On The Coast

I’m here in a hotel room at the edge of Astoria, Oregon, and I’m on Spring Break! Really, truly away from Eugene, having been on the road from 6pm until almost 11pm. Not just temporal remove from the insanity but a physical one too. Any kind of leisure trip seems an indulgence after endless deadlines and weird hours. Big lesson learned from winter term 2014: don’t get so excited about the possibilities of a term that you stack your deck twice as deep as you can handle. EVEN when those are really really cool possibilities. Only 12 hours this coming term; I wish I could make it by with even less than that.

More detail later about first term of terminal studio, but there was definitely a huge learning curve in facilitation and top-down, deadlines-oriented group work. Plus quick realization that that isn’t really my style; it definitely doesn’t lead to me producing anything I could call my best work. On the other hand, the studio does have a great set aim, and our end of term review was definitely one of the best ones I’ve had. Ended up with a bunch of questions I don’t really have time to answer now that we’ll be moving on to individual building design! Still can’t believe graduation is now less than 3 months away. Yet as it draws nearer, I’m somehow becoming more confident in finding a job?!

Back to Astoria—Mom came up from Texas to visit me this year (not normal procedure), and after a few days bumming around Eugene doing/not doing different things, we hit the road this afternoon. Except one minor detail: kidney stones showed up (?) yesterday afternoon, thus I’ve spent much of the past two days drugged out on vicodin. When sleep finally hits, it hits hard. Thus the late start on the road today: had to visit the urgent care clinic after running out this morning, and the late start led to lots of fun down the road. Fun like Mom driving through the Coast Range down a curvy, worn-down highway while it was raining at 40 Mph to be safe, and thus getting tailed all the time. Fun like finally arriving in Astoria at somewhere around 10:30pm and somehow ending with a room each to ourselves.

First impressions: Astoria looks beautiful glimmering atop a hill when you drive in from the south on 101. It does seems quite like the end of the earth, jutted out into the dark night though. And damn that bridge is TALL. Drawbacks of staying the night in a weird hotel along the harbor: can hear late night killdeer through the paper thin room-doors.

Tomorrow, we leave for a night at Timberline! (Yes for some reason we decided to do Coast and Cascades in one short two day span). Then to Portland where I’m meeting a few people from my independent study group to present Friday at the PHnw 5 conference on the Eastside. Nervous and excited!

Universite Omar Bongo

Just ended my first full week back in the States after a whirlwind week in Libreville, Gabon facilitating a charrette for the beginning of my terminal architecture studio. Also the week of my 23rd birthday and a lot of catching up in the classes I had missed. The way to Africa was a 40 hour trip in both directions between Eugene and Libreville, with slightly different journeys each way. Due to the anticipation and nervousness, the trip there seemed much, much longer.

Highlights of the in-between journey definitely had to be finally seeing Saarinen’s terminal at Dulles Airport along with flying over the hills surrounding Addis Ababa in the early morning at the end of our trans-Atlantic flight. Just from the two layovers we had at the Addis airport, I already want to return to Ethiopia.  Such an old, ancient place like nowhere else I’ve been other than Rome.

photo of check-in at Dulles Airport

Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Terminal

We did finally arrive in Libreville on a Saturday afternoon (we’d left Eugene late on Thursday by bus), and the climate was definitely a bit of a shock coming from an Oregon winter. It was hot and humid like it would be our entire time there. The first day we didn’t do much more than check into our hotel, meet Zoe, who was our contact and on-site coordinator the entire time, have dinner, and fall asleep quickly afterwards.

Sunday, the second day, was our only full day of any kind of recreation. A meager continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant of baguette, tea, and juice was followed by a morning jaunt to several artisanal markets near the heart of the city. The markets were warren-like jumbles of stalls huddled together to shade each other from the tropical sky. At least the first was. The second market that Zoe and another new friend of ours, Allan (from ANGT, the national works agency) led us to was much calmer and airy, with just a few stalls selling various kinds of masks. No one bought masks, but beside I and one other, everyone did purchase something to bring home with them.

We rounded out the day with a lunch at a ocean-side shack (including some soccer on the beach while waiting for food), visiting the oldest church in Libreville (its cathedral, which is one of the few remaining vernacular buildings in the city), and dinner at an Italian restaurant in one of the warehouse districts bordering the ocean.

Photo of the mosaic over the entrance to Eglise Saint-Michel, Libreville

Front of Eglise Saint-Michel, oldest church in Libreville

One of the craziest weeks I’ve ever had began with a huge crowd. 1100 people, we’d later realize. 1100 students and faculty from the Universite Omar Bongo (UOB) who were in an un-A/Ced auditorium with us to see just what this whole campus master-planning thing was about. Long presentations from both my terminal professor, Mark, about urban design, and from the president of UOB about the future possibilities for campus. Plenty of cheers (and sometimes hoots and jeers) accompanied them; at the end we even helped with a SWOT analysis of their campus: what the attendees thought were strengths, weaknesses, etc.

