Reed's new dorm: Petals to the metal
When architecture firm ZGF went to design a new residence hall on the Reed College campus, they faced two challenges.
One, pretty much every other building was red brick, in that fusty Victorian look that quality colleges aspire to.
The second was they had to find out what kind of building the staff and students wanted, which meant asking a lot of people. As one freshman put it, "It's Reed College. Everyone's got an opinion here." (see sidebar)
After ZGF won the bid with a design based on the pinwheel shape of the trillium flower, ZGF Design Partner Braulio Baptista led a series of meetings on campus.
The result opened in August 2019 and now houses around 180 first-year students. Walk around the building, and you'll see copper siding reflecting the faintest glimmer of winter sun, the students' strips of LEDs and their possessions visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as Yang 2020 posters and paper snowflakes stuck to the glass.
Some of the architect's key goals with Trillium Residence Hall were to provide a sense of a stress-free home to freshmen, to offer communal spaces for working, meeting and cooking by having both a double-height atrium and hallways and study nooks, and to evoke the architectural heritage of Reed's campus by using layers of brick, copper, and glass.
The building has three wings arranged like a pinwheel around a node of shared space. Each floor has open kitchens. These are designed to "create daily invitations for students to connect over a shared meal."
Few people know the campus buildings better than Steve Yeadon, Reed College's Director of Facilities Operations. He told the Business Tribune he was invited into meetings by ZGF from the beginning.
"I'd say the process was different from working with most architects but not difficult. It was enjoyable. There were more people involved."
Art specialists on the panel included Stephanie Snyder, a former Reedie and director of the Cooley Gallery on campus, and William Diebold, a professor of Art History and Humanities.
"That was an aesthetic perspective that we don't usually have," said Yeadon. "We tend to match the red brick used everywhere else. And this group of folks went, 'Wow, it'd be really nice to do something completely different than anything we've ever done.' So, we had to change our aesthetic palette," he said, referring to the college's Victorian look.
Common areas, collision points
He recalls that students were consulted mostly about amenities. (Since this was three years ago, and is freshman dorm, they would not be around as undergraduates to live there, and they were not direct beneficiaries.)
"They were interested in common space, and how it would provide not just sanctuaries to be alone and quiet, but places that cause interaction among the students."
They wanted collision points. "Spaces where you walk through a room with half a dozen students hanging out, and you can easily enter that conversation. So, you're not thinking, 'I don't really know any of those people, so I'm just going to walk around them and make my toast in the kitchen.'"
Reed College had 1,400 students in the 1960s and has roughly the same number today. After Trillium, the ratio of students housed on campus rose from 60% to 70%.
The building features copper, like many Reed buildings, but it is in large, expensive panels on the sides of the building.
"People really like the copper," Yeadon said. "I think from a facilities person standpoint, copper's really concerning. You run into problems with copper when it's accessible, and people come in contact with it. You ding a panel of copper or you scratch a panel of copper, and you're replacing the whole panel. If somebody does graffiti on a stucco wall, I can just paint over it." Fortunately for Yeadon, the panels are not very accessible to students.
Trillium may one day be abutted by more buildings. The college may build on the patch of grass to the north. Yeadon says they will probably keep a soft edge (a buffer of greenery) between college buildings and Southeast Steele Street, the way they did with Woodstock.
It was a big project by Reed standards, and they felt the pinch of competing with all the other buildings going up in the Metro area and the scarcity of skilled labor.
"Contractors were busy. Gravel's hard to get around here. Concrete's hard to get. The city is jammed up, and permitting is hard. It draws everybody's projects out."
The college had a tight timeline.
"You can't just go, 'We were going to move people in on August 15. But you know, you can just go stay in a Motel 6 until we're done...' We really had a deadline, and those create some nail-biting moments in an environment that is just so heavy in construction."
Nevertheless, the project came in on time and on budget.
Yeadon says Reed has campus standards for using green products and materials, and how they are staged, and ZGF is very familiar with them. He and other facilities people met with the architecture firm every week.
"Our conversations are quite impactful and don't necessarily need to be very formal because there's trust. Consequently, we really listened to them when it comes to design specifics. Maybe I don't care personally if the copper rivet on the panel is one way, but they think that's going to be awful. So OK; do what you think needs to be done, it'll look perfect. I probably won't notice it," Yeadon said.
"I've always been really impressed with the ZGF group, just how skilled they are coming to the table with all of the stakeholders in the building, and really identifying what the needs are."
He says that compared to other architectural firms he's worked with, "They come with more people to the table that are specifically experienced or qualified in different aspects of that programming. Like from the furniture standpoint, or spatiality, which is how you do that programming within the confines of the space or the square footage you have."
Ask a gallerist
Stephanie Snyder, director of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Gallery, told the Business Tribune she was impressed that ZGF "had representation from every single part of our faculty and administration, including the treasurer and sometimes the president and the vice president. So, from my perspective, not having worked with another company like that before, it seemed very transparent."
