Saturday, June 29, 2013

Whilamut Passage Bridge Opening Celebration

Rendering of the Whilamut Passage Bridge

The Oregon Department of Transportation invites everyone to take part in two upcoming events commemorating the opening of the new northbound Interstate 5 Whilamut Passage Bridge. One will be the official opening ceremony presided by Congressman Peter DeFazio. The other is a community celebration and bridge walk.

Family-friendly and fun for all ages, both events will take place in the Whilamut Natural Area of Alton Baker Park and will include brief presentations, project information and walking tours of the new northbound bridge. 

I’m particularly looking forward to these events because of my past connection to the project. I was a member of the “Design Enhancement Panel” whose role it was to ensure that aesthetic design details for the new Willamette River Bridge and surrounding area were interpreted in a cohesive way. 

Ultimately, ODOT selected three design enhancements for installation adjacent to I-5 north and south of the bridge, and two design enhancements for the north bank of the Willamette River under the Canoe Canal Bridge and in the Whilamut Natural Area west of I-5. The enhancements focus on elements of the Kalapuya culture and efforts to restore native vegetation in the Whilamut Natural Area. I may be mistaken but I don’t believe the design enhancements have yet been fully executed. 

Here are details about the opening ceremony and community celebration events: 

Opening ceremony with U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio: 10 AM, Friday, July 26.

Community celebration and bridge walk: 11 AM – 2 PM, Saturday, August 3. A brief ceremony will start at 11:30 AM Saturday.

Celebrations will be held north of the Knickerbocker Bridge in the Whilamut Natural Area of Alton Baker Park.

ODOT encourages attendees for both occasions to use alternate modes of transportation. There are nearby bus stops and many bicycle and pedestrian routes to the natural area. Senior and disabled parking will be located in Lot 9 off of Leo Harris Parkway. A courtesy shuttle will transport those from the senior and disabled parking area to the event site.

For more information: Nichole Hayward, Public Involvement Coordinator, (541) 484-7052

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

It would be more accurate to characterize the June 2013 AIA-SWO chapter meeting as a joint event with our colleagues from the Willamette Valley Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA Oregon). Indeed, the title of the evening’s presentation—“Blurred (Di)Vision”—served to highlight the focus upon cross-disciplinary collaboration and the power of integrating building and landscape design efforts. 

The program featured four different AIA/ASLA member teams. Each team presented projects that exemplify the power of collaborative design. Every example went well beyond merely (in the words of David Dougherty, ASLA) “shrubbing things up.”

David Edrington, AIA & Brad Stangeland, ASLA
David and Brad (Stangeland & Associates) presented two extraordinary projects separated by a quarter century commissioned by and for the same client: the Lewis Garden and the Mary’s River House, both for Todd Lewis and his family. In both instances, the traditional architect/landscape architect dynamic was flipped on its head as David’s firm was retained by Brad’s as a consultant and not the other way around. Their working relationship was greatly abetted by the fact (at least at the time of the Lewis Garden project) both firms worked in the same building.

The Lewis Garden project involved the creation of truly usable garden rooms of great character through the use of new architectural features to positively shape outdoor space. Todd Lewis purchased the vacant property neighboring the one his house sat upon, greatly expanding the scope of the garden project to ½ acre. David and Brad produced a single set of documents featuring drawings both designers literally worked on together. 

Mary's River House: landscaping and wetlands
Todd Lewis selected the site for his Mary’s River House to be immediately adjacent to sensitive wetlands. David and Brad designed the home as a lens to focus views and attention upon the natural setting, while paying requisite attention to such issues as the elevation of the flood plain, prevailing winds, and appropriate architectural character.  

John Lawless, AIA & Rick Satre, ASLA
I find it hard to believe it’s already been twelve years since several Eugene-area design firms came together as a coalition to collaboratively develop a plan for reopening a three-block stretch of Broadway between Oak and Charnelton Streets in downtown Eugene to vehicular traffic. The effort was just one of an ongoing series of developments then and since that have helped revive the once moribund street. At the same time, the team also worked with local designer Scott Wylie to design Kesey Plaza at Broadway’s intersection with Willamette Street. 

The intersection of Broadway & Willamette

The allied firms included TBG Architects & Planners, Robertson/ Sherwood/Architects, WBGS (now PIVOT Architecture), Satre Associates, and Balzhiser & Hubbard Engineers. All of the firms were located on Broadway or very nearby, so they stood to be beneficiaries of the hoped-for improvements. 

John (TBG) and Rick (Schirmer/Satre) recalled the camaraderie fostered by the collaboration. They also described the enjoyable process of engaging Broadway merchants and other users by means of a “rolling charrette,” literally using a cart as a platform for creating and sharing design ideas, block by block. 

