soil Retention Products, Inc. – Drop Dead Design
Honorable Mention:
  • Centria – Pipitone Group
  • Construction Specialties, Inc. – Brian J. Ganton & Associates
  • Lutron Electronics
  • Western Red Cedar Lumber Association – Hunter Consulting International, Inc.
  • The Collins Company – DHX Advertising
  • Kornegay Design
  • Pella Corporation – The Integer Group

Online Ad Awards:

Best in Show Online:
  • Alcoa – Elevation Advertising
  • Georgia Pacific Gypsum – OMD Atlanta
  • FSB
Winners Online:
  • Centria – Pipitone Group
  • ClimateMaster
  • Forms+Surfaces
  • Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America, Inc. – The Ludlow Group
  • Rethink Wood
Honorable Mention Online:
  • Schindler – Point to Point Communications

User Engagement – Awards:

  • Autodesk
  • Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America, Inc. – The Ludlow Group
  • PPG Glass – Pipitone Group
Honorable Mention:
  • Centria
  • Ceramic Tiles of Italy
Laura Viscusi pointed out that "there is no single ad type that appeals to every architect.” Regardless, during my review of the ads it was apparent simple and strong imagery was most successful. It appears my fellow jury members concurred.

Architects are not advertising professionals but we are a discerning audience. We favor clean layouts, strategic use of open space, and attractive images. Less is very much often more. One main message or a few key points at most, are most memorable. Architects want to see the promoted product “in action,” proving that it works as claimed. We are drawn to ads that inspire imagination and creativity.

Because the essence of what we do is to create things, architects easily relate to the artistic challenges faced by the creative minds in advertising. Those who are fans of Mad Men are likely to channel their inner Don Draper when regarding the merits of a particular print or online campaign.(1)

I was flattered to be asked by Architectural Record to serve as a juror and honored by the opportunity. I do regret not attending this year’s AIA National Convention and taking part in Friday’s Ad Awards breakfast. Thanks to the on-the-ground tweets and blog posts from Record’s team of contributors, I can tell it was a well-attended and enjoyable event.

(1)   My wife watches Mad Men religiously but I have yet to view an episode.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Transformational Transportation

Chris Rall, Oregon Field Organizer at Transportation for America, contacted AIA-Southwestern Oregon Executive Director Don Kahle last week. He asked Don to marshal our chapter’s support for Congressman Peter DeFazio’s efforts as a member of the conference(1) committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate versions of the long-deferred transportation reauthorization bill. 

The form this support has taken is a letter of endorsement signed by the past-presidents of AIA-SWO, myself among them. Here’s the letter: 

Dear Congressman DeFazio:

You have been a champion for a reliable and robust transportation system for longer than most of us ever attend to a single project or problem. We watched nervously as the U.S. House transportation authorization bill went from bad to worse. Its lack of environmental protections and how it diminishes public transportation alternatives are just two of the worst features of H.R. 4348. But we don't have to tell you. You were there — not while it was being constructed behind closed doors — but you were there when it was announced.

Now the House bill is scheduled to be reconciled with the Senate's S.1813. Thank goodness you are there again, Mr. DeFazio! We want to encourage you to fight hard for the best alternatives to emerge from this conference. In almost every case, we believe the Senate bill will accomplish more good for more Americans than the House bill.


  • S.1813 provides local mass transit agencies greater flexibility with federal funds. During this recession, demand for transit alternatives is up, but fuel prices and decreased local revenue are forcing many systems to curtail services. The added flexibility won't relieve that pain, but it will help and it puts those hard decisions as close to the constituents as possible.
  • S.1813 provides local access to funding for community-based transportation initiatives. The Senate bill helps local communities build out a full transportation network under the “Additional Activities” program by sub-allocating funds to larger regions and offering competitive grants for others. Empowering local communities to program their tax dollars can spur economic growth, local civic pride, private investment, and better health and safety for everyone.
  • S.1813 contains provisions that prioritize the repair of our existing transportation infrastructure. Crumbling bridges need to be fixed, regardless of which government entity owns them. Citizens make no such distinctions — they hold government responsible for maintaining what we have. We all want a government that works together to solve hard problems and S.1813 provides some helpful framework to help that to happen more often and more easily. 
  • Although S.1813 has a disappointingly short duration, two years is better than nothing, which is how we have been functioning since 2009. That economic certainty will help everyone, and the jobs that construction will deliver to local economies couldn't come at a better time.
  • Finally, we like S.1813's requirement that states and regions develop and use performance measures in their long-range planning and short-term programming. Taxpayers want their dollars spent in a way that demonstrates performance and accountability. This represents a good step in that direction.
We urge you to include these provisions in the conference agreement. They represent significant reforms. These provisions have demonstrated bipartisan support, as a carefully crafted compromise. Thank you again for your leadership and we look forward to working with you to deliver a forward-looking transportation authorization bill. We're glad you're there.