The student and faculty panel saw conceptual drawings from several firms before the top brass at Reed decided whom to hire. Snyder was glad they chose ZGF. She soon found the lead architect Braulio Baptista easy to work with.
"He is really dynamic and a great listener. I never felt, as somebody who's not an architect, like he wasn't listening to all of us. He started with 'Who is this building for? And how does it fit into what Reed will be in the future?'"
She was glad the meetings included William Diebold, a medievalist and art historian at Reed for 30 years. "He has a really fantastic architectural knowledge and sensibility having studied many Gothic cathedrals."
Snyder will be looking for traffic patterns in the building over the next year, and is also helping install some permanent art in the space.
She likes the big, multi-use classroom space on the bottom floor, which other dorms don't have.
Another goal was that the building should "let in light during the dreary winter months and have real community spaces, where people could really congregate and study together. [Braulio] didn't want people to be as isolated. [A] dorm can feel like there's your room, and then there's a little bit outside it," said Snyder.
On Feb 4, 2020, Reed College announced that Trillium has earned a LEED Platinum certification for sustainability and energy efficiency.
Question and Answer with ZGF architect Braulio Baptista
BT: Did any other student buildings you can name influence your design? I know at UO they have a newish building for foreign students who are often lonely. It has a test kitchen with an overhead camera and a big TV screen to encourage social cooking.
BB: There wasn't one specific building that influenced the design. The final design grew organically as a result of a rich dialogue between our design team and representatives from the Reed campus community. Together we tested a variety of concepts to explore how the space could help foster student success. Space programming and layout concepts were derived from findings made from the in-depth pre-design work and programming research. The resulting design leverages the beauty of the natural setting of the Reed Campus to create a place of distinct character that endeavors to help students build tightly a knit community.
BT: Why a pinwheel?
BB: Three principal reasons: 1- The pinwheel layout has a natural geographic center which serves as the social heart of the building. The central space where the three wings come together creates visual connectivity and provides a variety of interconnected environments, including the main living space. Trillium residents can be within earshot or line of sight of what is happening around them. 2- Each wing contains three floors of student rooms, creating nine smaller communities of 20 students with opportunities for interaction and socialization at a range of scales. 3- As the largest residence hall (and one the larger buildings) on the Reed campus, the massing is articulated to contextually relate to the intimate scale of the Reed building fabric. The pinwheel not only breaks down the massing but also frames three outdoor spaces of diverse scales and purposes.
BT: How are the acoustics?
BB: Good. We've heard from residents that the acoustics are excellent. Our technical team also balanced the mechanical system to provide a quieter environment.
Do students need wifi free zones?
We wanted to give students the tools to manage their own choices. Part of being a college student today is preparing for a workplace and a world where they do have choices and understanding how to find balance.
BT: How does natural light influence behavior? What about in winter?
BB: Natural light and a connection to nature promotes happiness. When we asked, students actually requested bigger windows. The design reflects that with floor-to-ceiling window walls inside the central atrium. The glass immerses students in the lush context of the campus.
The interesting aspect about the design discussions we had with Reed was from the reverse perspective: how buildings can help provide warmth and a sense of light to the campus in the dark winter months? The greater usage of glass in social areas, as well as the larger windows throughout, work to improve light both outwards and inwards. When it is lit up at night, Trillium acts as a lantern for students outside.
BT: Do students study in libraries much any more? (I am 55, I don't know! I did.) Or just wherever they can find a horizontal surface?
BB: Reed students still use the library frequently; seniors get a thesis desk located right near the stacks in the library space. But we still wanted Trillium to provide flexibility and choice. We created study nooks in various sizes to give students options for a range of studying modalities.
BT: How was it breaking with Reed's red brick tradition?
BB: I don't see the building as breaking a tradition but allowing it to evolve. As the design evolved we saw an opportunity to explore a thoughtful evolution of the Reed vernacular. Trillium's articulated exterior juxtaposes layers of Roman brick, copper that will attain patina over time, glass, and wood to evoke the rich architectural heritage of the Reed campus. We hoped to achieve the sense of timelessness of the best buildings on campus while retaining an individual sense of architectural integrity for Trillium.
BT: What follow up do you do, in terms of how people are using the space?
BB: At ZGF we are big on learning from our buildings. We perform POE's on most of our completed projects. For this project, we are in a dialogue with representatives from Reed College and individual students who live in Trillium to learn more about how they're using the space.
BT: What would you love to design, big budget, anywhere in the world?
BB: A completely Net-Zero city, from ground up. Zero power, zero waste, zero water.
BT: Who is your favorite visual artist?
BB: I love Franz Kline. But lately I've been turned on to the work of Tomas Saraceno, his floating cloud sculptures defy our sense of space.
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