OCCUPATION: A Lecture by Brad Cloepfil, AIA, Allied Works Architecture

Brad Cloepfil Designs for Place

By Sabina Samiee

Architect Brad Cloepfil, AIA, released the book, Allied Works Architecture / Brad Cloepfil: Occupation in 2011.
[Text by Sandy Isenstadt, Kenneth Frampton.Photographs by Victoria Sambunaris.Hardcover / Slipcase / Clothbound440 pages, Illustrated throughout.$85.00 (ISBN: 9780980024258)]

Allied Works' proposal for a new pavilion for Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec features five interlocking, cantilevered concrete shells. Image courtesy Allied Works Architecture.

Internationally recognized along with his firm, Allied Works Architecture, Cloepfil and his team have designed a number of influential buildings and master plans for major cultural, educational, commercial and residential clients. The book is a “comprehensive monograph” that covers Allied Works’ important commissions from 1994 to 2011, including the world headquarters for Wieden+Kennedy (2000), the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2003), the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (2008), the Clyfford Still Museum (2011), and the forthcoming National Music Centre of Canada in Calgary, Alberta (2014) — and contains an extensive selection of images documenting each project. These include context photography by Victoria Sambunaris, sketches by Cloepfil, physical models, and architectural drawings. Called “highly readable dialogues,” this collection effectively illuminates numerous aspects of Cloepfil’s approach to architecture as well as revealing a variety of personal elements that influence and inform his work.

Cloepfil addresses his University of Oregon in Portland audience, April 2012.

On April 12, 2012, Cloepfil came to the University of Oregon in Portland at the White Stag Block to deliver  his lecture “OCCUPATION.”  The title of his lecture was borrowed from his recently published book, a choice presumably made as he spoke about the designs incorporated into the text.  Speaking to a small, intimate audience, the scale was human, the conversation approachable and the discourse provocative and engrossing.  In a way, this setting was very much akin to Cloepfil’s architectural practice, his reasoning of grounding a connection, in this case, between audience and speaker (rather than earth and building).  With such a closely woven experience, Cloepfil’s  advocacy for a keen recognition of setting and environment was very apparent.  His carefully articulated lecture was absorbed by grateful, autograph seeking students together with a calm and interested audience that melded students and community designers interested in hearing firsthand the eloquence of this University of Oregon architecture alumnus [BArch ’80].

As an architect, Cloepfil, a sort of Portland design deity, rarely needs more introduction than to mention that he is principal founder of Allied Works Architecture, with offices based in both Portland and New York.  His name is synonymous with positive downtown monumental, restorative projects of immense creativity and contribution to the city and landscape in which they are integrated.  His reputation as a self-assured maverick innovator somewhat precedes him; his penchant and ability to soothingly deliver eloquent and linguistically stunning monologues on his designs and theory also is well-known.  I was intrigued by this combination of personality and practice, and welcomed the opportunity to join the group of Cloepfil disciples who converged on the White Stag April 12.  So it was on that Thursday evening that I assembled with an attentive White Stag audience. Comfortably sitting in darkness, we awaited great things and slide images of inspiring vision.

Cloepfil signs a copy of his book for a UO Department of Architecture student.

Cloepfil began by saying architecture is an “act that amplifies insight into a place.”  He urged his audience to see a very specific environmental context to building design and to see things one would not normally see by really looking at “place, noticing order, forces at play, qualities not immediately obvious, characteristics and conditions.”  We learned that Cloepfil finds Oregon’s hazelnut orchards to be his “favorite architecture”;  the texture and
quality of light that the rows of trees present “create the opportunity for action” and the “possibility of response.”

Using the brilliant word “ENTWINEMENT,” (which to me sounds like a beautiful almost sculptural illusionary portmanteau for architectural theory), Clopefil spoke of his Maryhill Overlook as “building a wall ….as a reference point that would measure and magnify everything around it.”  Sort of entwining the land, the light, the
aesthetic of design and the materials.  It is an intentional method to inspire and provoke a thought: “what impact can architecture have in a landscape?”

Addressing his design ideals, Cloepfil says, “walls” have the ability to “weave a pattern;” and “landscape and light” can bring the inside outside and vice versa.  Recognizing that, we can proceed to the architect’s foremost concept that a structure “should knit itself” into its environment, as his Dutchess County Residence Guest House (New York) establishes its location and occupies a deciduous forest becoming “a bridge for the intimate acts of living.”