AIA-SWO Past Presidents

Congress is supposed to prioritize the nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs and fund projects accordingly. Our representatives and senators wield the power to shape our communities for generations. The previous transportation bill expired on September 30, 2009 but lawmakers have kicked the proverbial can down the road ever since. The consequences of this failure to update America’s transportation policy will reverberate for years to come. We cannot afford further inaction and a lack of investment in our future.

With a new bill finally in conference, the AIA-SWO Past Presidents have added their voice to the debate. Don will hand deliver a hard copy of the letter to Congressman DeFazio's office in the nation’s capital this week while in town for the AIA 2012 National Convention.

(1) Conference is where the House and Senate reconcile their two transportation bills and produce a single final bill that both chambers will vote on. The Senate passed a two-year bill with changes to funding and policy, while the House passed a 90-day extension of current law simply as a vehicle for negotiation.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

AIA Bylaws Amendment 12-A

The AIA 2012 National Convention and Design Exposition takes place this week, May 17-19, in Washington, D.C. Most architects associate the annual convention with keynote presentations, vendor displays, educational sessions, and other activities of interest to or for the advancement of the profession. However, those attendees who are voting delegates are also aware of the convention’s essential purpose as the forum for deliberation of the Institute’s common issues. 

The Bylaws of the American Institute of Architects are routinely amended at the National Convention. In many instances, these changes are voted upon and passed with little discussion or fanfare. Invariably, though, there are proposed amendments which are controversial or divisive. These elicit spirited debate from the floor. They seldom survive without amendment themselves before final action. 

One such proposed modification is AIA Bylaws Amendment 12-A. If passed on Saturday at the Annual Business Meeting, Amendment 12-A would redefine the eligibility requirements for Emeritus membership. 

Under the current Bylaws, Architect members are eligible for Emeritus membership if they have been members in good standing for 15 successive years and are at least 65 years old. Thus, Architect members who have attained the age of 65 are eligible for Emeritus membership even if they have not retired from the profession of architecture. 

The Institute currently extends the same privileges, rights, and interests to Emeritus members as it does to all Architect or Associate members except that Members Emeritus are not required to pay regular or supplemental dues. They are also not required to maintain the right under law to practice and use the title Architect; however, forfeiture of that legal status is not at present a prerequisite to Emeritus status. 

Under the amended Bylaws, conditions for Emeritus membership would dramatically change: members would be eligible only if they are at least 70 years old and retired from the profession of architecture. In other words, if Amendment 12-A is passed, the Institute would only extend Emeritus privileges to members who are no longer practicing architects.(1) 

The Institute’s Board is forwarding this proposal to the Convention floor. It offers the following reasons for believing the amendment is necessary: 

Continuity: As life expectancy has increased, so has the period of active professional life—the change reflects those demographic patterns.

Consistency: The Bylaws amendment aligns Emeritus status with the requirements of many licensing boards by making retirement from professional practice a key criterion.

Fairness: Those whose livelihoods are derived from active professional practice benefit from Institute programs. They should continue to contribute to the AIA’s ability to provide those programs for as long as they benefit. 

The irony of the bestowing AIA Emeritus membership only upon those who have left the profession and are willing to forsake their legal stature as architects was not lost upon two of AIA Southwestern Oregon’s more seasoned and decorated members: Dick Bryant, AIA and Otto Poticha, FAIA. 

Under the current Bylaws, Dick will be eligible for Emeritus membership this September when he turns 65. As a member of the AIA-Southwestern Oregon board, he has been vocal in his opposition to the proposed amendment. The following is an excerpt from a recent message he posted online to the AIA KnowledgeNet Housing Knowledge Community Digest

“National and the big chapters are in an absolute panic because of the economy-driven loss of members and a decline in the number of new recruits. Rather than creating a sustainable financial structure for the organization, the Board became blinded by the go-go economy and the mistaken belief that AIA income and membership roles would continue to increase on an always-up line on the graph. Because of that flawed attitude and image of the future, AIA National plowed ahead and managed to tear the hull open just below the waterline. 

Instead of taking major steps to cut the operating expenses, the Board has made the decision to cut revenue loss by nibbling around the edges. One of the edges that the Board has unwisely decided to attack in their search for revenue is the bylaw related to Emeritus Membership status. 

