University of Oregon Department of Architecture

Spring 2008

ARCH 4/584

Considering the Predicament of Change
Instructor: Richard Hisashi Shiga


Course Description

As an advanced architectural design studio this course will focus on the development of a conceptually and tectonically sophisticated architectural design response to issues relevant to the City of Portland's ongoing urban development. Embracing the notion that the critical creative challenge lies in the effort to arrive at a sensitive and appropriate architectural solution, success will be dependent upon each student’s ability to utilize architecture as the translation and facilitator of an ideological position, designed and implemented from the experiential point of view. The architectural vehicle for this effort will be a Museum of Portland History, with a vigorous process modeled after the phases of design and development that are typically encountered within an architectural practice.


Course Premise

The City of Portland is widely recognized as a place in which the experiential 'line' that separates the City from the Pacific Northwest's natural landscape seems, at times, deliberately indeterminate. Throughout Portland's history, this character has been galvanized vis-à-vis an ongoing practice of an urban development strategy that attempts to consider the clear character of the environmental, historic and cultural context within which it exists. Ongoing efforts to nurture a relationship between these and other qualities of place - a relationship based on supplemental interconnectivity - have resulted in a potent, self-confident identity.

Any reflection upon cultural history, however, will bring to light patterns of both micro and macro scale responses to changing world views. Within varied disciplines and schools of thought ranging from the scientific to the religious, the concept of change as an inevitability is shared. Using the Buddhist definition as an example, change is occurring at all times in that the environment in its entirety is in a perpetual state of flux. To live and to grow is to be aware of and to embrace the impermanent nature of things. As Pema Chodron writes in The Places That Scare You: "That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything-every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate-is always changing, moment to moment."

As a relatively young city, Portland does not yet have, for better or for worse, the luxury of calling upon vast experience when addressing change, and, concurrently, is arguably equally limited in its ability to evaluate subsequent responses. Architecturally speaking, this perhaps can be seen in the residential development occurring in the Pearl District of Northwest Portland, in which rapid urban-scale growth has seemingly eradicated the area’s historic fabric overnight, leaving the prevailing neighborhood's landscape feeling monotonously disconnected. While efforts should be made to avoid a rush to judgment, a predominantly concerned response has already raised the question: Is there an opportunity to fine-tune an architectural design process which embraces the workings of change in a more sensitive manner?

This course will raise this question within the primary effort of furthering student's abilities to take a design from its conceptual stages through to practical realization, while examining a broader definition of an environmentally conscious design process.


A Museum of Portland History

Museums as an institutional building type play a significant role in the establishment of a culture's identity. The manner in which the Museum of Portland History establishes a specific framing of place will work to embrace change by facilitating the notion of a non-static urban identity. This museum will offer experiences for locals and tourists alike, and will allow visitors the opportunity for not only interaction with informative and engaging installations, but, perhaps more importantly, a more conscious connection with Portland itself. The museum will provide exhibit, educational, gathering and performance spaces, all of which will allow for moments within which to better understand and celebrate Portland as a unique, animated and dynamic urban community.

Course Goals

-          To utilize specific phases of the design process, modeled after a professional practice, to develop a conceptually and technically sophisticated design response considering the following issues:
Site Analysis, Planning and Design Development: To continue the development of a rigorous and sensitive set of architectural design skills, particularly techniques of observation, recording, analysis and translation that, when practiced, can result in a sensitive and thorough understanding of context, and play a critical role in the development of a contextually specific design response.
Program Analysis & Development: To focus on the use of programmatic relationships as facilitative & supplementary to qualitative and experiential design goals.
Tectonic and Structural Development: To consider architectonic detailing and structural systems as design decisions that can and must be related back to the project's fundamental conceptual goals.
Architectural Sustainability: To expand upon the notions of environmental sensitivity and sustainability, challenging the systems and materials definition, via a heightened understanding and respect for the qualities of a specific site context.
Building Codes and the Legal Environment: To engage architectural design's legal
environment and apply design restrictions and criteria to the project's development.

-          To understand architecture as the communicator of an idea, and a designed relationship between ideology, experiential strategy, and facilitating architectonic construct.

-          To practice design from the experiential point of view, utilizing a rigorous and spirited rhythm of investigative 3D and 2D, physical and digital media explorations.

-          To engage and examine Portland's unique urban character.

-          To consider, and potentially challenge the existing complexion of Portland's professional
architecture community.


Project Site

Students will be assigned a specific site in North/Northeast Portland, close to the Willamette River.


Course Schedule

-         There will be three studio sessions held in Portland, during regular studio hours. Exact dates TBD. Students will also be encouraged to make additional site visits as necessary.

-          An Instructor-run course website will be utilized for daily presentation of student work and dissemination of regular and supplemental course material.

Week One:           Readings, Initial Exercise - Definition of Place / Analysis of Experience
Week Two:           Program Development - Qualitative/Quantitative
Week Three:        Program Development - Qualitative/Quantitative, Site Visit (Portland Visit)
Week Four:          Site Analysis
Week Five:          Site Analysis / Code Review / Schematic Design
Week Six:            Design Development / Mid Review
Week Seven:       Design Development
Week Eight:         Architectonic Development
Week Nine:          Architectonic Development
Week Ten:           Final Review (At the new U of O Portland Center)
Week Eleven:      Portfolio


Course Readings and Reference

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Framing Places, Kim Dovey

Each Moment Is The Universe, Dainin Katagiri

Round The Roses:  Portland Past Perspectives, Karl Klooster

Essential Zen, Kazuaki Tanahashi
Fundamentals of Building Construction, Edward Allen & Joseph Iano
Façade Construction Manual, Thomas Herzog