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  #21  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 4:38 PM
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PSU Rec Center | x | x | U/C

PSU specs rec center as bargain basement
The university takes a cut-rate approach for a high-impact project
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
RANDY GRAGG
The Oregonian
Once upon a time, the campus quad was a university's calling card.

Think of John Harvard's statue presiding over Harvard Yard or Thomas Jefferson's domed library anchoring the commons of the University of Virginia.

But today, a university's most important building is its student recreation center. Everybody's gotta have one, from the simply big (the University of Nevada-Las Vegas' palatial, $50 million center now under way) to the architecturally stunning (the University of Cincinnati's newly opened center designed by Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne).

Bursting at the seams with new growth and needing to stay competitive in the higher-education marketplace, Portland State University badly needs a new student rec center. It needs to be great, not just for the students, but for the city as a whole. But, instead, PSU is choosing to build its new rec center really cheap and fast.

Last week, Yost Grube Hall Architecture won the preliminary nod for the commission. Maybe the building will be OK. But, frankly, there is little chance it will be great. PSU all but guaranteed it by basing its choice on everything but architecture.

The pressures on this project are great. After many attempts, PSU has only barely stitched the money together for the project, borrowing against a rise in student fees and future revenues from ground-floor retail. The building also is supposed to include classroom space, but that's still contingent on finding a $10 million local match to state higher-ed money. The block on which PSU plans to build the rec center sits between Southwest Fifth and Sixth avenues and Harrison and Montgomery streets at the southern end of the future extended transit mall. MAX tracks are going in soon. Once the new line's electrical system is in, the cost of working around the poles and lines could add as much as 20 percent to the rec center's cost.

To put the project in perspective, consider the building it stands next to, the Urban Center. Completed in 2000, it took three years to design and build. The rec center is twice the size and more complicated, but PSU wants to -- has to, because of the financing window -- build it in 21/2 years.

To do the job, PSU imported a new vice president, Lindsay Desrochers, from the University of California at Merced. With her came an increasingly popular process (in California and elsewhere) for commissioning buildings: design and build with a guaranteed maximum price. Instead of working with an architect to design the building and then soliciting contractors' bids, PSU invited contractors to team with architects to propose a building with a price tag.

The process in and of it itself isn't bad, if done extremely carefully. In the best versions, the client selects three finalists and gives them as much as $100,000 to produce a proposal. A selection jury made up of students and administrators (if the client is a university) plus top design experts from outside then bases its decision on the experience of the firms and equally on the quality of the designs.

That only three teams -- Thomas Hacker Architects, Opsis Architecture and the winning YGH, all from Portland -- bothered to apply for the rec center project tells you most of what you need to know about PSU's process. This in a city with a dozen architecture firms doing major university buildings all over the nation.

The three bids will be released in mid-February.

What was so bad about this process? First, PSU demanded lots of free work. Only the second-place winner gets money, $75,000. The winner gets the job; third place gets skunked. Keep in mind, architecture firms typically spend up to $200,000 of paid staff time going after these jobs.

With the exception of one Portland Development Commission staffer, the jury was made up of PSU administrators and one student. No independent design experts were included. Out of 150 potential points any team could win, 90 went to experience, 50 for the lowest bid, five for sustainable "green" design features and five for "design."

"We anticipated all the firms will give us a superb design," says Ernest Tipton, PSU's campus design and planning manager.

So, just how superb were they?

Thomas Hacker Architects designed PSU's Urban Center, a popular Portland postcard view because of the streetcar running through it. The rec center will share a plaza with the Urban Center. Hacker clearly envisioned it as a kissing cousin, but in a nod to 50 points for the low bid, this cousin came from the proverbial "other side of the tracks." Hacker cloaked the Urban Center in a stately coat of brick from which a body of steel and glass emerges. His rec center design reversed the ensemble with lots of glass and metal -- some of the cheapest metal on the market.

Nice try. He won second place and $75,000.

Opsis went for broke, clearly hoping that an inspiring, even wild design with ambitious green design goals would blow away the competition. Bad move: third place -- no job and no money.

Their design, however, is exciting: an elliptical rec center with the skylit swimming pool on the top floor and a glassed-in winter garden on the ground floor. With everything from on-site microturbine electrical generation to plantings on every roof surface, Opsis aimed for a top-of-the-line Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating.

YGH won, handily, playing it safe and cheap on every level. The massive building will be almost entirely clad in brick. Three sides will feature long, narrow, horizontal apertures to reduce cooling and heating costs and expensive glazing. The plaza side will be more gracious and open, turning the various sports activities inside into a nighttime theater. The building's sustainability rating will be second-from-bottom LEED silver. As YGH's Nels Hall puts it, "We didn't shoot at targets we can't achieve."

Indeed, YGH is the perfect match for the job: The firm has major experience building fast-track buildings for oil companies in developing nations. Hall and his team will deliver everything they can in this strikingly and unfortunately comparable situation.

PSU is not just a typical university, with a campus removed from the city. It's an urban neighborhood. When the 1948 flood displaced what was then known as the Vanport Extension Center from its original site, the Portland Development Commission quickly bought land to bring it downtown. Nearly 60 years later, with more than 25,000 students, PSU is our best hope to fill the yawning void long separating Portland from other major cities: a serious university.

