The Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architects held its biannual Oregon Design Conference in April at Salishan Resort under the name Shift19.
The conference attracts architects and designers from around the state to hear original content from out-of-state speakers. The goal, according to organizer and AIA Oregon Executive Vice-President Robert Hoffman, is to immerse designers in new ideas, have them form bonds with each other, then go back home and apply them. It's too easy to fulfill professional development or continuing education requirements then go back to work without changing anything.
"The architectural community is presented with an opportunity to consider their role in creating a dynamic and increasingly collaborative environment of practice," said Hoffman. The goal was to "...Connect with leaders across multiple disciplines, professions, and passions... and re-connect and re-energize as a creative community."
Here's what some of the architects had to say.
Alan Tse (pronounced Say) moved to San Francisco from Hong Kong when he was 10. After teaching building design and interior design at UC Berkeley and Cal Arts, he has worked his way up from small interior remodels, through some spectacular restaurants, to mid-size condo projects. His interior of the W Hotel in San Francisco worth seeing, as it is anything but cookie cutter urban slick.
Tse recounted how he got his big break as an interior designer when trying to offload a reproduction Le Corbusier chair on Craigslist for $280. A wealthy lady "in head-to-toe Louis Vuitton" came for it but wanted a 20% discount. Thinking quickly, he said she could have 20% off his next remodel. Three months later she called him, he did The Alto for her, and she passed his name around to three of her mom friends at her kid's private school.
Tse talked about using simple ideas to make not-so-simple designs. When doing one restaurant he was inspired by the
masses of parallel piping in the basement. He replicated it in the bar and the place became The Conduit. The W Hotel had a $3 million budget, but he also can work on a shoestring. For one tiny noodle shop in the Tenderloin, he had a budget of $30,000. It is next door to the Nazareth Hotel, and homeless people sleep in front of the doorway every night. He found himself researching urine-repellant paint for the first time. Tse spent $20,000 on the storefront, made up of wooden slats which pivot to reveal a take-out window.
In another bar, he had so little time before opening he and two contractors spent a weekend building wooden screens. Tse sketched them and the carpenters knocked them out on the spot. In the end there wasn't time to use real wood stain because it wouldn't dry in time so he used sumi ink.
As his projects grew, he realized he needed to become a design principal, able to call bigger and bigger shots. In one restaurant he went with a Last Supper concept, and installed a 60-foot-long concrete dining table.
Much of his firm's work has the clean lines and minimal details that look familiar in the Northwest because he uses a lot of wood and unfinished concrete.
As Alan Tse Design grew to having 15 to 20 commissions at once, he had his first mistake. An assistant drew up the plans for a bench in the sauna of a spa. After a few months, brown liquid was collecting under the bench, much to the spa people's disgust. It turned out the assistant assistant designer hadn't put a slope on bench to aid drainage. Tse said he was "traumatized" by the experience and began designing by making the least number of design documents, for example 15 pages where most people would use 90. It was partly to speed things up, and partly to reduce liability in the event of a mistake.
"I realized on these flip jobs that take four to five months, they don't really look at our drawings." So, he kept cheat sheets on his phone, showing how to do joins and fixtures, and pulled them up when contractors asked him how things should be done. In one super low budget office remodel he bought 28 IKEA cabinets and partitioned each one with sheetrock. Back then, he was two guys and a truck. Now he is a design principal with 16 employees, and increasingly taller buildings going up in San Francisco.
Grace Kim is CEO of Schemata Workshop a 12-person Seattle architecture practice. Kim studied cohousing in Denmark, where it started in the 1960s, and brought the idea home. In cohousing, residents have their own units but share amenities such as a community room or courtyard. Cohousing is meant to create intentional neighborhoods. Portlanders may know Siskiyou Cohousing, a 31-unit cohousing community next to the Dharma Rain Zen Center in northeast. (The National Cohousing Conference is coming to Portland May 30 to June 2, 2019.)
While it is common now for public figures to say they view everything "through the lens of diversity," Kim says her firm sees things through the lens of three things: Vision, livability and social justice. Vision is "thinking about the future with innovation and imagination".
Building on the tradition from Sears homes to Quonset huts to Buckminster Fuller domes, Schemata will build modular units where possible. For example, bathrooms and kitchen are the most complex parts of most homes, so at certain student housing they built them off site then slid them into position.
Livability is a broad term but one that includes all people. That means housing that welcomes old people and young families. Too often, multifamily housing is designed and planned by people who haven't lived in multifamily housing since their college dorm. When they were designing a building for CVS the pharmacy in Queen Anne, Seattle, Schemata had to fight the store owners' wish to have whited out windows, up against which they have shelves of merchandise inside. In the end the chain built a three-story mixed-use building with murals, which the locals actually like, and which fits in the modernist vibe of the neighborhood.
Kim pointed out that community outreach — where architects hold meetings and ask the people what they want — is not the same as community engagement. Many residents go unheard if they don't have the time or speak the language of design. To prove that Schemata walks the walk, their office is on the ground floor of a nine-family housing unit they designed themselves, Capitol Hill Urban Housing. It is self-managed and owned collectively but they also rent to all income levels.
