A Tale of Two Classrooms

by Becca Cavell

I recently taught a seminar on Learning Spaces at the University of Oregon’s Portland Program. One of the student assignments required teams to visit local colleges and universities to observe classrooms “in action,” in terms of both functional performance and teaching approach. A great stroke of luck led two teams of students to observe the same class delivered in two very different environments.

The class was a typical entry-level art history survey class. The instructor was highly experienced and deeply familiar with his material, and had a particular and engaging pedagogical style of roaming among his students as he talked, seeking commentary and insight from his class. And the material was presented in the conventional “comparative image” approach familiar to anyone who has taken a similar survey class, with pairs of images shown side by side.

The first classroom was a typical auditorium style space with decent tablet-arm seats and a reasonable AV system. The second classroom was a multi-purpose room, flat floored, with simple lightweight upholstered chairs, some of which had tablet arms and many of which didn’t. This room had a very large projection screen and good equipment to support the comparative imaging.

Which room do you think would be better to learn in?

According to my students, hands down the better space was the general purpose, flat-floored classroom. The observers noted that the students were more engaged, asked more questions, and very few – if any – of them appeared to be distracted. This goes against conventional wisdom, which tells us that when class sizes creep above 50 and certainly above 80, that a raked or stepped floor is the better solution. And each of these observed classes held over 100 students. My seminar group talked at length about why the flat floored room was better, and two simple theories rose to the top:

  1. The instructor could roam around the room more easily in the flat-floor scenario. He had better access to each individual student, and everyone was accountable to keep their attention within the room.
  2. The large screen in the flat-floor room enabled everyone a very clear view of the comparative images. No one’s sight lines seemed compromised despite the large class size.

If we add to this the intrinsic benefit of the flat-floored space being 100% ADA accessible and extremely adaptable to other uses, it seems clear to me that we should reconsider the “break point” for tiered classrooms. I wonder if we sometimes spend too much of our client’s budgets creating customized and inflexible spaces when perhaps we should be focusing more on innovative, yet simple, spaces that serve more than one purpose – perhaps a win-win for both budgets and learning outcomes.

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Farewell, Balfour-Guthrie Building

by Jonah Cohen

After 16 years, Hacker has vacated the Balfour-Guthrie Building and moved to its next iteration, which in many ways is a perfect symbol for our successful leadership transition that has taken place over the last five years. This is an emotional milestone for a few of us, especially me.

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Cultivating a New Generation of Leaders

by Stefee Knudsen

How do we cultivate our future leaders? It’s a core question for educators and one that ultimately influences the design of schools. Two projects in Portland, the Oregon Episcopal School’s Lower School and the French American International School’s new Gilkey International Middle School, illustrate how new environments can help to advance institutional missions.

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Hackers = Makers

by Scott Barton-Smith

If you’ve been to Hacker’s office in the past year and a half, you probably noticed art on the walls of our building’s vestibule and reception area. This rotating Makers exhibit showcases the off-hours work of our multi-talented team. By day we are architects, interior designers, and talented support personnel; by night we are artists. What began as a desire to exhibit some of our creative endeavors outside of work has turned into an amazing get-to-know-you. Every couple of months, a new batch of artistic expression graces our walls and gives us insight into our colleagues’ broad talents, inspiration, and personalities. Twelve Hackers have already displayed their art since October 2015 and there is no sign of it stopping! Scroll through for a sampling…

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Hacker Builds!

by Garrett Martin

Our website typically shows you beautiful photos of our completed projects, or equally beautiful renderings of our projects “on the boards.” Have you ever wondered what happens in-between, or when those renderings will finally take actual form? Despite how it may appear sometimes, it all doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye or under cover of darkness.

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What Pro Bono Work Has Taught Us

by Audrey Alverson

Pro bono architecture: Why do we do it?

Hacker has long been a signatory of the 1+ Program, which challenges designers to dedicate 1% or more of their time to pro bono service – but through trial and error over the years, we often found it challenging to bring this work to fruition. After a few fits and starts, and some mostly small-scale projects and studies, last year we decided to put some teeth to our commitment to pro bono service. Through this process, we’ve learned that the problem was never a lack of desire or good intentions, but more so a lack of planning.

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Nurturing Growth in Lents Town Center

by Garrett Martin

On Sunday October 23rd of last year, we joined Bremik Construction and the Portland Development Commission to strike golden shovels into the ground and begin construction on the 9101 SE Foster project, a mixed-use multi-family building in the heart of Lents Town Center.

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Why Hacker Started Paying for Parental Leave

by Sarah Bell

This year, Hacker implemented a new paid parental leave policy, covering six weeks at full salary for birth mothers and about four and ½ weeks full salary for a spouse of the parent who gives birth (adoptive parents get the same). This is in addition to the flexible paid time off granted to every Hacker employee.

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A Saturday with Lou

by Scott Barton-Smith

Nearly half of the Hacker team caravanned north to attend the final day of the Bellevue Arts Museum’s retrospective Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture on April 30th. Although the exhibit includes video interviews of notable architects enthusing Kahn’s work, we had a more interactive guide. Our firm founder Thom Hacker gave us a personalized tour of the exhibit, which includes several projects on which Thom collaborated with his mentor “Lou.” The exhibit features many models and drawings prepared by Kahn’s office spanning projects from the Esherick House to more well know works like The Salk Institute, The Kimbell Art Museum, and the National Assembly Building in Dhaka. The exhibit even includes a full scale reproduction of the famous window seat designed for the Fisher house. Much of this material has not seen the light of day since Kahn’s death and it is remarkable that the large yet delicate cardboard, clay, and wood models survived.

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University of Wyoming Visual Arts Facility Wins COTE Award

by Nic Smith

Hacker is a proud recipient of a 2016 AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects award for University of Wyoming’s Visual Arts Facility (VAF), a pioneering LEED Platinum facility that has shaped a new approach to health, safety, and sustainability in arts education. The 80,000-SF building consolidates the University’s fine arts program from its scattered locations, establishing a central component of the campus’s new arts district. It also marks a turning point in the campus’s thinking about environmental responsibility. Read more


From the Vaults: High Desert Museum

by Sarah Bell

When the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon’s New Home had its dedication last year, I drove to Bend for the day with my two youngest boys, who were both under 5 years old. I arrived several hours before the dedication with both boys needing to expend energy built up over the 3-hour car ride. Not having planned on it, I took them to the High Desert Museum – not because I wanted to show them a Hacker building, but because I knew it would wear them out.

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