Behnisch Architekten - Karl Miller Center, Portland State University
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Karl Miller Center, Portland State University

Behnisch Architekten

Education  /  Completed
Behnisch Architekten
Located in downtown Portland, the new Karl Miller Center is uniquely integrated with the city's rich network of public open spaces and diverse urban uses. Questioning the full-block architype that dominates the typical 200' x 200' city block of Portland, the building design appears as two distinct structures sharing a city block: the renovated existing building, a 100,000sf 1970s structure retrofitted with a metal panel facade system broken up by an irregular composition of punched windows, and a new, dynamic, shifting 45,000sf addition, clad in regionally sourced Alaskan Yellow Cedar. This approach, coupled with a series of terracing external green spaces and new circulation pathways linking the urban center, local parks, transportation stops, and nearby campus buildings, enhances the public realm by providing a more diverse streetscape. A one-story grade differential between 6th Avenue and Broadway, populated with public-oriented spaces, creates two ground levels, further activating the exterior plazas and the atrium and heightening the activity within and around the building.

Centered around a five-story glass atrium that is animated with activities, the School of Business benefits from a diverse program. By arranging a variety of spaces-informal meeting and study areas, gardens, classrooms, business incubators, student spaces, faculty and administrative offices and retail-to maximize communication and connectivity, the project promotes an inclusive attitude toward learning. Flexible, student-focused informal learning spaces are evenly distributed throughout the building to act as social anchor points and create a pedestrian-friendly space for students and the greater University community.

The building's structural system was the subject of intense study during the Schematic Design phase. Due to its association with the Northwest economy and embodied energy advantages, the University and the Design Team were intensely interested in pursuing an all-wood structure for the new components of the building. Multiple scheme iterations were developed to optimize the desired building volume for wood (assumed to be cross-laminated timber), concrete and steel structures, and to study the relative benefits with respect to cost, embodied energy (carbon), thermal mass, and constructability. A comprehensive evaluation of the results determined that although the wood structure yielded the greatest benefits of the three systems considered in terms of embodied energy, the thermal mass benefit of the concrete structure yielded greater long-term energy benefits through its thermal-mass capabilities, and the selection of the structural system was made on this basis.

The Karl Miller Center has enlivened Portland State University's campus with a light-filled building that boasts many impressive sustainability features.

Taking full advantage of Portland's climate, all new additions are passively cooled, utilizing 100% natural ventilation. The design harnesses the mass of the building's concrete structure for thermal storage, coupling it with a natural ventilation system utilizing automated, operable windows and ceiling fans. The building's atrium acts as a return-air plenum, keeping the interior temperate by collecting transfer air from the renovated and new parts of the building and exhausting it through vents at the top. A scientific approach, based on thermo-physiological measurements of human comfort, shaped the design of the environmental systems of the building. Among the passive strategies integrated into the architectural language of the Karl Miller Center:
-Orientation of the building
-Façade optimization
-Exposed thermal mass balanced with acoustic and aesthetic performance
-Engineered natural ventilation design for creating the airflow path from façade opening to natural air exhaust with the lowest pressure drop-this includes strategically located window openings for every regularly occupied space; acoustically protected air-transfer openings into the central atrium; and an air-exhaust strategy that relies on wind pressure, air stratification, and a "boost" from smoke evacuation fans

The design team is currently producing a building 'User's Manual' that attempts to bridge the gap between the idealized building design and the knowledge of the occupants about the most productive and comfortable ways to use the building: when to open and close windows, how to optimize daylight usage and minimize electric light, etc.

One of the challenges of the design of the Karl Miller Center was how to breathe new life into a less-than-ideal existing structure, and to do so in a way that generated a new architectural identity for the school. Our response was to orient the entire program around a multi-story central space that would collect and amplify daylight, and suffuse the deep floorplates of the older structure with new life. The concept of this space was extended to also be the heart of vertical circulation for the complex, crossed with stairs, ramps, and bridges such that building occupants are encouraged to occupy the light and move up and down within it, thereby animating the space further with the daily activity of the school. New elevators were provided for accessibility and servicing, but the design encourages people to traverse the five floors on foot as much as possible.

Access to outdoor air was also prioritized as a healthful and desirable benefit. All regularly occupied spaces on the building perimeter have operable windows through which air is drawn and cascaded to interior spaces before being drawn out at the top of the atrium. The atrium itself incorporates operable flaps and is treated climatically as an in-between space, providing relief for occupants moving between more strictly controlled spaces. The form of the building itself creates outdoor terraces at all building levels that function as brief respites for people during the day, offering fresh air and dramatic views of the Portland skyline.


 Portland State University
 143500 mq
 Behnisch Architekten, SRG Partnership (Partner Architect)
 Behnisch Architekten, SRG Partnership (Partner Architect)
 Skanska USA
 Climate Engineering: Transsolar Structural Engineering: Catena MEP/FP Engineering: PAE Landscape Architecture: Mayer Reed Civil Engineering: KPFF Acoustics/AV: Listen Geotechnical: NW Geotech Survey: Dave Mills Lighting: Luma/Littlefish IT/Telecom/Security: Reyes LEED: GBS Programming: Biddison Hier
 Brad Feinknopf, Janis Rozkalns


Founded in 1989, Behnisch Architekten is an award-winning, internationally recognized cross-disciplinary architecture firm. From the beginning, the social dimension of architecture has been a fundamental aspect of the firm's design philosophy. Behnisch Architekten's search for innovative and sustainable solutions, while making optimal use of natural resources, has produced a rich variety of buildings, each of which responds to specific user requirements and site conditions. The firm has offices in Stuttgart and Munich, Germany; and in Boston, Massachusetts. The firm's projects are widely published and exhibited worldwide, and its staff members are regular lecturers at top universities and conferences. Recently completed projects include the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) administrative building and conference hall in Geneva; Metropolitan Sheptytsky Center at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine; and the City of Santa Monica Parking Structure #6.


#Shortlisted #United States of America  #Education  #Green Roof  #Behnisch Architekten  #Portland  #Cedar panels 

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