Oregon architects making it rain prizes
The American Institute of Architects awards showed off the best of Oregon architecture on Friday, Oct. 25. Designers gathered from across the state to celebrate excellence in building design and construction.
In his introduction, the emcee Nic Smith made his case that design is about more than solving problems.
"Some people think that design is simply the process of defining the right problem to solve. That's all great. But there has to be something about choice or decision making in there somewhere. Sometimes the decision to design is the hardest and most valuable part."
Over a deck of disparate photos of the built environment, he went on, "Design is really good. But we all know that it can be very bad at the same time. Design is everything, even when it's not," Smith, an associate at Hacker, said. "Design is a choice. So I say, choose well."
On that note, the show began.
Before the awards were given for the best buildings, several individuals were honored. Two stood out.
The AIA Oregon Emerging Professional award went to Whitney Ranson, Associate AIA Designer, SRG Partnership. Ranson, along with her colleague interior designer Emily Wright, was charged with designing the office space in
the former Oregonian building at Southwest Broadway Avenue and Columbia Street for SRG's staff. She "had 40 architects breathing down her neck," but the two of them came through Smith said.
"The principals all the way down to entry-level designers sit in the same open space," Ranson told the Business Tribune. "We studied different areas for people to work and different levels of privacy for people to work." Much of the work was surveying SRG staff about what sort of space they wanted. People wanted open space to collaborate, but also flexible, quiet spaces for meetings and phone calls.
"We didn't reinvent the cube, we broke it," joked Ranson.
Said Wright, "Furniture is very personal for everyone. In our existing space, we were very tied to how the furniture was laid out. So in our new office, we really wanted to push the boundaries of that. We really broke away from having fixed furniture. We broke it into separate pieces, so storage and the power are all separate from each other. So when you move desk locations, everybody just takes their whole desk and moves it to their new spot."
That design plan was two years ago in December. Wright added they treated the space like a lab, letting people try different sitting and standing areas before they finished the design. Then they followed up with more surveys.
Neither are licensed architects yet. That's five exams away.
"We thought there was going to be more discontent about things, and in general, people felt good," said Ranson.
They had to ask the question, is a space only private or bearable so long as you are wearing headphones?
"Is there a way that we can be supporting those people's work habits better? It's not just a solution based on furniture and group design; there's a lot of pieces to it."
The second was the AIA Oregon President's Award, given for significant contribution to the architecture profession through distinguished leadership and service over an extended period. It went to John Reynolds, FAIA Professor of Architecture Emeritus at the University of Oregon. (It was presented by his son, Vaughan Reynolds, a senior project architect at Skylab Architecture.)
The slide deck showed some hirsute characters in shorts in the 1970s erecting an early solar water heating system on a farm.
Vaughan Reynolds talked about his father's "first Fulbright" (scholarship) where he got to live in Rome from 1963 to 1964 and then received his master of architecture degree from MIT in the spring of 1967, becoming an assistant professor at the University of Oregon in fall of 1967 at age 29.
The father also showed a collection of book spines showing editions of "Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings," which "was first published in 1935 and which he later co-authored. He also wrote a book about courtyards. It was a very Oregon moment: retro and analog, connecting New Portland (Skylab) with old Oregon.
In a bid to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to saving global resources and limiting carbon emissions, for the first time the organizers didn't fly the jury into Portland. They conducted meetings by video link. Smith said they had saved the equivalent of a quarter of the carbon emitted by the sum of the 73 projects that were submitted to the competition.
This year's jury, all based in Montreal, Canada, met and talked and worked remotely with AIA Oregon. They then recorded additional comments by video conference, which were played in small clips as each winner was announced.
The jury usually view the projects in their home state on paper and computer, then fly to Portland for the ceremony. They come early to tour the highlights so that they are better informed for talking on stage in front of a live audience.
Oregon is forward-thinking in that its AIA chapter is the only state to offer a carbon calculator showing how much carbon each project emits. Of the 73 submissions, 63 complied. This year, the 2030 Challenge sits at 70%. It states that "All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 70% below the regional (or country) average/median for that building type." Next year it rises to 80%. In 2030, all new buildings are supposed to be carbon neutral.
"Most of the winners were doing it by using renewable energy," said Smith. "This is a tough one, guys. Only 13 projects met the challenge."
The Montreal jury were architects Cécile Combelle of Atelier Barda, Kiel Moe, a professor at McGill University and Kim Pariseau of Appareil Architecture. They selected five Citation Awards, four Merit Awards, and one Honor Award.
A jury award went to Portland firm Works Progress Architecture for 7 S.E. Stark, which is expected to be completed next summer. The shiny, stacked building almost cut off by train tracks on the inner east side is part parking garage, part luxury office, being built for Jordan Schnitzer's Harsch Development Properties. The judges praised the simplicity with which it solved a complex problem (where to put the parking).
One of the jury, in a heavy-accented French recording video on her laptop, praised the building for maximizing the use of natural light, and called it either a pile of "boxes" or "voxels." It it was not clear which.
Another winner on the night was Architecture Building Culture, who designed a dream home for the Howard family in Vancouver, B.C.
The OHSU Center for Health and Healing, Building 2, was also a winner for ZGF Architects, as was Oregon Conservation Center for LEVER Architecture. The latter is just two blocks from Revolution Hall, where the awards were being held.
LEVER's Redfox Commons rebuild was praised for the way the firm took one large wooden building apart and used the wood to add on a whole second section.
Thomas Robinson, founding principal of LEVER told the Business Tribune that Redfox Commons caught the jury's imagination.
"There was almost a linear mile of four by twelve boards that were salvaged out of the existing building to make a new building that connects," Robinson said.
Asked if he thinks the French Canadians have seen anything like it before, he said, "No, I don't really think so. I mean, we gave a lecture in Norway, and that was the project that was most interesting to them."
Robinson also said the Nature Conservancy Conservation Center at Belmont Street and 14th Avenue is an exciting project.
"Because it's a building that embodies their mission. The materials that we're using to build the building, connect to their values that they're trying to instill in the landscape in terms of managing the landscape in Oregon, and in terms of their mission globally. We're incredibly excited to be part of their vision for, you know, the environment as a whole."
New man in town
Curt Wilson, AIA executive vice president and CEO, took the top job in July after Robert Hoffman went back to being a practicing architect after six years at AIA.
Wilson will divide his time between Eugene and Portland.
"Reorganizing into a single state chapter is really intended to connect us together on a more frequent basis. Most of our members are in Portland, and we'll continue to do things like this in Portland because of that. I see just making this more open to architects across the state as we move forward," Wilson told the Business Tribune.
Wilson said the idea not to fly them out was actually the idea of one of the jurors.
"One of the members actually reached out to us and said that they'd used their carbon budget for the year, so they're not going to make any more trips by plane. So without really hesitating, we thought about that actually makes sense for us. Why are we flying people out when we're going to focus on carbon?"
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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