Tag Archives: design

Overview of Architectural Styles in Oregon: 1840s to 1970s

The City of Gresham applied for and was granted a CLG grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to increase community interest in historic preservation. The City felt that a presentation focused on architectural styles would be likely to generate some interest. They contacted PMA to find out if we would work within their budget and provide a powerpoint presentation geared towards citizens with no planning or architecture background, but also useful for City staff and historians. PMA was happy to be able to provide an overview of Oregon architecture styles from “settlement era” up until mid-1970s. The presentation highlighted the styles most likely to be seen in the Gresham area, especially residential and commercial uses. It was educational for our office to find those historic properties in Gresham and incorporate some of them into the presentation.

Use, Type, Style
It is difficult to understand style without an appreciation of the ways style can be overlaid on various types and uses of buildings. The USE of a building is its primary function. For instance, a church (use) might have a hall with steeple (types or forms) and be Neoclassical (style). The use or purpose of a building is strongly linked to its form, but even within a category of use such as residential, one might find various types such as “apartment block,” “bungalow,” or “four-square.” TYPE just means the basic form, so it is useful for historians to categorize these forms into expected sizes or arrangements of volumes. An apartment block is generally a simple rectangular building with several apartment units and a shared entry. A bungalow is simply a small house, one or 1.5 stories, horizontal in expression. Bungalows are often Craftsman in style, but a handful of other styles are sometimes used with a bungalow type. A four-square is a larger house, typically 2 or 2.5 stories, consisting of a somewhat square footprint with 4 rooms on each floor, and a broad front porch with columns or posts.

The building’s STYLE is determined by the architectural and ornamental details and exterior features applied to the basic structure. Styles change with the times. In fashion and out of fashion, some endure longer. The timeline included is generally reflective of Oregon architectural fashions. However, style also can be affected by technology- for example, the development of steel frame buildings allowed for a new style to emerge: Modernism. Older bearing-wall masonry construction only allowed for small windows set between structural wall areas. A proliferation of new building types, such as the geodesic dome, occurred in the Modern era.

We categorize buildings by type, use, and style when doing a survey of resources in a particular area. The data can be compared quickly and easily to data from other surveys, so we can see the patterns and history of development emerging in any particular area.

Stylistic Timeline of Architectural Styles in Oregon
From Vernacular Forms and Styles, to Renaissance Revivals, Northwest Regional Style and Post Modern, Oregon has a robust and diverse vocabulary of architecture. The stylistic timeline below is meant as a broad overview, highlighting key attributes per style listed, to help you identify your local and regional architectural resources.

Written by Kristen Minor, Associate, Preservation Planner

The Form and Function of Lighting Design

When we experience an interior architectural space, lighting plays a large role in setting the mood and functionality of a space. No matter an existing, modern or historic building, light of a space is a critical aspect of great interior design. Lighting elements can be designed to enhance the space and architectural details, set the mood, and compliment furniture, color schemes, and art work. For spaces without an abundance of natural light, lighting design becomes even more critical design consideration. For a recent project, PMA designed lighting schemes for two historic four-story tall interior atriums.

The existing atriums utilize natural light from skylights above; however the original design provided no artificial overhead lighting in the space. During the winter months or at dusk and night, the light quality of space relies on the little ambient light from the skylights or artificial light from the surrounding rooms and halls. The light during these times is inadequate for the necessary function of the space. PMA was tasked with providing a lighting solution that would sensitively address the historic nature of the atriums and provide adequate visibility in the space.
Defining the Project Challenges
The concepts for our lighting schemes were based on the intended function of each identical space. The focus of the design and specified need of the client was to provide lighting for evening social gatherings, networking, and overall entertaining. Lighting needed to be adequate enough for speakers presenting to a crowd and for listeners to be able to read any related literature. Therefore, it was crucial to design lighting schemes that could provide ample lighting for evening events without compromising the historic integrity and ambiance of each space. To provide a solution for our clients’ challenge, we considered the following when approaching our design for the lighting schemes:

