Portland State University: projects aplenty
Portland State University's Fourth & Montgomery project created a local buzz last month when the project earned approval in its first formal appearance before the city of Portland Design Commission.
But the quick journey through design review (a process that usually takes several attempts for most projects) hasn't been the only unique aspect of Fourth & Montgomery. PSU is just one of four owners of the project, a mix that also includes Oregon Health & Science University, Portland Community College and the city of Portland.
When completed, the Fourth & Montgomery building will be home to PSU's Graduate School of Education, OHSU and PSU's joint School of Health, PCC's dental program and the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
With four different owner viewpoints and opinions, trying to get everyone on the same page for design aspects could have been a recipe for disaster — especially given that PSU already had been busy with an in-progress renovation of Neuberger Hall and is preparing to issue a call for bids later this year for a third project. But tapping a unique approach called integrated project delivery helped keep the process from spiraling out of control, according to Dan Zalkow, PSU's associate vice president for planning, construction and real estate.
"It has been challenging at times, but it's worked out really well," he said.
While Zalkow says he's heard of a handful of universities across the country bringing in a partner for a project, he thinks situations in which there are more than two partners — including a city agency — are "relatively uncommon."
The challenge of finding ways to mesh the design needs and expectations of those multiple project owners was a large part of what drew SRG Partnership to the Fourth & Montgomery project, according to Laurie Canup, design team lead for the firm.
"When we went after this project, one of the things that got us most excited was looking at where each owner had similar goals," Canup said. "We thought, they're better together."
Highlighting that combined strength, though, first required finding areas of common ground. Initial meetings focused on developing a set of project goals and shared values that everyone could agree upon.
"That created a mission for the project and a road map for us designing the building," Canup said.
Owners then selected liaisons, who came together with the design team several times each week to discuss different aspects of the project. When there were differing views or opinions, they relied on a data-driven approach called integrated project delivery. Liaisons would identity their top priorities for a certain aspect, which allowed the team to then map out a solution that best achieved the common values and goals that the owners had collectively identified at the beginning of the project.
"It's a way to make really tough decisions in a large group that brings everybody along together." Canup said. "It allows each owner to understand how we came to decisions."
A sense of place
While some colleges and universities try to maintain a certain style for their campus buildings, Zalkow said PSU prefers to let the area a building will be located in help inform the style.
For the Fourth & Montgomery building, the area is what Canup describes as "smack dab between two districts."
The University District, on one side of the project, features buildings with low profiles, mostly less than 10 stories. The South Auditorium District, on the other side, features an area in which the buildings lean toward taller heights of more than 10 stories, massing more in line with office or condominium towers.
"We tried to address both sides of the equation," Canup said. "We tried to create a building that felt tall but that also worked with ... the (lower) height of the University District."
To achieve that goal, the design team incorporated exterior pillars designed to draw the eye upward and make the building appear taller than it is. The materials the team selected were initially based on affordability.
"In our economy, things are booming so much that the cost of metal has gone up quite a bit," Canup said. "We thought stone or brick would be cheaper."
Design commissioners, studying the design during one of two advice sessions held before the formal design review, thought otherwise. They suggested the pillars be given a more of a sculptural flair through the use of metal.
The design team turned to Portland-based General Sheet Metal to find a solution that would fulfill the recommendation while still keeping the project affordable.
"We worked as an integrated team to come up with a (pillar) shape they could produce," Canup said. "General Sheet Metal went off and figured out how to fabricate them in a pretty effective way."
Zalkow doesn't play favorites with the PSU projects with which he's involved. However, he admits he finds some aspects of the Fourth & Montgomery design appealing — especially the pillars and a curved face of the building that mimics the flow of a streetcar line that curves around the northeast end of the corner of the building.
"I really love the way it feels like there's movement across the facade," he said. "It has a nice texture that's not as uniform as a typical office building."
Andersen Construction as construction manager and general contractor, is slated to break ground on the Fourth & Montgomery project at the beginning of December. Meanwhile, PSU is halfway through the construction phase of a renovation of Neuberger hall, a nearly 60-year-old building that suffered from a lack of daylight and the effects of years of deferred maintenance.
"It was a big, blocky, dense building," Zalkow said.
In order to break up that heaviness and diffuse light through the building, the renovation includes the addition of a large lightwell in the center of the building, from the roof to the basement. Large precast concrete panels are being replaced with windows. Brick and wood will be featured on the exterior, and all building systems will be updated.
Access to the building, previously limited to just two sides, will be expanded to provide entry on all four sides: Hall, Harrison, Park and Broadway.
The building will house general classrooms for a mix of subject areas, including math, English, art and design. The first floor will contain student services, the registrar's office and financial aid. The building also will feature PSU's first art museum.
The project architect is Hacker; Fortis Construction is overseeing construction. The use of a range of designers and contractors on PSU projects rather than always partnering with the same firms is deliberate, Zalkow said.
"We believe in sharing the work around," he said.
PSU also is looking to take initial steps on another project before the year ends.
Science Building One, bordered by Southwest 10th and 11th avenues and Market and Southwest Mill streets, is ready for an update," Zalkow said.
The building currently houses research and teaching laboratories with some classrooms and offices. In addition to a renovation of the building, PSU hopes to expand the building to the north.
Turning that plan into reality, will require about $83 million. The university has submitted a request for $73 million for the project to the Oregon Legislature and expects a decision by next June. Another $10 million would come from philanthropic sources.
Even as it waits to hear about funding, the university plans to issue a call for bids for architectural services this winter to start the design process. That will allow the project to move quickly into the construction phase if legislators agree to financially support the renovation and expansion.
Three other buildings may be addressed further down the road: the five-story Fourth Avenue Building, which sits on the east side of Southwest Fourth Avenue and is bordered by Harrison; Cramer Hall; and the Millar Library.
"Those are three large building that could benefit from major renovations, and there are some smaller projects," Zalkow said. "(But) we're pleased with the progress we've made with projects in the past 10 years."
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