Portland university building creates new identity with glazing, metals, and wood

Glazing, metals, and wood help the Karl Miller Center, a renovation and major addition at Portland State University, create a new identity for its business program. Photo courtesy Brad Feinknopf/Janis Rozkalns
Glazing, metals, and wood help the Karl Miller Center, a renovation and major addition at Portland State University, create a new identity for its business program.
Photo courtesy Brad Feinknopf/Janis Rozkalns

Karl Miller Center, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum home of Portland State University’s (PSU’s) business school (Oregon) establishes a powerful identity for the business program. The design reflects its ambition and prominence in sustainability while providing students, faculty, and the community with a place to hang out, study, and collaborate. The center, a renovation and a major addition, utilized glazing, metals, and wood to help promote active learning and enliven the streetscape and public realm with connections to the city’s network of public spaces.

Enhancing the pedestrian realm

Three primary elements comprise the building: a renovated ’70s-era structure, a major addition, and an atrium linking the two. The atrium’s circulation—with diagonal ramps connecting the floors above—creates a dynamic, active hub. To the atrium’s west, the renovated, 9290-m2 (100,000-sf) structure is retrofitted with a corrugated metal panel façade system, punctuated by square, punched windows of different sizes. To its east, regionally sourced, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified Alaskan yellow cedar clads the 4181-m2 (45,000 sf) addition, which reads as a composition of four stacked boxes, some larger than others. One cantilevered box, poised en pilotis, with concrete columns as high as 12 m (40 ft), frames the entry plaza underneath.

While the addition takes cues from the International Style, it displaces that rationality

with a shifting composition, regional materials, and an angular juxtaposition. The building’s canted glazing encloses the transition between the old building and the new and features the center’s main entry.

The project also reconsiders the 61 x 61 m (200 x 200 ft) cadence of Portland’s city blocks with a building reading as two distinct structures; the metal-clad renovation abutting the site’s perimeter sits alongside the wood-clad series of stacked, sliding boxes. This approach presents a more diverse streetscape and reinvigorates existing links between the urban center, pedestrians, transportation, and parks.

Fostering active learning and collaboration

The building provides an active gathering place for business school students, and a destination for the campus-at-large and Portland. Benefiting from a diverse program, activities animate the five-story atrium as the heart of the building. A variety of spaces are arranged strategically to maximize connection and communication, including informal meeting and study areas, gardens, classrooms, business incubators, student spaces, faculty and administrative offices, and retail.

Activating the plaza and atrium

A one-story grade differential between the nearby 6th Avenue and Broadway creates two ground levels, heightening the activity within and around the building. These ground levels are populated with public-oriented spaces to activate an exterior plaza and the central, interior daylit gathering space, a new home for civic and university events.

Sustainability

Leveraging Portland’s temperate climate, all construction is designed without mechanical cooling equipment. Passive sustainable strategies minimize environmental impact, enhance human comfort and well-being, and reduce the total site energy use intensity (EUI) of the building to less than half the original, pre-renovated structure.

The building was designed by SRG Partnership in collaboration with Behnisch Architekten.

Skanska USA was the contractor on the project and KPFF Consulting Engineers was the civil engineer.

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