Hacker Architects is renovating the Fariborz Maseeh Hall at Portland State University

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Anyone who has followed us for a long time knows that we have a weakness for interfering with existing structures, especially when it comes to brutalist buildings, as in the case of the Fariborz Maseeh Hall at Portland State University in Oregon. The engagement of hacker Architects’ office reinterprets the pragmatic and inward-facing five-storey structure, a building in harmony with the past, but in complete contrast to the open and flexible spaces required today. The decision to preserve and adapt the architecture – originally completed in two phases, 1961 and 1969 – rather than demolishing and rebuilding it severely limited the environmental impact of the work. Thanks to this approach, the architects were able to preserve the building’s carbon and significantly reduce the carbon emissions that are harmful to our planet.
In order to complete the project, the architects pursued three key strategies: first, to refocus the design on the user, ie students, faculty members, community members and other users of the building; second, prioritizing the modernization of the life cycle and life safety of the building as a whole; and third, working with owners, contractors, consultants and subcontractors in a collaborative decision-making process that takes into account the needs of all Portland State University students.
The two parts of the original building retain their different external aspects, although they are actually linked by a common floor plan. The external facades, on the other hand, have been upgraded with new curtain wall systems. A solution that improves the dialogue between internal and external elements and at the same time improves the energy efficiency of the building.
The interventions of the hacking studio have also reinterpreted the overall layout and thus the use of the structure, which functions as a student center with classrooms, student unions and faculty offices. An important aspect of the project was the review of the room distribution, in particular to encourage greater interaction between all users and, above all, to be able to create a new central light shaft. This design approach led to the removal of 1850 square meters. However, the usable area was only reduced by 278 square meters. This was possible thanks to one improved program distribution on the ground floor. In this way, visual and physical connections were created between the adjoining plaza and the park’s recreational spaces, expanding the possibilities for more student activities outside of the classroom. By opening up previously closed corridors and connections, users can now enjoy the visual continuity between the east and west edges of the building, while the new floor plan also takes the needs of people with disabilities into account.
In terms of efficiency, the combination of replacing all windows with high-performance models and increasing natural light reduced the building’s energy needs by an impressive 25% compared to the base model of buildings of similar size and use.
The Fariborz Maseeh Hall building, which was salvaged by the Hacker architecture firm, shows that a historic building can have a second chance and offers users an appealing, open and human experience. All of this while at the same time limiting CO2 emissions by maintaining the existing structure. In short, with the right amount of creativity and an informed customer, it is actually possible to really make a difference in terms of sustainability.

Christiane Bürklein

Architecture and interior: Hacker Architects
Contractor: Fortis
Landscape: Mayer / REED
Civil engineer: KPFF
Civil engineer: ABHT
Mechanical and sanitary engineer: PAE
Electrical engineer: Reyes Engineering
Geotechnician: GRI
Lighting: Biella Lichtdesign
Acoustic engineer: Stantec
Building envelope facade: RDH Building Science
Historical / SHPO: Architectural Resources Group
Sustainability: Lensa Consulting
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Year: 2020
Photography: Pete Eckert


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