In short, the new rec center is not just the new campus quad for PSU, it's a calling card for the city, symbolizing our goals ecologically and architecturally. The students and administration -- and the city -- need to take a hard look and ask:

Is this really good enough?

Randy Gragg: 503-221-8575; randygragg@news.oregonian.com


©2007 The Oregonian
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  #22  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 4:48 PM
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We're lucky as hell to have someone like Gragg, writing in the defense of good design, to make strong critiques like this. At the Oregonian, no less.
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  #23  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 5:06 PM
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I know I'm going to get burned for this but... I go to Lewis and Clark College (no, I'm not a rich kid). And while we're not "great," I don't see (or hear) our administration scrambling to get a "rec center." God, it sounds like a playground. So, rather than beefing up their programs, or hiring pre-eminant staff, they're building... a playground?
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  #24  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 6:22 PM
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^^^^ Lewis and Clark doesn't have 25,000 students. If they did, they'd be thinking about a rec center too.

I can understand 90 points for prior experience and 50 points for cost, but only 5 for design?!?!? And 5 for green features?!?!? Why even PRETEND to care about design and green technology? That's totally f**ked, IMHO. Is this PORTLAND State University or HOUSTON State University?
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  #25  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 6:31 PM
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^and next to the Urban Center no less...
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  #26  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 6:49 PM
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"YGH won, handily, playing it safe and cheap on every level. The massive building will be almost entirely clad in brick. Three sides will feature long, narrow, horizontal apertures to reduce cooling and heating costs and expensive glazing."

WOW, sounds really cutting edge! Like another Nordstrom from 30 years ago...


"As YGH's Nels Hall puts it, "We didn't shoot at targets we can't achieve." "

Well, you'll never achieve them if you don't even try, Nels. Sheesh...

I sure hope it's not as bad as it sounds. Anybody have renderings of the 3 entries?
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  #27  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 6:59 PM
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Well sad thing is all three proposals were complete and utter crap. Hacker designed a giant metal shed. Opsis looked flashy, but when it came to amount of space being applied to the rec center, it was a waste. YGH hand the most mediocre design which seemed to be the best one. From the Urban Center, the large glass windows will seem interesting, but from the street sides, it will have an oppressive design that will do nothing to advance the idea of architecture on campus. Rather, it will hinder the look of the campus and continue the drive for mediocrity.

Having the architecture department try their hand at something better would of been nice, but the college is too stupidly run to do anything like that. At least the Urban Center looks good.
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  #28  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 6:59 PM
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Quote:
but only 5 for design?!?!? And 5 for green features?!?!?
Yeah, embarrassing. Just a little reminder that ass-backwardness and cheapskate token gestures are never far away in progressive 2007 Portland!
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  #29  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 7:09 PM
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Is there a site @ PSU where we can voice our displeasure prior to this thing actually getting built?
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  #30  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 7:16 PM
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Wouldn't this still have to go through design review? Or is the university exempt?
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  #31  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 7:23 PM
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Opsis rendering:

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  #32  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 8:21 PM
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Opsis looks pretty good. Flashy can probably be toned down easier than bland perked up. Urbanlife, what did you mean when you said something about amount of space being applied, it was a waste? Too much? Too little?

"Opsis looked flashy, but when it came to amount of space being applied to the rec center, it was a waste." urbanlife
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  #33  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 9:24 PM
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If that's the best design, I'm afraid to see the winner...
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  #34  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 9:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drmyeyes View Post
Opsis looks pretty good. Flashy can probably be toned down easier than bland perked up. Urbanlife, what did you mean when you said something about amount of space being applied, it was a waste? Too much? Too little?

"Opsis looked flashy, but when it came to amount of space being applied to the rec center, it was a waste." urbanlife
it was too little. It seemed like spacing for the key features to the rec center, the rec part, seemed to take a back seat to the design. I would of been more for the Opsis one if it used its space better. I plus thing about the Opsis design, I loved the entrance to it between the flashy part and the boring part, that was well done.


I think I was most disappointed by Hacker because they designed the Urban Center, you would of thought this building would of been just as good for them, but the lack of budget and care, they just cranked out something that looked thrown together. Although Hacker had some sweet renderings, but then again they do contract out for those to be done.
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  #35  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 10:27 PM
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Brian Libby at Portland Architecture posted the other renderings...the winner

Yost Grube Hall

not too bad...not a palace, but not as bad as I was expecting (from this one rendering of course)

Hacker

I actually think this is waaaay to similiar to the Urban Center, I'm glad they didn't choose it.

I'd like to see more of what Opsis could have done though.
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  #36  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 10:31 PM
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hey, in Hacker's rendering you can see the 1700 building!
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  #37  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 10:54 PM
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I like the Opsis one better, but this one isn't all that bad.
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  #38  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 11:10 PM
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I kind of like the YGH building but what do I know. I don't understand how these firms "spend up to $200,000 of paid staff time going after these jobs". First that is 10,000 hours at $20 per hour. I don't know if that is an accurate amount for the average firm's costs but it is close enough. No way that much time went into these proposals. Second, what is so different about that and what contractors do every day to give bids? They never get paid for coming in second.
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  #39  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 11:12 PM
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I like the YGH. Now I just need to get a student ID.
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  #40  
Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 11:50 PM
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Naw...it's not as bad as the article implied, imo..
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