Of all the potential projects that I could write about for these “From the Vaults” blog posts, Oregon Health & Sciences University’s Biomedical Information Communications Center (BICC, for short) is the one I’ve been most intimidated by. Mostly because it is one of my all-time favorite projects, in addition to being the first large education project completed by the firm (the building opened in 1991). It’s not a stretch to say that winning the commission in 1987 and subsequent completion of the building was seminal in the formation of THA. The firm was just 4 years old, and the 81,000 sf building’s wide acclaim put the firm on the map, led directly to another large project at OHSU (the School of Nursing), and laid the track for nearly 40 higher education buildings completed since the BICC’s opening.
But what made the project truly revolutionary was that it was the first ground-up fully electronic library in the United States. It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, the internet was in its infancy and a building that supported the electronic exchange of ideas had no precedent. The boundless possibility for the building allowed the design team (which included a “dream team” of designers with Thom Hacker, Brad Cloepfil, Rick Potestio, and Steve Simpson) a freedom that I believe stimulated immense creativity. “No one really knew what this building should be,” Thom Hacker explained when it was published in Architecture in 1992, “so we designed it to change with developments in the field.” The building was thought of as a kind of framework, providing spaces meant to evolve over time.
And this leads to why writing about the building intimidates me. As a non-architect, I’ve always understood that the project is doing something very special, but I’ve also always had a hard time articulating it. This is not the case with much of our work – describing the power of Beaverton Library’s main reading room or the transcendent beauty of our new home for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon is possible for me without using “archispeak.” But the BICC’s combination of being both utterly rational as well as abstract leaves me sounding confused when writing or talking about it. I will say that it encapsulates the firm’s fundamental principles – it is a place that educates and connects people to one another and their surroundings. But rather than say anything more, I leave you to make your own conclusions by looking at images of it.
- THA: Thomas Hacker, David Shelman, Brad Cloepfil, Paul Edlunch, Don Logue, Hussain Mirza, Rick Potestio, Tyler Robinson and Steve Simpson.
- Landscape: Murase Associates
- Engineers, KPFF, CBG (now Mazzetti), James Graham & Associates, Robert Dupuy
- Interior Design: Mayer/Reed
- Contractor: DM Drake (now JE Dunn)