Immediately after the lunch that followed, we met in the private dining room at the school restaurant that would be our home for the rest of the week’s work. Once organized into small groups of 1 Oregonian student + 3-4 UOB students, we were ushered outside to start on condition analysis of the campus’ streets and buildings, etc. My group was tasked with a building condition analysis of what we’d labelled as the “Hillside” district of UOB. Buildings were to be ranked from green, keep with little modification, yellow, to red, demolish soon as possible. Of the 10-15 buildings within our section, my group only labeled one as green, a few, yellow, and all of the rest were red. This pattern held for the rest of the building condition analysis groups.

Photo of one of the student housing dorms at UOB

One of the pavillions, student housing at Universite Omar Bongo

Over the next several days, I assisted a different group of UOB students in the creation of one of eight, then four, design alternatives for the future of the campus. Our group was to envision the possibilities of campus within the frame of maximum demolition (getting rid of all yellow and red marked buildings at the university). On the second day of full design (Thursday), we combined with the other group working on max. demolition. Together our group crafted a plan very, very different from the on-the-ground reality of today’s UOB.

This new UOB campus would be focused upon a green heart lining a creek, with check dams and bio-retention; to the north and south of the green heart would be the two main sub-campuses, with alternating patterns of quad-building-quad. Along the northern edge, a buffer would be retained between buildings and Boulevard Leon Mba, and all of the campus paths would be pedestrianized, other than one through street linking the north and (new) south entrances. UOB becomes a very green, very regulated, very French-model campus, similar to the origins of the Sorbonne in Paris.

photo of the Sorbonne in Paris at dusk

The Sorbonne, Paris

The hardest part of this entire charrette was that, unlike a normal studio, even with group-work, here the point was to let the students from UOB pull as much of the weight in design as they could. Our work was less to actually design, and more to facilitate. Having never really done so before, and additionally not having the greatest in interpersonal skills, it was quite hard to not just dive in and try to do all of the design work. Especially when things were moving slowly while the UOB students hashed out whether or not a building should really go in a particular location or not and all I could feel was deadlines looming.

Thank god for my partner (once groups combined) David, who was much better at being able to teach the Gabonese how to draw something, etc, and then stand back and watch. And for his ability to stay through the night when we had to pull an all-nighter while I went back to our hotel with a few others to catch a few hours of sleep before Friday’s out-brief presentation.

Photo of group members with illustrative plan for maximum demolition alt.

Group members discussing final plan for the maximum demolition alternative

Now, back in Eugene, it does feel very odd to have all of our major design work for the first term done. Since the heart of the work is this participatory process, it would be senseless to make major changes while not with the UOB students/faculty and lose their buy-in. The majority of the rest of this term will be the creation of a bunch of different, new, analysis maps, taking the illustrative plans that resulted from the charrette and digitizing them, as well as creating a regulating plan for each alternative. A regulating plan is the application of the main logic (in our case quad-building-quad) at a more theoretical level across the site, to see just how all of the possible developable parcels lay out. Towards the end of the term there will also be more design drawings showing how the plans would look in 3D space when realized: renderings of the places, etc.

Very excited for all of the new places and things I’ve experienced so far with this project! Even not being that much of a people person, I loved facilitating in such a participatory process. And the UOB students seemed to love it even more, with one new friend telling me she wished she could switch to majoring in architecture because of the charrette!

Permit Set Submittal

Checking over redlines in the last day of studio

Permit submittal is next week, after 8 weeks of crazy hours and hard work. We’ll have 6 sheets plus the engineering and truss packages that people take to the city permitting department today. It’s nice to have things getting zeroed-in, windows, sections, site plan, figuring out most of the crucial details of the building. We even know now that it will stand up now that we finally got the engineering and truss details back on Wednesday!

The past week or two has for all of us mainly been bringing together the permit set sheets, including big things like making the site plan work and smaller things like figuring out some basic construction details (how the barge rafter works, where exactly/exactly how big the windows are). Additionally we’ve been finishing out work in our term-long groups: I’ve worked with a couple of friends on benchmarks, dealing both with basic site utilities, and more complicated issues like figuring out how our project racks up in various energy efficiency/green rating systems (Energy Star, Earth Advantage, LEED).

