In 2014, we searched high and low for
the renovated, timber-framed warehouse of our dreams to house our Portland
office. When we found nothing big enough to house our 200+ architects,
designers, and staff, we started dreaming even bigger.
We partnered with developer Gerding
Edlen to build 38 Davis (aka Block 8L) on a vacant, urban site in Portland’s
Old Town Chinatown District. This partnership was key. We shared a vision for a
project that would multiply the benefits of thoughtfully designed spaces, carefully
selected materials, and innovative systems to create a sustainable, vibrant
mixed-use development. It would be the district’s first ground-up construction
in over a decade and one of the first buildings in the world to be certified by
the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v4 rating program.
A home, workplace, and classroom.
The vitality of our lives,
neighborhoods, and cities relies on diverse communities, which is why we seized
the opportunity to design from an owner's position to combine office space
with mixed-income housing, retail, and classroom space.
38 Davis' six-story
timber-frame building houses retail and classroom space on the ground floor,
office and classroom space on the second floor, our offices on the third and fourth
floors, and workforce housing on the fifth and sixth floors. The 65 residential
units of the building have 13 housing units at 80% AMI, creating a diverse home
for students, seniors, employees, and adjusted-income residents. A communal
lobby, elevator, rooftop, bike storage, locker room, and gym area create
dynamic interactions between our staff, building residents, and University of
The communal lobby and elevator is
shared by our staff, residents, and UO students.
Achieving LEED Gold was no simple feat.
In addition to a green roof, 38 Davis features a unique, inter-use greywater
reclamation system that filters runoff shower water from the upper residential
floors and uses it to flush the toilets of the offices below, saving an estimated
202,800 gallons of water annually. Large fans in the office spaces operate in tandem with operable windows
to circulate air, and a custom software program suggests appropriate times for
opening windows rather than solely relying on the HVAC system.
Large fans hang below exposed mass timber beams and
tongue-and-groove decking above personal workspaces.
Expressing raw craftsmanship.
Together with Gerding Edlen, we faced a
unique set of building code challenges when designing 38 Davis. At the time of
design and construction, there was no clear building code path for taller mass
timber buildings with exposed structural elements: Type IV construction with
traditional heavy timber had limitations on height, exposed structural
elements, and concealed spaces. Needing to conceal piping, utilities, and duct
work systems in certain areas, designers had to choose between Type III and
Type V-A building code.
By designing 38 Davis as a five-story
timber-framed structure over a Type I, fire-resistant podium, designers could
achieve a six-story-tall Type III structure. Constructing as Type III-B
building let its timber structure remain exposed, without oversizing,
reflecting the space’s office character and becoming an integral part of the
In 38 Davis, you can see where the
beams come together—the joints, and the brace frames—in an energetic display of
raw materials and craftsmanship that mirrors the work we do.
“As architects and designers, being
able to work around the things that we use to build reinforces why we are here
and what we are doing. Concrete, steel, glass, and wood are brought together in
expressive, warm, and honest detail. It reflects our culture,” says Karen
Bowery, our executive vice-president.
The exposed 3x4 tongue-in-groove
wood decking in 38 Davis uses Douglas fir mass timber as a lateral resistance
The post-and-beam system permitted the large interior spaces, high ceilings, and large window openings, achieving our vision of a “warehouse” space that is modern and utilitarian, yet historic and comfortable. Keeping with the tenor of the district, the structure of 38 Davis capitalizes on a historic method of a traditional 3×4 tongue-in-groove system with large beams and exposed columns. We evaluated CLT, but at the time, it was only available through suppliers in Australia and Canada. So we instead chose Douglas fir timbers sourced from within 500 miles of the project, saving time in development and construction and, in turn, supporting local businesses.
At 38 Davis, cooler concrete, glass, and steel elements are consciously balanced with warm wood interior accents throughout the building. Sliding cork dividers and reclaimed train trusses fashioned into benches line the L-shaped hallways, balancing the industrial effect of cement floors and walls.
Sliding cork dividers
and reclaimed timber train trusses line the office hallways.
Creating a faithful reflection of the district’s character and heritage was a critical aspect of the design and construction process. As the first building raised in the district in over a decade, 38 Davis was an opportunity to reinvigorate and bring together the architectural styles and art of both Old Town and Chinatown. Eight artifacts from the Eric Ladd Cast Iron Collection showcase classical forms of the district and bring a human scale to the building's most public face on the East.
The Ladd Cast Iron Collection includes salvaged iron columns, arches, and other decorative pieces preserved from Portland's Skidmore/Old Town historic district.
WIthin the building, the feature wall of the building’s lobby represents the topography of the adjacent Willamette River. Inspired by the river’s movement and the flow of ancient Chinese calligraphy and brush painting, the building’s logo was created as an abstraction of an infinity sign.
Inspired by the fluidity of Chinese calligraphy and the layers of a brush stroke, we created signature branding elements for 38 Davis.
Our vision fullfilled.
Over our firm’s 36-year history, we’ve
developed deep ties to Portland’s urban development and have been proud to call
the city’s Old Town Chinatown District a home base since 2016. Designing from an ownership
perspective gave us a rare opportunity to create a ground-up design, in the
heart of an evolving neighborhood, that fully embodies our values: our love of
raw, natural materials, our passion for sustainability, and our mission to
create and support diverse, inclusive communities.
38 Davis at NW Davis Street, Portland, Oregon.