(Open) space is the place
Today the American workplace is changing, and not just a move from cubicles to open offices. Perhaps no project in Portland demonstrates this more than Field Office, a pair of speculative office buildings by Hacker Architects for developer-client Project^.
Located at Northwest Front and 17th avenues, a stone's throw from the Willamette, Field Office is part of a march north beyond the Pearl District's traditional border, the Fremont Bridge, into heretofore-industrial territory. Yet its real distinction may be the way a speculative office, normally a utilitarian building type given to unremarkable, uninspiring designs with very little shared public space, turns that formula upside-down.
Most of us at work in an office are probably not going to literally spend the entire 40 hours at desks and conference rooms. Open offices have eroded the size of the workstation and in some cases even the right to personalize it as your own. In return comes a wider variety of shared spaces to which one can migrate for meetings, a phone call or concentration. Yet because laptops and phones now allow most of us to work anywhere, and because so many more people these days are independent contractors, offices and perhaps especially speculative ones are increasingly competing to provide spaces good enough to leave home (or the café or the park) for.
The project is built on an irregularly shaped strip of land between the railroad and Front Avenue, but with two six-story buildings and more than 300,000 square feet, Field Office justifiably refers to itself as a campus. That feels especially true given the extensive surrounding courtyard, where landscape architecture firm Lango Hansen created a lush blend of plants, trees and covered shared seating. Dividing Field Office into two separate buildings was a costlier move than one large structure, but it kept floor plates small enough for natural light to penetrate deep into the interior.
Designed to meet a Platinum-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the design reserves generous amounts of space for public areas, each a blend of greenery and art. That's true not just in the lobbies and courtyard but also in additional shared spaces on nearly every floor. I especially liked the east building's lobby, a sort of sunken living room that looks out at the courtyard through a wall of sliding glass that can be opened for a true indoor-outdoor feel. Especially eye-catching is a vegetative wall in the back of the lobby, which is comprised of green lichen that remains soft to the touch.
Though the ground levels of the two buildings are wrapped in Douglas fir, enhancing the sense of nature begun by the courtyard and shared spaces, upper floors are clad in corrugated metal, a humble material that's nicely detailed enough to seem elegant, and a fitting homage to the neighborhood's rapidly disappearing industrial character. When the freight trains roll by, one still feels those blue-collar roots. But Field Office exemplifies the commercial architecture of a transforming and expanding central city.
Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or Online at: portlandarchitecture.com