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Wow. Brian, don't hold back on us! I agree with your reasoning regarding the rating system - all of the firms have proven that they can deliver on large scale campus projects - the contractor may affect budget, but really Design should be a bigger factor in a highly visible campus project. I would like to see images of the other projects - post them when you can.


As a student, I'm astounded the school is spending this much money. What's wrong with a couple of travel trailers converted to weight rooms and shower rooms put along the sidewalk?

We're going to miss the architectural treasure of PCAT.


This is an excellent reality-check point. We're having a conversation here about what makes the best building, and I still support the idea of a process with design and quality (including sustainability) as top priorities. But if I were a student, I too would be thinking, 'They shouldn't throw my money around. So it's important to remember that context.

Still, the PSU rec center is part of Portland's larger architectural urban fabric. It may be selfish of us in a certain sense, but we want Portland to have a good building. In the end that will probably surely happen with the YGH building, just as it would for Hacker's or Opsis's. These are all ultimately decent options. But one also has plenty of reason to feel passionate and partisan about getting the best, and having a process that produces that. I'm not sure PSU was out to build a great building, or at least didn't have a process that made that a top priority.



I absolutely agree with you that design should be a priority #1 specially in a very urban site. Here is the fundamental problem with this one. "Design-Build"!!!!!!!!! And you know what the YGH design will not be the most exciting project out of the three but probably the only one that's buildable with all the program PSU is asking for. Opsis was about $12 Million over the target budget. It's easy to design with no design budget, we throw all the design trick in hope of wowing the judges. "remember the TRAM?? Unfortunantely, good and innovative design cost money.
Secondly, it is Contractor lead, so it mostly cost effectiveness.
The sad part is, we all want great design, but PSU's financial situation (actually most higher ed in oregon--budget cuts) does not allow this to happen. PSU want more program than they can afford to build. And Randy needs to move to New York or Some other city because he is convinced that if it's not designed the most trendyish architect of this time, it just does not cut it. It would be greatif he would back up his opinions with factual datas instead of throwing bombs out there. I think he pretty bitter that he lives in portland??

I am not depending YGH's design either--it has room for major improvement.


So, who are the contractor's on each proposal?


Raya, that is a very unfair shot at Randy. In fact he's asking the important questions that the architecture critic for the O should be asking.

Without that kind of reflexive self-examination cities turn into mere repositories of the rich and the not rich and the parts of town they live in become glaringly obvious. Portland's biggest budgeted Univeristy needs to take ownership of that title and invest in itself... as well as the city. It is a huge problem and what Randy is doing is questioning very fabric of Portland. We cant pretend we are a town of 150,000... the metro area is 2.1 million and we need a serious campus at our urban higher education anchor.

I may never forgive Vera Katz for spearheading a baseball team when PSU needs so much. First things first.

Good job Randy


I have to agree that visually the Opsis design is more exciting. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind on these kind of projects. The administrators that make these decisions have been working with all three firms throughout these initial stages. Their scoring is probably based on how that process has gone thus far. Also, these are the people that maintain the facility after it is built. The Opsis design *looks* like it might be more complicated to maintain; and as someone mentioned before funding is tight for state universities. I am less shocked that YGH was picked, and more shocked that PSU is building an 80 million dollar project.

Lance Lindahl

DoubleJ brings up some very relevant points. Maintenance and operational issues should play an important role when it comes to institutional projects such as this one. Having spent much of the past three years working out of the Urban Center, it has been sad to see just how little maintenance work PSU is willing to do on a regular basis. Hacker's innovative design is already being compromised by dirty windows, broken bricks, semi-functioning fountains, and an abundance of burnt out light bulbs. I can't see this facility aging gracefully.

And there is one element of Hacker's design that is compltely flawed. Both the existing building and the one proposed include rooftop balcony's that were intended as lesisure spaces. Although perhaps a good idea, a lack of shelter from wind and rain makes spaces like these almost completely unusable on even the mildest of days.

Ernest Tipton


Anyone can make uneducated and uninformed criticism based on innuendos, when they don’t research their facts first to know what they’re talking about.

Randy’s article was wrong on so many facts, PSU decided it wasn’t even worth responding to, now you are perpetuating the misinformation.

The process at hand was the selection of a Design-build team for the design and construction of a new Academic and Student Recreation Center. This was a three step selection process with pre-established evaluation criteria for both the Qualification and Proposal stages.