The City of Eugene was another member of the coalition, and was responsible for actually producing the construction documents for the project. John spoke of his concern at the time that the City would be a difficult partner because it was not accustomed to working with private sector designers on a public works project. As it turned out, the City largely proved to be cooperative and willing to work with a truly creative team.

Scott Stolarczyk, AIA & Justin Lanphear, ASLA
Scott (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects) and Justin (Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning) described their collaborative effort to design the sparkling new Regional Health & Education Center for Planned Parenthood of Eugene/Springfield in Glenwood on Franklin Boulevard. Its location in Glenwood would present several interesting design challenges, including having to deal with the absence of any public storm-water infrastructure and anticipating the City of Springfield’s plans for the future realignment of Glenwood Boulevard (including the introduction of a roundabout). Compounding the site design issues were the project’s inclusion of 40 geo-exchange wells to provide a constant source of energy for heating and cooling the building, and also the unique security demands presented by Planned Parenthood’s sometimes controversial mission. 

Planned Parenthood green roof and interior courtyard

Scott and Justin responded with a thoughtful design that successfully addresses the project’s constraints and opportunities. They created oases for storm-water management, and worked together to shape the structure to ensure generous access to daylight and views for all building occupants. These views include outlooks over a green roof from a portion of the upper floor level. Scott and Justin also incorporated areas of pervious pavement and provisions for outdoor art (including a row of colorful bicycle racks taking the shapes of supersized IUDs). 

Jim Lewis, AIA & David Dougherty, ASLA
Jim (gLAs Architects) and David (DLA Landscape Architecture) truly exemplified the power of melding building and site design to creative and powerful effect. They presented four separate projects, each of which it would be difficult to imagine the design of the landscape without the architecture and vice versa. 

The first project Jim and David described was their design for the Cow Creek Tribal Center. The two took inspiration from the partially buried plank houses of the indigenous peoples, as well as the woven patterns of their sophisticated basketry. They incorporated these inspirations into the design of the facility, providing users of the Tribal Center with accessible and familiar motifs.

Jim and David conceived the Oregon Coast Community College project as a “clearing in the forest” providing a wind-protected series of outdoor spaces on a formally bare site. The architecture and landscaping alike reflect the coastal environment. The site design specifically employs the vocabulary of a coastal estuary to unify the design, treat storm-water in a naturalistic way, and trace circulation paths through the complex.

Cal Young Middle School courtyard
The next featured gLAs/DLA project was Cal Young Middle School in Eugene. Largely inward focused toward its courtyard, David organized the school’s landscaping around complex geometric patterns.

Finally, Jim and David proudly described their design for the new National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The entrance to the facility bridges over a pre-existing seawater return channel. David skillfully re-imagined the channel as a natural waterway, which the Center’s staff now dubs “NOAA Creek.”

*    *    *    *    *
The AIA-SWO Program Committee envisions partnering with ASLA to make the joint meeting an annual event. The plan for next year is to feature similar collaborations, so start thinking about what your design team will want to present. The committee hopes to procure a larger projection screen (Chuck Bailey, AIA admonished the presenters for employing images that were too small to be viewed satisfactorily from across the room) and perhaps a different venue (one that might better “blur” the line between indoors and out).

AIA-SWO thanks Arica Durkhoop-Galas and ASLA for organizing the June meeting. As always, big thanks also go to Design|Spring for its logistical support, and to the staff of The Actor's Cabaret for its hospitality and great food. Finally, AIA-SWO gratefully acknowledges the support of the Pacific Capital Resource Group, sponsor for the June chapter meeting.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Cost of Doing Business

Aerial view of Eugene City Hall, circa 1964
After a seemingly interminable selection process, the City of Eugene this past Friday issued a notice of intent to award the responsibility for designing a reinvigorated City Hall to the team led by Rowell Brokaw Architects (RBA) of Eugene. Ultimately, City Manager Jon Ruiz made the choice, which came down to a decision for him between RBA and THA Architecture of Portland.

The City originally characterized the selection process as comprised of two stages: 1) evaluation by a selection committee of written responses to the Request for Proposals; and 2) interviews with teams conducted by the committee, which would forward its recommendation to Ruiz. A total of seven teams submitted proposals:  

  1. Rowell Brokaw Architects  
  2. THA Architecture 
  3. Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (the firm I work for)
  4. Poticha Architects
  5. Skylab Architecture
  6. PIVOT Architecture
  7. TVA Architects
Of this list, the three highest scoring teams—THA Architecture, Rowell Brokaw Architects, and Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (RSA)—moved on to the round of interviews. After the selection committee scored each of the interview presentations, it determined that THA achieved the highest point total (92.1), followed closely by Rowell Brokaw (88.6). Alas, RSA ranked third across the board (76.0), so my firm’s pursuit of the City Hall project would come to a disappointing end. 