  • How to provide power to the source of lighting without compromising the historic elements.
  • Designing for large volumes of vertical space: hanging lighting within the atrium versus lighting from the top; how the light travels in the space, how it casts down shadows, the reflections off the floor and other surfaces.
  • One atrium exhibits permanent hanging sculptures and art; the lighting design required minimal approach to integrated and highlight the sculpture without distracting from it.
  • Designing for and highlighting the atriums’ architectural details, like the cornices, in addition how to hide or incorporating other non-historic architectural details like the structural support columns.
  • pmapdx-lighting-design-002
    Methodology for Design Solutions
    The prominent design goal was to increase overall light levels through a refined, modern scheme that would provide juxtaposition to the historic architectural elements and hanging sculpture. As in any historic project, it is important to avoid solutions that are faux historic, competing with, compromising, or confusing the original historic character. The few pragmatic design parameters defined by the client allowed for design freedom to provide several unique, distinct solutions. While creating our designs, PMA experimented with the type of fixtures (down lights, sconce, defused) and placement of these fixtures within the large volume of the atriums. PMA explored these options in a Revit model of the atrium spaces, which enabled evaluation of the design solutions through lifelike renderings that portrayed the quality and levels of light. Illuminance studies of lux levels provided a way to evaluate each design and provide refinement to meet necessary levels defined by the function of the space. Some lighting design options included:

  • Design lighting to highlight and contrast architectural features from surroundings, for example placing fixtures in the cove of architecture cornices located above openings within the atrium.
  • One atrium has a glass block floor element which could be illuminated from below to provide a dramatic light feature.
  • Accenting the verticality of the space with defused ribbon lighting set within the non-historic structural C-channels. This would transform these elements into elegant vertical lines leading the eye to the above skylights.
  • Pendant lights interspersed between sculptures would provide orbs of light to highlight elements of the sculpture. These fixtures would provide defused-light with optional downlights within the same fixture.
  • Suspended down lights at top of atrium with lights accenting sculptures from above and side.
  • Wall sconces to accents light and wash the atrium walls and columns; this would provide an overall glow to the space.
  • pmapdx-lighting-design-001
    Scheme 1 unified serval lighting design ideas to provide different light level options in the space. Wall sconce lights provide general illumination of the space. Large circular hanging fixtures consist of defused tube lights and large circular defused downlights. Each group of fixture types can be controlled independently and dimmed to provide the ambience desired.

    Scheme 2 specifically works with the sculptures in the second atrium space. Vertical ribbon lights provide ambience illuminance of the space while concealing non-historic structural elements. Pendant lights hang interspersed within the sculptural elements. These have a defused light with an option for downlights. Each grouping of fixtures can be illuminated together or separately depending on the quality of light needed.

    Scheme 3 was chosen by the client and until announced must remain confidential. Stay tuned for the reveal.

    Written by Hali Knight.

    2016 Year in Review

    As we look back over the past year and reflect on our completed, on-going, and upcoming projects, we’d like to take the opportunity to say we have truly enjoyed collaborating and communicating with you!!

    From top, left to right: Studio Building Exterior + Window Assessment (Portland, OR); Joseph Vance Building Exterior Envelope Repair (Seattle, WA); PPS Grant High School Modernization (Portland, OR); SPS Magnolia School Renovation (Seattle, WA)

    2015-2016-Halla-HWe are excited to announce: Halla Hoffer, Associate, successfully passed her ARE and is a licensed Architect in the state of Oregon.

    Halla is passionate about rehabilitating historic and existing architecture – integrating the latest energy technologies to maintain the structures inherent sustainability.

    PMAPDX-silver-to-goldWe are committed to the reuse and adaptability of existing resources, and in 2016 moved from Silver to Gold certification!

    Means and Methods of Architectural Design

    On a recent trip to Italy, I couldn’t help but contemplate the progression of architecture styles across time and contemporary architecture’s divergence/evolution from past practice. Architecture, alongside art, has long reflected contemporary trends, culture, and politics. More than ever, contemporary architecture reflects our societies’ obsession with technology, efficiency, and value-engineering. As I stood within the walls of Carlos Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery, taking in the attention to detail and crafted experience of the space, I wondered if architecture would ever return to this level of craft, detail, and whimsy. It is hard to image Carlos Scarpa’s intricate and unique detail being created in the architectural world today. From my perception, the art of architecture on a mass scale is being transformed to a systems and science of architecture where unique, non-functioning, artful details are being abandoned as superfluous and cost prohibited.
    A Paradigm Shift
    Great works of historic architecture were conceived by pen and paper as artistic minds envisioned each space on iterative gestural pages; translated from enigmas to sketches to drawings to reality. Materials were crafted by hand and details seamlessly integrated within each trade’s identity. Today’s paradigm shift toward Building Information Modeling (BIM), factory production, and intelligent building systems have transformed the means and methods of the tradition discipline. Traditional detailing known by each trade has been lost to time as architects and builders move to new systems. The design process has continued to evolve and transitioned to computer based iterative processes. This creates a new dialog where the computer program itself has an influence over the design.

