The CH2M Center was in need of a makeover. An aging, brutalist 1980s downtown office tower where tenancy was flagging, in a commercial office market where converted industrial warehouses have claimed top-of-market status, the refresh of the Portland’s CH2M Center presented a challenge faced by many aging corporate office towers in American central business districts: how to make “boring” buildings devised for the more traditional white collar, suit-and-tie firms of the 20th century attractive to a new generation of 21st century businesses that prize creativity, uniqueness and more casual, informal environments. Our answer? Creatively embrace, celebrate and even amplify the quirky and dated period characteristics to tap in to a more genuine and pure expression of the original design intent.
In other words, don’t hide it, flaunt it, and have some fun with it. Our design involved making deliberate homage to the building itself, through specially commissioned artworks created by YBA that memorialize and exaggerate the iconic character of the brutalist building. We used shading and subtle tone and pattern on key interior surfaces, edges and reveals to enhance the original geometry and design, and increase it’s legibility. We commissioned and coordinated design of a sculptural art piece (a large-scale suspended mobile, by Ekko Mobiles of Portland) that distilled the formal essence of the original building design and playfully riffed off of it while adding a much needed focal element to the vast interior atrium. Finally, we grounded each exaggeration in a carefully studied and devised program with clear intentions and functional purpose aimed at enhancing the user and tenant experience. The result? The building, which had struggled with a high vacancy rate for some time and in spite of prior attempts at rejuvenation, was fully leased within a couple of months of the refresh. The building has now gained an architectural relevance in the downtown scene with a modicum of new capital investment and is attracting the kinds of cutting-edge tenants that are driving rents ever higher in Portland, as in other markets.