Welcome Serena Lim!

Serena Lim recently joined Rowell Brokaw as a designer after earning her M.Arch at the University of Oregon. She has always loved drawing and crafting and brings strong creative skills to the firm. After earning a B.A. in Liberal/Visual Arts from the Evergreen State College in 2008, she worked as a freelance graphic designer, textile restoration specialist, and co-founded and directed Oxtail Studio & Gallery in Berkeley, CA. She also worked as a junior designer at Goring & Straja Architects before returning to school to study architecture.

Serena was drawn to the University of Oregon’s Architecture program for its emphasis on sustainability. She brings an acute awareness of architecture’s social and environmental impacts. While completing her M.Arch, she worked as a Graduate Research Fellow and lab assistant in the UO Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory and as a design assistant for FLOAT Architectural Research and Design in Eugene. Serena's love of the outdoors and interdisciplinary background in the humanities support her passion for sustainable, equitable design.

In her spare time, Serena enjoys sketching, painting, sewing, printmaking, hiking, camping, and meals with friends. She has been studying Polynesian dance since she was 8 years old and enjoys travel.

Mark Young's illustrations and Nicola Fucigna's article on Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities featured in Construction Literary Magazine

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities has captured the imagination of many architects, including RB’s Mark Young and Nicola Fucigna. When Mark was studying abroad in Copenhagen as an undergrad, he illustrated all 55 cities. A collection of these illustrations are featured in Construction, a quarterly online literary magazine, where Nicola runs an architecture column on the poetics of real and imagined spaces. For the Fall 2018 issue, Nicola contributed an essay illustrated by Mark: "Lessons for Architects in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities."  

Lorri Nelson receives a Head Start Award

During Head Start of Lane County’s All Staff Event, Lorri Nelson was recognized as one of a handful of “community members who have given, supported, and are champions of Head Start.” Lorri is honored to receive this award. She has loved working with the Head Start staff to integrate natural play areas into various school sites.

Rowell Brokaw shares the values of Head Start and is proud of its history working with this important non-profit. The Head Start program offers a holistic approach to early childhood development, providing educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to low-income families. For more on the history of this program and its relationship to architecture, see this Head Start Presentation that John Rowell co-authored in 2002.

1203 Willamette Open House Celebration

Rowell Brokaw, deChase Miksis, Trifoia, Watkinson Laird Rubenstein Attorneys, & Claim 52 held an open house at 1203 Willamette. The event was catered by Saucefly. The whole building was opened up for visitors to explore all the offices in the newly remodeled building. It was fascinating to see the various ways that each office has developed its workspace in the exposed timber structure.

It has been quite a journey from a vacant, rundown building to a vibrant space. For RB, the open house was a cathartic event, full of great food and conversations. Thank you to all who came!

2018 Summer Intern Julia Chou

This summer Julia Chou joined us for an internship. Julia grew up in Eugene and as part of her senior project in high school she completed her job shadow at Rowell Brokaw’s old office. She is now entering her second year in the architecture department at Syracuse University.

Julia worked on several projects in the office: renderings of 1235 Willamette, a Revit model of the Steam Plant (formerly owned by EWEB), and signage for Rowell Brokaw’s office. She worked closely with John Rowell and Patrick Hannah.

She had several takeaways from her experience. “I liked learning about how people within a firm interact. In the new office, it is so easy to go talk to each other. You can jump between projects quickly. I also like how you work collectively—it’s never a one-man job. In school, it’s very competitive, whereas here it’s very collective and helpful.”

She enjoyed watching how different people work: “There are so many ways to do one thing. People choose Revit, CAD—John likes to do things in Photoshop, Frank in Lumion. People have their own personal style and preference that they can express.”

She was also struck by the “large amount of time it takes to complete a project. At school, we have three-to-six weeks per project. Here you have years changing and changing and changing things. There’s so much thought that goes into a project, more than you’d imagine.”

We really appreciate Julia’s contributions to the firm this summer and wish her well in her pursuit to one day start her own firm and become a professor.

Soil Samples Arrive at the OSU Marine and Geology Repository

Project Manager Tricia Berg and Project Architect Austin Bailey met with Principal Investigators Anthony Koppers and Joseph Stoner at Oregon State University’s new Marine and Geology Repository. The researchers are cataloguing and organizing the recently arrived Antarctic Core Collection in the new facility. These priceless sediment cores tell the history of many of the earth’s systems. The cores will be invaluable in studying climate change and ice sheet retreat for they chronicle past responses in Antarctica to times warmer than the present.

