Project DescriptionProject of the Year
Every type of architecture holds its own challenges, but affordable housing can prove particularly daunting. Just ask Holst Architecture, the Portland, Ore.–based firm that designed Bud Clark Commons. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says project manager Dave Otte, AIA, LEED AP, of the 107,000-square-foot housing, shelter, and day center for Portland’s homeless population. “It was a very intense process with a large stakeholder group. We needed the building to withstand a high level of use but still provide dignity and humanity.”
The 2013 Residential Architect Design Awards judges acknowledged this high degree of difficulty when choosing Bud Clark Commons as the Project of the Year. “It combines sustainable aspects, social agendas, and aesthetic issues,” said one juror. “They had a very complicated series of things to solve and combine in a very successful project. If I didn’t know it was an SRO, I’d still think it was an amazing building.”
Named for former Portland Mayor Bud Clark, the project occupies a prominent site in between the city’s Pearl District and Chinatown neighborhoods. The design team (made up of Otte; design principal John T. Holmes, AIA; principal in charge Jeffrey Stuhr, AIA; and project architect Kim Wilson) chose a contextually appropriate brick for the exteriors, using white on the building’s western portion and a darker brown for the east side. “The two different tones of brick helped address the different neighborhoods,” Otte says. Stained, board-formed concrete adds an organic texture to the second level, and laminated spandrel glass in eight shades of green enlivens the upper-level windows.
Plated-steel front gates laser-cut with inspirational messages lead to the entry courtyard for the day center. “One of the ideas of the public courtyard was to make it very welcoming and easy to get into,” Otte says. “We wanted it to be engaging and welcoming and gracious.” Likewise, laser-cut, custom-patterned Cor-Ten steel walls add security to the building’s ground level while avoiding a forbidding look.
In addition to the public courtyard, the sunlit day center includes a main common room, a community center, showers, counseling and administrative offices, an art studio, a community courtroom, and a garden balcony. Holmes, Stuhr, Otte, and Wilson took extra care to ensure that residents and visitors throughout the building would enjoy access to landscaped outdoor space. “These people are in these hardscapes all day long,” Otte explains. “We were trying to give them something different.” The 90-bed men’s shelter, part of which lies underground, contains its own private courtyard and a dedicated common area.
The project’s long-term housing component consists of 130 residential studios on the fourth through eighth floors. Inexpensive Douglas fir planks and oversized floor number graphics cover the hallway walls. The units themselves feature exposed concrete floors, ceilings, and walls, mixed with carpeted and drywalled portions. Green accents lend a pop of color. Holst placed each studio’s window as high as possible to let natural light and ventilation flow deep into the open plans. “If you look at our work over the years, we’ve tried to strike this balance between a rigorous architecture and some element of warmth, a sense of place, a humanity,” Holmes says. “It’s a delicate balance because both have a kind of merit. We try to hit that note, and this building is reflective of that.” The judges approved. “The use of color and daylighting create very dignified modern spaces,” said one juror.
The architects credit developer Home Forward for advocating strong design and energy efficiency. “There was a desire from the developers and us to make a 50- or 100-year building,” Stuhr says. “A lot of affordable housing is built as cheaply as possible, and you end up spending more money in the long run through maintenance and upkeep.” Home Forward wanted the building to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, and it did, with the help of city-provided financial assistance for sustainable measures. (Overall, Bud Clark Commons’ financing came from a mix of federal, state, and municipal sources.) The building’s holistic approach to resource conservation includes heat recovery ventilators, solar hot water, green roofs, bioswales, and a graywater system.
Our jury praised the project for its dynamic appearance, clear purpose, and inherently inclusive philosophy. “It’s a difficult site—and the amount of architecture they got out of it!” marveled one judge. “This is an incredibly smart, respectful design. It has a real commitment to sustainability.” Added another: “As a piece of architecture in a city, it functions beautifully. It achieves a level of design a lot of higher-rent places don’t achieve.” —Meghan Drueding