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Architect Unlicensed, Under Investigation By State

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Background

The story of the Amazon Family Housing complex at the University of Oregon was one of those public policy stories that seems to have no right answers, no winners and plenty of losers. This is the first of several stories I did involving the controversy. At the time the University wanted to demolish the rickety, World War II-era low-rent housing complex, that was the official student housing for married students, and build a new complex. Some of the students who lived there were concerned that they’d be kicked out of their low-cost housing and be faced with the choice of something much more expensive in its place, and so did their best to fight the University. Meanwhile, the University had hired the world-renowned architect Christopher Alexander to design something the new complex. Alexander had had a long relationship with the University going back to the writing of his 1975 book “The Oregon Experiment.” For a variety of reasons, the collaboration with Alexander didn’t work out, and a source within the administration suggested I should make a call to state board that licenses architects. Within a month, Alexander’s firm was fired from the project.

Architect unlicensed, under investigation by state

By Arik Hesseldahl
Oregon Daily Emerald
14 October, 1993, Page 1

An architect involved with plans to rebuild the Amazon family housing project and who was also involved with the 18th and Agate family housing building is not licensed to practice in Oregon and is under investigation by a state licensing board.

In an interview Wednesday, Eleanor Gundran of the State Board of Architect Examiners confirmed that Christopher Alexander, a Berkeley, Calif. architect is not licensed in Oregon because he has not completed an examination that is required for such a license.

Gundran said that in April of 1991, Alexander, who is licensed in California, applied for a reciprocal license in Oregon, and was told that he would be required to complete a section of the exam on site design. Alexander refused to do so, and to date has no license to practice in Oregon.

“He petitioned the board and tried to argue that he didn’t need to take it because he already had the knowledge and the board disagreed,” Gundran said.

Gundran did not question that Alexander is competent and qualified, but also said that he should be able to pass the exam easily.

“It’s not that he’s not qualified,” she said. “It’s just that the state of Oregon requires people to exhibit that they are qualified. The board has determined that the exam is what we base that decision on.”

When he learned Oregon would require him to take the exam section, Alexander’s firm, the Center for Environmental Structure, entered into a partnership with a Eugene architectural firm, Thallon and Edrington, to form CES/T&E Venture, a corporation devoted to the University family student housing project.

“We are currently trying to figure this situation out,” Gundran said. “We want to know who is preparing the drawings.”

Gundran said that under Oregon law, a person may not say he or she is an architect without first being licensed.

According to Eugene architect Ken Nagao, a member of the board investigating Alexander, that means a person may not “put a pencil to paper” on an architectural project in Oregon without first obtaining the proper license.

Nagao said that the board is investigating the possibility that Alexander and members of his firm may have worked on computerized versions of plans for the housing project and mailed them to Thallon and Edrington, where they were stamped by Thallon and Edrington, a practice Nagao said is illegal.

Gundran said that in order for an unlicensed person, such as a draftsperson, to work on architectural projects in Oregon, he or she must be under the “direct control and immediate supervision” of a licensed architect. Nagao said that this means the work should be done in the same office where the licensed architect practices.

Alexander seemed surprised when told the state board was investigating the situation, and issued a 10-page written statement giving his version of facts he said have been misrepresented in the news media. The statement concerned construction cost figures and projected rental prices for the housing units. He said that various news reports have given the wrong impression that he is the chief architect and responsible for possible cost overruns.

“I am involved with the project as president of the corporation,” Alexander said of his role in the project. He estimated that he has so far spent 3,000 hours in the project personally.

Alexander said that CES/T&E is identified in the contract with the University as the architect, not Alexander personally. That is true according to a copy of the contract dated August 14, 1991.

University officials confirmed they have known that Alexander is unlicensed for about a day, but refused to speculate on how it might affect any further dealings with either Alexander personally, or the CES/T&E corporation. Dan Williams, vice president for administration, said the University is in the process of “re-evaluating its relationship” with CES/T&E, but would not go into specifics.

Alexander said that he had tried to forgo the site-design section of the licensing exam and argued for a waiver based upon the fact that California had waived the requirement for him when he took licensing exams there in the 1970s.

Written by ahess247

June 28th, 2009 at 11:13 am

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