OSU's New Ice Core Freezers

Project Manager Tricia Berg stepped into the −13°C ice core freezer as part of her punch list for the OSU Marine and Geology Repository. In order to ensure the perfect temperature for ice cores collected around the world, this room is equipped with evaporators, insulated sandwich panels, and an insulated concrete slab. Tricia also inspected the sediment sample rooms where sediments will be placed within the 23' tall space on 19' racks. A specialized sprinkler system with high pressure water serves as a back-up emergency system for the space. In the coming weeks, precious ice and sediment cores, acquired from Florida State under a national grant program, will be stored in OSU's new repository facility.

Spring 2018 Practicum Student Steven Liang

Under the mentorship of Frank Visconti, University of Oregon student Steven Liang completed a Spring practicum with Rowell Brokaw. The purpose of the practicum is for the student to gain exposure to the many facets of real-life projects at an architecture firm. Among other experiences, Steven went on site visits and attended OAC meetings at Pacific HallAmazon Corner, and the South Hills House. He also gained knowledge of the latest architectural practices used in offices. "I give credit to Frank," he said, "because he's really good at many programs, such as Lumion, Revit, and VR." Steven also worked on an entry for the AIA-SWO Design Awards and "learned how to put a large chunk of information together in a presentation." He enjoyed the firm culture, which he described as "open" and "collaborative." Steven will graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon in July. 

Architects in Schools 2018

Britni Jessup demonstrates model making techniques to students at the Buena Vista Spanish Immersion School.

Operated through the Architecture Foundation of Oregon (AFO) organization, Architects in Schools (AIS) is a statewide, six-week residency program for elementary and middle schools where students and classroom teachers work directly with practicing architects and other design professionals with the goal of developing awareness and understanding of the designed and built environment.

This year Britni Jessup and Nicola Fucigna worked with 4th grade classroom teachers Sarah Knudsen and Norina Vazque at the Buena Vista Spanish Immersion School. For the overarching classroom project, they had students develop innovative learning spaces in the style of a famous architect. Students researched their architects alongside exploring the programmatic and user needs of a learning space. They answered such questions as “How would my architect treat the walls, roof, and overall massing? What materials would my architect use? How does this effect the users’ experience?” At the end of the project, students built models of their learning spaces with removable roofs to expose the interiors.

Austin Bailey worked with 4th grade classroom teacher Jonny Hellner at Willagillespie Elementary. Their final project combined Northwest Coast history and architecture. Each student designed a "Tillamook House," a Native American dwelling.

Soft Opening of Claim 52 at 1203 Willamette

After finishing the move to our new office, we walked downstairs to Claim 52 Brewing for their soft opening. When Rowell Brokaw was deciding whether to develop and renovate the building, we saw Capstone Apartments, which is situated directly across the street, as this project’s biggest liability. But in the end, we decided to go forward with the project. From an architectural and urban design perspective, Capstone is a sad and sorry example, but it has, on a positive note, brought a large number of residents to this part of downtown. Ultimately, we must move on, repair the damage, renew, and move forward. We think 1203 Willamette is a step in the right direction.

Rowell Brokaw worked on several tenant improvements for the new building, including Claim 52, the office of Watkinson Laird Rubenstein, PC, and our own new office. The TI for Claim 52 emphasized the building's timber frame with its exposed wood columns and ceilings and its board-formed concrete walls. The floors have a lot of character--the original fir flooring is a softwood that retains all the scrapes and dings from the years. Garage roll-up doors create a strong indoor-outdoor connection. The space is very efficient, with a cooler in the basement, a compact kitchen, and an event room. Systems were carefully integrated into the exposed timber structure. For more on Claim 52, see this article in the Register-Guard.

Blum's Age Explorer Suit

Throughout the year, Rowell Brokaw has Lunch 'n Learns, in which reps come from various building industries to educate the firm on their latest products and services. Recently reps from E.B. Bradley Company of Portland showed us the Blum product line. They also brought along Blum’s Age Explorer Suit, which simulates aging 30+ years. Blum developed this suit to aid in their designs: their engineers experience firsthand what a 70+ year old goes through with something as simple as opening a cabinet. This understanding informs the function, motion and technology in their hardware. Blum has developed a series of motion technologies, lift systems, concealed hinges, runner systems and more.

Britni Jessup, a brave soul, donned the Age Explorer Suit to perform some basic daily tasks in front of the RB team. Despite the weighted jumpsuit, the prickly gloves (to stimulate carpal tunnel syndrome), the noise cancelling headphones, and the fogged glasses, Britni managed surprisingly well. The suit was a vivid way to heighten our awareness of the need to design for aging in place.

The Palomino Blackwing 602

Architects are passionate about pens and pencils: their heft, smoothness, mark. For many, they hold a talismanic power. After heated debate in the office, the Palomino Blackwing 602 has emerged as a staff favorite.

