Since its founding in 1997, Scott|Edwards Architecture has kept a low office profile, even as its reputation has grown.
The firm started in the basement of founder Sid Scott's house before moving to a warehouse space in the Pearl District — long before the area became one of the city's hot spots. For the past 12 years or so, the firm has operated out of a single-story building on East Burnside Street.
Now, however, Scott's firm is ready to spread out — and up.
During the next 11 months, Scott|Edwards Architecture's headquarters will undergo a significant expansion and renovation that will include the construction of a three-story addition.
The project might not have happened, however, if not for a string of occurrences that some people might call well-timed coincidences. Scott, however, prefers to view them in a different light.
He credits things falling into place on two things. The first is what he refers to as a series of "fortuitous bounces." The second is the firm's lucky chicken.
On the grow
The firm's lucky chicken now sits on a shelf overlooking makeshift workspaces in a building on Southeast Ankeny Street that the firm will use as a temporary home while its main office building is transformed. The statue was a gift from an early client who told Scott that the chicken had always brought him luck. He handed it off to Scott, saying he hoped it would bring the architect similar good fortune.
So far, Scott says, it has.
When Scott and firm co-founder Kelly Edwards decided in 2007 to buy the building at 2525 E. Burnside St., they were looking for an open space that would accommodate the firm's 30 employees. The 1940s building, a former distribution warehouse, was what Scott calls a "big concrete box" with impressive bowstring-style trusses, perfect for a firm whose principals didn't expect to grow much larger.
"It was the first building we looked at," Scott said. "We said, 'Yeah, this is it.'"
However, once the Great Recession ended and Portland metro projects boomed, the company's employee numbers swelled to 50. The firm had initially opened up a portion of the main floor in its Burnside building to expose a basement area for use as a place for brainstorming sessions and employee get-togethers. The basement soon was filled with desks to accommodate the overflow of employees.
The firm decided it was time to start looking for a new, larger building. A 1930s building next door went up for sale, but the veterinary clinic that was a tenant had a three-year lease — too long for the architecture firm to wait to expand into the space.
Intending to find another building to buy, Scott and his team began scouring the city, but real estate costs were already starting to skyrocket. The firm also looked at possible scenarios such as joint ventures, but in the end, decided it preferred to be the sole owner of any building used for its offices.
In what Scott considers a first "fortuitous bounce," the firm was able to find space for lease less than two blocks away in a one-story building on Southeast Ankeny Street, sharing the ground-floor with a bicycle shop. Dubbing the leased space "the annex," the firm moved in the employees that had been in the basement of the main building, which soon earned the name "HQ." But as the company swelled toward its current count of 85 people, the main building's basement soon refilled with desks.
The firm was still engaged in a fruitless search for a permanent solution to its space problem when the phone rang. The veterinary clinic was moving to a new space across the street and the little building next door to the architecture firm's headquarters was up for sale again. This time, the company jumped at what Scott considered another fortuitous bounce.
He and the firm's other principals figured they would keep part of their team in the annex. The rest of the group would stay in the headquarters building, moving around in the structure as the addition and renovation progressed. The situation was doable, but far from ideal.
Then the phone rang again. This time it was the owner of the bike shop, who was vacating his spot in the Ankeny building. Scott and his team were able to negotiate a lease for a year for the full ground-floor space, which is now serving as the temporary home for all of the firm's employees until the headquarters project is finished at the end of this year.
A group effort
The firm's headquarters building currently offers about 8,000 square feet of space. The three-story addition will add another 8,900 square feet, bringing the overall building size to nearly 17,000 square feet total — more than doubling the current space in the existing one-story structure.
The renovation of the existing building will include eliminating the main entry onto Burnside in favor of a new glass glass-boxed main entrance that will open onto a parking area next to the building. An existing awning on the front of the building will also be removed. A storefront featuring glass stretching from the floor almost to the ceiling will run along the sidewalk side of the building. A back portion that initially served as a garage and was used by the firm as a seating area for employees will be transformed into a kitchen with a folding glass wall.