If the City chose to respect the process outlined in its own RFP, it would have selected THA Architecture then and there. However, it became clear those who questioned the absence of citizen participation in the selection process had Jon Ruiz’s ear.(1) In response, Ruiz appointed an altogether new committee comprised of ten community members to help him come to a final decision about which firm to award the project to. 

The City would require both THA and Rowell Brokaw to effectively be interviewed a second time, to jump through another, unexpected hoop. This took the form of separate presentations before the citizens committee and interested members of the public. The City encouraged members of the public in attendance to provide written comments, which Ruiz would consider in addition to recommendations from the committee. 

I sat in the audience during the May 15 public presentations. I thought Rowell Brokaw and THA both performed superbly. I know each firm and its respective team members are more than qualified to do the work. I’m happy for RBA but also feel badly for THA, which despite having equally expended blood, sweat, and tears, is consigned to the status of an also-ran alongside the rest of us who vainly sought the project. 

Expending significant resources in pursuit of a design commission is part of the cost of doing business these days. To have a shot at the most desirable and prestigious jobs, architects often have no choice but to pull out all the stops and invest heavily in flashy proposal documents and presentations. They spend countless hours honing their message and assembling the best consultant team possible. In many instances, this involves bringing in heavy hitters from outside the immediate area.(2) The concomitant costs these team members incur for staff travel and time away from billable activities add up very quickly. 

Firms are increasingly disposed to skewing the “risk/reward” ratio irrationally toward the “risk” end of the spectrum knowing that to do otherwise is to surrender any hope of securing the prize. In the case of Eugene City Hall, it is worth questioning whether the scope of the “reward” can possibly justify the lengths to which Rowell Brokaw and THA were compelled to go. After all, the total direct construction budget is estimated at only $11 million. From a dollars and cents perspective, the City Hall project will not be a windfall for RBA. If their effort was anything like ours, they invested tens of thousands of dollars in resources and redirected the energies of productive staff away from paying jobs in pursuit of the project. For smaller firms with less robust balance sheets, such marketing expenditures can be crippling if they are not always fruitful. 

Firms are also too willing to go above and beyond in an effort to set themselves apart. It isn’t enough anymore to simply communicate how the client might derive greater value from your services than from your competitors or to display a winning team chemistry. No, you need the marketing resources of a Fortune 500 company too and a sizeable portfolio of award-winning, net-zero ready, LEED-certified, and gorgeously photographed projects of exactly the type and size proposed for the task at hand. This is an unsustainable arms race, one in which clients like the City of Eugene are complicit abettors and one that will always favor larger, established firms. 

Is there a better way to select the most qualified firms for significant publicly funded projects? If there is, I’m not aware of it. The alternative methods that come to mind have their shortcomings too. Design competitions can be exploitive and by their nature do not integrate stakeholders’ input during the important early stages of a design’s iterative process. Selecting a firm from a pre-qualified pool of candidates can work for smaller routine projects but is far less effective a strategy for larger, more complex commissions, particularly ones subject to intense public scrutiny. 

Do clients understand the disproportionate burden their consultant selection processes imposes upon firms interested in working with them? I like to think so. I don’t expect the City of Eugene to come up with a solution by itself to a universal problem as intractable for the architectural profession as this one. On the other hand, it would be nice if all public agencies planning to hire architects in the future gave greater thought to how they might level the playing field (perhaps by explicitly limiting types and quantity of required presentation media). Any qualified firm should have a fair shot at the most desirable projects. A system that unduly perpetuates selection based upon factors immaterial to the task at hand is a flawed one.(3)

(1) The City Hall design selection committee included eight members, of which only Hugh Prichard was not a city staff person.   

(2)  Rowell Brokaw’s team includes The Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle. Robertson/Sherwood/Architects likewise teamed up with an out-of-town firm, the SRG Partnership.

(3) I hope this post doesn’t come across as a case of sour grapes. Admittedly, I am frustrated by the rules of the game we are too often forced to play, which are inherently unfair to firms with limited resources at their disposal. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

South Willamette Concept Plan Update

I previously wrote about the City of Eugene’s development of its South Willamette Concept Plan. In the year since that post over 600 members of our community have helped refine and advance the plan. The City recently published its final draft of the document, which has already been endorsed by the Planning Commission and now is ready for presentation to the Eugene City Council. 

Some of the updates to the plan in response to input from stakeholders include a reduction in the allowable height of buildings (from seven to five stories, with setbacks at three stories), allowing row-houses in specific areas only, allowing more non-retail mixed use along Willamette Street, leaving options for the Willard Elementary School site open, and eliminating target areas for extra density. Envision Eugene’s overarching principle of compact urban development remains. The plan lays the groundwork for a thriving, compact, livable, and connected neighborhood where services for residents are available within a 20-minute walk in any direction. 