Invented in 1934 by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, the Blackwing 602 has gained a kind of cult status. With its catchy slogan “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” and its, according to Wikipedia, “unique softness and smoothness of a 3B/4B lead but with the rate-of-wear of an HB,” the Blackwing 602 became the pencil of choice for many artists. To name a few: animators Chuck Jones (think Bugs Bunny) and Don Bluth (of Disney fame); writers John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, and E.B. White; and composers Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Aaron Copland. Even John Lennon was rumored to use a Blackwing 602. In the late 1990s after the machine that made the metal clip for the ferrule and eraser broke, the Blackwing 602 was discontinued. Prices surged. On eBay originals went for over $50. Luckily, in 2011 the Blackwing 602 was brought back on the market. Palamino, a division of the California Cedar Products Company, bought the brand.

Ever wonder how a pencil is made? Here’s an article from the New York Times with vivid pictures and a video from the General Pencil Company on the History Channel.

Shadow Mentor Day 2018

As part of UO’s shadow mentor day, Mark Young hosted Paul Turner, a first-year undergraduate in the architecture department. The mentor day pairs students with professionals throughout Eugene, Portland, and Seattle. Students experience a “day in the life” or an actual work day in an actual work setting. At Rowell Brokaw, Mark walked Paul through some of his current projects, including Tykeson Hall. After sitting in on an engineering meeting with PAE, Paul circulated around the office to understand the range of work and experience other roles and perspectives. He also donned a headset and walked through RB's future office at 1203 Willamette. We hope Paul will come visit us again when we are in an intentional office rather than an inherited one. We also hope he got a sense of our office culture, which we think of as informal and passionate. At the end of his visit, Paul asked Mark some provocative questions:

P: What would you say to your younger self?

M: It’s a badge of honor for architecture students to say how much they’ve stayed up and worked, but when you’re in the profession and you have families, you learn to be more efficient while doing better quality work. You get more experience and you learn how to manage your time and thoughts more constructively. It makes sense when you’re starting out that you don’t know what you need to have and more always seems better. And there still is this weird architecture culture, this rite of passage, that permeates through school and some offices. You do have to be hardworking to be an architect; it’s not always 9-5. If there’s a thing to do, you do it. And you're willing to do it because you like your work. But the sweatshop mentality of "the more the better" is often a result of just not being smart with your time. It takes experience. It’s perfectly excusable until you’ve done projects and you know what it takes to deliver a project.

P: What does it take to be an architect?

M: Stay curious and interested. Be open to new ideas and learning.

Happy Holidays!


This year the Rowell Brokaw annual holiday party was cruise themed. Throughout the afternoon, there were shuffleboard, ping pong, Nerf gun, and Jenga battles.

Rowell Brokaw wins Interiors Award and a Mayor's Choice Award in 2017 AIA/SWO People's Choice Awards

The AIA-SWO annual People's Choice Awards results are in! This year there was a record 52 entries. Rowell Brokaw entered 5 boards and was pleased to win the Interiors Award and a Mayor's Choice Award. Check out the video of Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis sharing her reasons for selecting 1203 Willamette among her award choices. Below is a list of the award winners in all 11 categories. To view all 52 boards, visit the AIA website.

2017 People's Choice Award Winners

Mayor's Choice Winners
- Lone Rock Resources, Robertson Sherwood Architects
- 1203 Willamette, Rowell Brokaw Architects
- Eve Micro Housing, Michael Fifield Architect

Colleagues’ Choice Winners
- Roosevelt Middle School, Robertson Sherwood Architects

People’s Choice Winners
- Commercial: Timbers Inn Lounge - Nir Pearlson Architect
- Interiors: Hot Mama's Kitchen and Bar - Rowell Brokaw Architects
- General Landscape Private: - From Forgotten to Fantastic - Stangeland & Associates
- Multi-Family Landscape: Siuslaw Interetive Park, Dougherty Landscape Architects
- Multi-Family Housing: The Oaks at 14th - Bergsund Delaney Architecture & Planning Architects
- Master Planning:  Plan Clayton - The Urban Collaborative
- Parklet Design: IM.A.BENCH - PIVOT Architecture
- Public/Institutional - Valley Football Center - HNTB Architecture
- Single Family Residential - Christianson Passive House - Studio-E Architecture
- Student/Emerging Professional: Taylor Street Food Hall - Nicholas Paino
- Unbuilt: Eugene Civlc Park - Robertson Sherwood Architects, Skylab Architecture

Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis shared with the AIA-SWO audience her reasons for selecting 1203 Willamette.