Cloepfil's Dutchess County Residence Guest House, New York. Image courtesy of photographer Dean Kaufman.

Most importantly, continues Cloepfil, despite the use of materials like steel, glass and wood, the very ingredients of the design must emerge, flow,  and wander in the natural landscape not limiting nor preventing a sense of the natural environment which must prevail and “hold to the ground.”

Perhaps it was Cloepfil’s admission of his love for the “American landscape,” an urban landscape, he says, that is inherently “beautiful” that gently coaxed his audience to sit farther forward on their seats, listening even more intently.  The slide image backdrop was now a lot in St. Louis, bare and flat mowed grass: to some, devoid of inspiration.  To Cloepfil, this “urban prairie of undifferentiated space” is boundless and gives the opportunity to the architect to explore a “ribbon and rodeo of planes” of a structurally transparent and responsive environment.   Cloepfil spoke passionately of  possibility in such a seemingly barren cityscape:  he sees a monumentality in the sky,  and he imagines an architecture that will “hold this space”, a space of both “relic and ruin,” of “grace and offering.”

When Cloepfil turned to commissions not won (with the graciously unpretentious comment, “and these are projects we did not get….”), he showed work imagined yet not completed.  His ideas still realistically leapt off the slide screen in carefully crafted models, the barest of sketches some almost Rodinesque in their simplicity and single line use.

Throughout the image | model tour of Allied Works three dimensional visions, Cloepfil’s adoration of light and the bridging of structure in a space  remained consistently evident: his “series of walls that dance across the landscape” that “cantilever and transform….filter light and space” all contributing to our understanding of this individual as ultimately concerned with the quality of a place.  Cloepfil is not just enamoured with structural studies, the formulation of a working plan and building:  his methodology transcends this to take a design into a matrix of structure and space where  even the seams and crevices of a wall achieve relevance.

Cloepfil introduced us to his use of EMBEDMENT, a building holding its ground or being embedded in the ground and under a boundless sky.  He spoke of using the structure as an element that would be brought to the ground creating one solid place where the qualities of light and the rendering of a surface will be given the chance to interact and create a play of light and shadow.  There exists a pressing or rooting to the earth that enables the structure to rise up– every surface infused with importance.   EMBEDMENT becomes a key element of Cloepfil’s aesthetic: the ability to produce a grounded yet watery-shimmer of light with the placement and exploration of materiality.

AMPLIFICATION, says Cloepfil, as he continued on his detailed design discourse, is the ability of a building to amplify something (a condition) to elevate a concept, to suppress other things.  Somewhat abstract, AMPLIFICATION was embraced by Cloepfil’s proposal for the National Music Centre of Canada (Calgary) where the strong Alberta landscape situated between soaring mountain and vast prairie called for the weaving of structure and land and yet to still needed to manifest a significant cultural appreciation.  About the NMC, Cloepfil speaks of the material quality that “creates this world” and how the “interior walls move with a geometry” as light scampers at will up and down the walls ”unifying all.”

Drawing his lecture to a close, Cloepfil said “boldness is required to expand human and natural resources.”  A sense of humility creates architecture by “allowing the influence of other factors that enrich and extend the life of a building.”  It is this “humility” in design that posits a question of what architecture can really offer.  Says Cloepfil, it “creates an experience that enriches the life of the place.”

As for us here in downtown Portland, and those who pass by Cloepfil’s much-lauded Wieden+Kennedy building, why not look around, perhaps more than usual while on a daily trek?  On those days when I wander our cherished P-town, I am usually in search of an early morning cappuccino, with my eyes aware only of the Oregon gray skies and dim morning light, my step full-steam ahead to avoid impending rain and work-rushed vehicles. I have to say Cloepfil’s insights  have somewhat altered my state of mind.  Cloepfil says, yes, the Oregon skies are gray, and yes, he unabashedly uses concrete (“for its malleability and earth-like quality”) which might magnify Oregon’s spectacular calm gray-ness.  And this seems to be the point, Cloepfil’s designs sit firmly on their
ground, confident, self-assured, permanent, strong and vital—but different and attractively stand-alone in dramatic and assertive ways.  A part of the built environment, Cloepfil’s buildings clear of distractions around them creating a space that then fills with light, is receptive to movement and sound, and embraces the activity takes place within.

