In the early 1990s, Thomas Hacker Architects (now THA Architecture) designed two major buildings for Oregon Health & Science University's Marquam Hill campus, the Biomedical Information and Communications Center (BICC) in 1991 and the School of Nursing in 1992.
As the nation's first fully computerized research library, and with a more striking form, the BICC received more fanfare. The concrete-framed building, clad in limestone and marble, has a glass block and aluminum window system that had not been attempted before. The project also reflected an array of talent working for Hacker at the time, including Brad Cloepfil, Rick Potestio, Elizabeth Williams, and John Cava.
“The BICC and School of Nursing derive strength from their finely tailored, structural integrity, which sets them apart from the current fashion for fragmented designs,” wrote Architecture magazine's Deborah Dietsch. “Thomas Hacker's buildings at OHSU not only offer a sign of health within their university setting, but within contemporary architectural design."
The School of Nursing building, on the other hand, never received as much celebration for its design, but that may be in part because the U-shaped building never saw construction of the courtyard at its center.
Now, 28 years later, and just in time for the school's 100th anniversary, a new courtyard design has been generated by architect Gary Hartill and his Portland firm, OrangeWall Studios after a private donation to the school has made going forward with construction possible. Shapiro Didway Landscape Architecture and Ken Diener of KJD Architecture also collaborated with OrangeWall on the design.
Hartill was an unconventional choice, not because of a lack of talent but because he was an architect asked to bid on what would become his first such courtyard design.
"We were working on another project for OHSU ad they liked the design sensibilities," Hartill recalled in a recent phone interview. "They said, ‘We’ve got this courtyard.’ I said, ‘I’m not a landscape architect.’ And they said, ‘Design is design.’" The OrangeWall submission wound up beating out talented firms like Murase Associates (which was originally set to provide the landscape design when the building was first built, before budget problems ended that portion of the project) and Walker Macy. "We got it because we had a different perspective."
Part of that perspective was Hartill's advocacy for creating a master plan for the building as part of a holistic design process. As a result, the building facade is getting pressure washed and repainted, and the school is looking at a green roof for the building.
To generate the courtyard design, "We talked to staff, faculty, emeritus alumni, students," the architect continues. "All of them had diff points of view but it came down to the same theme: They wanted a place of respite from the stress of the academic/medical world, and a unifying space that could encourage interaction. Most people eat lunch at their desks now. There aren’t a lot of social spaces that invite interaction. For me that became the kicking off point for driving the design. How do we create a connection between the organization and rigor of the architecture? That drove a more fluid design. "
The clients, Hartill adds, "talked about the emotive components of nursing. Healing is about more than knowledge and data. It was a human connection. So if nursing is a combo of pragmatic and emotional components, how can that be incorporated into the design? The DNA strand became the organizing element. It binds all of these different elements to create something greater.
A new briese soleil shades the south facing elevation while glass canopies on the south side of the court provide protection from the rain. Rain gardens are activated by the weather collecting roofwater from the upper roofs and directing through the planters before returning the balance to the earth. The double helix of the DNA strand creates the symbolic and formal basis for the organization of the elements.
A native Portlander, Hartill initially was enrolled to study at the Oregon School of Design only to see it close; he instead attended Portland State and today speaks of well of what he sees as a holistic approach to design at the school. He later worked at Waterleaf Architecture + Interiors and then spent several years at ZGF Architects; his final project there was the Eliot Tower. Since forming OrangeWall Studios seven years ago, Hartill has worked largely on residential projects, including several homes for executives at local ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. But the OHSU School of Nursing courtyard is indicative of the broadened practice he would like to achieve for OrangeWall.
The School of Nursing courtyard is expected to begin construction in 2011.