New space for Ankrom Moisan
Triple Lucky: Ankrom Moisan gambles on Old Town/Chinatown's good chi.
Portland architecture firm Ankrom Moisan has been moving into its new building, called 38 Davis, in Old Town/Chinatown since late November. It's a big deal because the firm took the ultimate test: designed its own headquarters, with the added complexity of adding apartments upstairs, as well as offices for other firms and retail.
A recent tour of the building, led by key designers, showed off how hard they have striven to be different. The firm has 58,000 square feet (out of 70,000 of office space) and three floors of the six-story 38 Davis. (Foors five and six include 65 apartments: 36 below market rate, 29 at market rate.)
As you enter the Ankrom Moisan offices, there is no reception. Instead, an ambassador greets visitors and uses a mobile device for check-in. In the future, they say there will also be iPads for checking in. It's an idea they took from their work in hospitality, where lobbies are moving away from the desk check in to the self-serve model. The idea is to have a "less transactional interface," Karen Bowery, executive vice president and director of interior design, explained to the Business Tribune.
There's a prominent bar area with wine and beer taps, but she says this is not a tech firm with a bottomless buffet and dogs wandering around willy-nilly. Bowery should know, since one of her sons works down the street at Airbnb. A large staircase links the two main floors and doubles as an all-staff meeting area, with a projector pointed at the white wall, and a sound system that was tuned to Christmas music.
Steel rails hang from the ceiling and run the length of the building, from which hang large sliding doors. These double as places to show off work and critique it in charrettes. One is being covered with thousands of wine corks an analog pin board. There is one large TV screen in the lobby for meetings, but analog is in the ascendant.
"Before, when we had had work pinned up, it was buried deep with in the rooms," says Bowery. "It's very important for us to showcase out design process."
For Murray Jenkins, executive vice president, 38 Davis is very much his baby, and he lights up as he describes features, both abstract and concrete. For example, they have a two-chamber model workshop in which they can build all sorts or architectural models. Basic foam ones for blocking out massing ideas, low-resolution 3D printed models, and high end wooden ones, which investors still prefer.
The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, a green building certification standard is changing, becoming harder to reach. Under the new LEED version 4 standard, what once earned the Platinum rating will now be called Gold. Jenkins says this building should reach LEED v4 Gold, and be the first in Portland to do so. As part of the new focus on air quality, Ankrom Moisan has to have its large printers closed off in a separate, ventilated room so their fumes don't leak into other workspaces.
Heavy, mobile benches made from train trestles sit waiting for impromptu meetings. The stress is on authentic rawness when comes to materials.
Sitting in a large conference room overlooking the Willamette River, Sarah Bartlett and Willy Dang of the Branding & Identity department explained the river motif. The design team was excited about the imminent delivery of the "big river wall," an abstracted overview of the Willamette River, to "tell the story of this area and differentiate the lobby," said Bartlett. Large steel panels will run the length of the lobby. Lights will shine through small perforations tracing the shape of the bending river.
There are complicated subsets of who did what, design-wise.
AM did the core and shell of the building, the public spaces, residential corridors and the residences themselves.
It also did the interior design for the AM spaces, and the branding and identity for the whole building.
Bowery said the firm likes to do strong branding when it does housing because it helps developer-owners differentiate their property in the market. "It's important because people choose where they live for different reasons. Brand is super important for that."
Another tenant, the University of Oregon Executive MBA department, had ZGF do their interior.
Working with developer Gerding Edlen, Ankrom Moisan is trying hard to brand the building for outsiders and for itself.
"We feel the process is more effective when the branding is integrated with the architecture and the interiors, it's a more cohesive experience," said Bowery.
They named the building 38 Davis. The Post Office said they could choose a number between zero and 50. They chose 8 because it is a lucky number in Chinese culture and 3 which makes it "triple lucky 8." The new building forms an L shape around the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine at 75 N.W. Couch St. The Asian touch also refers to being on the edge of Portland's Chinatown.
