Building Community: PCC Cascade’s New Student Union

by Nick Hodges

As higher-education institutions rapidly adapt their curricula and campuses to accommodate new models of learning, the line between places for studying and socializing, learning and leisure time has become blurred, to say the least. We’ve written about how that transition has prompted big changes in the conception and design of libraries, but it’s also led colleges and universities to reconsider the traditional role of the student union.

With the new Student Union at Portland Community College’s (PCC) Cascade campus, which opened its doors earlier this year, we see this trend extending to the community-college level. With approximately 90,000 students, Portland Community College is Oregon’s largest post-secondary institution. PCC is investing nearly $58 million of a $374 million capital bond to expand and upgrade the 23,000-student Cascade Campus, located in urban north/northeast Portland. The new student union provides a hub for student life, where PCC’s largely commuter student body can take a break with fellow students between classes, participate in group projects, and engage informal learning—activities that research has shown to improve student success.

Designed and built concurrently with a new academic building, the new union also faced some complex challenges.

Catalyzing a new campus vision.

The proposal for a new, stand-alone student center emerged from a broad planning process involving intensive engagement with college stakeholders as well as residents and business owners from the surrounding neighborhood. Previously, the student center was relegated to a cramped basement space – too small to support its programming and lacking visibility. The planning process evaluated options for renovating the existing center or building new, depending on a variety of other considerations. Key among these was the challenge of accommodating growing enrollments while addressing neighborhood concerns about traffic and parking

Through detailed analysis of traffic patterns and neighborhood parking supplies, a plan emerged for managing parking demand and reducing the need for structured parking. This plan included leasing underutilized lots (e.g. at churches), subsidizing transit passes, and hiring a transportation coordinator to facilitate use of alternative transportation, as well as annual reporting and regular monitoring to measure the management plan’s effectiveness.

This approach offered numerous advantages for the campus and the community. Instead of a multi-level garage, PCC has built the new student union, academic building, and plaza over a much smaller below-grade parking garage within the campus footprint. A second new plaza will replace the old student center building, reopening the heart of the mall. These public plazas will unify the campus and provide enhanced open space for the larger community. Finally, locating the new buildings and garage on campus also preserved the historical commercial blocks.

A center for student life.

The new, 36,000-square-foot Student Union, the first true student union in the PCC system, is designed to encourage collaboration and interaction. The design organizes the building’s program—food retail, student lounge, gaming room, resource centers, student organization suites, and meetings rooms—as intersecting blocks around an internal atrium to create a light-filled environment with views in all directions, as well as strong visual connections between floors and out to the plaza. The visual connection was especially important to the student organizations that use the plaza as an extension of their shared facilities on the third floor.

Completed as part of a larger plan that includes a new academic building and plaza, the Union, along with the other buildings, is built over below-grade parking garage that helped alleviate the community’s concerns about traffic and parking around the growing campus. The public plazas unify the campus internally while providing enhanced open space for the larger community. At the same time, the Student Union’s contemporary presence and quality of space redefines Cascade’s identity and the student experience for the better.




All photos (c) Jeremy Bittermann.

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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

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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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