Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category

Architecture as art

Friday, February 26th, 2010
Architecture as art

While on the University of Oregon campus the last few days attending a conference, I had the pleasure of walking by a particularly beautiful building every day.  Opened in January of this year, the John Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes stands on the corner of Agate Street and Franklin Boulevard.  As Agate is one of the main entry points into the campus, the Jaqua Center is quite an exclamation of a welcome to a campus filled with stylish, “traditional” college buildings of brick and stone.

The building was named for John E. Jaqua, a war hero, lawyer, football star and, oh yes, founding board member of Nike.  Achievements certainly worthy of recognition on a football campus like UO.  It appears that the building has a two-fold purpose: to exceed minimum NCAA requirements for academic support to student athletes and to serve as a beacon to draw in potential high-caliber athletes to the Ducks’ athletic program.  It’s interesting to compare “traditional” media accounts of the public reception to the building with the comments among students on the campus blogosphere.  As discussed in the mainstream media, the building is opulent to the extreme, with questions surrounding whether the expense is worth it and whether it will accomplish its mission.  (One media source even referred to it as the “Taj Mahal.”)  On the campus blogosphere, it appears that there is some student opposition to the building, claiming that the 40,000 square foot building, by being open to a select few of the student body, discriminates against the general population and places clear, unfair preferences on student academic success.  A group called “UO Students for Equal Access” has formed a Facebook page called “NO to the John Jaqua Center” and has a developed following of 718 members.  On the other hand, students supporting the center have noted that the gorgeous building adds value to the campus aesthetically as well as providing a valuable service of “making life easier” for the student athletes who bring so much revenue and exposure to the school.  Supporters have also formed a Facebook page, but have so far only garnered 264 members.  You would think they would have more supporters just from the athletes alone.

I think that the pro-Jaqua Center crowd is closer to the point on the value of such a building.  We generally as a society do not question the value of art, particularly public art, and what it adds to the aesthetics of our community.  And I also think that architecture can also be an art form in and of itself.  Sure, sometimes building designs have a purely utilitarian quality – like most of the buildings in Alaska.  (I do not think some of these UO students would complain about opulent buildings if they spent a semester on the UAA or UAF campuses, which are replete with drab, practically Soviet-style purely functional buildings.)  But as a visitor to the University of Oregon campus, I was simply “wowed” by this building.  I stopped to admire it several times throghout the day, and took about a half hour out of my time one evening to study it with my camera.  To me, this building says something about the University of Oregon’s priorities.  No, it does not make me believe that the UO shows undue favoritism to its athletes, it shows me that the UO gives great concern to campus aesthetics and quality in its facilities.  When the UO decided it needed to have an expanded facility to provide academic support to its athletes, it could have merely provided a simple facility that still had the same space, room and facilities for academic pursuits.  But the administration decided to instead pursue beauty and quality.  When a university has the luxury of being able to do that, any prospective student or supporter knows that the university has the broad support and vision necessary to be successful, in whatever ventures it may pursue on behalf of its community.  And that is something that any UO student, staff or faculty can take pride in.

Two views

Friday, February 26th, 2010
Two views

When driving through the Pacific Northwest, you can see two different kinds of forest: alive and thriving, or clear-cut and dead.  These two different types of forests represent two vastly different views not only of what forests are good for, but what benefits are derived from natural resources in general.  One school envisions the forest as a place that provides habitat to numerous animals, provides the nutrients needed to make for health fish spawning streams, filters and cleans surface water before it enters the ground table or provides drinking water, and provides numerous recreational opportunities for humans.  The other school sees the trees in terms of board feet, jobs, and short-term business returns.  The first school sees the logging industry as fouling a valuable resource that belongs to everyone.  The second school sees “environmentalists” as interfering with their right to log the trees. 

I am going to step out on a limb and say that there is no right answer on the subject.  I say there is no “right” answer because such a statement assumes that there is a choice.  There simply is not.  Our short history of industrial development has shown us time and time again that industry simply does not care about the greater good, and inflicts long term and often irreversible damage upon wildlife and ecosystems to provide benefit to individuals who have long since died.  While those now-dead people can no longer enjoy the short-term economic gain they achieved, those of us who remain today are stuck with the consequences. 

