BY BRIAN LIBBY
On this first day it was open to the homeless, the day center of the Bud Clark Commons was filled with people at every table: some awaiting services, some to eat or get a haircut, others there just to read the newspaper and enjoy being off the street.
"Is that TV available to watch," one denizen asked a staff member, referring to a flat-screen monitor on the wall with its power switched off.
"No, that's going to give information about the services that are availalble," the staff member told her.
The $47 million Bud Clark Commons is a residential building for homeless and low-income people, located along NW Broadway in Old Town beside Union Station and the Greyhound bus depot. The shelter opened June 10, the day center today and permanent housing June 21. Clark Commons is a cornerstone of the city’s ambitious 10 Year Plan to End Homelessess. It's a noble endeavor, if difficult to truly achieve. The way the Clark Common provides something more bonafide: a place to regain one's dignity through simple basic addressing of everyday needs like shelter and food, as well as dignity. And that's what transitioning out of homelessness is all about. The Commons is a partnership between the Portland Housing Bureau, the Housing Authority of Portland, Transition Projects Inc., and Multnomah County.
Upper floors of the eight-story building feature 130 studio apartments for the chronically homeless. Transition Projects Inc. will have a 90-bed men's shelter downstairs and operate a day-resource center open to those not living or staying at The Commons.
Just under $30 million for the project comes from the River District Urban Renewal Area. Its borders include most of the Pearl District, which has previously seen construction of countless condominium towers geared toward residents in upper income brackets. At the same time, the River District URA includes much of Old Town and even patches of downtown, all areas of lesser investment and subject to numerous social-service building projects over the past decade from the Union Gospel Mission to Central City Concern's Richard L. Harris Building (formerly 8 NW 8th).
Designed by Holst Architecture, Bud Clark Commons uses wood, glass and bits of color to enliven the simple brick of its upper facade. Walking along Broadway, one meets at ground level a long succession of floor-to-ceiling glass. The corners along Broadway do not serve as entrance; instead one enters the day center in the back of the building, through a courtyard. Here and in other areas at ground level, Holst utilizes a series of patterned screens to not only add privacy but texture.
The building's mass is broken up by using two opposing light and dark shades of brick on the front and back halves. The darker brick portion on the back of the building also is cantilevered slightly, and the architects cut into a portion of the Broadway-side facade to allow a deck. All of which helps again give a sense of lightness to what, in other architects' hands, might have been a utilitarian, plainly institutional looking building.
Clark Commons is anticipating a LEED Platnium rating from the US Green Building Council. Its sustainable features include natural ventilation, solar-powered hot water delivery, a high-performance exterior envelope, bioswales, greywater reccling, energy-efficient lighting, a green roof and low-flow plumbing fixtures. It was also developed from a brownfield site.
Standing on Broadway outside the Clark Commons, one can see this stretch of Broadway transforming. Directly across the street is the massive downtown US Postal Service facility that ultimately will be vacated, bringing a major redevelopment opportunity. Just across the intersection is the historic 511 Broadway building, which belongs to the Pacific Northwest College of Art and will be renovated soon from an Allied Works design. There is also a new streetcar line set to go over the adjacent Broadway Bridge, and just down Broadway is the US Customs House, another historic property being renovated. All told, the Clark Commons is part of a larger shift for this stretch of Broadway that will make this once destitute area part of the true center of the city.