Cloepfil mentioned in his lecture that his Maryhill Overlook is a reference point in the landscape, “a measure and a magnifier of everything around it.”   Strike out a little, venture east of Portland far up the Columbia River Gorge and go see Allied Works’ Maryhill Overlook.  Grapple with this ribbon of concrete that seems to push up from the flat, expansive bluff to lie open and inviting to the limitless skyscape and imagine a connection—the bond between earth and sky, the seamless reach of silverish poured concrete beaming up into the vast Oregon sky.  It is a basking mirror of the light and landscape of the Columbia River Gorge’s natural greatness, reflecting the illumination and cloud cover of an ever-changing vault of atmosphere.

As the human element that comes into Cloepfil’s created spaces, we get to experience with a depth and emotion, that sense of being enveloped by architecture while it assists in how we interact with our surroundings.   Cloepfil’s lecture urged us to look outside the expansive skins of glass fenestration to the wonder and vastness of nature and sky, or observe the movement on a street, the bustle of daily life and to see a connection between the interior and the exterior.  At the forest-snuggled Dutchess Residence Guest House, glass walls encourage interaction and acknowledgement of trees, light and space.   As the architect notes, these designs seek to recognize the transparency of flowing through a space, light cascading down to dance in a path, chasing or following us with shadow, and immersing our body in illumination (even on a gray day, there is light).    Cloepfil’s designs don’t just invite the sunlight in, it is given its own space—it owns and occupies and moves around the building just as people will.  And perhaps is given center stage.

Cloepfil’s walls of glass, his bridal-like screens of trees behind from which peer facades, walls and windows; his wrapping, meshing, and giving of a place all contribute to an experience where we, as his receptive audience and the ultimate user’s of his work, get to “occupy” in the best way possible.  The human element is invited to occupy these spaces and places of Cloepfil’s creation, and as Cloepfil explains to flow into, out of and around buildings of concrete, glass, steel, and slate combined in a way that gives us a sense of place, context and of relating to and being connected with our environment. While inside a Cloepfil building are we given a chance to take the pulse of a city, to enjoy the spontaneous energy of a day, to relish the lives of clouds, and the expanse of a environment.  His integration of interior and exterior spaces seem to advocate for our recognition of more than ourselves.  It is architecture that brazenly requests we look around and notice “place.”   While Cloepfil somewhat apologetically referred to “place”  as his inspiration and the grounding element in all Allied Works designs, he nonetheless called it an “old fashioned term.”  It is “place”, says Cloepfil that gives us the sense of belonging, being connected, and having a perception of existing in the continuity of location. Designing for “place” he says, is absolutely key.


University of Oregon Collaborates with Tokyo’s Meiji University | Architecture Studios Focus on Regeneration and Redevelopment

By Sabina Samiee

In the fall of 2010, Professor Hajo Neis of the Department of Architecture in Portland began a sabbatical stay in Tokyo.  Neis initiated a collaborative relationship with Toyko’s Meiji University and faculty member, Professor Masami Kobayashi from Meiji University’s Department of Architecture in the School of Science and Technology.  Kobayashi was Neis’ coordinating professor for his visit.  The exchange proved to be a fruitful one with both professors discussing forms of possible collaboration that would incorporate student and faculty cooperation, as well as design, research and creative professional projects that would involve a close collaborative relationship between UO Department of Architecture program in Portland and Meiji University.   After his visit to Tokyo, Professor Neis invited Professor Kobayashi to come to Portland and deliver a lecture to Oregon audiences on the urban development of Tokyo from the Edo-Period.

Only a few weeks before his planned visit to Portland, Japan experienced the devastating March 2011 Tohoku Region earthquake.  The disaster was threefold—earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear fallout.  Despite these challenges, Kobayashi, travelled to Portland and instead of giving one lecture on urban development, incorporated a second lecture explaining the massive destruction of the earthquake.  Hajo Neis, recalls this lecture as “one of the most memorable lectures [he has] ever heard.”  Kobayashi had visited the disaster area and wanted to bring a complete report to his Portland audience.  While he was speaking, despite tears streaming down his cheeks, Kobayashi described the devastation, the people, and the catastrophe with an emotionally restrained calm.  The audience remained completely silent captivated by Kobayashi’s detailed  account of Japan’s situation.

It was Kobayashi’s lecture on the earthquake ravaged landscape of Tohoku that prompted Neis to begin his thesis studio, Regenerative Design.  Regenerative Design gave architecture students an opportunity to work to craft rebuilding concepts for both the Tohoku disaster area in Japan and other disaster areas in the world.

