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PSU business school expansion halfway up

Plans include a renovation and a new building


The PSU School of Business Administration is getting a new building along with its new dean, and construction is at its midpoint this summer.

The existing Karl Miller Center is being renovated inside and out, and a new classroom building and pavilion is being developed on the adjacent site to form a new facility.

RENDERING: BEHNISCH ARCHITEKTEN - Connecting the renovation with the new development is the glass pavilion, which will house a grand staircase and facilitate the passive energy of the new development.

Recently renovation has reached its halfway point. As for the new building, construction workers started to pour the first floors in. It is slated for completion in Fall 2018.

The existing building, built originally in the 1980s, is being reclad in a more sustainable material and renovated on the interior, and the addition will replace garden landscaping with a statement building full of classrooms. The two will be connected by a glass atrium with an interior grand staircase, and be six floors tall.

The PSU Graduate School of Education is moving out of the building, creating an end result that triples the space for the School of Business Administration, which will be able to fit all its classes and programs into the new building.

The existing building is six floors and 100,000 square feet of space. The addition brings 38,000 square feet of space to the northern portion of the site, connected by the atrium.

The project is funded with $40 million in state bonds and $20 million from private funds. Its designs are created by Portland-based SRG Partnership and Germany-based Behnisch Architekten.

At first sight

Matt Noblett, partner with Behnisch Architekten’s Boston branch, first heard about the expansion project in 2014 through professional organizations and conferences from SRG Partnership, who had been tracking the project.Noblett

“When they understood the request for proposals was coming out, they called and asked if we were interested in pursuing that with them, which of course we were and we applied,” Noblett said. “At first, the project was very strongly backed by the president of the university and the dean at the time, and it was very clear from their statements they were really interested in doing something unique, very ambitious, very sustainable.”

Noblett said his firm in Boston was intrigued by the possibility of designing a project in Portland because of the city’s progressive culture around sustainability, design and development.

“And also because the climate there is so appealing, it allows a lot of wiggle room to design in a free way,” Noblett said. “We had this idea that the new construction part of the project could be done as a completely passive building with no air conditioning.”

Passive pavilion

The new pavilion is “clearly the statement piece element of the design,” Noblett said. “It’s where we’re able to exercise the most freedom.” The pavilion building is designed to be completely passive.

“On the empty lot that’s adjacent, we built a new pavilion that has a glass hall in between where all the open stairs are,” Noblett said. “It serves as a natural ventilation chimney so the pavilion and existing building can draw exterior air through the windows, transferred through the atrium and exhausted out at the top.”

“That central space kind of serves into the environmental function, as a green space in a sense, bringing a lot of daylight into the interior for both the existing and the new building and also a social collector, a place where people meet,” Noblett said.

With the expansion and renovation, the overall footprint of the business school is dramatically reduced and will be the most efficient building on campus by a considerable volume.

“The basic concept is intelligently-dimensioned building volumes and properly allocated spaces so natural ventilation can occur through the exterior of the building, draw through and minimize the amount of cooling necessary,” Noblett said. “Basically there is no cooling, no air conditioning in that portion of the building — it’s an entirely passive building.”

For the facade, the designers chose sustainably harvested Alaskan cedar, and used glass in between. The existing building is being reclad in finished aluminum panels.

Noblett said the most challenging part of designing this type of structure is being mindful of the taxpayer funding while creating a passive building (read: expensive).

“Everyone wants to be mindful of the taxpayer component of funding and so forth, and that creates its own challenges,” Noblett said. “The passive ventilation strategy for the new building was really involved in some big discussions with the users of the building — to talk about what comfort needs a space like this has that is purely naturally ventilated, what kind of expectations can you have, how do you operate a building like this so it’s successful, and people adapting to a new type of interior environment — those are challenging discussions to have.”

Noblett’s team spent a lot of time discussing the relationship between the new and the existing buildings about how they should “talk” to each other.

“We went for more of a contrasting relationship,” Noblett said. “There wasn’t so much we could do to manipulate the massing of the old building for cost reasons, so we chose a new material for the expression on the facade that makes it blend in, disappear into the site and let the new building step forward.”