Step 1: Evaluated the background and experience of the proposed teams. It looked at the experience of the teams working together and designing complex mid-rise mixed-use projects in urban situations. It looked at their recreational facility experience, their experience with fast-track development and multi-jurisdictional projects with tight site constraints. Through this process three teams were selected to submit projects they would propose on the site and costs associated with their proposal.

Step 2: Each of the three teams were interviewed and presented their proposed development for the site. The interviews and proposals were reviewed by a 7 member voting committee and 3 non-voting members. Reviewers included 3 Architects, two of which are members of the American Institute of Architects, one of which sits on the Portland AIA Urban Design Committee. Reviewer’s included representatives of the PSU students, faculty, recreation staff, administrative staff, as well as a representative of the Portland Development Commission.

Design issues that were evaluated included; Constructability within the time and site limitations, academic and recreational parti, compliance with City of Portland Downtown Design Guidelines, and compliance with the Owner’s required retail pro-forma mix. The committee also reviewed the proposed integration of building systems and sustainable features, proposed materials for contextual and functional appropriateness, as well as basic building massing, shade and shadow impact on the adjacent plaza among other issues. None of the proposals were perfect, but some made fatal design errors; such as putting a swimming pool in a basement separated from the recreation staffing, not respecting the Portland block grid or PSU’s Campus architectural vocabulary, or not structuring to acoustically separate recreation and classrooms.
The design proposal evaluation was worth 100 points and was scored by the committee before cost proposals were opened. The Yost Grube Hall proposal received the highest score.

Step 3: As a public institution PSU has a responsibility to get the most from public funds. That means getting the best quality for the best price; Value for the tax payer’s dollar. Price proposals for the three potential projects ranged from $49 Million dollars for the Thomas Hacker proposal to $65 Million dollars for Opsis proposal. The price proposal evaluation was worth 50 points. While the Yost Grub Hall proposal was not the least expensive, when combined with the design proposal scoring it turned out to present the best design proposal value.

A recommendation has been sent to administration that PSU enter further negotiations with the Shanska/ YGH team. No team has yet been awarded the project and there is as yet no “Winner”.

The process of Architectural design is never complete until the building is fully functional programmatically and aesthetically. In referring to both urban and building design Virtuvius defined these as economy.

Brian Libby

Mr. Tipton,

I'm sorry if you feel there's too much misinformation here. A blog and the ensuing comments are not journalism, at least not in my definition, but an ongoing conversation. So I welcome your setting the record straight on some of the details concerning this process. You may note that the title of the post was phrased as an open question. That was very much intentional. I sincerely hope the answer to my question is, 'No.' YGH is certainly a very fine firm, and meant no disrespect to them. I have very high esteem for people there such as Joachim Grube. Calling PSU a 'second rate' university was a mistake - please forgive my attempt to play to the crowd.

If you feel hostility about the nature of this online community of people discussing architecture in Portland, I'd see that as regrettable. But otherwise, I think we can agree on wanting the best possible building for PSU and for Portland. I look forward to a continuing dialogue.

Agustin Enriquez

"A blog and the ensuing comments are not journalism, at least not in my definition, but an ongoing conversation."

That might be true about a blog; but Brian you ARE a journalist--I've read articles you've written about numerous things (and specifically architecture) in nationally published magazines. I can't see how your obligation to get the story right wouldn't continue to this site. A doctor wouldn't give inaccurate advice to someone just because the conversation took place outside the doctor's office.

Brian Libby

Augustin et al., obviously I'm trying to present information as factual as I can. Everything I presented in the PSU story came from ANOTHER ARTICLE NOT WRITTEN BY ME. However, this seems to be a recurrent issue, and I must say, I'm not sure what the answer is. If I'm getting so many facts wrong, maybe it would be better to discontinue this blog?

Agustin Enriqeuz

Are the subjects of these posts hesitant to speak with you because it is not the traditional medium?

Personally, I like your blog and find it to have a lot of value; but facts that aren't facts is not a good situation. Shutting the blog down doesn't seem necessary, maybe it just requires a little less spontaneity on certain topics to give yourself the time to get in touch with the subjects...?

Randy Gragg

The only variance from any facts in my article that I can find in Mr. Tipton's response is in the composition of the jury.

Any difference from what I wrote and he says, now, is due to the difference in what he said when I interviewed him.

