BY BRIAN LIBBY
For much of the 2000s, Holst Architecture epitopized the condo boom. Along with other local firms like Ankrom Moisan, Vallaster Corl and Myhre Group, Holst saw a succession of commissions for mixed-use buildings both in existing neighborhoods like Belmont and burgeoning enclaves such the Pearl District. Projects like the 937 building, the Belmont Street Lofts and the Thurman Street Lofts helped elevate Holst to the uppermost eschelon of local firms, winning awards and acclaim for founders Jeff Stuhr and John Holmes.
But as we know, times change, and how the firm has survived the Great Recession by diversifying and adapting, as well as how their office has become busy again today, hopefully reflects not just this firm's positive outlook but a rebound for the industry.
According to the American Institute of Architects' billing index, nationally firms are getting their best stream of work in more than five years. More than one-third of firms are also reporting that time alotted for the project design phase has decreased, reflecting clients' willingness to go forward. By no means is it an economic boom, and certainly there are plenty of firms locally and nationally operating at less than full capacity. But it's most certainly not a recession either, and certain markets that have been at a trickle, such as apartments, are definitely back.
At Holst, staff numbers may indicate a busyness that actually trumps pre-recession levels. At its height before the downturn began in 2008, the firm was at 18 employees. In the recession, it sunk down to 12. Today the firm has 24 employees.
"We were able to diversify our client base since the bottom dropped out in 2008," Holst's Dave Otte said via email. "First, the Bud Clark Commons led to more public/private projects in the affordable housing and community service world. Second, we established ongoing work with regional and national retailers like Starbucks, Williams Sonoma, and Umpqua Bank. Obviously apartments are hot right now so we have a number of those. Also, we are doing more higher-ed work, currently with Lewis & Clark College. Finally, we began branching outside of Oregon, like with our ongoing work in Amherst. We are currently very busy, and are trying to be smart about our growth so that we stay busy."
The Amherst, Massachusetts project Otte refers to is called Boltwood Place, a recently completed mixed-use, 18,000-square-foot building near the University of Massachusetts campus amidst a vernacular of white clapboard saltboxes and red brick buildings. Holst chose just such an exterior palette, using white clapboard and cedar siding, but gave the building clean lines and minimal detailing in keeping with the rest of the firm's portfolio. The developer had sought out Holst to bring a touch of Portland livability to the town known for nurturing Julius "Dr. J" Irving and Marcus Camby. A second Holst project in Amherst for the same client is underway as well.
Besides their multi-family housing projects, Holst also occasionally designs single-family houses, such as one occupied by Stuhr. The latest, currently under construction, is called the Karuna House and is nestled into a hillside in Willamette Valley wine country near Newberg. The design creates a sequence of spaces rising and falling with the land form, with floor-to-ceiling glass offering views of the valley and distant Cascade peaks.
With an airtight building envelope paired with operable exterior Venetian blinds and triple-pane windows, the Karuna House is designed to use 60 percent less energy than the maximum allowed by code, and 68 percent less than a typical existing home in this region.
Holst also has three different multifamily housing projects in Portland set for completion later this year and into 2014, all targeting various levels of LEED registration.
Glisan Commons is a planned five-story, 73,000 square foot mixed-use transit-oriented development in the Gateway district. The ground floor will be headquarters for Ride Connection, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation options to people with mobility challenges. The four upper floors will 67 workforce housing units developed by the nonprofit Human Solutions.
Located in the Northwest Plan District near NW 20th Avenue and Raleigh Street, where a cluster of surface parking lots is giving way to a mixed-use neighborhood, Sawyer's Row (pictured at top) is a 42,000 square foot, three-story project for Vancouver developer C.E. John encompassing 40 apartments across two buildings.
The material palette for Sawyer's Row is a balance of textured cedar rain screen cladding system with cement stucco, steel canopies, with an aluminum storefront. Onsite parking is kept out of view, either tucked under or behind the two buildings.
The exterior is built with a textured cedar rain screen cladding system with cement stucco and steel canopies. Additionally, the design breaks up the mass of the two buildings further, into four masses, so as to (along with the reduced height) maintain a more intimate residential scale. The façade is also animated through a combination of alternating one and two-story entrance alcoves.
And scheduled for completion next year is the Beech Street Apartments which will provide permanent family housing as well as supportive services for nonprofits Home Forward and Lifeworks NW. The development will expand Lifeworks's Project Network, which provides residential space for 36 women and their children while the women undergo substance-abuse treatment. It also includes a child development center, library, courtyard, administration, and a variety of gathering spaces for treatment. 32 permanent family apartments, which will be reserved for graduates of substance abuse treatment programs, represent Home Forward’s first “dry” housing program. The building is anticipating LEED Platinum certification.