The smaller, older building that previously housed the vet clinic will be demolished to make way for a three-story addition that will be attached to the existing building. The addition will feature a third-floor deck that will overlook Burnside while offering glimpses of downtown. A storefront of glass and metal will be punctuated with a wood sunscreen made from kiln-dried ash.
The new building will feature an elevator as well as a main staircase. The top levels of the one- and three-story portions of the building will feature green roofs. The firm also is considering placing solar panels on part of the roof.
Eric Wenzel, one of the firm's architects, has stepped in to serve as project manager for the upcoming project. While having 84 colleagues all weighing in with ideas could be a recipe for disaster, the process of designing the firm's new spaces has gone relatively smoothly, according to Wenzel and Scott.
The firm used a range of approaches, from in-house brainstorming sessions called charrettes to surveys, to narrow down the things that employees felt were most important to achieve with the design for the new offices. The biggest goal for everyone was a result that would maintain the company's culture — especially its focus on collaboration.
Achieving that collaboration wasn't always easy when employees were spread across two locations, despite holding weekly all-firm lunches at one location and staff meetings at the other. And while having everyone operating together out of the temporary annex space on Ankeny Street makes for tight quarters, it's already helped re-establish a focus on collaboration, according to Wenzel and Scott.
"We can see what people are working on, walk by, check it out, get an update, throw in some ideas. It's exactly the studio we want to be," Scott told the Business Tribune.
Rain or shine
Joe Hughes Construction will serve as the general contractor for the expansion and renovation. The company anticipates receiving building permits in a few weeks, according to owner Joe Hughes.
"As soon as we have the permits, we're ready to rock and roll," he said.
This isn't the first time Hughes has worked on the East Burnside building that the architecture firm uses as its headquarters office. He led a remodel of the building in the 1990s when it was the home of L.C. Kramer Co., which manufactured thread and other embroidery materials.
This time around, Hughes and his team are facing some new challenges.
Work needs to begin soon to ensure the project is finished by the end of the year, a requirement that Scott said is part of the financing he has obtained for the project. Construction will start with demolition of the building that formerly housed the veterinary clinic. Crews will then dig into the ground to extend the basement from the existing building. Heavy rains during the excavation process could end up creating some extra work.
"Digging a basement in the winter is
always dicey," Hughes said. "If the hole fills with water, we'll have to pump it out and then filter it before putting it in the sewer."
The site has limited space for storing materials, so timing deliveries will be critical. The stretch of East Burnside Street where the site is located (about a block from the Laurelhurst Theater) has become busier in the past 30 years. Consequently, scheduling deliveries and bringing in equipment will require significant coordination and planning, according to Hughes.
"Materials and tool deliveries are going to have to be finely scheduled," he said. "You can't just pull up and park and unload things at any time."
One aspect of the project will make the interior renovation of the existing building a little easier. Even before a groundbreaking event was held on Jan. 24, the project team brought in the Rebuilding Center to deconstruct the interior of the existing building and salvage as much material as possible.
The focus on sustainability as key to the project will extend into the construction phase, according to George Quillen, project manager for Joe Hughes Construction.
"We're sourcing everything we can locally to cut down on the carbon footprint," Quillen told the Business Tribune.
The cross-laminated timber (CLT) that will be used for the floor and staircase systems, for example, will be obtained from D.R. Johnson. Based in Riddle, Oregon, the company was the first in the country to be recognized as a manufacturer of certified CLT.
While this project is the first time that Hughes' company has worked with CLT, the company has brought another company, Timberland Framing, as a subcontractor to handle the installation of the material. In addition to installing the CLT, Timberland also engineered the roof system for the building, Hughes said.
"It's going to be pretty much a state of the art building," Hughes said. "(Scott/Edwards) is going to be able to use it to showcase their talents for years."
For Scott and his employees, the revamped building also will provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the building industry itself.
"From the very beginning ... our spaces have always been really reflective of construction," Scott said. "This is a great opportunity to reinforce that. The existing building is a beautiful old-style, barrel-vault with trusses, which was the technology when it was built in 1947. You've got these ginormous timber trusses, and then you've got mass timber. It's going to be a great opportunity to show the advance of wood technology."
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