And from all of that research, it looks like our house is going to aim for both Energy Star and Earth Advantage certifications. Energy Star because of it’s ease/simplicity, cost (free), and brand recognition. Earth Advantage because the goals of our project re: sustainable/green design seems to mesh with the ethos behind it, and it’s relatively well known in Oregon. The main specs we’re implementing to meet Earth Advantage (the more rigorous of the two standards) are:

  • Rainscreen wall assembly with 1/2″ airspace, Hardiboard, 1″ of exterior rigid insulation (hopefully mineral wool if we can source it), 5/8″ plywood, 2×6 stud wall with batt insulation etc – R-23
  • 11 7/8″ TJI joists insulated to at least R-38 on ground floor
  • full advanced framing of walls including minimizing of headers (no need for headers other than 1st floor, S elevation
  • fully insulating the ceiling to R-49
  • using relatively good windows w/U-0.30
  • sealing our building to at least achieve no more than 5 ACH at 50 Pascals
  • use of local materials (easy for wood construction in Oregon)
  • for heating: a ductless heat pump w/min 8.5 MSPF
  • ventilation system that includes the use of spot-ERV
  • South windows = at least 7%, maybe 15% of the sq. ft. of the building

wall details

The main system that still needs to be figured out is ventilation: how the spot-ERV (Panasonic FV-04VE1, $)will work in combination with the bathroom fans to provide ventilation to the level of ASHRAE 62.2 (43 cfm for our house). There’s been talk of upgrading from the spot-ERV to a full ducted ERV system, but that would increase the cost 4-5x and we just don’t have much available money for this house.

Overall, once the permit set is finally submitted today, we’ve still got to figure out materials, mainly for the interior. Exterior materials we’re waiting on responses from suppliers on pricing for hardiboard/plank, standing seam roof, etc. But interior we have to actually figure out what we want the floors to be, what kind of tiling in the bathrooms, etc. How do we decide on materials that aren’t just the ones in fancy at the moment, but that could start to look designed and maybe even somewhat timeless. Whatever that is, the materials that came in from the budgeting/materials team earlier this week doesn’t seem to work in anything other than the cost department. And then we still have to deal with our individual detail projects for different parts of the house: some people are mocking up the back porch to full scale, others are making models of how the laundry chute works together with header over the stairs, etc. Studio final is this coming Wednesday morning and I need to figure out and construct (at full scale) how the rake and eave of our house meet! Stressful few days ahead!

potential materials from beginning of this week

Terminals Update

My terminal studio professor (Mark Gillem) finally emailed all of us that will be in the studio, saying that as of now there’s an 80% certainty that our project will be in Gabon! Both the University of Oregon and the government of Gabon have given their tentative approval to the professor’s grant request. If this goes through, we’ll be doing master-planning and conceptual building design for the Universite Omar Bongo in Libreville. No idea yet if this is a site with existing buildings or a new expansion. As part of the project we’ll be travelling to Libreville (and back) from January 9th/10th till the 19th for a site visit and public charrette. And any travel expenses will be covered by the grant money!


Very excited!

Site Visit

Made it out to the studio site on Friday. A long bike ride (approx. 40 minutes from campus) out to what’s a very unremarkable site, honestly. It’s right on the edge of town, in a weird mix of low-rise residential neighborhoods and light industrial zoning, with parts of the West Eugene wetlands a few blocks away.  The challenge with the land will definitely be in just how we decide to shape the lots/deal with the overall landscape programming. There’s nothing topographically which can’t be smoothed over by an hour (or less) of grading, especially since this year we’re starting at the fence line on the north end of the lot.

Panorama of OregonBILDS site.

Panorama of OregonBILDS site.

In studio we had another long day of discussion: talking to another professor about some basic small housing strategy and how to best make a house on our site, and then also talked to a representative from NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation), another one of our partners. They, in contrast to HACSA, deal more with getting people ready to own a house, walking them through how the system works, and getting them credit, etc, instead of just providing housing (which they also do).  So in our conversation on Friday, we dealt with just what the priorities are for someone searching for affordable housing, and what their use pattern would be like. And what we learned about was a list different, perhaps much different, than our own preconceptions about homeownership.

Basic notes about a hypothetical affordable housing buyer:

  • importance of specific amenities/how much people will sacrifice for them –  love having walk-in closets, keep them at expense of clearance around furniture, other space, etc.
  • most buyers are nuclear family representing much larger multi-generational fam. who will actually reside in house
  • space they can afford always smaller than what they need; any spaces with framework for inhabiting will be used (at least eventually) – garages become playrooms, bedrooms, etc., any outdoor shelter used
  • importance of room flexibility, flowing great room plan instead of discrete rooms w/only 1 purpose (no use for say, dining room)
  • value of the garage beyond flex space, also seen as status symbol

A couple other things also happened Friday, like talking through our basic strategy for the impending partition of the lot into smaller chunks (including the one we will build on this year), what we need to be doing to keep the cost down at this point (making the house plan small and simple), and just how we want to approach making the house sustainable as possible, including whether or not we want to aim for some standard such as Passivhaus, LEED, or Earth Advantage (if not certify).