Now, a year later, Kobayashi has returned to Portland to give a third lecture on the “Reconstruction Efforts for Japan’s Earthquake Disaster.”  He delivered “Reconstruction Efforts” on March 9, 2012 at Mercy Corps world headquarters in Portland.   His visit also coincided with his review and critique of the UO architecture students’ work in Neis’ Regenerative Design studio.  As Neis comments, due to Kobayashi’s recent experience with the Tohoku earthquake recovery efforts, he served as “an invaluable and knowledgeable critic” of the students’ work.  As part of the on-going collaboration with Meiji University, Professor Neis will incorporate Meiji University’s continued involvement with the Regenerative Design studio.

An added component of Professor Kobayashi’s visit to Portland, has been his recent collaboration with the potential redevelopment of Old Town | Chinatown.  In the summer of 2011, Kobayashi had visited Portland and met with Anne Naito-Campbell, a business and community development consultant and lifetime resident of Portland.  Naito-Campbell (daughter of real estate mogul Bill Naito) who has family connections to Japan had been interested in the addition of a Japan-gate to the Old Town region.

Collaboration: Hajo Neis, Masami Kobayashi, and Anne Naito-Campbell.

Historically, the background of Old Town | Chinatown is also the history of Portland’s Japantown.  In the 1890s, hundreds of young Japanese immigrants arrived in Oregon to work on railroads, lumber mills, farms and fish canneries.  Portland’s region by the Willamette River north of West Burnside Street became known as Japantown or Nihonmachi.  By 1940, there was a thriving Japanese cultural area in this location all within a 6-8 block area.  By 1942, Japantown had disappeared completely when all persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and placed into concentration camps due to World War II anti-Japan sentiment.

Anne Naito-Campbell’s interest in reviving Japantown and the region’s sense of Asian heritage stems from her family’s connection to Portland and Japan.  With family background originating from a Japanese ancestry; Naito-Campbell’s father held the dream of bringing a Japan-gate to the area.   Her father had been actively involved in bringing the existing China Gate to Portland in the 1980s, and helped plant the 100 Japanese Cherry Trees planted on the Waterfront, in addition to being involved in building the Japanese American Historical Plaza in north Waterfront Park.

Neis who had invited Naito-Campbell to attend Kobayashi’s original Portland lectures on urban development and the post-earthquake redevelopment, had subsequently encouraged Naito-Campbell to be involved in the Meiji-UO liaison by integrating her with an international joint comprehensive development study of Old Town | Chinatown.  Neis continued to foster this collaboration by introducing Naito-Campbell to UO Department of Architecture Professor Howard Davis.  Professor Davis was working with both Neis and Kobayashi by teaching one of the three graduate design studios focusing on ideas for redevelopment for Old Town | Chinatown and Japan’s earthquake rebuilding.

When Kobayashi returned to visit to Portland in the summer of 2011, he was well established in dialogue with Naito-Campbell for the design of a Japan gate for Old Town.  As a direct result, Kobayashi started a design studio with his third year Meiji students in the fall of 2011 to design and prototype projects from a purely Japanese perspective. These nine Meiji University students travelled to Portland in March 2012 to present their projects to Old Town | Chinatown and UO. Neis describes the Meiji students’ proposals as  showing “fresh ideas and new pedestrian life for the area.”  Professor Howard Davis commented  on the Meiji student work saying “I was particularly impressed with the design work that [Kobayashi’s]  students had done for the area. It was very imaginative, and the discussion about it raised lots of issues that we’ll consider in the fall, when we do more design work.”

Meiji University students' model.

In a display of cross-community collaboration, Kobayashi’s visit and the work of Neis and Davis with their UO studio courses, ultimately contributed to the bringing together of community leaders for the Old Town | Chinatown region.  This weaving together of the culturally significant tapestry that is Old Town has culminated in a more open communication between developers, historians and residents of the Old Town area.  At Mercy Corps world headquarters in Portland, on March 9, as a part of Kobayashi’s Portland visit along with the nine Meiji University students he brought with him, community stakeholders (key developers, architects, city officials), joined Professor Davis and Kobayashi to  participate in a panel discussion addressing how the Old Town neighborhood has changed over the last ten years and how the area can continue to positively evolve while embracing its cultural heritage.  Organized by Naito-Campbell with support from Mercy Corps, the panel addressed how redevelopment of the area is crucial while retaining the intention to not eclipse the diverse cultural past.  Panelists also discussed the somewhat difficult reputation of the area, and the development restrictions due to the area’s historic status.