I believe the Board has made a serious miscalculation in their decision to alter the Emeritus Membership bylaw. They seem to be of the belief that longtime members of the AIA, who would have been eligible for Emeritus membership classification under the current rules, will simply roll over quietly and continue to pay membership dues. The Board seems to have forgotten that folks of my generation are the ones who managed to change the AIA from the bottom up and to do away with the elite old-guard approach that mandated from the top down. We still do act on our convictions. 

Should the proposed Bylaws change be approved by the membership the effect will be that AIA will lose not only my future dues but also the volunteer services of a longtime member and promoter of the AIA.” 

Fundamentally, he regards Amendment 12-A as symptomatic of a sclerotic organization that has lost its way. In a desperate and shortsighted attempt to prop up its fiscal health, Dick believes the AIA is willing to alienate some of its longest-tenured members rather than address its structural problems. 

In his inimitable way, Otto likewise expressed incredulity at what he believes to be is faulty logic employed by the Institute in crafting its proposed amendment: 

“This is not a way to offer some reward or respect for those members that have given at least 40 years of resources, time and energy to the Institute. This will encourage these members to resign from the Institute and tell the board where to put their eagle . . . 

Why is the AIA dealing with State licensing matters? Having Emeritus standing with the AIA would [if the amendment passed] limit one using their seal on documents—stupid and really stupid. If an architect wants to keep paying for their state license that's all it takes to practice. Architects seldom really retire and will still do some work, maybe their most significant work. This is like the artist or musician not working or playing anymore. . . Using the title of architect is more relevant than [using the acronym] AIA . . . and we all know that. My hope is those in the Emeritus category should be encouraged, not penalized. They might have more time to offer to the profession and the institute.” 

Otto will travel to Washington to voice his opinion on the convention floor and at all of the regional meetings. If the measure is approved, he vows to resign his membership and encourage other members affected by the change to do the same. 

AIA-SWO’s own Bill Seider, a member of the Institute Board and one of our AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Directors, offered a response to Dick and Otto: 

“. . . these Bylaw Amendments and other new and ongoing AIA programs are not the result of one single person, the executive committee, a group of the Board, staff or members. These things are talked about for months (and sometimes years) in advance of the general membership seeing them for a vote. They are the result of committees and task forces, meetings and conference calls. We have been discussing them at the regional meetings and on our phone calls for some time now. In the end it is going to come down to each chapter analyzing how these bylaws affect their own membership and then voting accordingly. These are important changes being proposed and that is why we are getting to vote on this, and it is not just being passed down as a Board Policy. 

I also want to report to you all that today I saw copies of a few e-mails from other chapters indicating that they have had similar concerns that our region/chapter has brought up, and that there will likely be amendments from the floor presented by at least one group on the Emeritus issue. That one will likely move to strike the issue of practice from the language and just set the age back to 70.”  

If changing the age requirement from 65 to 70 remains the only aspect of the proposal that is preserved, Bylaw Amendment 12-A may become palatable to a majority of the delegates. Regardless, Dick and the other members of our AIA-Southwestern Oregon Board of Directors recently voted to not support both of the bylaws amendments that are on the current ballot.(2) 

To learn more about Bylaws Amendment 12-A click this link: 

Come to your own conclusion. Dick and Otto have arrived at theirs. 

“Design Connects” is the theme of the 2012 National Convention but it may instead be remembered years from now as a watershed moment for the Institute. Change happens but I seriously question the AIA leadership’s judgment in bringing this particular amendment to the floor. Changing the eligibility rules as proposed for Emeritus membership would diminish the AIA rather than unite its constituents toward a common purpose.  

(1)  The Institute issued a response to questions regarding eligibility requirements for Emeritus membership. It clarified that Architect members would not be required to surrender their licenses or their seals in order to become Emeritus members. However, upon attaining Emeritus membership they would be restricted from affixing their seal to a document indicating that it may be used for regulatory approval, permitting, or construction.

(2)  The other Bylaws amendment proposed by the Institute is 12-B, which would amend the Institute’s Bylaws to authorize the formation of a new International Region. The International Region would cover all geographic areas outside the United States and its territories and possessions. The problem with the prospect of a new International Region is that the Northwest & Pacific Region’s longstanding relationship with AIA Guam, AIA Hong Kong, and AIA Japan would be radically altered and jeopardized. Rather than strengthen the unique and well-established ties between these chapters and the other U.S. based chapters in the Northwest & Pacific Region, this amendment would toss their lot in with far-flung chapters in Europe and elsewhere.