Interiors and Materials Series: 1

This is the first post in a new series here on the blog, Interiors and Materials, where we’ll shed some light on our process of identifying and selecting materials for a project. These choices have a huge impact on the way that a space is perceived and experienced. Materials should be seamlessly integrated with the architecture while adding an additional layer of complexity to the space, one that expresses the client's unique personality. Apart from enhancing the brand experience, materials should be appropriate to the project and its use – they should consider environmental impacts, durability, and budget. We keep all of this in mind as we make material recommendations for all our projects, big or small.

Today, we’re highlighting a small tenant improvement for KPFF Consulting Engineers’ Eugene office. The project is currently in schematic design and on a fast-track towards construction. The client has a bold brand color palette we are using for inspiration to create a few key focal points. Limiting and carefully curating upgraded materials results in a neat aesthetic, but also helps us keep on budget.

KPFF’s work tends to track in a bit of the outside world, so we designed a durable back door entry with a floor surface that can be easily cleaned. The rest of the office is floored with carpet that is rated for heavy use and should withstand plenty of wear and tear over the years – its dark color and integrated texture will ground the room yet be forgiving in case any grit makes it passed the entry. Overhead and on the walls, felt ceiling clouds and tackable panels, manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, provide critical acoustic benefits in the open office environment. Other material selections include durable, factory-laminated panels for casework and work surfaces, and long-lasting, easily-cleaned quartz surfaces in the shared kitchen.

Meet RBA's Fall Practicum Student, Cassidy Jones

This fall, RBA participated in the University of Oregon College of Design’s practicum program. Cassidy Jones, a fifth-year undergraduate student in architecture, joined us for a ten-week practicum.

We kept Cassidy busy with several current projects: she worked with Austin Bailey and Serena Lim on early concept models and precedent searches for the Eugene Riverfront Steam Plant; found informative precedents and attended meetings for the Lane Transit District’s Santa Clara bus terminal; helped Nicola Fucigna improve our website and marketing materials; went to an OAC meeting and tour of the Tykeson Hall construction site with Chris Andrejko, Britni Jessup, and Peter King; and worked with Frank Visconti using Lumion to render affordable housing designs for Cornerstone Community Housing.

One of Cassidy’s most memorable experiences was attending the project interview for the University of Oregon’s Walton and Hamilton dorms project. “It was great to see how the process operates on the higher-ed scale, as well as to see the presentation. I thought they had really engaging ideas and I am excited to see how the project unfolds!” Cassidy also enjoyed meeting Brendan Connolly, Lynn McBride, Dorothy Faris, and Dustann Jones from Mithun with whom RBA is partnered for the project.

Cassidy is currently gearing up for the Inclusive Urbanism and Resilient Architecture terminal studio with Kaarin Knudson, and says she’s loving every second of it. “I think it is important as designers to be thinking about how our projects impact people on a larger scale than just the site, and the way projects can work with the greater community to create healthier and more sustainable lifestyles both for the users and the planet.”

Originally from Grass Valley, CA, Cassidy is open to moving almost anywhere after graduation, but has her eyes on Seattle. Cassidy loves architecture for its ability to evoke feelings and enhance the health, relationships, and lives of those who experience it, and hopes to work on urban design, affordable housing, and civic or public works projects. We wish her the very best in her final year of school, and great success after graduating this spring!

Baby Celebration and Halloween Creatures

Rowell Brokaw celebrated Nicola Fucigna’s soon-to-be-born baby with a tasty lunch from Ta Ra Rin. Nicola has really appreciated the work-life balance at Rowell Brokaw, which has allowed her to create flexible hours and, for the last month of her pregnancy, switch to remote work. The atmosphere in the office is very supportive and family friendly. Most of the staff have children—ages range from a 1-½-year-old (granddaughter) to a 29-year-old. At one point in RBA’s history, the office had four new babies all around the same time. This Halloween some young and older creatures appeared in the office.

Jefferson Library Open For Halloween

After eight years of passionate and creative fundraising, Jefferson Library opened its doors for some Halloween cheer and books!

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 earn her master’s degree in 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.