When I asked him who was on the selection committee, those he listed included no one beyond PSU administrators, a student and one representative from the PDC. He mentioned neither "reviewers" nor anyone from the AIA urban design committee.

After further reporting, I've determined that Barbara Sestak, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts was a voting member of the jury.

She is an architect and member of the AIA.

I regret the error of not further checking Mr. Tipton's list before going to press. I'll consult with my editors to see how they want to deal with this in light of Mr. Tipton's decision to post on a blog rather than contact The Oregonian directly.

As for AIA Urban Design Committee "members" who might have been on the jury, I remain mystified. This may be due to not fully understanding exactly what comprises "membership" of this committee.

Randy Gragg


Thank you Brian. This is a fantastic exchange and something that is missing from today's mainstream media. Keep it up!


Actually this type of open forum/conversation about facts or mere opinions about the practice of design + architecture is what we need in this town. As for randy's article, I believe that it was totally biased by his taste or opinion that it was in the wrong section of the Newspaper--Editorial maybe?.

It is great to be critical to raise the level of quality of all the projects in this town. The sad part is, not all clients are created equal..the economy of public architecture is unfortunately a constant challenge.

The Opsis proposal is suicidal and amature the way they approached it. Designing something almost $15 MILLION OVER is not very smart.


PSU used a competitive process to select an architect/design for a building and it produced mediocre results. PSU has an opportunity to raise the standard for both design and urban education--and this project provides a public forum for discussing whether and how this important public institution is taking up this challenge. Based on Mr. Tipton's post, the criteria for evaluating the submissions were ambiguous: was design or constructabiity priviliged? A design concept reflects an architect's problem solving bent. Where there is a will there is a way to build a creative solution to a programmatic problem. Kudos to Mr. Gragg for sparking a debate and to Mr. Libby for providing this forum.

Brian Libby

I too think this has been a healthy conversation.

What I come away with was that PSU was trying to do the right thing by making three very good firms its finalists, but ultimately the process seems to have been flawed.

I don't know if this is true, but I've heard the project that got the endorsement was missing some key classrooms. It also seems when you look at comparable college rec centers built recently around the country, PSU is going cheap. I know we can't always pay the sun and the moon for things, but I think PSU wasn't willing to spend enough to get an excellent building. All three entries revealed that in some way, either by material choices, budget escalations or hemmed in lack of imagination.

I also am very dubious of the design-build process in this case. I like the idea of a contractor and architect working together on a proposal -- given the tram and Fire 1 experiences, it's important to be realistic. But to ever have the general contractor take the lead on a project over the architect is in my biased opinion backwards, bizarro, and ill-advised.


Mr. Tipton seems to be of the opinion that people have prematurely drawn conclusions about which team will be selected to design and build the PSU rec center.

He says: "A recommendation has been sent to administration that PSU enter further negotiations with the Shanska/ YGH team. No team has yet been awarded the project and there is as yet no “Winner”."

I wonder how it is that this seemingly very important point didn't come through in Randy Gragg's article. He says: "YGH won, handily, playing it safe and cheap on every level.", without really explaining the nature of the win relative to the point system used by the PSU design selection team. Did Mr. Tipton have an opportunity to clarify the proposal selection status prior to the publication of Randy Gragg's article?

It would be helpful if Mr. Tipton could offer additional information about how the design-build procedure the universtiy has elected to use might proceed, once administration gives the go-ahead to enter further negotiations with whatever design-build team is finally selected for construction of the project.

It seems reasonable for the public to consider the future PSU rec center quite an important building both to the university and the city, and be accordingly concerned that the final result is one borne of the greatest possible inspiration, accomplished with the least possible compromise.


I have heard similar rumblings about classrooms missing. A couple of classrooms is no big deal but I understand they are large tiered classrooms. This would be huge as those kinds of rooms are tough and likely drive many other decisions. If you have big rooms with hundreds of people going in and out of class, then they need to be located near the first floor. Plus they are probably double height spaces so are fairly expensive.

This reminds me that Mr. Tipton talked about fatal flaws. Missing these classrooms seems to be a fatal flaw if true, but I am not sure what to make of the pool comment as someone said mahlum’s predesign plan had the pool in the basement and they would have worked directly with psu. Does anyone know about these rooms, are they really tiered classrooms and are they missing in the winning scheme, and can anyone confirm the mahlum plan had a pool in the basement. Mr. Tipton, can you help us with this.