Virtual Reality as a Design Tool

Rowell Brokaw has been using Virtual Reality (VR) to understand their new office space in 1203 Willamette. Project Architect Paul Harman helps explain the benefits of this new medium: “Even though we have robust digital tools and the ability to see things on screen in perspective, we are still limited by our renderings: they are not always convincing and navigation with a mouse can be clumsy. Putting on a headset allows you to be immersed. It’s convincing to the point where you are concerned about bumping into things that don’t exist. VR is the next level in proof of concept. Now you can move from hand sketches to 2D views to perspectives that can be swiveled around on flat screens to immersion in an environment.... There are many buildings that had attractive drawings but are a lackluster experience. VR helps close the gap between what is drawn and what is built.”

RB visits Mid Valley Metals

Dustin Locke, the Marketing Director and Architecture Design Lead of Mid Valley Metals in West Eugene, gave RB a tour of their facilities. RB is developing a custom desk for our new offices on 1203 Willamette. Though still a design in progress, the sit-stand desk will have a 1 ¼” oak plywood top with a marmoleum surface and a perforated stainless steel back panel. After the tour of Mid Valley Metals, RB headed over to Altech Finishes to view their powder coating options.

Paul Harman at the Intersection of Hand and Digital

When not being an architect, Paul likes to make things, particularly furniture and architectural ornament. One of his pieces, the Owl Wall Sconce, was exhibited this summer at a juried show of local furniture makers at the Maude Kerns Art Center in Eugene. The following is from an interview with Paul on his development as an artisan/artist:

I first became interested in craft and making things in my early twenties. I had just graduated from college, and while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I knew that I wanted to work with my hands. A former professor recommended I visit Arcosanti, a pedestrian-oriented community conceived by architect Paolo Soleri as an alternative to urban sprawl, which is under construction in the Arizona high desert north of Phoenix. After completing the introductory workshop, I went to work at the community foundry where I learned a traditional method of making sandcast bronze wind bells. I thought of Arcosanti as being like a self-guided trade school. I would work at the foundry from 6am to 2pm and then would be free the rest of the day to use the other facilities, which included a wood shop, metal shop, and ceramics studio. It’s here where I first began exploring sculpting in clay.

Where I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania there is a rich history of timber frame barns and covered bridges. I had always admired this way of building, and so after leaving Arcosanti I attended a summer-long apprenticeship at the Heartwood School in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Heartwood specializes in teaching traditional timber frame carpentry using hand tools. Timber frame structures are in many ways like large pieces of furniture, and the joinery skills we were taught inspired my interest in furniture making.  

My late twenties and early thirties were spent working for small architectural firms in Philadelphia, while I continued to explore my own creative work in my free time. Without a formal degree, my career prospects in architecture were limited, and so I decided to return to graduate school at the University of Oregon to pursue a Master’s degree. It was here that I was first exposed to the creative potential of digital fabrication through using the school’s CNC router. Learning to use this technology has completely transformed my approach to craft. Not only has it generally extended my capabilities by allowing me to do things that would be very difficult to execute using conventional techniques, but also it has allowed me to translate ideas I have been previously only able to explore in ceramics into a variety of other materials, such as wood, solid surface (for example, Corian), concrete, and glass.

I periodically encounter people who are “purists” in their thinking about craft. To them, utilizing digital tools is somehow “cheating.” One of my heroes is Wharton Esherick, an artist and craftsman, who famously declared, “I use any damn machinery I can get hold of…. Handcrafted has nothing to do with it. I’ll use my teeth if I have to.” Like Esherick, for me the design idea is most important, and I’ll use whatever tools are at my disposal to realize the idea in physical form.

On the opposite extreme, I have taught classes at the University of Oregon in digital modeling and fabrication where I have encountered students who insist that only work that is purely digitally derived from parametric processes devoid of the human hand are valid uses of digital fabrication technologies. This kind of absolutist thinking is equally puzzling to me. I believe there is an innate intelligence in the human hand when it comes to generating pleasing and meaningful forms. Why wouldn’t you want to marry the two capabilities? That is how I approach much of my work now. It is an intersection between the hand and the digital. While much of the work I do is executed digitally, I think and design tactilely. When I am working on an ornamental design, I often need to first model the design in clay by hand before I jump to the computer so that I can understand the form in a visceral way that I can only get through touch.

I know this is going to sound cliché, but what inspires me most, particularly my work in ornamental designs, is the patterns and forms I find in nature. The swirling grain of wood burls, the pattern on a spider’s thorax, ripples and undulations in water—that sort of thing. While there is a trend in contemporary ornament that seeks to replicate many patterns in nature using parametric techniques (think of Voronoi diagrams and soap bubbles), this really doesn’t interest me. I like to observe and internalize the things that inspire me. Then through a process of hand sketching and modeling, ideas begin to emerge; inevitably a certain degree of abstraction occurs. Sometimes the idea comes pretty quickly, but usually it’s a long, iterative process until I am satisfied that I have something worth the effort of actually making.

For more of Paul’s work, visit his website.