The South Willamette Concept Plan has been somewhat overshadowed by the vigorous debate about the future form of Willamette Street, especially whether the City will reduce the number of vehicular lanes from the current four to as few as two. The results of Willamette Street Improvement Plan will refine the street design portion of the South Willamette Concept Plan; however, the City has been clear in stating the intent of its South Willamette Concept Plan is to more generally address the street-side character for the district as a whole and not solve Willamette Street’s specific transportation issues. 

I do understand the objections of many South Willamette Street business owners and commuters to change of any kind. I use Willamette Street for travel to and from work every day, and I’m not sure I would welcome seeing my daily commute lengthened. On the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that everyone recognizes how awful the stretch of Willamette between 23rd Avenue and 32nd Avenue is from a pedestrian’s or cyclist’s perspective. The absence of buffering from fast-moving traffic and the profusion of curb cuts present very real safety issues and a generally unattractive streetscape. 

The South Willamette Concept Plan illustrates how the street-side character of South Willamette Street can be vastly improved by implementing easy-to-understand design strategies. It likewise does a very good job of articulating the future look, feel, and structure for the entire study area. The plan is a holistic study of land use patterns, building form, street character set forth as a clear, illustrated vision for how each of these should contribute to a livable, thriving district capable of accommodating greater density over time. I am very impressed by how comprehensive, accessible, well-illustrated, and legible the South Willamette Concept Plan is. I’ve also been impressed by how thorough the City’s process has been for engaging the community, ensuring that all voices have been taken into account. Kudos to Trish Thomas, AIA, Robin Hostick, and the other City of Eugene staff responsible for shepherding the Concept Plan processes. 

The City notes how the plan is intended to result in tangible actions, such as code changes, but also acknowledges that a significant market gap will continue to inhibit needed redevelopment. Additional actions are needed, including community investment and partnerships. Without these efforts, Eugene will need to find another way to accommodate future population increases. I’d rather not see our urban growth boundary expanded in response to that growth. Fostering increased density that results in enhanced neighborhood livability is what the South Willamette Concept Plan is about.

Trish recently sent an email about the latest on the South Willamette Concept Plan to those in the community who’ve expressed an interest in the project. She noted the next steps for the plan will be the continued development of urban design and implementation tools, such as a form-based code, and to set in motion the desired future that emerged from the visioning process. She also included links to webcasts of the Planning Commission’s discussions about the Concept Plan, which occurred on April 15 and 22. Next up is the City Council presentation, which will include both the South Willamette Concept Plan and the Street Improvement Plan. That presentation will take place at noon this coming Wednesday, June 19 in Harris Hall (125 East 8th Avenue) and should also be available for viewing afterward as a webcast. 

Time passes quickly. Before we know it, much will have changed and we’ll have many more neighbors than we do now here in Eugene. They’ll need homes and places to work, play, shop, and go to school. We need to plan intelligently for compact, sustainable growth. The South Willamette Concept Plan is a very positive step toward a future we can all support.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

AIA-SWO Construction Tour: 1801 University Street

1801 University by Dustrud Architecture
Sited across the street from Howe Field, the new apartments at 1801 University Street will be located about as close to the University of Oregon as possible. Slated for an August opening, the 20-unit, five-story project anchors the southeast corner at 18th and University and will provide residents with great views from its rooftop deck over the UO campus to its immediate north. 

The twenty apartments include 3- and 4-bedroom units with large bedrooms and a centrally located common gathering area. Amenities include a full complement of appliances in each of the units (including a washer & dryer), free internet access, and air conditioning. The project also boasts enhanced security provisions (including secure underground parking, keycard access, and intercom), which further help set 1801 University apart from rival developments. 

Like other recent projects by its architect Dustrud Architecture, 1801 University is eco-friendly and energy-efficient. Among its many features, the development has 100% on-site storm water management and retention. 

1801 University is yet another in the burgeoning crop of student housing developments crowding an increasingly competitive market for upscale student housing near the University of Oregon campus. It is also among the first to be developed immediately south of campus, heralding a change in scale and character for the immediate area. 

What:  Construction tour of 1801 University Street 

When: Thursday, June 27th at 11:55 AM

Where: 1801 University Street, Eugene, Oregon. Meet at the northwest corner of 18th and University, by the Pioneer Cemetery.

Architect: Dustrud Architecture

RSVP:  Please RSVP by 5 pm Tuesday, June 25th to Julie Romig at or 541-683-8661 x3.

Transportation: Parking around the UO is limited. Please allow extra time to find parking and walk to the site.

Carpool:  Meet at Bergsund DeLaney Architecture & Planning (1369 Olive Street, Eugene) at 11:40 to carpool over to the site. Please indicate in the RSVP if you will be meeting to carpool.