JULES ROGERS - Part of the existing buildings renovation includes a facade reclad in finished aluminum panels, which will help make that part of the building more sustainable.

The University

The designers are working closely with the university throughout the ongoing design process, pinpointing needs.

“They really wanted to find a way to work partly with the renovation of the old building and partly construction of the new building to find a way to improve the community aspect of the school and make it a much more integrated type of environment,” Noblett said.

The original building is being completely renovated inside and getting a new facade that will improve daylight in the interior. The new addition is being built adjacent to the existing building in the same block, on what was a garden — and will still incorporate green resting places beneath large overhangs.

“The original building was pretty grim on the inside, with very little space for students to gather, work together and collaborate,” Noblett said. “There was a pretty stark division between when the faculty occupied the building and where the students occupied the building, and not a good mixing between various members of the schools among the community.”

Architects took into account the proposed future Green Loop, which includes plans for Montgomery Street as a westward connector extending from the river through the loop toward the West Hills.

“Suddenly, a street you go to today that feels like an afterthought becomes a statement about urbanity in Portland,” Noblett said.

“This is the first major development project along Montgomery in the context of future designs ... there was a lot of discussion around how this building is setting up Montgomery Street for success,” Noblett said. “We were always interested in the project being something that would create a really positive future for Montgomery Street, which seems to us like a really great plan how to invigorate that artery through the city and make the connection to the river and to the west.”

JULES ROGERS - So far, the new buildings construction has reached the fourth floor - the level of PSUs skybridges - and is designed to be six stories at its full height.

Inside the classroom

The new pavilion building’s space is almost entirely dedicated to classrooms.

“The first major contributor to education is just raw, new, up-to-date, state-of-the-art classroom and teaching spaces, that one major component,” Noblett said. “Also, some classrooms are being built into the renovation portion.”

Renovations include upgrading student services as well as office departments.

“The most significant new element that is something of a departure from what the SBA has had in years past and PSU as well, is a lot of these more informal working spaces, places where students can gather in groups of two, three, four or individually in lounge spaces, where they can work,” Noblett said.

At the ground level, the open grand staircase scaling two floors can double as a set of bleachers for larger school events, lectures or performances, and is something new to the business school. The ground floor also has an incubator space and a retail space to help animate the streets.

JON HOUSE - PSUs campus is in the middle of downtown, vibrant with pedestrians going to school, work and to government facilities nearby.

Vibrant public realm

Noblett says the building is intended to be a connector for pedestrians, be they students, city staffers or downtown goers.

“The building, in terms of the way it addresses the surrounding streets and surrounding public spaces like the urban plaza directly across Sixth Avenue, and the way it tries to engage pedestrian traffic on Broadway just north of the site, it really tries to make connectors,” Noblett said. “The small connector street between Sixth and Broadway, a lot of people use that to connect to the urban plaza where trains drop people off to get to the Park Blocks.”

The north part of the site used to be a park with a garden, paths, grass, trees, landscaping and sculptures that have been relocated. The old skybridge that used to connect the existing building has been taken down, but the new addition will connect it in the end.

Designers put canopies, entrances and plazas around the four-court main entrance, introducing a new public space to the city.

“They (PSU) were concerned it could be designed in a way to become a successful urban space, not a leftover corner of the site,” Noblett said.

What became one of his favorite design elements won’t even be visible until the building is completed and live.

“I’m very interested to see how circulation and how people’s movement as they interact with the building in a more casual way as you go from different point on campus, how does that make this building really unique?” Noblett said.” I really am interested and excited to see this interaction between what is already a very vibrant public realm and how that translates into the quality of ground-floor spaces of the building.”

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Karl Miller Center

Where: 631 S.W. Harrison St.

Owner: Portland State University

Designer: SRG Partnership; Behnisch Architekten

Contractor: Skanska USA Building

Watch construction in real time at: oxblue.com/open/Skanska/PSUBusinessSchool


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