    Architectural contemporary styles are named for the processes in which they were designed, such as Diagramism, Revitism, Scriptism, and Subdivisionism. These processes include designing in CAD, BIM, and other 3D programs, which can predominantly drive the design style and form. Architects and designers need to be aware of how architectural design is affected by each program’s restrictions and work flow tendencies. There can be a detachment for the final goal of the built form as we go down the virtual rabbit hole. The benefit of 3D modeling is that it allows designers to more fully comprehend form and its intersection with the overall building systems. However, if the design process is pushed into modeling without a strong concept, the objective can be easily replaced with creating a well-organized and systematic Building Information Modeling, instead of holistic architectural design.
    Architectural Design and BIM
    BIM designs are based primarily of component systems that create efficient, intelligent, and informative models. Designers can easily draw schedules and quantities that greatly speed up processes, however in the design process, focusing on components can also create a disassociation from the whole building and design concept. The translation of an artistic gesture of a material or space can easily be lost in the clunky world of 3D representation and restrictions.

    I am certainly a proponent of BIM, but I am also an advocate of preserving the art and craft of architecture. BIM is a terrific for understanding buildings in their 3D form as a composition of components and systems. BIM’s intelligence allows for continued updating of schedules and quantities, allowing for time efficiency. However, these components are limited to the software’s modeling options and the designer’s skill at modeling. The virtual world is still not an accurate representation of all the properties of building materials or their structural capabilities. In other words, BIM cannot be a means from the start to the end. Our profession is obligated to continue to push for high design standards and syndicate and extrapolate. I continue to see architecture that either allows BIM to drive design or prioritizes efficiency and value-engineering over quality of design. As BIM evolves within architecture as a means to design, I hope it can assist designers in their creative process and challenge our profession’s boundaries.

    Written by Hali Knight, Architect I

    Prospect Magazine

    Using Revit for Historic Architecture

    Revit is used widely for designing new architecture and for documentation of existing structures. When first looking at Revit one may assume that it is tailored for use with contemporary designs. The default ‘Families’ (the term Revit uses to describe all types of elements from furniture to windows, doors, annotation symbols, wall constructions, etc.) are all generic to new construction. Despite the pre-set generic components, Revit’s strength lies in the ability to create custom ‘Families’ and its capability of tracking both three dimensional design as well as linked information about components. When used correctly Revit can be a powerful tool for building assessment and historic renovation. At PMA we have found several tools in Revit that can help us accurately show historic elements, track information about conditions, show repair strategies, and graphically present data.
    When working on historic structures it can be very important to accurately show existing elements. We often need to indicate exact pieces of terra cotta that require replacement or how a stone entry stair is configured so that the cost for replacement stones can be correctly estimated. We frequently create custom ‘Families’ to accurately show historic detailing. ‘Families’ of all types can be created to refine a model and add historic detail. Some of the common custom elements that we create include windows with historically accurate profiles, stacked walls that let us show terra cotta banding and differentiation in materials/wall thicknesses, complex historic roof structures, and custom patterns that match existing stonework. By adapting the generic Revit ‘Families’ and creating our own we are able to accurately represent historic features and structures.

    One of Revit’s most useful capabilities is its ability to record and track information about building components. Unlike earlier drafting and 3D modeling applications, Revit can store information about material finishes, specification references, and much more! In Revit you can assign ‘Parameters’ to ‘Families’. ‘Parameters’ are used in a variety of different ways – but one of the most useful we’ve found is their ability to track the condition of specific building elements. For example, when we perform window surveys we can assign ‘Parameters’ to all of the modeled windows that describe the typical deficiencies observed. For each individual unit we can then record what deficiencies were discovered in the field. Once all of the information has been added to the Revit model you can create schedules in Revit to describe the condition of each window unit and total quantities. The information can be extracted from Revit and into spreadsheet software to analyze the data, present trends, and identify repair scopes for individual units.
    Using Fliter’s
    Revit’s ‘Filter’s’ function is another tool that we use in conjunction with ‘Parameters’ to better understand and present information that we’ve recorded in the field. Filters allow one to alter the graphics for components based on their ‘Parameter’ values. For example we commonly use ‘Filters’ to graphically show the condition of a building’s windows after a survey. We do this by creating a condition ‘Parameter’ where a value can be assigned to each window, for example, good, moderate, and poor. We can then use filters to highlight all of the windows in good condition green, those in moderate condition yellow, and those in poor condition red. Unlike a window schedule which may require some analysis – the color coded elevations Revit can create with ‘Filters’ are easy to understand and an excellent tool for presentations.

