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Daily Journal of Commerce: Design for PSU project is ‘an opportunity to make a statement’
Author: Inka Bajandas
Posted: March 24, 2014

Read the original article in the Daily Journal of Commerce here.

A detail in a Portland State University pamphlet caught the eye of SRG Partnership principal Jon Wiener as the firm prepared to bid on a planned expansion and renovation of the School of Business Administration.

After reading that one of the university’s goals is to achieve a global reputation for excellence, Wiener knew that partnering with Stuttgart, Germany-based Behnisch Architekten would give SRG an edge in the bidding process.

“When PSU (officials) began their process for selecting an architect, it was clear that they wanted to look internationally,” he said. “So we (said), ‘We need an international partner that has expertise in sustainable design.’ ”

SRG’s relationship with Behnisch paid off when PSU in January awarded the two firms a contract to design the $60 million business school expansion. The aim is to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rating, Wiener said.

“One of the ways that (PSU is) trying to achieve global prominence is with sustainable practices and sustainable design,” he said. “This building for the school of business was an opportunity to make a statement on sustainable design.”

SRG and Behnisch are in the early stages of designing a 42,000-square-foot expansion and renovation of the business school’s existing 52,000-square-foot building. The tricky part, Wiener said, will be finding the best ways to create a highly efficient building that serves the needs of students and faculty. This includes careful considerations for the locations of lecture halls, classrooms and other spaces, as well as how they’re heated and cooled.

“The challenge in an educational building is you have large numbers of people and you have high intensity of use during certain times of the day,” Wiener said. “You get large amounts of people that generate a lot of heat, and how do you solve that without using air conditioning? An academic building is more difficult. There’s more complexity.”

It helps that SRG and Behnisch share the same approach to sustainable design, Wiener said. Both firms prioritize natural ventilation, daylighting and insulation over solar panels or green roofs, he said.

“Those aren’t the essence of sustainability,” he said. “They are the symbols that people look for, but what makes a building wonderful is often daylight. The most cost-effective way in terms of energy performance is to reduce your (building energy) loads.”

The partnership also is a great way for SRG staffers to become familiarized with a European approach to sustainable design, Wiener said.

“We recognize that there is a lot to learn from the sustainable design that is happening in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe,” he said.

When PSU officials selected SRG to design the project, they were particularly impressed with the firm’s design of the Lillis Business Complex at the University of Oregon in Eugene, PSU spokesman Scott Gallagher said. Behnisch’s reputation as a world leader in sustainable design was equally appealing, he said.

“As we continue to target our education to the market and expand our influence, we recognized that we needed a top-notch school, a top-notch building,” he said. “Right now, our classes and faculty are spread out throughout campus. What it’s going to do is bring everybody under one roof.”

Construction is scheduled to begin in May 2015 and wrap up by the end of 2016. PSU has hiredSkanska, which has a Portland office, as the contractor.

The project is Behnisch’s first in Portland, said Matthew Noblett, a partner with the firm’s Boston office. Behnisch is working with SRG to decide whether the expansion will be a separate building, attached to the existing building or placed on top, among other options. Other important decisions include determining how to bring more light into the existing building and make it more inviting and efficient, Noblett said. This may include gutting the building and starting from scratch.

“It’s very interesting to think about what can this old building become,” he said. “The precise balance of new and old needs to be determined. I think everybody agrees that the goal is to transform that existing building.”

The design for the renovation will account for the existing building’s central location on campus, Noblett said.

“There are such great opportunities,” he said. “You don’t want to somehow miss the traffic (and) have the building be enlivened by the traffic, but to figure out how to do that is a challenge.”

Also, the design will incorporate retail space and student gathering spaces throughout both the renovated building and the expansion, Gallagher said.

“Right now, there is nowhere for (students) to hang out, nowhere for them to study,” he said. “We’re very conscious of wanting this building to not just be beautiful, not just be sustainable, but suitable to our students and faculty.”