The Portland Building

  • Client

    • City of Portland, Oregon
  • Project Type

  • LEED Platinum Certified
  • Area

    • 345,000 ft²

The Portland Building is a 15-story high-rise building accommodating approximately 1400 workers primarily with city bureaus and Multnomah County offices. The historic building originally designed by Michael Graves is approximately 360,000 SF plus a basement. The city chose progressive design-build as the best delivery model for a collaborative team approach to the reconstruction project. The core team included DLR Group, Balfour Beatty, and the city of Portland. Design services began in July 2016, running through July 2018. Construction was completed and keys were handed over to the city in December 2019, approximately one year ahead of schedule. DLR Group provided architectural services, change management, environmental graphics, exterior skin replacement, interior workplace, and shear wall relocation.

The Portland Building, designed by Michael Graves and completed in 1982 as administrative offices for the City of Portland, is an award-winning iconic design of postmodern architecture. The building was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a building of “exceptional importance,” but it faced problems with its structure, exterior, and operational systems that repairs alone could not address. After years of study and deliberation, the city chose to protect and preserve this major public investment with a significant reconstruction. The project creates an adaptable building that will last 50-to-100 years, providing a productive work environment for employees and a welcoming space for community members. 

Problem Solving with Historic Integrity
The Portland Building, which first opened as city offices in 1982, incorporated several design features that didn’t adapt over the building’s 40-year life span. The reconstruction restored some of the original design vision, while adapting a new vision for the city.

“Because of the public perception of how dark and dreary this building was inside, there was an understanding that we absolutely had to correct that internal experience,” said City of Portland Project Manager Kristin Wells. “As long as we kept the window frames roughly the same, the change in the color of glass would not be a problem.”

Delivering on Design Vision and Building Performance
After nearly 40 years, the exterior of the Portland Building was in need of comprehensive repairs. But how should modifications be made to one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture in the world?

"When the idea of using a unitized curtain wall came up, it was actually kind of brilliant," says DLR Group Senior Associate Erica Ceder. "It wasn't just giving the technical performance - it was the most respectful of the original historic design."  

First Floor
At the Fifth Avenue entrance, the front doors have been designed to replicate the original doors as part of the historic lobby. All finishes within the lobby have been refreshed to reflect the original design intended by Michael Graves.

To the right, visitors can quickly find the customer service zone where the public can access any public service without having to make their way throughout the building. To the left, new event space has a dedicated restroom and catering pantry, as well as an entrance from the exterior, which makes it accessible for after-hours open houses; show public displays; or host any other city related event.

Towards the elevator lobby, a grand new staircase leads the public directly to the conference center on the second floor. The historic elevator lobby has been refinished to reflect the original colors and finishes. Looking through the elevator lobby, visitors can see new pre-function space, which will service the new large event room and is complete with comfortable seating and large windows looking through, beyond the park.

Take a self-guided tour of the first floor

Second Floor
The publicly accessible second floor features a conference center and gallery displaying historical building ephemera and a rotating local art exhibition. The design visually connects interior public areas to the exterior by opening views to the outdoors, and increasing public meeting areas. A two-story window opening along the 4th Avenue elevation allows dramatic views of Chapman Park from both the first and second floors. The removal of raised floor platforms increases floor-to-ceiling heights while remaining accessible to everyone.

Take a self-guided tour of the second floor

Workplace Floors
The upper floors follow standardized programming and layout to maximize departmental efficiencies.
Immediately off the elevator, unique branding sets the color scheme for each floor. The reconfigured floor plan increases the amount of daylight that reaches the elevator lobby at the core of the building. Each floor shares two medium size conference rooms, one large conference room, and six focus rooms intended for heads-down work, phone calls, or one-on-one conversations. These rooms are intended for use by all city employees, not solely for those working with the bureau on that floor. A gathering area with comfortable living and dining spaces has two sinks, two refrigerators, and a dishwasher for employee use on every floor.

Rooms at the building core vary by bureau and have been dedicated as either a huddle room, a private office, or bureau storage. Huddle rooms can be configured as a living room environment, or may take a more traditional approach as a conference room. The open office is immediately adjacent to the windows to take full advantage of natural daylight. Workstations are set up in a variety of layouts based on what each bureau has selected from within a kit-of-parts. Each core collaboration space has a large magnetic whiteboard to display materials or brainstorm ideas. To supplement employee storage there are 156 lockers on each floor, which aligns with the number of workspaces on the floor.


"Living in Portland with 300 rainy days and dark winters can really weigh down on employees, and so being able to work in an environment where you have a lot of light available to you makes a huge difference," says DayCPM Project Manager Jonathan Nyone

Staff Space
On the 15th floor, employees can enjoy the city skyline. Collaboration space includes booth seating, as well as tables and chairs for collaborative meetings. Areas for private working create a buffer between the collaboration area and the hoteling stations at the south end of the building. Six sit-stand hoteling stations suit employees that need a fly-in space to work for the day. There are additional focus rooms for more focused private work. For a relaxed work or meeting environment, employees can utilize lounge space with soft seating and an electric fireplace.

The basement level eliminated vehicular parking to support bicycle storage, locker rooms, and a staff gym. With the addition of a central communicating stairwell for employee access throughout the building, the building is pursuing WELL Building Certification. The building has exceeded the city of Portland’s requisite LEED Gold certification and achieved LEED Platinum certification. The Portland Building’s pre-construction energy modeling achieved a 36% improvement on the state’s energy code, and predicts a 50% reduction of energy use from pre-reconstruction to post-reconstruction.

The Portland Building reconstruction was designed to put people first, which was a core tenet of the Postmodernism movement. With the building's latest updates to keep it safe, healthy, and functional, this reconstruction project could be a blueprint for a new type of preservation thinking.

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