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SRG plans the Knight Cancer Research Building



After a mid-June groundbreaking along Southwest Meade Street in the South Waterfront District, time and communication is critical for designers, engineers and construction workers beginning to bring the plans for the Knight Cancer Research Building into reality.

In the public-sector project funded by $160 million investment from the state of Oregon, with equipment funded by the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute after completing the $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge, this is the most collaborative build process Portland has seen.

The building's research will focus on early cancer detection with chemical and computer labs, shared equipment and social hubs. Construction is slated for July 2018 completion.

SRG - The KCRB building lot is just north of the OHSU Collaborative Life Sciences Building on the South Waterfront.

Collaborative plans for the KCRB

In an oversized blue trailer near the west bank of the Willamette, more than 15 architects from SRG Partnership meticulously place final details led by Tracey Bascue, the lead interior designer, and Phil Lopez, lead exterior designer at SRG on the KCRB project — with a team larger than usual.

An open computer lab bordered by categorized conference rooms seats team members from OHSU, SRG Partnership, Andersen Construction and McCarthy Building Companies.

The team spent time shadowing the OHSU scientists, asking them about their experience in a typical lab space — what works, how it benefits the science and how the relationship between labs influence work.

“One scientist said the more they cross paths and communicate their methodology to each other, the better the outcome of their individual work,” Bascue said. “Learning how other people do their work is of tremendous value to moving the science forward — he was an advocate of having circular labs where you’re constantly passing your colleagues.”

Taking that into consideration, the SRG architects plan connectivity and transparency for the KCRB space, including three areas they call collector spaces for scientists to come together, such as a central kitchen serving snacks and drinks under a double-height ceiling, planned to be the heart of the science floors.

Bascue and Lopez endearingly/vividly describe an indoors with stairs swirling throughout the building, balcony overlooks opening between floors, and the only continuous stairs from the ground floor to the rooftop are two sets of fire stairs in the corners, near the tucked-away elevators.

Bascue envisions greenery that is always visible, from the first step into the lobby to peeking out from beneath stairways and railings seen from the corner of your eye.

“To encourage the vertical movement through the stairs, we have glass walls the separate that visual connection to encourage those people to go up one or two flights — they’re not just thinking about the elevator,” Lopez said.

They draw the naturalistic inspiration from the view of the river, adding a lush rooftop terrace amenity space for the scientists.

JULES ROGERS - Bascue use a 3D-printed model to point out where the KCRBs community area touches a future building to the north, drawing future plans into the collaborative ambiance. Only one of these buildings, the Collaborative Life Sciences Building, is complete at this point.

At the ground floor, the public and pedestrians connect with OHSU and to the Knight Institute. Only scientists can access floors two and above, which house an intellectual lounge on the sixth floor adjacent to the outdoor terrace that offers direct views of the outdoors, mountains and river, a place for the scientists to have social interaction.

“And that provides the opportunity for formal collaboration — not just sitting down to have a meeting, you run across somebody, you have an idea, you wanted to pick somebody’s brain," Lopez said. "It provides that moment of pause during the day."

As for materials, the team is using all-natural wood, concrete and metal with no carcinogens or toxins.

“We know that biophilia is the innate attraction humans have to nature: the textbook definition essentially describes our desire to be connected to a natural system,” Bascue said. “Connecting humans to nature in work environments increases productivity, cognitive functions and reduces stress.”

Bascue said she introduces biophilia into a building in many ways.

“Bringing nature into the building, bringing wood, trees, daylight, variability, things like that, then bringing things that are analogous to nature in the building — mimicking patterns, duality or complexity, things that you find in nature.”

The third way is mimicking experiences a person would run into outdoors.

“One is the idea you’d have protection and refuge sitting and having your back protected, yet see everything out in front of you,” Bascue said. “The idea of risk and peril, which is the feeling you have when you’re on a cliffside — you get a jump in your stomach because you could fall off.”

Or fall off near the stairway into the double-height space. You wouldn’t really, but the openness creates the same natural sense.

“It’s an elevated experience: when you travel to one floor you’re not forced to go into a dark stairwell,” Lopez said.

Working with connection

The level of detail and coordination that happens even now, moving into our final phase of design, is at a much higher level than a typical project’s process,” Bascue said.

Traditionally, architects have roles where they are compartmentalized, prepping work in their own office individually from other design plans from subcontractors including plumbing and electricity.

Here in the co-working trailer, every aspect of the plan is layered into a single master rendering. Ultimately, this leads to earlier detection of details that don’t match up, which is traditionally the responsibility of the contractor to work out alone by piecing together the pieces of the plans.

JULES ROGERS - Work is underway at the site near Tilikum Crossing, where the groundbreaking took place mid-June.

“We have certain goals we individually want to achieve. This requires trusting each other,” Lopez said. “At first, it is kind of tough to break through that barrier and realize we all have this common goal, but as soon as those boundaries drop down that’s when it really starts churning — at least now in the trailer.”

The tech, software called Revit that uses BIM models (Building Information Modeling), allows architects, engineers, plumbers, electricians and construction workers to overlay their aspects of the project into one giant, 3D master rendering.

“It’s a live model that as we change things, the engineers who are plugging into that model, they see those changes and likewise,” Lopez said. “We can now identify conflict and work through solutions, as opposed to in the field where you have restraints: it’s not on the table because something’s installed and it’s too costly to revisit that."

