Sunday, November 27, 2011

Steam Makes Things Spin

Over the years I have been involved with many projects that generate electricity, mostly hydro projects, but also Oregon’s only nuclear project, the Trojan Plant, near St. Helens.  In general there are only a few basic forms of making electricity.  You can use nature in the form of water or wind to spin a turbine (which spins the generator), in recent years you can use the sun to directly create electricity through photo voltaics, or you can generate steam to turn the generators.  There are lots of ways to create steam; you can tap it geothermally or you can create heat, which boils water.  HOW you create the heat is the main difference between most forms of generation other than solar, wind, or hydro.  At root most generation is centered around what amounts to a big tea kettle...the boiler, than can be fired by coal, by wood waste or hog fuel, by natural gas, or by a nuclear reaction.  At its core even the Trojan Plant, which people somehow envision as using some primal natural force (an atomic reaction) to create massive amounts of power was far more was using all the heat generated by that reaction to create high pressure steam to spin a generator.  Exactly the same process as burning coal, or wood, just far more efficient and on a far larger scale (and yes, with a more complex waste product...but that isn’t the point of this little discourse). 

The more common way to create steam power for electric generation is to burn coal, and that is what most of America, without the plentiful waterways of the Pacific Northwest, does to power its computers and recharge its IPODs.  Coal is abundant, but it’s not generally considered green, and most steam plants in the Northwest now burn natural gas. 

Last month I toured one of Oregon’s few remaining steam plants of any sort, one built in 1930 to burn bunker oil, added to in the 1940s and 1950s to burn sawdust and wood-chips, and today burning natural gas.  EWEB’s Standby Steam Plant, located right in downtown Eugene, is also interesting that while it was designed to produce electricity (burning material to raise the temperature of water to turn one of its three generators), it was later converted (in 1962) to actually create, well, steam, that was directly transmitted around the downtown to heat various private and public buildings.  For the moment, the newest unit at the plant still does just that but all the earlier units remain in place, just as they were designed, and so the plant functions as something of a textbook of steam plant generation technology between 1930 and 1950.  I am enjoying researching, and documenting, the operation of this historic facility as part of EWEB’s decommissioning the facility.  It sure makes for some great images...the interiors of mid-20th century industrial facilities are nothing if not photogenic!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Show Starts on the Sidewalk

Earlier this month the JPR Foundation filed its formal application with the City of Medford Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, detailing the various exterior rehabilitation and restoration that mark the beginning of the transformation of that building from a long-vacant opportunity into a vibrant 1000-seat performing arts center.  Aspects of the exterior renovation include the restoration of the original wood windows, cleaning and repairing the Flemish bond brick of the upper floors, repair of the damaged sheet metal “tiles” at the parapet and the complete reconstruction of the exterior entry foyer, including the tile pattern that I’ve written of here previously.

But, as it should be, it will be the signs that get the most attention (that, of course, being the entire point of signs).  From the 33-foot neon pylon at the corner of Holly and 6th to the projecting marquee over the entry, we’ve done the best job we can of recreating the visual character and, hopefully, the excitement that this building created in Medford when it opened in August 1930.  Fernando Duarte, of Duarte Design, and Alpha Signs are working on the details, based on JPR's historic program, and we expect to be under construction by early next year, for a Spring unveiling.

Last week I was out in Coos Bay, Oregon, talking to the City and private parties that are interested in bringing new life to the Egyptian Theatre.  (Read the story) One of the concepts that I tried to convey is the value that a restored historic structure, especially a restored movie theatre, can have as a customer magnet.  Great architecture and design, that pays lots of attention to all the details of the exterior to create an unmatched “experience,” is really one of the most difficult to reproduce benefits that comes with any quality restoration project.  I am reminded, in such situations, of two statements.  The first “it’s hard to create great places from scratch” comes from Jane Jacobs, author of the iconic The Death and Great American Cities.  The other isn’t really a quote, but to me sums up the entire goal of theatre restoration.  It’s the title of a somewhat obscure book by Maggie Valentine, about the designs of the prolific California theatre architect S. Charles Lee.  Lee designed some 250 theatres between 1920 and 1950, including the Fremont Theatre, in San Luis Obispo and the La Reina, in southern California (where, as it happens, I used to spend Saturday matinees as a child.  I think it's a mall or something now).  Lee never worked in Oregon, but his design philosophy, as elegantly summed up by Ms. Valentine’s title, fits what I think is so exciting about theatre rehabilitation.  Valentine’s book is simply titled The Show Starts on the Sidewalk and, indeed, it does and should.