Panel at Mercy Corps organized by Anne Naito-Campbell.

Students in Neis’ and Davis’ studio courses will continue to study and explore in-depth possibilities for the community carefully noting use, condition, height, history, street-level activity of each proposed building.  Davis’ students publically presented their concepts in a final review session at the White Stag Block on March 21.

Future collaboration plans between Neis, Davis, and Kobayashi will develop into the fall of 2012.   The intention to begin three design studios (two at UO in Portland, one at Meiji University in Tokyo) for Old Town based on Professor Davis’ research and seminar will continue.  The professors also hope to initiate a small advisory group based on the panel group discussion and to move forward with the ideas and dialogue presented there. The architecture students in these studio programs, both in Portland and at Tokyo’s Meiji University will carry on in the collaboration by further analyzing several Old Town development possibilities, including pressing forward with the plans for a Japan gate.  As Davis commented during the panel discussion “[these] will be hypothetical projects, but looking at them could help move the conversation….forward….”

This community and cultural collaboration was enhanced by the participation of Anne Naito-Campbell.  As professor Davis says, this “ collaboration between two UO studios and one of Professor Kobayashi’s graduate studios at Meiji University. ….is a great opportunity, and we’re very fortunate to have [Kobayashi’s] support and the support of Anne Naito-Campbell and other people in the community and city.”

Following his return to Japan in March 2012, I contacted Professor Kobayashi and asked if he could respond to his experience here in Portland. Reproduced, here, in full is his reply:

Thoughts on Academic Collaboration and the Real Field we have to tackle on.

By Masami Kobayashi

The world is coming smaller and smaller with the progress of communication media such as Internet and Twitters.
Furthermore, we need to think beyond our boundary about the environmental issues such as global warming and Disaster issues such as earthquake and Tsunami, and hence to share our ideas to solve these issues.In that sense, our visit to the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon in Portland, bringing our 3rd year young students of Meiji University looked very effective and our students seemed to have learned a lot from the faculties and the students of UO during our short stay. Though the timing was not so good before the deadlines in UO, the both students seemed to feel something important from each other’s works.Our project dealt with the revitalization vision of the old historic district surrounding the UO Portland campus building, and our students proposed a rough urban design schemes and architectural proposals based on their urban studies. In the public symposium at Mercy Corps on March 9th, the local stakeholders, city officials, academic people, and people from historic institutions sat together as the panelist, and discussed on the coming future of the district. I felt something important has just started for the district, and the design works by both of the students, which were displayed on the surrounding walls of the symposium, looked helpful to evoke and activate the debate of the symposium.We teachers always have to think how to balance the education of our students between the traditional theoretical studies and the practical experiences which is connected to the real society, and we also need to think how the universities can support the local community to enhance its own culture which empowers its local identity. Thus, our experimental visit to UO and Mercy Corps might be a kind of catalysis to let the students to think that balance and let the local people be conscious about the future of the district. I thank to all of the related people for giving us such fantastic experiences.

[The author of this post extends her sincere appreciation to Hajo Neis, Masami Kobayashi, Howard Davis, and Anne Naito-Campbell for their input and cooperation on this article, thank you. -SS]

Adaptive Products, Adaptive Athletes : Enabling Athletes with Disabilities (PD 486) at the University of Oregon Product Design Program in Portland, Oregon, Winter 2012 Collaborates with Nike, Inc.

With this Body, I Can Move:  Innovating for Every Body

Athlete Will Groulx with Ryan Fiorentino's CONCORD | Image courtesy of Ryan Fiorentino

By Sabina Samiee, UO AAA in Portland

“Clearly it is a lack of relevant tools and gear available to [these athletes] rather than [their] attitudes that is holding [them] back….And that’s where we as design students come in with this project.” –Product Design student Jeff Heil commenting on Adaptive Products studio

In an unprecedented studio course and collaboration between University of Oregon adjunct Product Design program instructors, Wilson Smith (‘80 BArch and current Nike, Inc. Design Director), Bob Lucas (former Nike, Inc. innovation designer and current UO adjunct professor in Product Design),  UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts Dean Frances Bronet, and Product Design program director, Kiersten Muenchinger, students in Portland’s Product Design program were given the opportunity to work with nationally recognized adaptive sports athletes to innovate functional products specific to physical challenges.  The studio, offered winter term 2012, launched the Adaptive Products:  Enabling Athletes with Disabilities course and strengthened the cooperative efforts between Nike and the UO Product Design program to develop athletic gear helpful to competitive adaptive athletes who use prosthetic devices and wheelchairs. [See images from the studio and the final review on the UO AAA Facebook page.]


