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Building a New Port

The Port of Portland’s consolidated headquarters brings employees together in a collaborative environment to chart a more effective course for the future.

By Elianne Halbersberg

The Port of Portland’s consolidated headquarters brings employees together in a collaborative environment to chart a more effective course for the future.

As the owner and operator of the Portland International Airport, two general aviation airports and four marine terminals on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, the Port of Portland works 24 hours a day to manage traffic in and out of the area. With $1.6 billion in marine, aviation and industrial real estate assets to watch over, it’s easy to see why efficiency tops the Port’s priority list.

Unfortunately, for many years, the Port’s employees were spread amongst various buildings and offices, including at the airport, on the river and in downtown Portland, making it difficult to make effective decisions on the fly.

When the agency decided to change its business model and consolidate 450 of its employees into one facility, it brought in Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF) to design a new, 10-story building, including seven levels of public parking and three levels of office space.

“When we got involved, they were aligned along business units, and they wanted to align along functional,” says Sue Kerns, head of interiors for ZGF. “They wanted to become more transparent and break down barriers. They now have only eight offices. Everyone else sits in the open, including the directors and the executive director, Bill Wyatt. That was a huge transformation.”

The resulting building, which measures the length of three football fields, was given a striking curved shape and incorporated large amounts of glass and metal—reflecting both the materials and exterior of a ship. Inside, ZGF divided the floors into multiple “neighborhoods,” with three rows of open workstations per section, and community spaces which can be used as private rooms for telephone calls, quiet computer work or conferences.

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Open common spaces have been located in the center of the building plan, while spacious and light-filled atriums are located on the north and south ends of the facility. On the eighth floor, lunch room and café spaces open into a central atrium, which includes the community stairs, a large area where employees can meet informally or have lunch. A suspended conference room is positioned over the atrium from the ninth floor, as is an oversized screen, which is used for presentations via a mounted projector.

On the office floors, all workstations are positioned so that each employee is seated north or south for access to daylight and an outside view. Solar control on the south side of the building is provided by automatically controlled, perforated interior horizontal blinds.

“It was strategically arranged,” says Kerns. “The Port had done research on the wellness of employees who have access to light, and it was a major goal that the workstations would be oriented that way.” Suspended acrylic panels in the ceiling help to direct light throughout the building, as do the skylights positioned over the atriums.

Each floor also features artwork from Northwestern artists, including Linda Beaumont (sculpture and terrazzo floor); Norie Sato (fixed glass wall); Jim Blashfield (multi-media); Tony Johnson and Adam McIsaac (commission room doors); and Pete Beeman (kinetic sculpture). In addition, the Port is moving its art collection to the new building, and it includes paintings and sculpture by notable Oregon artists such as Henk Pander and Louis Bunce.

The Port of Portland is recognized for its commitment to sustainability and environmental programs, including water resources, natural resources, waste management and recycling, air quality and energy conservation. The new headquarters were designed for LEED Platinum certification, and accomplish that goal through a host of features, including the use of low-VOC paints and materials; water-efficient plumbing and fixtures; exterior glazing; the use of local and recycled content; and a 10,000-square-foot eco-roof to reduce heat load.

Reclaimed wood also plays a large part in ZGF’s design; the first floor lobby features reclaimed fir from the marine terminal, while the upper floors and atrium have been cast in Oregon oak.

A unique Loop System—the first in the U.S.—provides ground source heating and cooling with 200 underground pipes, working in tandem with the passive radiant ceiling panel heating and cooling system inside the Port. “The warm water from the building in the loop goes out into the ground, gets cooled, and comes back into the building,” says Kerns. “There is a Living Machine, an organic wastewater treatment system, in the lobby, in which water from the building is treated and reused for irrigation.”

Thanks to these innovations and its eco-friendly programs, the Port of Portland uses 75 percent less water and 35 percent less energy than a standard building of the same size.

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And while architectural and design work near an airport is always filled with challenges—from keeping birds from nesting on and around the building to receiving FAA approval for the design—perhaps the biggest challenge for designers and employees has been adapting to a new style of work.

“There are a lot of things to consider when you’re building at an airport,” says Kerns. “Inside the building, it was about helping the staff realize that they could work in an open plan. We had a lot of focus groups and work sessions. There was a lot of staff involvement and a lot of listening to the staff. In the end, they’ve found that they can make decisions much more quickly and are much more efficient than they ever dreamed possible in this building. Before, they had to schedule a conference and bring employees in from multiple locations. Now, they just walk over to each other’s desks.”

Port of Portland
7201 N. Marine Drive
Portland, OR 97203
(503) 240-2230

Project TEAM
ZGF Architects
1223 SW Washington Street
Suite 200
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 224-3860