Eugene Weekly : Summer Guide : 6.4.09


Design Is All Around Us
Eyeing local architecture
By Jerry Diethelm

It’s wicked fun to declare the built environment we live in here in Eugene, “rump ugly.” Was that the phrase? But turn that butt around and you’ll find many worthy and admirable contributions. And not just buildings — as though design started and stopped with isolated objects. There are also many artful items, spaces and sequences that sparkle with memorable design moments. Here’s just a start:

Downtown, take 10th Avenue from the Overpark in both directions. Look out from the rooftop, which is the only “park” and open space — unless you count holes — in this sector of the downtown. The views here are rooftop-garden-like in all directions. An idea for a new park?

Next door, the Downtown Athletic Club is a classy remodeling of the old Ax Billy Department Store and National Theater buildings. Across the street, the Schaefers Building has an interesting stepped-concrete arch and some multi-colored brickwork in chevron motifs on the upper floor that are widely admired. 

Further on are the Atrium Courtyard, LTD Transit Station and Eugene Public Library, each with something special to offer. The three-story indoor Atrium courtyard with its fig-tree café is a lofty and unique public service center as well as a surprisingly pleasing venue for intimate musical events. 

Across the street, the LTD Station delivers a dynamic cross-block layout of bus pavilions and features our two “great arches” of arch-itecture. 

The brickwork and windows of the new library are particularly fine, especially its stained glass John Rose windows. The sky-lit interior stairwell and two-story airy reading spaces at each end of the library overcompensate for the building’s odd Gothic tower and Quonset-hanger roof.

At the west end of 10th are the Lincoln Street Townhouses with their calliope of colored chimneystacks. These and the High Street Row Houses next to Skinner Butte plus The Tate on Olive compose the best of downtown urban living.

East on 10th Avenue is the four-story 10th and Mill Building, one of our best new downtown office additions. Its careful detailing and high quality materials — tile panels, colorful brickwork, bronze windows and special fixtures — set it above and apart from the usual commercial architecture of Eugene

Some prefer the new U.S. Courthouse, but I still admire the EWEB Headquarters Building. I like the way it sits so gracefully just beyond the DeFazio suspension bridge along the downtown riverfront. Its bifurcated siting, which forms a gateway to the river, and its soft sculptural assemblage project an unmistakable civic significance. It’s an elegant entry sentinel to our city center. 

Lillis Hall is certainly the best new building on campus. It completes the Memorial Quad and enhances the glorious campus sequence that is 13th Avenue. Step into the Lillis stepped-glass enclosed coffee bar in the entrance atrium and look out at the wind sculpture toward Dads’ Gates, or walk out the high glass entry doors that point past Ellis Lawrence’s JSMA and through the English oaks to the cherry-covered terrace of his Knight Library.

Hope Abbey at the Eugene Masonic Cemetery is a must see while you’re still alive. The recently restored Abbey is a little known Lawrence masterpiece. Its historic cemetery setting is our best example of a native plant-oriented, “English country-style” resting place as attested to by many famous Eugene and Oregon pioneers.

And for those of U still obsessing over the largest O that ever ducked a sign ordinance: That’s not a sign, it’s a war memorial. Just be grateful that our university wasn’t named Holy Cross.

Jerry Diethelm is a Eugene architect and landscape architect, and planning and urban design consultant.