Final Year of Architorture School

Here it is, my final year in architecture school. It’s going to be a whirlwind of insanity and travel and having design studio all school year (last vertical studio this term, then my terminals for winter/spring terms!) All of this upcoming activity seemed like a great reason to start up the ol’ blog again and write about what’s going on. I’ve got two main processes rumbling along : groundwork for this term’s studio — visiting the site, etc., and the VERY preliminary discussion with our terminal professor over just what the focus will be.  Beyond that, I’m dealing with my last core architecture lecture, Enclosures (super excited to deal with detailing little parts of construction/figuring out how to make awesome enclosure assemblies), and finishing up my Queer Studies minor (Gender & Body seminar this term; trying to figure out how to make it relevant to my BArch major).

First off, this term’s studio, called OregonBILDS, is part of the the first large-scale design/build program at the university, with this being the first year that an actual house will be constructed (previous years only had design studios occur). The studio will be the first phase of a process that hopes to end in the construction and sale of an as-green-as-possible affordable single-family house in west Eugene at the end of the school year. And to this end, by the end of studio we are supposed to have secured permitting from the city for construction after submitting construction documents, which is much farther along than the conceptual design that most design studios reach. So here our group is, less than a week into studio, and we’ve already started having conversations with both city employees, and people at HACSA (a local affordable housing provider who’s our main partner) about just what we have to do.  Tomorrow we’re visiting the site out in west Eugene near the intersection of Roosevelt and Bertelsen (the empty lot along Hope Loop), doing basic site and contextual surveys, handing out flyers to neighbors letting them know what’s going on (thankfully not in that group!), and then by Monday we’re supposed to have pretty solid conceptual designs of what we want the house to be, and then we dive into cooperative design. Much faster process than I’ve dealt with before, that’s for sure!

And then the big news with terminal studio is: it looks like we’re going to Africa! Gabon to be exact. Our professor has posited the idea of switching our design problem from designing a ski resort somewhere on Mt. Bachelor in the Oregon Cascades to planning/designing a new primary university campus somewhere in Gabon, with a generous grant for all of our travel/stay including design consultation with the client sometime in January, and to pay the rest of our studio expenses! Suddenly, this terminal has gone from something I was very “meh” about to a crazy, wonderful chance at something big that I’m really excited about doing. And thankfully, it seems like everyone else in the studio is either really excited as well, or coming around to that viewpoint! It’ll be really nice to be able to wrestle with so many of the ideas that I have about universities/institutions of learning, and how to have a proper, restrained response to the social and climactic factors presented. Also just plain excited to be able to go abroad again, and this time for no extra cost over normal classes! (Have to admit I’ll take a bit of sadistic pleasure in watching how these Oregonian/Californians deal with the humidity and warmth of Sub-Saharan Africa when we visit.)

Enclosures is the biggest of the two remaining things so far term. Since one of the professors is Don Corner, who was one half of the couple that led us on my Vicenza study abroad trip, there’s been several situations where things from that trip I recognize. Plenty of things showed up in lecture slideshows, even the rainscreen detail he showed us today was from Peter Zumthor’s Shelter for Roman Ruins in Chur, which we had to draw for one of the classes in Vicenza.  An even bigger part so far is that the first of two main projects we have in the class on drawing out enclosure details, is based upon a slightly modified version of a net-zero studio building by Traverso-Vighy we visited when in Italy. Can’t wait to dive further into the project/into books, and to figure out/play around with the best possible kinds of enclosures detailing. It’s such an open puzzle to solve. Of course there’s also my finishing out of a Queer Studies minor, which this term includes a seminar on Body & Gender that’s shaping up to be pretty cool. Just still trying to figure out how that minor can inform my architecture.

Shaping up to be quite a year, as one can see from this not-even-comprehensive list. Most excited, I have to say, for the experience I’ll gain from the two studios, especially the valuable practical knowledge that a real design/build studio is going to bring. My portfolio, too, is going to see an awesome boost from these two projects, especially since it looks they’ll both be real things, ending in construction. Amazing; and when added to the studio I had abroad in Vicenza, designing a civic center along its main piazzae, and next to the Basillica Palladiana, even more so. Will be posting all  this year, keeping this space updated with what’s going in these two big projects. If Africa happens, expect lots of pictures from Gabon in January! Another post is likely tomorrow after studio and returning from the site visit!