In the often preening, hypercompetitive world of architecture, many of these designers are also taking an unusual one-for-all/all-for-one approach, sharing roofing tips, contractors’ names, and marketing with the same esprit de corps with which restaurateurs like Greg Higgins and Cory Schreiber began promoting the local food movement a decade ago. Through a new collective called 11xDesign, for instance, a dozen of these small firms hosted a free tour of members’ projects this past February that attracted hundreds of attendees.
Overall, theirs is a modest approach—small in scale and rooted in place and community—that’s appropriate for a city where people are more focused on quality of life than on making a fast buck. “We think the new regionalism is about addressing larger issues in a local way,” says William Neburka of Works Partnership, whose first built-from-scratch building is getting its final polish at the east end of the Burnside Bridge. “It’s lacking in excess; it’s about being cost conscious and size conscious. It’s all part of our idea of investing in a green city.”
The designers of Ziba’s new home—Jeff Stuhr and John Holmes, the founding partners of Holst Architecture—are enjoying a sunny spring morning in their far humbler digs: a subtly remodeled warehouse just off of lower E Burnside Street. A modest sign and Holst’s trademark tropical hardwood screens gently differentiate the building from its industrial neighbors. Inside, a calm murmur of activity fills the eighteen-person office.
Neither partner is one for grand statements. Husky, bearded, and earnest, Stuhr, with typical understatement, calls the Ziba commission “a continuation” of the firm’s nearly two decades of transforming small experiments in design into bigger ones. He and Holmes never aspired to build their shop into a large corporate powerhouse. In fact, quite the opposite. Wearing the graying blond curls and loose demeanor of a middle-aged surfer, Holmes describes how Holst (the name is a hybrid of “Holmes”and “Stuhr”) was born of the pair’s desire to do innovative work—and still keep the occasional afternoon golf date. “We wanted to build a good place to work,” Holmes recalls, “where people could have a balanced life and keep their integrity.”
A chocolate Labrador retriever, Jupiter, meanders through the conference room, eagerly nosing his way into the laps of those seated around the table. The atmosphere seems to befit the casual leadership role Holst has played in Portland. “Holst got there first,” says architect Paul McKean of the firm’s successful persuasion of clients, banks, and contractors to embrace more demonstrative forms of design. “A lot of people look to them.”
A series of residential remodels soon cascaded into designs for Pizzicato Gourmet Pizza, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Reynolds Optical, and a handful of art galleries. Holst’s bold insertion of a simple drywall city of studios, classrooms, and offices into a rough-hewn Pearl District warehouse for the newly independent Pacific Northwest College of Art in 1998 was soon followed by the sumptuously crafted, wood-clad, four-story Belmont Lofts condominiums. Both projects earned rave reviews from the press and from fellow architects for meeting the highest design goals on nonprofit and speculative developer budgets. Several of the firm’s restaurant projects have featured huge, wood-framed, sliding-?glass windows at street level, adding an alluring, European sense of indoor/outdoor urbanity to Portland’s neighborhood shopping districts. Ecotrust earned a plethora of headlines as Portland’s new sustainability clubhouse and the nation’s first historic renovation to earn the US Green Building Council’s LEED Gold rating, but it was Holst that wove the structure’s precedent-setting ecological performance into a graceful interplay of historic and new in what had been a barely standing paint warehouse.