Athlete Will Groulx examines the bike seat designed for him by student Ariana Budner. Image courtesy Ariana Budner.

Inspired by the legendary UO track coach and co-founder of Nike, Inc., Bill Bowerman’s quote “If you have a body, you are an athlete,” instructor Wilson Smith recalls beginning the class with that spirit.  “We approached the Adaptive Design, Enabling Athletes with Disabilities studio to improve the athlete’s performance in sport,” he commented.  Smith continued, “At Nike, we are always seeking to improve sports performance through our product innovations.  The students worked directly with highly competitive athletes and approached the design challenge with empathy and passion, producing inspired and compelling adaptive products.”

The 16 students who worked with the guidance of co-instructors, Smith and Lucas, instructor assistant Bryan Myss, and four United States-based adaptive athletes consistently remarked on the collaborative blend of the course as weaving both ethics and ingenuity.  The students functioned in teams of four, each student devoting their design innovation to the specific request and physical needs of one of the following athletes:  Will Groulx (recently signed to NIKE ), Paralympics Wheelchair Rugby Champion; Gabriella Rosales, UltraMarathon runner; Joel Rosinbum, ParaTriathlete;  and Brandon Robins, Elite Adaptive Action Sports Athlete.

University of Oregon students who participated in the studio are: Zoe Blatter, Ariana Budner, Ryan Florentino, Jake Fromer, Charles Hartzell, Jeff Heil, Matt Kennedy, Ian Kenny, Aleksander Magi, Damien Menard-Oxman, Tara Nielsen, Tori Russo,  Liesel Sylwester, Greyson Walker, Alyssa Wasson, and Stewart Worthington.

The Adaptive Athlete studio course began with the premise that enabling every body to perform at the greatest potential possible–while comfortable, safe, secure, and with efficiency– is the ultimate goal.  The intention to create, via trial-and-error, user-based products that promote ability, and ability without pain, and with plenty of speed delivered as part-and parcel of the entire concept stood squarely in front of the students enrolled in Adaptive Athletes.   This would be a design adventure to co-innovate with direct input from the users themselves.  As instructors, Smith and Lucas were fascinated by the countless figurations the human body can, and does, take:  the idea of making physical pursuits, whether for fun or competition, accessible to all body types and to design equipment that would enable bodies of any description to move and be active served as the focal point of the course.  In a very proactive approach, Smith and Lucas advocated for every body being able to move and be as athletic as the individual desires.  Considered a fundamental right of the person, Lucas and Smith adopted the attitude that if you wish to activate your body, physical limitations might pose a challenge, but that very challenge needs to be embraced.  Both the instructors are quick to note that as human beings, we all function at different levels of athletic prowess, whether we use a wheelchair, a prosthetic leg , are born without a limb, or even with no loss of extremities, we should work with and use that which we have to the best manner possible. Bringing to the athletes access to innovative designs that enable and enhance life experiences and make success more feasible, was a tantamount concept for the studio.


Student Tori Russo and athlete Brandon Robins discuss designs at the final review.

To achieve this gracefully blended partnership of user and designer, Smith and Lucas crafted the course experience to integrate close collaboration between the athletes and the students.  Athletes visited the studio, working in cooperation with the students to create ideas, and provide feedback and concepts.  The students quickly learned what was important to the athletes and also came to learn what motivate is a desire to excel no matter what the physical situation.  With careers deeply entrenched in design and innovation for athletics, Smith and Lucas both urged the students to rely heavily on the input of the end user, providing ample opportunities for items to be tried on, tested, and used in real-life situations.


Work sessions to discuss and revise designs with instructor Bob Lucas.

Human beings tend to be captivated by movement, the option to have the power to move ourselves, to control our bodies and to have a sense of communicating accomplishments.  How we achieve those ends and having the choice to do so greatly effects our perceived quality of life, our self-confidence, our self-assurance—the omnipotent capability to go from doing nothing at all (for example, sitting quietly without movement in a wheelchair) to springing into action with any kind of movement we desire (landing a huge arial jump on a wakeboard).  The availability  and access to have the equipment, materials, or prosthetics to push one’s limits and challenge the opportunities one has, completes an individual’s combined sense of both embracing the difficult and savoring the victory.  The students were infused with a strong sense of enthusiasm to make these kinds of victories possible for the athletes they were working with.