    At PMA we have found Revit to be an invaluable tool that we use day to day for a variety of uses including 3D modeling, displaying point clouds, rendering, tracking information, and presenting data. Revit is a capable tool and with a little creativity one can tailor the application to complex historic projects. The ability to create complex custom ‘Families’ that track data about the structure make it possible for our office to efficiently record, analyze, and present date we observe in the field – bringing projects all the way through development, documentation of construction documents, and construction itself.

    Review our ongoing building envelope project that utilizes Revit.


    Written By Halla Hoffer, Associate, Architect I

    Portland’s Architectural Heritage from the Recent Past

    In March 2015, we wrote about PDX Post Modern and Mid-Century Modern architecture, which to our eyes was being referenced by local architectural firms for their new designs located at the Burnside Bridgehead and elsewhere. A year later and the City of Portland is continuing to build, build, build especially around the Burnside Bridgehead. In addition, cries for the demolition of a Post Modern icon of architecture: Michael Grave’s designed, Portland Public Service Building, have turned into a proposed $200 million design-build project. Has Portland come to appreciate its architectural heritage from the recent past?


    Portland Building, PacWest Center, Koin Tower

    Before definitively answering, let’s look at efforts to repair and utilize some of Portland’s recent past architectural resources.
    DoCoMoMo_Oregon, a local chapter of DoCoMoMo_US, is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the interest, education, and advocacy of the architecture, art, landscape, and urban design of the Modern Movement. Recently the Board voiced concerns for the type of alterations proposed for the late modern (post modern!) PacWest Center designed by Hugh Stubbins & Associates / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which underwent a Design Advice. John Russell, the original developer of the project who chose Hugh Stubbins as the architect, from a shortlist that included Philip Johnson and Minoru Yamasaki, provided testimony that agreed with the design team that the retail in the building isn’t currently working, but that the building’s design isn’t the major contributor. Overall, the Design Commission encouraged the design team to treat the PacWest Center like a historic building, and use the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards as an approach for the renovation.

    The Koin Tower, designed by ZGF Partnership in 1984, is one of the most prominent buildings in Portland’s downtown rising sky-line, and an example of Post Modern architecture. It is Post Modern with whimsical lines and historical references to Gothic, Spanish, and Deco architectural characteristics. (King, 106) However, unlike the Post Modern Portland Building (interiors designed by ZGF), the Koin Tower has been accepted for its architectural whimsy in a place with a known tag line, “Keep Portland Weird.”

    And on a smaller scale that truly connects to placemaking, the Lovejoy Fountain Pavilion designed by Charles Moore in 1962 as part of Lawrence Halprin’s fountain sequence was thoughtfully restored in 2012.

    Appreciating the Recent Past
    So, has Portland come to appreciate its architectural heritage from the recent past? While these four examples offer a glimpse of optimism towards the maintenance and rehabilitation of architecture from the recent past, there is still an uphill battle towards the preservation and rehabilitation of Post Modern, Modern, and historic architectural resources. This is not an argument to save every resource, but it’s our responsibility to our present and future communities to have places rich in architectural resources from different movements of history- architecture rich in diversity. For architectural diversity contributes to our place making, culture, and identity. Let’s Keep Portland Architecture Weird by both adding to and maintaining and rehabilitating.

    Lovejoy Pavilion

    Lovejoy Pavilion

    Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

    King, Bart. An Architectural Guidebook to Portland. 2nd ed. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2007. Print.

    PMAPDX 2015 Year in Review



    Wishing you a holiday season filled with cheer and delight from Peter Meijer Architect.

    As we look back over the past year and reflect on our completed, on-going, and upcoming projects, we’d like to take the opportunity to say we have truly enjoyed collaborating and communicating with you.




    Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, was a Presenter at the RCI, Inc. 2015 Symposium on Building Envelope Technology. He presented on, When Field Performance of Masonry Does Not Correlate with Lab Test Results. PPS Grant High School was the case study presented.

    Kristen Minor, Preservation Planner, is the newest member of the City of Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.

    Assessing Union Station to be Part of Our Future

    Portland’s Union Station is the only major railroad station built in Oregon, and one of the oldest major extant passenger terminals on the West Coast. From its inception, Union Station has functioned as a major transportation link to Portland and the west coast, with a continued vital role to play in future rail and multimodal transportation planning.
    A Sense of Place
    Critical to adapting Union Station, and other historic structures, for current and future use is to thoroughly understand key elements and components that convey the sense of place and rich history of the structure. A deeper understanding enables informed decisions to be made about the potential of key characteristics to remain for future generations. Union Station was constructed between 1892 and 1894 and was designed by Van Brunt & Howe architects in the Queen Anne style with Romanesque detail. From 1927 thru 1930, the Main Concourse was modernized by Portland’s internationally known architect, Pietro Belluschi, to reflect the streamline era of rail technology. Like the original 1892 elements, the Belluschi modernization’s are equally important stories to tell.

    Creating a graphic document annotating “changes over time” is an essential tool for evaluating how Union Station has adapted to improvements in rail technology, fluctuations in passenger volume, cultural shifts regarding train travel, as well as modifications to specific architectural elements that impact the historic integrity and interpretation of original design intent.
    Methodology for Assessment
    Our method of developing the graphic drawing is to compare historic floor plans and historic photographs to current plans and images through a process of layering plans from different eras over one another and drawing the altered, or missing, elements (e.g. walls, furniture, spaces, etc.) in different colors. This methodology provides an easily interpreted floor plan. The use of color enhances the image and creates a visual record of both changes and original historic fabric. In reading the graphic drawing, it becomes readily discernible that changes include: wood floors replaced with concrete and new floors added; openings in the main concourse were moved and enlarged; the women’s waiting room and toilet were removed to widen the south hall, the stairs were renovated, and a new baggage counter was constructed. The covered concourse was glassed in and a section was made into the First Class Lounge, which remains today. And in the 1940s, a nursery, or crying, room was added.
    What is fascinating about the history of a building like Union Station, is that the rail lines and street patterns are also integrated with the function and use of the structure and have changed over time as well. The construction of Union Station came soon after Portland was fully connected by rail in 1883 to California, Montana, and rail lines running to the East Coast across the U.S. The Spokane-Portland-Seattle rail connection was finished in 1908. In 1922, Union Station became accessible to all major passenger railroads operating through Portland.

    When originally constructed, six passenger car rail lines approached the rear of Union Station. The waiting platform consisted of planks on dirt with no canopy. The block across from Union Station consisted of a small restaurant, bar, other stores, and stables. A five foot iron fence bordered a large lawn and sidewalk to the south and west of the station. The High Shed, a large two-story metal shed was the first canopy built to cover the passenger platforms and extended perpendicular to the station. Under this High Shed, two smaller scale platform canopies were erected paralleling the tracks. A mail canopy was built at the north end of the building in 1915.

    By 1920, the block across from Union Station’s main entrance had been converted to parking to relieve congestion. As automobile use increased throughout the city, parking configurations were constantly changing over the years. By 1923, an elevated walkway was built to connect the Broadway Bridge to the main entrance.

    With the introduction of larger diesel locomotives and potential for high speed rail along the northwest corridor, the track, platforms, and canopies have had to be modified. Safety and accessibility have also driven the need for changes and modernization. Documenting these alterations with graphics, provides a foundation from which to advocate for further refinement while recognizing historic precedent and protection of historic elements.


    Written by Peter Meijer, AIA,NCARB, Principal

    PMA is part of the DOWA-IBI Group team for this exciting PDC Union Station Renovation Project.

    Indigenous Mid-Century Religious Architecture of Oregon

    During the 1960s Oregon architects, led by the Portland Archdiocese, created significant examples of unique mid‐century churches and religious structures in collaboration with local craftsman, artists, and influenced by European examples, resulting in a unique indigenous religious Modern Oregon style.

