The Emmons design, for financial services firm RV Kuhns & Associates, which I visited last month, occupies a few floors in the historic Smith's Block on Naito Parkway at Ash Street, just across from Waterfront Park. The Smith's Block was originally built in 1872 and designed by architect William W. Piper. Piper also designed the better known New Market Theater, which was built the same year and restored to wonderful effect by SERA Architects and architect William Hawkins in 1983. (The two photos at right were taken by Stuart Emmons.)
Both the Smith's and the New Market are among Portland's are among the oldest surviving cast-iron buildings in the city. The building is actually comprised of four narrow, virtually identical structures. "If you like this particular Italian Renaissance style," writes Bart King in An Architectural Guidebook to Portland, "tough luck; the rest of the several buildings that once sported it in this area have been demolished. (Even the southern portion of this block was razed for parking.)
Inside the new RV Kuhns offices, Emmons Architects highlighted the building's original interior brick walls by using glass and skylights to dramatic effect to introduce more natural light. Shafts of light carry illumination through the roof and down through lower floors, while also acting as a bold, almost monolithic piece of functional interior sculpture. Stairways are enclosed in glass as well. It's not only a treat to be in an old building so bathed in soft natural light, but also to see historic and contemporary design elements blended together so seamlessly.
Stuart Emmons, the Harvard-trained head of Emmons Architects, has often been known best in Portland for his outspokenness, writing editorials and taking stands on a variety of city policies and design decisions. This activism is a credit to Stuart, and example to architects about getting involved. That said, it's also possible that Emmons Architects' work can be a bit overshadowed as a result, which is too bad, because the design is very good. Emmons Architects performed master planning for much of the South Waterfront district as well as the Naito Parkway area, and the firm has been close to getting major commissions a couple of times over the last decade.
Meanwhile, YGH Architecture (known for most of its history as Yost Grube Hall) has also completed offices in the US Bancorp Tower (a.k.a. 'Big Pink') for the law firm Smith Freed & Eberhard. Big Pink was originally designed by the Portland office of venerable national firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in collaboration with legendary Portland architect Pietro Belluschi.
The 25,000 square foot project showcases 360 degree views of the city and includes a reception and conferencing center located on the north side of the building, large lunch room for employees located in a premium location (the Northwest corner of the building); offices and general office space. (The photos above to the right are by Pete Eckert.)
This is a relatively small interior office project for YGH, but the firm has also been responsible for many larger offices, like the LEED Gold-rated North Mall Office Building in Salem, the City Development Center in Portland, and even the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. Then there's the plethora of international work YGH has done, spearheaded by principal Joachim Grube, in developing countries like Sudan and Kazakhstan. Grube received a lifetime achievement award at last year's inaugural Root Awards from Portland Spaces magazine.
Congratulations to YGH Architecture and Emmons Architects, not only on jobs well done but on finding ways to chug along in tough economic times.