From the onset of the winter term, the 16 Product Design students took their ideas to the athletes and spent hours determining what would be key areas of improvement to equipment, functional products and the existing devices these individuals already use in the everyday and fast-paced world of action sports.  Student Jeff Heil comments, “We [had] an opportunity to get the ball rolling with what we came up with and inspire an effort to influence a lot of people’s lives in a really positive way.  Enabling adaptive athletes to play their sports is such a unique and deeply interesting topic for design…..I believe design should move us forward.”

And,  move forward was what they did.  Students together with two of the athletes, Will Groulx and Brandon Robbins unveiled their designs March 14, 2012 during a review session at the University of Oregon | White Stag Block in Portland.  Reviewers from Ziba, Nike, Inc., PENSOLE Shoe Design Academy, and others were on hand to critique the designs and help the students move forward in the continued development of their concepts.  Crucial input came from the voices of both Will Groulx and Brandon Robbins who took the opportunity to actively engage with the students and let them know how the designs would fit into their lifestyles and athletic goals.  It was evident that the lives of these athletes are not determined by what happened to them, or how they were born, but by the path they chose to take, a path perhaps less travelled but forged and fueled by a determination to surpass and accomplish.

From Ariana Budner’s design of the “ALBATROSS” bicycle “Smart Seat” (for Will Groulx) that channels ventilation, cooling, and comfort into the athlete’s ride (Budner cites it as “the handcycle seat that cools the competitive athlete, freeing [him] to focus on the competition at hand”) to  Ryan Fiorentino’s “CONCORD” upperbody support system (also for Groulx) that braces Groulx for long-duration wheelchair movement and exhaustive rugby athletic competitions, the student designs epitomized thoughtful design adopting challenge.

Ian Kenny’s “MOMENT Arm” sought to provide athlete Gabriella Rosales with armwear that could “restore, enable, and improve” athletic potential.  Kenny’s design concentrated on athletes needing devices to assist athletic performance for below the elbow amputee or missing limbs from birth.  Guided by Smith and Lucas, the buzz words around the studio consistently remained “Mobilize Accommodate Empower,” a message that resonated the entire term.

Not only focusing on physical and tangible user-based devices, Tara Nielsen turned to the idea of proactive healthcare.  Introducing accessible heat and massage therapy tools for amputees thereby bringing physical therapy and wellness needs into the power and control of the individual.

Zoe Blatter’s “XDRIVE” gave his athlete, Brandon Robins, a tidy and compact package with towel storage, alcohol spray, lubricating ointment, and a screwdriver—all essential tools for an athlete with a prosthetic lower leg to keep himself comfortable on a day spent on the mountain snowboarding.

Student Jeff Heil addressed the importance of athletic training:  his “AIRBound” dynamic board sports training system “is an aid to athletes in their transition from injury to competitive performance.”  Heil’s ingenious design looks a little like a thick rubber air-inflated snowboard complete with bindings:  he used air filled bladders to enable balance, jumping with and bounding off so the user could test and redefine physical limits without the fear of further injury.

As instructor Wilson Smith enthusiastically beams, this is an all things bright and beautiful approach to design: anything is possible, and once you know your limits, you can potentially soar way beyond them…. with the right equipment, but more importantly, with the right attitude.  As stylishly tattooed, baseball cap-wearing Brandon Robbins, (a former professional wakeboarder who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and now is a competitive adaptive snowboarder) proclaims,  with a gregarious cheeky grin and while hungrily gazing at his student teams’ designs, “It’s all so great, so great…I just want to try it all!”

Watch UO School of Journalism student and UO News reporter, Dustin Turner’s report on Adaptive Products | Adaptive Athletes.]

[The Adaptive Athlete studio student work is on exhibit in the Jacqua Center,  on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene.]

Special thank you to co-instructors, Wilson Smith of Nike, Inc. and Bob Lucas, as well as the students and athletes Brandon Robins and Will Groulx for their enthusiastic participation and willingness to discuss this studio and the projects.  Thanks also to Portland Store Fixtures for their generous lending of the forms to display student work on final review day.