    Indigenous Mid-Century Religious Architecture of Oregon

    Oregon has several examples of unique mid-century churches and religious structures. Oregon is also rich in mid-century religious architecture that are unique examples of the community and/or church leadership’s interest in combining modern architecture with modern art.
    During the late 1930’s Oregon architects were seeking ways to meet both the liturgical programs of their clients yet express the architecture using materials evocative of the Northwest.

    Watzek-houseGreatly influenced by the 1936 publication of John Yeon’s Watzek House, Oregon architects began to experiment with wood skins and “Mt. Hood” entry facades reminiscent of Yeon’s design. The idea that wood was symbolic of Northwest character continued through the 1950s and 1960s mid-century modern aesthetics. Local architects like Francis Jacobberger, McCoy & Bradbury, Pietro Belluschi, and others crafter their designs from outside to inside using local species of wood while simultaneously using wood to express the structural elements.

    During the 1950s and 1960s, architectural journals devoted pages and images to the increasingly innovative use of concrete as both a structural element and aesthetic material. Local Oregon firms too experimented with concrete. John Maloney’s 1950 design for St. Ignatius is executed entirely of formed concrete. The exterior, interior, and the bell tower are unabashedly presented as an aesthetic material worthy of religious structure. Maloney deliberately painted the interior white to match the exterior and emphasize the versatility and economy of concrete, the new material of choice.

    Queen of Peace
    One of the most unique indigenous examples of Oregon religious architecture is the Queen of Peace in north Portland. Queen of Peace combines both the engineering daring of concrete with the creative influences from local artists. Queen of Peace is created with clay, river stone, and stunning minimalist concrete structure.

    120715 N Portland Church 001

    Queen of Peace was influenced by Friar John Domin who served the Portland Archdiocese as a priest for 57 years, as a pastor of several parishes, a high school art teacher, and volunteer at the Art Institute of Portland. As Chairman of the Sacred Art Commission of the Archdiocese of Portland, he actively engaged in the design process of churches and chapels. He worked with architects and hired ingenious liturgical artists who worked in a variety of media to enhance churches with stunning sacred art. ” (Sanctuary for Sacred Arts website)

    bronze-entry-doors-queen-of-peaceWell known Oregon artists, including Ray Grimm, a ceramists, created the dominating Tree of Life mosaic on the west façade. LeRoy Setziol, the “Father of Wood Carving in Oregon,” created the wood Stations of the Cross and baptismal font. Surprisingly Setziol was commissioned to execute the stained glass windows as well. And Lee Kelly, one of Portland’s best known metal sculptors, enriched the church with delicate displays of metal work both on the interior and exterior. Queen of Peace is a marvelous collaboration of architecture, art, and technical daring creating a wonderful display of Oregon indigenous mid-century religious architecture.

    Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal. This post is an excerpt from Peter’s presentation at this year’s DoCoMoMo_US National Symposium: Modernism on the Prairie. Peter is the President and Founder of DoCoMoMo_US Oregon Chapter. For more information, please visit: DoCoMoMo-US

    Design Through Nonprofits

    1.	Architecture for Humanity Chapter Network – 30 remaining chapters after the bankruptcy

    Architecture for Humanity Chapter Network – 30 remaining chapters after the bankruptcy

    There are several non-profit organizations that provide pro bono design and architectural services to communities through volunteer networks. All have the common goal of breaking down the barriers to accessing design. As a volunteer for Architecture for Humanity (AFH), I continually ask myself, how can these organizations better serve the community? What can we do to provide incentives for architects to do pro bono design or become volunteers? And, how can we differentiate these similar non-profits to cater to specific causes and volunteer groups? In addition to these important questions, Architecture for Humanity has recently filed for bankruptcy, and the even bigger question is what is next for AFH? And does this foreshadow the unfeasibility of non-profit design?

    The answer is there is much to come! If anything it foreshadows a new beginning!
    In the wave of the bankruptcy, all intellectual property including the name Architecture for Humanity and slogans like Design Like You Give a Damn, and the website including the Open Source Network have all become property of the bank. I will speak about the organization in past tense because technically it no longer exists. For those who are unfamiliar, Architecture for Humanity’s core mission was “[AFH] believes everyone deserves access to the benefits of good design.” Their publication Design Like You Give a Damn popularized pro bono work and disaster relief design efforts. Architecture for Humanity promoted a unique idea of crowd sharing design ideas for disaster relief through their Open Source Network, which could then be accessed by communities in need. The goal was to provide design solutions to communities in need that couldn’t afford the time and energy required to solve rebuilding design problems. Reconstruction projects after disasters are typically poorly designed and don’t respond to community socio-cultural and economic needs. Architecture for Humanity strove to solve this dilemma through a worldwide network of designers volunteering their time and ideas. Architecture for Humanity had local chapters that addressed local communities’ efforts instead of global disaster relief. Local chapters focused on creating the resiliency within communities.