Graphics on flyers and business cards to be used in, say, the leasing office, contain the sinuous "38" in abstract form, in a way that suggests the river.
Another part of branding of the building is how it's divided into zones.
They worked with their TI (tenant improvement) design team to pick out details of the interior design to tell something of a story, or at least set some themes.
Four different zones named for four elements or materials: wood, concrete, glass and steel. So you see more of one material when in that zone, which helps orient people and give a sense of place. Plus, nothing says 'architects in the house' like a systematic use of materials. One conference room is called Fortress and has a mock concrete light fixture. Another is called Versailles, after the French palace, because it has a lot of glass.
Designing for designers
"We tried to be thoughtful with every detail of what we were doing," says Bartlett. "We wanted it to be subtle though because what's really speaking is the design of the space itself. We didn't want to have a very heavy hand with the branding."
She says it was an honor to design a space for her colleagues. Most of the time she wasn't asserting her ideas but listening to theirs.
"The bonus of having a brand story in place is we have a home base to return to, and that prevents outlandish decisions being made."
The goal was to bring them back to the guiding principles of authentic, simple materials.
They held town halls as they were designing and everybody got an opportunity to look at the ideas posted on a wall. All employees got a welcome booklet to help them decode the building.
Ankrom Moisan has 360 employees and is very much a west coast firm, with offices in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. This makes it among the largest architectural firms in the western United States. It has expertise in seven different markets: workplace, hospitality, student housing, mixed-use, senior housing, affordable housing and health care.
It has expertise with energy efficiency buildings, for example, the near passive house standard apartment building The Orchards in Orenco Station. This is the largest passive-house building in North America — and it's also another AM specialty, affordable housing.
The firm worked with Glumac to place huge ceiling fans inside circular light fixtures. They spread air in the large, open workspaces, instead of having yards of extra metal ducts pushing it around.
While built to the dimensions of an old Portland warehouse, with high ceilings and long halls, there is a lot of warm wood around. While the weather outside was frightful — horizontal snowflake raced past the windows — inside it was warm and quiet.
The units above 38 Davis are affordable housing and share a lobby and an elevator with the businesses, which is a first for Portland. ZGF does something similar in its headquarter tower, but there residents of the high end condos and office workers have separate lobbies that can be linked or closed off by a doorway. Residents start moving into 38 Davis in early 2017.
All of which suggests a little edginess to the project.
This is a part of Portland where bathrooms in coffee shops have security codes to keep out drug users and where any horizontal surface can become a bed for the night. Young professionals will have to mingle with drug addicts and street sleepers on their way to the hip lunch cart. Two years ago at the groundbreaking, the firm's principals said they wanted staff to be more integrated into the city. They wanted them to be near MAX lines and bike access. The firm has been looking forward to moving from the Willamette Oaks Building on Southwest Macadam Avenue where it has been since 1991.
Getting people engaged
There is no assigned seating in the Ankrom Moisan office. Even for Tom Moisan, co-founder, there is no corner office. No office at all, in fact.
"I wander around," he says with a smile. "I walk around and talk to people mostly. This morning I popped into a meeting with Jordan Schnitzer, about a nice big project on 18th and Alder, across from the old Civic Stadium, then met the team."
He's never worked in this freeform environment before, but he likes it. "It would not have worked 20 years ago. People are ready for it. Society has changed. People are more social, they're more for the common good. We were more individualistic, what's in it for me. I like it. This building just suits us perfectly. We're urban designers, we want to make better cities. And we want people to get engage with their cities. It's our mission in life."
It's a big deal, Moisan says.
"This last election was a perfect, perfect example of why we need better cities. People aren't talking. They're isolated. You've got your stash of guns and their way of thinking and Twittering and all that. It's not healthy. It's our mission to get people engaged with their cities."
Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects
FTE: 350 (240 in the Portland headquarters)
38 NW Davis St #300, Portland, OR 97209
Phone: 503 245-7100