Take logging, for example.   The first thing to realize before discussing the difference in values between the two schools is to understand the subject.  The vast majority of pulp produced in the United States comes from private lands; as much as 96%.  Private land is also more suitable for logging than national forest lands, which provide a much lower yield of usable timber due to steeper, higher elevation terrain.  With few exceptions, there is nothing stopping a private landowner from logging on his or her own land and “environmentalists” are not involved in combatting such logging operations.  The focus of the fight is on public lands, mostly national forests and some state forests in the Pacific Northwest.  Yet, unlike those companies that log on public land, that private landowner is financially responsible for creating the infrastructure necessary to log the timber – he has to build his own roads to access the timber, build the bridges, and do whatever else is necessary to access and harvest that timber.  He also has to pay the market value of the land where the timber is located; most owners are not going to give away their land for free.  But, if you log on national forest land, you don’t have to incur those expenses and you don’t have to pay a fair market value for the lease of the land you will use for logging operations because the formula the Forest Service uses guarantees that the timber is sold below cost.  In the 1990s, the federal government subsidized logging on national forest lands to the tune of $8 billion, much of which went into infrastructure construction. 

Another important statistic is the impact of “anti-logging” activities on regional employment, logging jobs.  But the truth is, federal timber supplies are insignificant to the lumber and wood products industry. Between 1988 and 1996, the amount of timber logged from national forests dropped by 70 percent, from 12.6 billion board feet to 3.9 billion board feet. During this period, national employment in lumber and wood products jobs actually rose. In 1988, the lumber and wood products sector supported 771,000 jobs with a $15.2 billion payroll. In 1996, the sector supported 778,000 jobs with a $20 billion payroll.  The myth that halting logging on national lands hurts jobs is the equivalent of the “death panels” claims being bandied about today in the healthcare debate.   In reality, automoation is more to blame than “environmentalists.”  Between 1979 and 1988, while logging levels increased, more than 26,000 timber jobs disappeared. Due to automation, it takes only 3 workers to produce the same amount of timber today as it took 5 workers to produce in 1979. 

So, back to my two schools of thought, starting with the pro-logging lobby.  Essentially, this school is clamoring for logging on public lands for reasons that don’t stand up to scrutiny.  Logging in national forests is not crucial to the survival of the industry or for providing jobs.  And not only is logging not necessary, the logging industry is given special treatment in the form of subsidies and low lease rates that are not provided for logging on private lands.  There simply is no reason to log on public lands, period.  Yet, it survives in this country today, clinging on for dear life, kicking and screaming any time anyone attempts to take away its toy. 

For the other school of thought, those who oppose logging on public lands have to fight not only the industry, or the government that supports it, but public misperceptions and misinformation about why logging on public lands should continue.  And for all those temporary benefits derived for a select few from over a century of heavy logging, we and future generations have only dwindling forests and related resources to show for it.  The United States was originally blanketed with a billion acres of forest.  Now, only 40 million acres remain uncut, providing clean water, recreational opportunity, important wildlife and fish habitat, and clean air to a society in ever increasing need of all those things. 

Aside from talking about numbers or values, or short-term versus long-term gain, there is also the basic aspect of aesthetics.  The following photos were taken from state forest land in Oregon.  You tell me which one you would prefer to drive or hike through.

At Cannon Beach

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010
At Cannon Beach

I had the pleasure of photographing one of the most iconic locations on the western coast today.  While the various rock stacks along the Oregon-Washington coast, few are as well known as Haystack Rock, at Cannon Beach, about a two hour drive west of Portland.  I had planned to incorpote a vist to Cannon Beach as part of a trip to Oregon, but when I started to make my way west from Portland, I became worried about my chances.  I was running into typical Pacific Coast weather: clouds, rain, sprinkles, and then sheets of rain.  I spent most of the day scouting the coast south of Cannon Beach after arriving at the coast, then headed back into town to check into my B&B, the Cannon Beach Hotel.  When I was done checking and and unpacking, sunlight started to occasionally peek out among the many clouds.  By about an hour before sunset, there were plenty of patches of blue, consistent sunlight, and lots of promise.

I stayed on the beach for about two hours.  I am pretty sure that I was the last person to leave the beach.  It was so dark, I had to pull my headlamp (no nature photographer should leave home without one) out of my camera bag to stow my gear and make my way back to the B&B.  As I knew this would be my only evening to work Haystack Rock, I tried several angles of composition on the rocks, working at various distances from the rock.  I was one of three photographers on the beach for the evening.  Two of them stayed pretty much at the same spot, but I am sure that they also didn’t have to suffer going home with pants soaked all the way up to their mid-thighs.  Small sacrifice to get some of the shots I was able to capture.  One of the photographers, Gary Loveless, is a local who was very helpful in giving tips to the other photographer, who seemed to be a learning amateur from out of town.