The sad partis, more and more universities are using "design-build as a project delivery, and 99.9% of them are Contractor lead.
And most of the time, The architect's client is no longer the end-user, i.e. the university,. The contractor becomes the client and what do you think are their priorities in
delivering the projects.
As designers and architects, we
all want the best possible project for the client/users, but
on a design-build delivery, $$$ rules!!

Design-build is another way to cut the role of architects in shaping buildings and the urban environment.

In the end, whoever end up designing the PSU REC center, it will be a solid building (will not break new grounds or mind blowing), a background building that will respect the existing context.
I guess it could be worst..if this was a rec center in Stanford University, it will have red roof tiles and arches..

Brian Libby

You know, we've been asking Mr. Tipton for more answers with respect to PSU's decision making. But I'd like to hear what the PSU department of architecture thinks about the handling of this project. Was design really made the top priority here? I'd certainly have expected PSU's leadership to consult the professors and department heads who teach architecture to their students. If so, did they think design-build was the way to go? Or that the YGH plan was best? Or that this budget compared favorably to other urban universities looking to transform and enliven their reputations? PSU had a lot of expertise to draw from, and I'm curious if they ever knocked on those doors.


I am also curious about what process was used to come up with the program. PSU has a perfectly fine and according to some, underused pool. Why duplicate athletic facilities that are readily available in the neighborhood -- and which could be accessed through cost sharing arrangements? Why not spend the money--which is too little for a decent new building-- on renovating the existing showing-its-age gym? Or better yet ... invest in faculty salaries and smaller student to faculty ratios!


PSU's Peter Stott center, as a whole, is hardly underused. It's crowded, dark, ugly.. a concrete monstrosity that was probably built on a budget of $11 and several bags of Ready-Mix.

The reason for the new rec center is pretty much that athletics and some of the intramural sports get priority over the gym, pushing out everyone else. "Everyone else" is the student population that those in charge of figuring these things out say will hit 30,000 in 10 years or so. That's why PSU is building a new building, because the Stott Center really can't be expanded.

As a student, who will be paying a special rec center fee every term to pay for this thing, honestly I don't care too much how it looks so long as it was built cost-effective.


As a student did you vote for this new facility? I've heard that only 10 % of the student body voted and there was a lot of "pressure" applied by the athletic deparment. Is that true?

Would you rather pay the extra fee or use that money to pay for facilities a block or two off campus (i.e 24 HR fitness) and perhaps get more for your money?
Just asking.


I currently pay about $26 for 10 weeks (term) to use the PSU rec center as a student. There are some other fees that get tacked onto your tuition each term that are already going towards the new building, however... but it isn't that much, and you pay it even if you don't use it.


The new psu engineering building is LEED Gold. Why would the rec center not even make that bar. Seems like the university is heading in the wrong direction while other institutions are raising the bar on sustainability. It is student money, did they have a say in how green the building should be. Even the white house now says global warming exists.

This is the only recreation center you get to build for the next few generations.......


The student rec center referendum passed by 12 votes, in an election that drew about 10% voter participation. Some more info is here: http://media.www.dailyvanguard.com/media/storage/paper941/news/2005/01/11/Opinion/The-Will.Of.The.Student.Body.Or.The.Will.Of.12-2613726.shtml?sourcedomain=www.dailyvanguard.com&MIIHost=media.collegepublisher.com


"....10% voter participation" Pathetic. That explains in part why the building is getting done this way. Seems as though there's a certain lack of communication surrounding the whole project.

Katt: the URL you provided wouldn't work.

Lance Lindahl

Umm....here is a sad fact. Ten percent is actually a pretty good turnout for a student election. This is a similar turnout to what they have at the University of Oregon, or most of the other PAC-10 schools. Keep in mind, voter participation at colleges is based on total enrollment. This includes people that take correspondence and professional development courses. Many of these students are seldom on campus, if ever. Most college students today are not closely tied into campus life. For that reason, they most often choose not to vote.

There is a clear need for a new Rec Center. The Stott Center was built when PSU had an enrollment of about 8,500 students. Enrollment will soon reach 25,000 students. There are very few hours of the day in which the Stott Center has open recreeation hours due to the large number of classes and events held there. A multi-year public participation process took place, and the student body overwhelmingly supported the idea of a new rec center. The only elements of the plan that have been contraversial have been where to site it and how to pay for it.

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