BY FRED LEESON
There are few opportunities left in Portland to take a flat, vacant 12-acre site and erect a cutting-edge building that will establish a new use for many decades and set a template for related development nearby.
Such was the challenge for the Collaborative Life Sciences Building, the first of potentially several new buildings that will be known as the Schnitzer Campus of Oregon Health & Science University, located on the west bank of the Willamette River just south of the Marquam Bridge.
This first piece is a 650,000-square foot structure with a 12-story tower at the north end and a five-story element at the south end, sandwiching auditorium-sized classrooms and an atrium. All three components sit on a plinth that covers 470 parking spaces and seals polluted land below left behind by prior industrial uses.
If form says anything about function, this will be a busy building, indeed.
The complex structure is a collaboration between OHSU and the Oregon University System, which includes Portland State University and Oregon State University. PSU will use the structure for biology, chemistry and pre-med classes; OSU will expand its pharmacy program and research labs; and OHSU will use the Skourtes Tower for its dental school and a biomedicine program.
The final design, approved by the Portland Design Commission on Jan. 19 after several public hearings extending over eight months, is a joint effort between SERA Architects of Portland and CO Architects of Los Angeles. The LA firm, which led the large-scale design, has worked on dozens of projects around the nation involving health care, medical education and science and technology.
The overall size and shape of the building changed little during the public design process, but the Design Commission lobbied successfully for a more simplified palette of exterior materials and changes to the pedestrian and bicycle circulation.
“It has been quite a journey,” Brian Newman, OHSU’s planning director, told the commission at its final hearing. “We all feel the project has improved significantly because of your participation.”
Given its size and scope, there was little public testimony at the hearings. The AIA’s Urban Design Panel submitted written testimony that was more a criticism of the city’s master plan. “Instead of a composition of urban buildings in a connected field of urban blocks, the site master planning and building design offer our city a suburban-style university campus of buildings that fail to engage with the urban fabric,” the panel said.
Given the seeming isolation of the South Waterfront location, access the building should be excellent. The Portland Streetcar will have a stop on Moody Street, and the new Milwaukie light rail line will have a station at the south end of the project. Bicycles also are likely to be a popular transportation choice, and the design affords more than 400 bike parking spaces, some outside and many under cover.
Perforated stainless steel panels, punched with holes of three sizes, break up the glassy masses of the larger structures and provide sun protection where needed.
“The building has a lot of positive energy,” said David Keltner of THA Architecture, a Design Commission member. “It’s very forward thinking.” Ben Kaiser of PATH Architecture, another commissioner, added, “It is pretty dynamic, but extremely composed.”
The complex should spring upward at a fast pace. The city allowed for the start of construction on the foundation before the final design was approved. PSU officials hoped it would be ready for undergraduate classes in the fall of 2013, but a 2014 completion date may be more likely.