    My involvement in Architecture for Humanity started with the Hurricane Katrina disaster when our Clemson University studio began designing and fabricating a disaster-relief housing prototype in New Orleans. This was added to the Open Architecture Network (OAN) with the hope that the prototype could be a solution to the rebuilding effort. Like most of these projects, efforts were stifled by the bureaucracy of disaster relief. Since then, I have been volunteering for the past four years on small community projects through the AFH Portland Chapter.

    Janus Youth’s Village Garden pavilion – Designed and built by AFH PDX Chapter in collaboration with Oregon Tradeswomen

    Janus Youth’s Village Garden pavilion – Designed and built by AFH PDX Chapter in collaboration with Oregon Tradeswomen

    As a result of the AFH filing for bankruptcy, the AFH core headquarters has collapsed leaving the chapter network to reorganize and create a new identity. The intellectual property of AFH, including the name and website and the OAN are all property of the bank. Of the 57 original chapters, 30 chapters are moving forward to continue on AFH’s path. A transitional steering committee has been formed with representatives from every region and will form an advisory board that will set the stage for self-governance and strategic partnerships. It is also interesting that AFH originally never intended to have a chapter network. Those who were inspired by the cause took it upon themselves to create local chapters and AFH agreed to allow these satellite chapters to become part of the organization. As one of the directors of the Portland chapter, I have been participating in re-imagining our mission statement and goals, looking for new opportunities to connect with other non-profits, and reaching outside of architecture to include all design fields. We can also learn from other design non-profits such as Public Architecture and Architects without Borders.

    Non-profit design work has received some skepticism of whether a sustainable business model can be reached surrounding the bankruptcy of AFH. AFH’s vision was so powerful, that the non-profit grew exponentially in its original years. For an organization that relied heavily on donations to keep running, the stability was compromised when donations waned and AFH struggled to keep the headquarters office funded. The rapid growth seemed to be a large cause of the sudden deficit. Many contribute the downfall to an unsustainable business model, increased competition for financing, and the founders not being able to adapt their vision to a changing market. The press skeptics raise the question of whether donors will be reluctant to contribute to similar non-profits after the collapse of AFH. Cameron Sinclair, AFH’s founder, responds to this criticism well by saying “I don’t think the idea of architects doing humanitarian work is a failure because AFH ended, I think it will be a failure if architects realize they don’t care.” The committed 30 chapters are determined to carry on with or without support for large donors because they have support of their dedicated volunteers.

    AFH Headquarters project - Maeami-hama Community House, 2012 – Community design input for post-disaster rehabilitation

    AFH Headquarters project – Maeami-hama Community House, 2012 – Community design input for post-disaster rehabilitation

    There are many lessons to be learned as the remaining volunteers of AFH move forward to re-envision the organization. The future is still unclear, but the chapter network will learn from headquarters’ shortcomings. The business model will be changed, the organization of the network will no longer rely on a head chapter, and the projects might become more localized and financially sustainable. The bankruptcy has made the network of chapters stronger and our communication with each other has enabled continued enthusiasm for the cause. It is an exciting future for everyone involved because we are all included in the organization’s recreation. The Portland Chapter hopes to explore ways we can best connect communities to design. We want to provide the guidance and knowledge of design language and mediums to enable community visions.

    I hope this can be a reminder on how important design and architecture are to creating vibrant communities. Organizations like AFH, Public Architecture, and Architects without Borders are all striving to bring greater accessibility to design. These organizations bring professionals closer to their community, give students and emerging professionals design and management experience, and help communities solve their design needs. The remaining chapters, consisting of thousands of volunteers around the world, are committed to providing pro-bono design services, advocacy, and training within our local communities. The next question to be asked is how can the AEC community be supported in ways that enable more professionals to provide accessible design?

    Written by Hali Knight, Architect I