The Karl Miller Center, the LEED Platinum new home of the School of Business at Portland State University (PSU), establishes a powerful identity for this business program, reflecting its aspirations and international prominence in sustainability while providing students, faculty, and the community with a much needed place to hang out, study, and collaborate.
Project Name: Karl Miller Center
Studio Name: SRG Partnership & Behnisch Architekten
Location: PSU, Portland, Oregon
Photography: Brad Feinknopf and Janis Rozkalns
Located in downtown Portland, the Center—a renovation and a major addition—promotes active learning and enlivens the streetscape and public realm with connections to the city’s rich network of public spaces.
Enhancing the Pedestrian Realm
Three primary elements comprise the building: a renovated ’70s-era structure, a major addition, and an atrium that links the two. The atrium’s circulation—with diagonal ramps connecting the floors above—creates a dynamic, active hub. To the atrium’s west, the renovated, 100,000sf structure is retrofitted with a corrugated metal panel facade system, punctuated by square, punched windows of different sizes.
To its east, regionally sourced, FSC-certified Alaskan Yellow Cedar clads the 45,000sf addition, which reads as a composition of four stacked boxes, some larger than others. One cantilevered box, poised enpilotis—with concrete columns as high as 40 feet—frames the entry plaza beneath it.
While the addition’s moves take cues from the International Style, it displaces that rationality with a shifting composition, regional materials, and a dramatically angular juxtaposition: the building’s canted glazing encloses the transition between the old building and the new and features the Center’s main entry.
The project also reconsiders the 200’x200’ cadence of Portland’s city blocks with a building that reads as two distinct structures; the metal-clad renovation that abuts the site’s perimeter sits alongside the wood-clad series of stacked, sliding boxes. This approach presents a more diverse streetscape and reinvigorates existing links between the urban center, pedestrians, transportation, and parks.
Fostering Active Learning and Collaboration
The building not only provides an active gathering place for business school students, but a destination for the campus-at-large and Portland. Benefiting from a diverse program, activities animate the five-story atrium as the heart of the building.
A variety of spaces are arranged strategically to maximize connection and communication, including informal meeting and study areas, gardens, classrooms, business incubators, student spaces, faculty and administrative offices, and retail. They encourage community-building for the School, the University, and its neighborhood.
Activating the Plaza and Atrium
A one-story grade differential between 6th Avenue and Broadway creates two ground levels, further heightening the activity within and around the building. These ground levels are populated with public-oriented spaces to activate an exterior plaza and the central, interior daylit gathering space, a new home for civic and University events.
Leveraging Portland’s temperate climate, all new construction is designed without mechanical cooling equipment. Passive sustainable strategies minimize environmental impact, enhance human comfort and well-being, and reduce the total site EUI of the new building to less than half the original, pre-renovated structure. The LEED Platinum status advances PSU’s dedication to social, economic, and environmental sustainability.