Bascue said she would never meet certain people who now work in the trailer with her, all together.

“I’m getting drawings right now about where all the outlets are in the building from the person who will be installing them, whom I would never, I might have contact with that person in two years through email, but I can just go and poke him and sort out exactly what’s happening,” Bascue said. “We’re saving a ton of time back and forth email by just knowing each other.”

Lopez said hearing input from subcontractors gives them insight into creating solutions that meet design intent.

“They’re the ones who are doing the work in the field, we’re the ones designing the work from the get-go,” Bascue said. “We don’t normally have access in this way: if they understand what our intent is, they can do a lot with it.”

From point A to approval

During the initial design process, Lopez said they took designs before the city’s Design Commission and to a Land Use hearing twice each.

“I (first) heard about it (the building) during the Knight Cancer Challenge, and a friend of mine passed away so that’s how I became aware at least of the fundraising campaign,” Lopez said. “Then the project was being talked about for awhile, and when SRG pursued it I was able to sit in on one of the presentations.”

“What I got excited about was trying to break the mold of what a lab building is,” Lopez said. “During the interview we proposed a shorter, squatter building that provided more opportunity for collaboration from scientists, and there was risk in that — it wasn’t what the original RFP (request) was proposing.”

“It was sort of a gamble, and then when we heard that we won the whole firm was so excited,” Lopez said. “This building connects everyone — everybody has some sort of connection with cancer, so being able to be a part of something that’s so much bigger than something we do on a day-to-day-basis building privately — this is much, much bigger, I remember feeling so proud we were able to achieve just being selected.”

Lopez said the team had a lot of flexibility in the design, even though (or maybe because of) the risk they took in varying from the original RFP.

“The big message in this case was comparing the experience of having a tower … (or) a building that was shorter and wider with fewer floors and more communication and collaboration,” Bascue said. “The fundamental idea was: let’s make a shorter, wider building with a series of collective, collaborative spaces that move through the building and are connected with stairs.”

Then, it was nose to the grindstone.

“We had to go through numerous … I couldn’t tell you how many times we went through and vetting the building against performance criteria for daylighting and solar heat gain issues,” Lopez said. “So we would study things in a performance way, and then we would start to question some of those things and look at it more aesthetically and compositionally, and try to marry the two — sometimes they’re in conflict, the cost of what we’re proposing and all those types of things.”

SRG - Renderings show plans for the rooftop garden and lounge, which will have mountain and river views.

All the while the team was going back and forth for approval from OHSU and the city’s Land Use and Design commissions, who were giving more input about fenestration (window arrangement) and outdoor space.

“That actually came from the Design Commission … it was suggested it would be a nice amenity if we would provide outdoor space,” Lopez said. “That would be another category and we’d take weeks to realize that goal.”

“That’s how the balconies emerged,” Bascue added.

They also had to revisit the pedestrian-friendly exterior street level, and the design of the top two floors.

“We would sort of take the 20 options, reduce them down to some of our favorites, engage OHSU, present it to them to see if they agree or not, got some great feedback from them as well, pushing us in directions we weren’t thinking about before,” Lopez said.

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KCRB

District: South Waterfront

Acting owner: OHSU

Designer: SRG Partnership

Builders: McCarthy Building Companies, Andersen Construction

Tracey Bascue

KCRB lead interior designer, SRG Partnership associate architect.

Bascue earned her Master of Architecture and interior design from the University of Oregon after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College in art history. She is certified in NCIDQ and LEED AP.

Bascue

“I was always really interested in the relationship between mental and physical health and wellbeing and the built environment,” Bascue said. “I’ve always been really interested in the potential that space can have to improve the quality of your experience.”

She’s always been passionate about bringing home plant life and greenery, and even as a child decorated her room with rainforest posters.

“People are starting to recognize the benefits of investing in human capital,” Bascue said. “Productivity and happiness of employees will be the single most beneficial investment you can make in a building, financially as well as a qualitative investment — they’re finally starting to quantify that gain. Once they can quantify that, they can make it a priority for a business, one of the things we weren’t really able to connect before.”

She’s excited to work on the Knight Cancer Research building and particularly to bring biophilia into the building and materials.

Phil Lopez

KCRB lead exterior designer, SRG Partnership architect.

Lopez earned his Bachelor of Architect from the University of Oregon and has served in the Oregon Army National Guard.

Lopez

“My stepdad was a residential contractor, so I was in the building industry as a kid,” Lopez said. “I liked to draw and was creative, and it seemed like something that would satisfy my goals. Once I got into learning about what architecture was, it’s much bigger than that, just feeling like you’re contributing to the community you’re in positively, you have a say in these wonderful ideas at the cutting edge of how we’re evolving as a people.”

He’s excited about the feedback his designs for the Knight Cancer Research building has received.

“Hearing positive comments from the users, that’s the most satisfying thing to feel like all that hard work and debate that seems arbitrary to lay people, to know that it’s been appreciated by the user, meeting their cultural goals or particular needs,” Lopez said.

“Getting hands-on and discovering things, the exploration for me is the most satisfying. It’s not that you’re going to come up with a genius idea right away, but the exploration of what could be, and pushing the boundaries.”

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