Barbara Bouza, principal at Gensler Los Angeles showed that firm's ideas for AltaSea in San Pedro, California. AltSea is a public-private partnership on 35 acres of land at the Port of Los Angeles. The futuristic design turns it into an ocean-side innovation campus for education, science and business to pursue a balanced, sustainable relationship between civilization and nature.
Bouza said when working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory they complained they were competing for talent with Facebook and Google. She reminded them that more important than the free food, the JPL has a mission: to work on scientific discoveries that benefit humanity.
One slide showed their design for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (she of "Fame" fame, and "Gray's Anatomy"). In order to make dance available to talented dancers who can't get working visas here one wall of the studio will be a giant video screen where they can dance in tandem with her Los Angeles students.
She dropped a name: "Shonda Rhimes bought the building and we're renovating it." Rhimes is producing a documentary for Netflix about it.
As an example of advocacy, Bouza told how LAFC, the newest Major League Soccer team on the west coast, "were looking at design before they even had a player. They were listening to the community. They built the fan base in a design process."
This included safe standing areas and welcoming entrances to the downtown stadium.
"If we hadn't have met with the fans it wouldn't have been designed like that," said Bouza.
Nkenge Harmon Johnson
Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland,
talked about having only come to design
recently, now that the non-profit has a healthy budget. (Now up to $5 million raised, from $1.5 million when she arrived, and from 12 to 49 FTE.) They can afford
to decorate the office and make it pleasant, and even have chairs that aren't broken. They found a remodeler through Unite Oregon.
"There's been four or five black architects in this state forever. What can you do? I've heard you give a damn."
First, when people donate to their alma maters, they can ask, 'How many of your architecture students are African American?'
PCC teaches architectural design and drafting. She tells colleges the Urban League goes out of its way to hire interns. "I find interns and pay them. Folks who need the opportunities can't afford to work for free."
She takes law students on tours of law offices and thinks architects could do likewise to stimulate interest. "It's about creating a pipeline."
Things are not getting better, contrary to her naïve expectations as a teen, when she thought structural racism would be over by the time she was 30.
"Thirty percent of black architects
graduate from black colleges. That's just seven schools. You should reach out to these schools. You can fish anywhere,
but if there's no fish you're wasting your time."
This was her call to action.
"I think the Civil Rights movement skipped you all," she said with a smile. "There are six black judges in Oregon
because there was a push to ingrate lawyers, MBAs, women in medical school, but
I think it missed you all (architects). Welcome. Now is your chance, no one is in
The SHIFT19 conference kicked off with two inspiring reports by design students. The first, by An Nguyen in the MA architecture program at Portland State University, told of the Moriyama House in Tokyo, Japan. There, the owner known simply as Mr. Moriyama, lives in a 2005 house designed by Pritzker-prize winner Ryue Nishizawa. They tore down a regular house, the standard box of rooms, with a series of rooms spread out over the lot. With many plants in the spaces, this deconstructed house is meant to feel like a village in a forest in Tokyo. One goal was to break with Japan's prescriptions, such as the sidewalk is only for pedestrians, or that a house must mark a public/private divide. There are large windows and even a bathroom with glass on three sides. To keep the walls thin and strong, just six centimeters, they are reinforced with steel plate. The cubes are very simple and have been customized, which often results in piles of books on the floor. The lot has become a pilgrimage for design fans and some of the rooms act as self-contained apartments and can be rented out. The owner Moriyama-san lives there, contentedly on display much of the time.
[See the documentary Moriyama-San https://vimeo.com/ondemand/moriyama]
Molly Esteve, also of PSU's Masters program, won a grant to visit three public memorials. The newest one was familiar from press coverage. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama is the country's first monument to lynching victims. It opened in April 2018. Immersed, visitors have to walk under hanging slabs of concrete suggestive of hanging corpses or the teeth of a giant machine. A further 800 columns sit on the edge, one for each county in the USA. They can be reclaimed by those counties for free. So far only one has come to Oregon and it is in Coos Bay.
The other two memorials were even more surreal. One was in memory of philosopher Walter Benjamin, in Portbou, Spain, near the French border. It consists of a rusty steel chute containing stairs down to the sea. The chute cuts through the cliff rock like an arrow. AT the bottom there is a glass platform for looking out at the ocean hitting the rocks.
The third was the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation, to remember those deported from France to Nazi Germany in World War II. Situated next to the cathedral de Notre Dame which recently burned, the memorial sits below ground to be at the level of the catacombs and crypts of ancient Paris. There are no religious signs, but in a long chamber there are 200,000 illuminated glass beads, reminiscent of candles let at Jewish memorials.
Esteve concluded: "These landscapes do not easily accept a memorial as they would a monument. These narratives are necessarily disruptive. I think it is for this reason that memorials do not easily sit atop their sites but plunge deep into the ground. And these topographic cuts place the visitor in disorientating spaces, such that the memorial reaches out into physical and imagined spaces, being both in this place and beyond it."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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